Waikoloa good to Goldstein
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
WAIKOLOA, Hawai'i — There are probably lots of reasons Paul Goldstein should not be at the Hilton Waikoloa Village USTA Challenger, where the main draw begins this morning at Kohala Tennis Garden.
He is ranked 68th and one of five men in the Top 100 to play at Waikoloa, an abnormally high number of highly ranked players for a Pro Circuit event. The women's draw has 11 tennis players ranked between 100 and 200.
Goldstein is the highest-ranked player in the world with a college degree. He was the only player in collegiate history to be part of four NCAA tennis championships, then graduated from Stanford in human biology. The degree has been put to good use to keep Goldstein, 29, relatively healthy since he turned pro in 1998.
So why is he here, at a $100,000 tournament, a week after falling to Tommy Haas in the second round of the $19 million Australian Open?
Because he likes it. Pauly likes it. So did Andy Roddick, James Blake and Robby Ginepri when they won here. But only Goldstein has been to all seven Waikoloa Challengers, and won three titles.
This might be the only Challenger Goldstein plays this year and he is here only because it is Hawai'i. After fighting traffic at the U.S. Open, he appreciates taking the resort tram to the Waikoloa courts. He senses the support from the general manager on down. He likes the logistics of being able to stop here on his way home from Melbourne, and walk off the court and into the Pacific Ocean.
"We go to a lot of great places, but this definitely takes the cake," Goldstein says. "A lot of guys go multiple times because it's their favorite event."
Goldstein is at a point where he can afford not to come to Waikoloa, but won't miss it. Last year he went over $1 million in career earnings and earned the somewhat dubious distinction of becoming the "Crash Davis of Tennis" when he won his 26th Pro Circuit title. Davis, the fictional character in the movie "Bull Durham," set the minor- league home run record.
"I wouldn't say I like being called Crash Davis, but I am OK with it," says Goldstein, whose achievement was commemorated by the USTA with a bobblehead doll. "It's not a goal you set out for. Nobody at 10 wants to be the best minor leaguer ever and that is a pretty fair analogy to what my role is.
"But, it also means I've played a lot of great tennis. Each tournament win means I've played great tennis. I've been exposed to the tour level now and that's my goal. In the movie, Crash came to grips with his role in the framework of the game of baseball. Similarly, I'm comfortable with my role in the framework of tennis. I strive to do better, but I'm happy with my game now."
He is happy on several levels. Goldstein married wife Abbie in 2004, reached his highest career ranking (64) last August, is guaranteed a place in the first three majors this year and will be in the U.S. Open and regular ATP events all year if he can maintain his ranking.
Maintain is the operative and lucrative word. According to Goldstein, a tennis player ranked around 200 or better can play the Pro Circuit and "do fairly well."
"You're not losing money, but you're not putting a whole lot away," Goldstein says. "At this point I'm 29 and married and I need to do more than cover expenses. At 22 or 23 I was just getting started and it was definitely worthwhile. I was making a living and traveling around the world. Now I demand a little more of myself to justify staying out there."
He is out there half the year, often playing guys Goldstein says are "considerably more talented." He has no huge weapon to intimidate anyone and if he can't out-work or out-wit an opponent and "a guy who is really talented performs at their level I have a hard time."
That does not happen at the Challenger level, where Goldstein often wins matches "between the ears." He has been trying to improve his serve seemingly his entire career and is now focusing on upper-body strength and imposing pressure instead of constantly counter-punching.
Goldstein calls last year the "most satisfying" of his career. He had great results right out of college, but was "too stupid to know what I accomplished." Now, he knows "how difficult it is to do well, how difficult the process is" and how much more it means to share it with the people in his life who have made so many sacrifices for him.
One thing has never changed over the last seven years and that's Waikoloa. That's why he is here now.
Reach Ann Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.