ASHLAND - With a set point in hand, Evan Schleining's serve slipped. The rest of his game soon followed as the former Ashland High tennis player lost to his University of Portland roommate Filip Zivkovic 7-6 (5), 6-2, in the men's open final of the Big Al's Tennis Tournament on Sunday at Hunter Park.
Zivkovich overcame three set points in the first set to force the tie-breaker, then jumped out to a 5-1 lead before holding off Schleining's comeback bid.
The second set belonged to Zivkovich, who rode a suddenly dominant service game to a 4-0 lead as Schleining, the 2006 Big Al's champion, struggled to get serves in.
"To be honest, me and Evan play so much and we know each other so well that there's not a lot I can do to surprise him or he can do to surprise me," said Zivkovich, 23, who was 18-0 in singles play at the University of Portland after transferring from Nis, Serbia. "It's all about how well each of us is going to serve."
Schleining agreed, especially after the hard-hitting lefty clanked six double faults in the first three games of the second set.
"Where my game is and where his game is, I have to play perfect to win or have him be off his game, which he wasn't," said Schleining, 21, who beat John Benson in the quarterfinals and Mico Santiago in the semifinals.
Schleining started fast, earning the first break of the match to snag an early 2-1 lead. He had a chance to make it two breaks soon thereafter, but let four break points slip away and had to settle for a 3-2 lead.
Up 5-4, 40-30, and looking to wrap up the first set, Schleining missed a backhand to give Zivkovic new life. Schleining let two more opportunities to win the first set slip away moments later — first on another missed backhand then on a double fault — and Zivkovic jumped on his first break point when Schleining hit a backhand into the net.
That tied the match at 5-all. Later, Schleining called that 10th game the turning point of the final.
"I just ripped (the backhand) long," Schleining said of his first opportunity to take the first set. "It's just been proven that if you win the first set then you're much more likely to win the match, especially in a best-of-three-set match. That was my best shot."
Down 5-1 in the tie-breaker, Schleining won four of the next five points, two on a forehand winner and a blistering service winner, to get within 6-5. Zivkovic held on, though, as Schleining, charging the net, slipped and couldn't handle a hard, low forehand.
With nagging elbow injuries bugging both players, Zivkovic's first-set comeback seemed to take on greater meaning as the match wore on. Both players still had a doubles match to play later — they teamed up to play in the men's open doubles tournament — and the prospect of playing two more sets then another match in the hot sun didn't sit will with Schleining.
"I was considering withdrawing after that first set," Schleining said. "(The injury) did affect my serve, but it's no excuse to lose the match. He's definitely a strong player and usually handles me pretty easily."
That was certainly the case in the second set. Zivkovic broke Schleining twice in the first four games then held serve the rest of the way to close out the match. He clinched the title on a line-skidding backhand volley that Schleining could only watch go by.
The first-set deficit represented the first time Zivkovic was seriously threatened in the tournament. He beat Michael Gooding 6-2, 6-1 in the quarterfinals and Max LittleJohn 6-2, 6-2 in the semis.
"I was in those situations a lot during the (college) season so I wasn't going to panic," Zivkovic said of the first-set comeback. "I just knew what I had to do, keep balls low. I knew he was going to come in, so that's pretty much what I did."
After their battle in singles, Schleining and Zivkovic teamed up to claim the men's open doubles title.
The top-seeded duo upended Leo Young and Ari Zaslow, 6-1, 6-4.
FINALS — Filip Zivkovic d. Evan Schleining, 7-6, 6-2.
FINALS — Larry Drager d. Dave Tostenson, 6-4, 6-7, 6-4.
FINALS — John Sager d. Mark Hochhalter, 7-6, 6-4.
FINALS — Skyler Boles d. Mark Hansler, 6-4, 6-2.
ROUND ROBIN — James Stelson d. Guy Tauer, 6-0, 6-0.
FINALS — Michael Horton d. Gene Simpson, 7-6, 6-2.
FINALS — Evan Schleining-Filip Zivkovic d. Leo Young-Ari Zaslow, 6-1, 6-4.
FINALS — Michael Sotos-Paul Sotos d. Owen-Vanston Shaw, 6-3, 6-4.
FINALS — Don Ball-Kiel Zipf d. Stephen Heliker-Dennis Spasbo, 7-5, 6-4.
FINALS — Alex Chavez-Irvine d. Eric Magnuson-Joshua Wilson, 6-4, 6-4.
FINALS — Ken Fleming-Cy Williams d. Robert Haynes-Chris Leong, 6-3, 7-5.
FINALS — Anya Polen d. Shelley Everhart, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.
FINALS — Nancy Jensen d. Melisa Wood, 6-4, 7-6.
FINALS — Lydia Reiner d. Maddalena Di Rienzo, 6-7, 6-4, 6-0.
FINALS — Robin Aukland-Anya Polen d. Aleta Stiers-Cathy Wesche, 6-2, 6-3.
FINALS — Shane Collins-Janet Ford d. Dawn Batten-Karen Lint, 6-4, 6-1.
FINALS — Katy Bazylewicz-Kelly Sacks d. Toni Edelstein-Sally Jones, 6-2, 6-4.
ROUND ROBIN — Shelley Getzendanner-Dana Yearsley d. Justine Bowen-Sarah Jones-Oakes.
FINALS — Brian Fabian-Bonnie Kim d. Jody Hodges-Jesse Hodges, 6-3, 6-3.
FINALS — Jennifer Heinrich-Chris Leong d. Lisa Stevens-John Ackerman-Lori Lawniczak, 6-3, 6-3.
Joe Zavala is sports editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 482-3456 ext. 224, or firstname.lastname@example.org