Josh Prager, of Yuba City, Calif., returns a volley in the men’s final of Big Al’s Tennis Tournament in Ashland Sunday morning.

Prager's the real deal, decks Wilson

Who would have thought that success on the card table could translate into success on the tennis court? Josh Prager did — and now he's got proof.

The professional poker player from Yuba City, Calif., shed some early-morning rust to claim his fourth Big Al's men's open tennis championship Sunday, bluffing Chad Wilson with a horrendous start before eventually trumping his younger foe with simple consistency.

Playing here for the first time since a similar comeback win earned him the 2003 title, Prager took a pounding in the first set as Wilson fired away with a lethal forehand. But in the second set, Wilson's serve went south, followed closely by the rest of his game, and the resourceful Prager pounced on every mistake for a 2-6, 6-0, 6-0 victory.

"I haven't lost here in a long time, so I'm happy," said Prager, 33.

The win capped a solid three-match run for the No. 2-seeded Prager. He beat Jonathan Weighter, 6-0, 6-0, in the first round and Cade Gorman, 6-3, 6-2, in the semifinals.

After the title-clincher, Prager said that tennis and poker isn't as strange a combination as one may think. He would know. The crafty baseline player made it to the final table at the European Poker Tour's grand finale at Monte Carlo in March, winning $521,156, and finished 95th in the prestigious World Series of Poker two years ago.

"Tennis is good training for poker because you're out there by yourself, you have to deal with your emotions; when things go poorly, you have to try the next shot," he said. "Same in poker. If you lose all your chips on one hand, the next hand you still have to play good."

Wilson, meanwhile, folded, but only after enduring a much tougher road to the finals. The 26-year-old part-time tennis coach won consecutive blowouts before upsetting seven-time champion and No. 1 seed Todd Stanley in the semis, a victory that left Wilson satisfied despite Sunday's disappointing finale.

"We had a lot of good players in that top half of the draw," said Wilson, who played for both Grants Pass High and the University of Oregon. "I didn't expect that I'd be able to play that many matches, so I was pretty happy."

He wasn't too happy in the later stages of Sunday's match, when Prager's looping topspin forehands and net-skimming backhand slices dared Wilson to crank up the aggressiveness, which he did, with disastrous results. Unforced errors abounded, many on his forehand side, and the frustrated Wilson eventually started attacking the net behind weak approach shots. It was target practice for Prager, who seemed to toy with Wilson by painting the lines.

"I just started making everything," Prager said. "Even if I had to make a passing shot, I made it. He was having to hit four winners to win a game."

A backhand slice fell neatly into the corner to give Prager the first point of the final game. Two points later, Wilson, his margin of error shrinking by the moment, missed a backhand volley and spanked the net with his racket in disgust.

Prager clinched the championship on a forehand beautifully placed behind Wilson. His knees buckling, Wilson could only smile and shake his head. Later, Wilson, a former Big Al's champion himself (2000), explained the second- and third-set letdown.

"I just got tired," he said. "I actually got tired in the first set. I didn't play for a year — just kind of quit — and just decided to play in this tournament. I played about four matches before it for practice and came out and had two pretty good matches yesterday."

Wilson said he tried to wear down Prager in the second set to make a run in the third. The strategy didn't work, though Prager also entered the match in less than top shape, having played in just four previous tournaments this year.

"He doesn't miss — he's like a machine, so you have to go out and take it to him," Wilson added. "That's what I did in the first set, but when I ran out of energy, it kind of went in his favor."

Saturday's Results



FINALS — Joshua Prager d. Chad Wilson, 2-6, 6-0, 6-0.


FINALS — Dave Tostenson d. Don Bowman, 6-4, 7-5.


FINALS — John Ackermann d. John Sager, 6-1, 0-6, 6-0.


FINALS — Eric Enright d. Eric Danson, 6-0, 6-4.


FINALS — John Rushing (1) d. John Gallelli, 6-3, 6-4.


FINALS — Gorman-Pfeiffer d. Briscoe-Cleveland, 6-0, 6-0.


FINALS — Drager-Thacker d. Sutton-Torstenson, 7-5, 6-2.


FINALS — Tim Hochhalter d. Han Herrick (1), 3-6, 6-2, 3-1F.


FINALS — Michael Horton d. Richard Launey (2), 6-2, 6-3.


FINALS — Heller-Marguies (1) d. Ackermann-Wallace, 6-4, 6-3.


FINALS — Chavez-Irvine d. Aleman-Khroad, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.


FINALS — Champe-Panarra d. Mather-Roklyn, 6-3, 6-0.



FINALS — Chris Simpson d. Victoria Hilden, 6-3, 6-3.


FINALS — Dan Yearsley (1) d. Elizabeth Stevens, 6-2, 6-2.


ROUND ROBIN — Kimberly Snow d. Janel Kingry, 6-3, 6-2.


FINALS — Cochrane-Kennedy (1) d. Ackermann-Silberstein, 6-1, 6-4.


FINALS — Hern-Wilson d. Collins-Ford, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.


FINALS — Ogden-Vaughn d. Bailey-Stevens, 6-3, 6-4.



FINALS — Miele-Wright d. Bowen-Hochhalter, 7-5, 6-3

SEMIFINALS — Miele-Wright d. Livesay-Stark (2), 6-4, 4-6, 6-4; Bowen-Hochhalter d. Godnick-Godnick, 6-4, 6-4.


FINALS — Champe-Snow d. Bokn-Bokn, 6-4, 7-6.

SEMIFINALS — Bokn-Bokn d. Edelstein-Panarra, 6-1, 6-3; Champe-Snow d. Chavez-Stevens, 6-3, 6-1.


FINALS — Prager-Prager d. Bowen-Jones-Snook, 6-1, 6-1.

Joe Zavala is sports editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 482-3456, or e-mail

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