As Evan Schleining made his way down the steps and onto the court during a quick break at Hunter Park, a dog catching some shade nearby yapped at him. Schleining looked over and countered with a playful bark of his own.
With the Big Al's Tennis Tournament singles title on the line, Schleining's bite was much worse.
Riding a 120-plus mph serve and a volley game every bit as potent, the former Ashland High School and University of Portland standout rolled to a 6-2, 6-2 victory over South Medford prep star Matthew Pronesti in a quick men's open singles final on Sunday.
The resounding victory, which required about an hour of court time, clinched Schleining's second straight Big Al's singles title and third since 2006.
"I guess I'm catching up to old Todd Stanley," Schleining joked, referring to the man who holds the record for most Big Al's singles titles (seven). "It's special. I really love this event. A lot of the community comes out and supports us, and they all play in the tournament as well. It's pretty cool to have hometown support and the whole community here."
Later in the day, Schleining and doubles partner Ari Zaslow, another former Ashland High tennis player who now coaches the Southern Oregon University women's tennis team, won their semifinal match before losing to Max Littlejohn and Jeff Stollberg in the men's open doubles final, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
Sporting a ball cap worn backwards that matched his flashy all-around game, Pronesti, an incoming junior at South Medford High, entered the match playing the role of the brash, young underdog. For better or worse, he owned the part.
The top-seeded Schleining broke Pronesti's serve to start the match, took a quick 4-0 lead in the first set then took a sledgehammer to Pronesti's momentum only minutes into the second set. That's when the unseeded Pronesti, serving, took advantage of three Schleining unforced errors to go up 40-love, only to let Schleining back into the game with consecutive double faults. Schleining seized the opportunity, handing his less-experienced rival another costly, set-opening service break.
Schleining clinched the game with a cutting volley behind Pronesti, who shouted, "Way to go, 40-love" before switching sides.
And that was a running theme for Pronesti, who wore his emotions on his sleeve all match long.
"It's kind of a double-edged sword there," Pronesti said of his emotional outbursts, which kept the sparse crowd entertained even when his game didn't, "because when I get mad, I definitely figure out what I'm doing wrong. I'm pretty good at self analysis, and I'll just tell myself out loud."
Schleining won three of the next four games and was well on his way to victory when a close "out" call on one of his serves led to the only real drama of the match. Schleining didn't agree with the call, which took away an ace, and called for a line judge. Moments later Schleining finished off the game, and two games later he clinched the championship — fittingly, both those points were decided by service winners.
Schleining unleashed nine service winners and one ace in the match and only once was taken to deuce on serve, as the big lefty mostly combined a hard, flat serve with a looping kick serve and a nasty slice to retain control throughout.
"I wasn't playing my best tennis today, but even if I was playing my best tennis he's still a tough opponent and it still would have been really hard for me to get anywhere because he just doesn't let you in to many points," Pronesti said. "He definitely has a really great serve that was really hard for me to get anything on."
"I do have a big serve," Schleining said, "and also, I'm left handed, and it looked like he had a little bit of inexperience against left-handers and the spin that comes off the racket. Lefties notoriously hit a lot more slice, as opposed to kick."
Schleining's consistency on his first serve also proved fatal for Pronesti, who couldn't extend points — only a handful of rallies went beyond four strokes.
"I couldn't be really very patient because I think if we were just rallying, take serve and return out of it, I think he would beat me most of the time, or it would be very close," Schleining said. "I wanted to expend the least amount of energy as possible, and also I wanted to get a lot of free points on my serve. That's pretty much my game plan, to keep the points short, come to the net when I can and really not let any opportunities slide. As soon as I get the high ball, I'm coming in."
Big Al's Tournament
FINALS — (1) Evan Schleining d. Matthew Pronesti, 6-2, 6-2.
FINALS — Robert Molthop d. Skyler Boles, 6-4, 6-1.
FINALS — (2) David Margulies d. Wesley Vanbuskirk, 6-1, 6-3.
SEMIFINALS — (2) David Margulies d. Evan Montz, 6-2, 6-1; Wesley Vanbuskirk d. Mark Reichert, 6-3, 6-3.
FINALS — Matthew Cleveland d. (1) Dirk Woods, 7-5, 6-1.
SEMIFINALS — Matthew Cleveland d. Rosie Rosenthal, 6-3, 6-0; (1) Dirk Woods d. Frank Cabezud, 6-1, 6-3.
FINALS — Dave Tostenson d. Paul Sotos, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.
FINALS — Littlejohn-Stollberg d. (1) Schleining-Zaslow, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
SEMIFINALS — Littlejohn-Stollberg d. (2) Kovacevich-Walters, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4; (1) Schleining-Zaslow d. Hutton-Hutton, 6-4, 6-4.
FINALS — Fabian-Rood d. (1) Hodges-Hodges, 6-4, 6-4.
FINALS — Dietrick-Zizic d. (1) Danson-Sacks, 6-4, 7-5.
FINALS — Acheatel-Hartman d. Pero-Schneirsohn, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
FINALS — Shaw-Workman d. Carne-Carne, 6-1, 6-1.
ROUND ROBIN — Dana Yearsley d. Miranda Duggan, 6-1, 6-1; McKenzie Hilmer d. Laurel Sager, 6-1, 6-1.
FINALS — (1) Brenda Rubin d. Elizabeth Hutton, 6-1, 6-2.
ROUND ROBIN — Bari Frimkess d. Virginia Whitener, 6-1, 6-2.
FINALS — Dia Paxton d. Liz Pischel, 6-2, 6-4.
FINALS — Kim-Tsumura d. Schlessinger-Smith, 6-2, 6-4.
SEMIFINALS — Elterman-Sturges d. Bodine-Heliker, 6-0, 6-0; Ames-Godnick d. (1) Grossmann-Kennedy, 6-3, 6-2.
FINALS — Hutton-Hutton d. Hilmer-Inn, 2-6, 6-1, 7-5.
FINALS — (1) Ogden-Zizic d. Fabian-Kim, 6-4, 6-2.
FINALS — Berry-Luce d. Breedlove-Breedlove, 7-5, 6-4.
ROUND ROBIN — Cross-Hoque d. Souza-Souza, 6-4, 6-0.