They nearly reached the top of the big-school mountain as doubles partners at Ashland High. Now, six years after losing in the 2003 Class 4A semifinals, Ari Zaslow and Evan Schleining will be playing together again in the 34th annual Big Al's Tennis Tournament.

They nearly reached the top of the big-school mountain as doubles partners at Ashland High. Now, six years after losing in the 2003 Class 4A semifinals, Ari Zaslow and Evan Schleining will be together again when the 34th annual Big Al's Tennis Tournament kicks off Friday in Ashland.

The former AHS teammates make up the No. 2-seeded team in the men's open doubles bracket and will face David and Michael Tribble in the quarterfinals at 12:30 p.m. Friday.

Schleining, who just completed his junior year playing both singles and doubles for the University of Portland, is also the top seed in the 11-player men's open singles bracket and begins his quest for his second Big Al's title, and first since 2006, Saturday morning.

The men's open singles championship match begins at 9 a.m. Sunday at Hunter Park and the men's open doubles final is scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m.

There were not enough entrants to make up a women's open championship in either singles or doubles.

Billed as southern Oregon's largest adult recreational tennis tournament, Big Al's absorbed a sizeable drop in entries this year after a spike in 2008. Two hundred and twenty-six players will compete, down from 365 last year.

Still, that's not as bad as it could have been given the unstable economy and rising gas prices, says tournament co-director Steve Sacks.

"It turned out remarkably well," he said. "Most (tennis tournaments) are off, some real badly, so we're real lucky.

"People really like coming here, it's a lot of fun. A lot of people come from Chico, Redding area so it's not that far (to drive)."

Big Al's organizers also made a subtle change to the rule book this year by allowing players to compete in two doubles events. The result: the 8.0 mixed doubles bracket is 25 teams strong, the largest field in the tournament.

Zaslow, now a teaching pro at Ashland Racquet Club, and Schleining were the No. 2 seeds in the 2003 Class 4A doubles tournament. It was a deadly combination, with Zaslow's steady ground strokes perfectly complimenting Schleining's power game. The pair rolled through their first three matches, winning each in straight sets before running into third-seeded Phalcun Mam and Charles Tran. Mam and Tran upset the Ashland combo, 6-3, 6-4.

Zaslow went on to play for Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, while Schleining transferred out of Ashland High before ending up at University of Portland. Schleining won the 2006 title in straight sets before losing in last year's men's open singles final to U of P teammate Filip Zivkovic, 7-6 (5), 6-2.

Also competing in the men's open singles tournament this year will be Ashland High junior-to-be Quincy Briscoe, who played No. 1 singles for the Grizzlies in the spring. Quincy faces David Tribble in the round of 16 at 3 p.m. Friday.

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.zavala@dailytidings.com