Wil Cochrane won't be sneaking up on anybody this year.

Wil Cochrane won't be sneaking up on anybody this year.

Twelve months after grabbing his first Big Al's singles title with a thrilling three-set upset victory over former teammate Matt Pronesti, Cochrane will be the heavy favorite to repeat.

The Phoenix High alum and Portland State-bound baseline slugger will begin the defense of his Big Al's Tennis Tournament men's open division championship Saturday morning at Hunter Park, where he's set to face Guy Tauer in the semifinals.

The 37th annual Big Al's Tennis Tournament actually begins a day earlier and includes 22 divisions this year. Matches will be played at both Hunter Park and the Southern Oregon University tennis courts. The men's open singles championship match will be held at Hunter Park at 8 a.m. Sunday.

Cochrane will compete in both the men's open singles and the men's open doubles with partner Ari Zaslow, a former Ashland High standout. Cochrane is one of only four players in the men's open singles bracket. On the other side of the bracket, John Dix will face Matthew Cohen for a spot in the championship match.

"It's a hometown tournament and one that I've always looked up to and as a younger player wanted to win," said Cochrane, who won the OSAA Class 4A/3A/2A/1A singles state championship as a senior in May. "Last year really meant a lot, and to win it this year would mean a lot, too."

Last year, Cochrane held off the hard-charging Pronesti, using a key service break in the eighth game of the third set to seize back the momentum after losing a tight second set. Cochrane served out the match to clinch the 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 victory, one of his most significant victories to date.

"It was something I really had to fight for and it was not easy," he said.

This year, Cochrane will enter Big Al's in an entirely different position as a reigning champion, one he says he's quite comfortable with. After all, he points out, he was the No. 1 seed in the OSAA state tournament, and little trouble steamrolling his way through, winning all four matches in straight sets.

"I feel good," he said. "I've had a lot of experience being the No. 1 guy. I've been in that situation before and I know how to handle it, how to approach it."

Cochrane didn't put away his racket for long after claiming that state title, his first. He's participated in six USTA tournaments this summer, including last week's GPTC/Nike Tennis Championships of Oregon (he lost in the round of 16). After Big Al's, however, he plans on taking a breather.

"Then I'll start training and conditioning and getting ready for college," he said.

There will be no women's open singles or doubles this year. In the men's open doubles bracket, Cochrane and Zaslow will face Curt Evans and Tauer in the semis. On the other side of the bracket, Kory Rodgers and Leo Young will face Cohen and Austin Kische.

Zaslow may be a little rusty, Cochrane said, but his experience and net savvy should make up for it.

"We'll be hitting this week and will try and get some timing back," Cochrane said. "Ari's a good player and he knows the moves, he knows what to take and where to move on the doubles court."