The woman in a straw hat sitting in the third row asked her husband, “How does this guy Zachary Svajda pronounce his name?” “Vee’-da,” her husband replied. “Well, that makes sense,” the woman noted. “Clearly he’s taken his vitamins today – he’s playing with tons of vitality!”
We imagine young Zachary Svajda muttering under his breath, “Eat your heart out, Daniil Medvedev! You may have won the 2021 US Open, you may be No. 3 in the world, you may have pocketed $34 million in career earnings and have won 20 titles. But you’ve never done what I’ve done. You’ve never scored back-to-back wins to defend any of your titles!”
But back-to-backs are Svajda’s thing. Sure, he’s only 20 and is ranked No. 170. He may have only made $365,000 in career earnings. But the Californian, who grew up in La Jolla, has made a specialty of scoring consecutive wins.
As a kid, he won the prestigious national 18s tournament in Kalamazoo back-to-back. On the competitive Southern California Pro Series, he won back-to-back titles at LA’s Jack Kramer Club and then down the road in Fountain Valley.
But today last year’s Tiburon winner went into the final of the Raymond James Challenger as a distinct underdog. After all, Brisbane native Adam Walton had crushed Zach 6-2, 6-2 just two months ago 60 miles south of Tiburon, at Stanford’s Golden Gate Open.
Plus Walton, a 24-year-old, has a Down Under thing going. After all, Aussies thrive here in California. Rod Laver lives in San Diego, Hall of Fame doubles whiz Mark Woodforde resides in Rancho Mirage, and for years Mark Philippoussis lived in Orange County. And let’s not forget that two-time US Open champion, Queensland’s Pat Rafter, scored a key early career win in California’s 1991 Aptos Challenger. And Lleyton Hewitt won Indian Wells.
To reach Sunday’s final before a sold out crowd at one of the most appealing stadium courts west of the Mississippi, Walton had to beat two Aussies: Tristan Schoolkate and the once bound-for-glory phenom turned bad boy, Bernie Tomic.
Not surprisingly, today when Walton scored a stunning winner, a small cluster of Australian fans let their voices be heard: “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!”
But the loudest sounds heard today were the thunderous blasts from the cloudless sky. As Blue Angels jets repeatedly zoomed overhead to celebrate Fleet Week in the Bay Area, Svajda used his fleet wheels, adept two-handed backhand and a handful of forehand lasers to impose his will.
After faltering on three early break points, Svajda, who now lives in Redondo Beach, won four games in a row to capture the first set 6-2 in just 35 minutes. He then used a nasty drop shot and a stab forehand. And his backhand continually ran his bigger, more burly 6’ foe to the corners as he went up 3-0 in the second set. Walton finally cut down on his errors and did counterattack. After losing nine of ten games, the Aussie broke midway through the second set.
But it was too little, too late. As the jets continued to roar high above, the poised and efficient Southern Californian zoomed to a 6-2, 6-2 win in just 1:20. Amazingly, it was the same score that he’d lost to Walton by in early August.
Zach told Inside Tennis that he loves playing in Tiburon. He said it was great to have his girlfriend and younger brother on hand. He added that he was happy to see Ben Shelton, whom he beat in last year’s final, have such great success.
In 16 years the Tiburon Challenger has featured an array of big names: Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Sam Querrey, Tommy Paul, Ivo Karlovic and Cam Norrie among others. But no player until Zach has won back-to-back titles.
Will Svajda reach the heights of these other stars? For now, his goal is just to reach the top 100 so he can get into the main draws of Slams.
As for Daniil Medvedev, Zach noted “We practice a lot. We’re very similar.” Well, yes and no. On the one hand, for the life of him Medvedev can’t defend any of his titles. Then again, the skinny Russian has a fatter wallet. He’s won more than $34 million in prize money than his young California buddy.