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California Tourney Serves Tennis From a Silver Urn

WHILE Wimbledon enjoys a reputation as one of the world's most civil tennis tournaments, the ``Big W'' has nothing on the Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament in Ojai, Calif (pronounced OH-high).

Each afternoon of the four-day tournament, called ``The Ojai'' for short, tea is served from silver urns in china cups, with cookies on the side. In the morning, players and spectators are provided with complimentary orange juice under the majestic old oaks, sycamores, and date palms of this rural community 90 miles north of Los Angeles, where oranges and avocados are grown.

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Anyone who thinks this is a chummy little club event should think again. This year's 95th anniversary tournament, which begins today and runs through Sunday, will find an estimated 1,600 entrants, many representing high school and college teams, playing in 34 divisions in Ojai and neighboring communities.

Many of the greatest names in American tennis have played ``The Ojai'' through the years, including Tracy Austin, Stan Smith, Billie Jean King, Pancho Gonzales, Bill Tilden, Jimmy Connors, and Helen Wills Moody.

Virtually every available tennis court is put to use, with matches scheduled at public parks, private clubs, backyard courts, and the Thacher School, a private high school where William Thacher started the tournament with 15 players in 1896. Thacher had been a collegiate doubles champion at Yale University.

According to tournament publicist Gerry Roe, Thacher was told upon arriving in California to leave his tennis whites in his trunk because this was horse country. This inspired him to found the Ojai tournament and give it its unique flavor. ``The players seem to get into the mood,'' Ms. Roe says: ``You don't have people throwing rackets. Everything is very genteel.'' Ruth's bat is big hit

TRIVIA question: Whose record did Babe Ruth break when he hit 60 home runs in 1927? Answer: his own. Ruth slugged 59 homers in '21.

The bat Ruth used to hit his 56th home run in 1921 was auctioned off by Sotheby's of New York earlier this month for $63,000, the highest price ever received for a bat at auction. Ruth had sent the bat to a booking agent in Boston, where he began his major-league career. The agent, Robert Larson, had let Ruth use a theater he managed to practice a stage act. The day after Larson received the bat, Ruth was signed to a national vaudeville tour for $3,000 per week.

Ruth's bat was only one of numerous items Sotheby's auctioned off in its fourth annual sale of sports memorabilia. The most expensive item up for bid was a Honus Wagner baseball card, circa 1910, which came with Sweet Caporal cigarettes. Only 40 such cards are known to exist. Wagner, a nonsmoker, quickly forced the cards off the shelves. The card also sold for $63,000. Touching other bases

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* Five pages are required to explain the official rules of the 48th Annual Intercollegiate Invitational Spring Woodsmen's Meet, which will be held tommorrow and Saturday on the campus of Colby College in Waterville, Maine. The most important rule, however, is the first: ``Everybody must have fun.'' The event consists of a variety of team events (including lumberjack and -Jill teams) that have their origin in traditional logging operations: buck-sawing, pole-climbing, pulp-throwing, and canoeing.

* If the National Basketball Association ever considered having co-Coaches of the Year, now would be a good time. Media voters face an extremely tough choice among three superlative candidates: Atlanta's Lenny Wilkens, Seattle's George Karl, and Chicago's Phil Jackson. A strong case can be made for each. In just one season, Wilkens has transformed the Hawks from perennial underachievers to the best team in the Eastern Conference. Karl, in his second full season with the SuperSonics, has led them to the league's best record. Jackson, meanwhile, has pulled the Bulls together in Michael Jordan's absence and has them in the elite company of Atlanta and New York in the East.

If asked to vote for one, Jackson deserves the nod. What he's done, few thought possible, and voters have so far overlooked his brilliant work in leading the Bulls to three straight NBA titles.

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