PostHeaderIcon United States Gay Open 2012: A Chat With Men’s Open Champion Toby Hays





Over 230 tennis players participated in the 2012 United States Gay Open.  Held over the Memorial Day weekend at Stanford’s Taube Tennis Center, champions were crowned in 16 events.

The Men’s Open division has traditionally been the highlight of the Monday finals, as everyone gathers to see the top guys “duke it out”. This year’s winner was Toby Hays from Mountain View, CA. Toby defeated Gordan Paitimusa 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-3 in a final punctuated by great shot-making and dramatic shifts in momentum.

I introduced myself to Toby (and his partner Elisban) at the tournament’s Sunday night banquet. There’s often a perception that the Open level players aren’t very friendly or approachable.  This couldn’t have been further from the truth with Toby, who was gracious and very easy to talk to after a long day on the courts.

He agreed to be interviewed for my tournament player profile.  And thankfully, his victory in the final ensured a happy subject for the interview.

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When did you start playing tennis? And at what point did you realize you were pretty good at it?

My whole family plays, so I started early – probably age 4 or 5. My parents wanted us to have a “lifetime sport” like tennis or golf, and I gravitated to tennis.

My main sport as a kid was gymnastics, so I did that most of the year, and then I would play junior tennis tournaments in the summer. I had some success, but I wasn’t committed to playing year-round, so I never really broke through into the top level. But I guess high school was the time when I felt like I was playing pretty well.

Did you play all through high school and into college?

I played tennis in high school, and I had a great coach who really helped my game. My junior and senior year I played #1 singles, and senior year I got to the quarterfinals of the state tournament. Also during high school, I transitioned from gymnastics to diving, and diving became my sport. It was easier to stand out as a diver because there are many fewer divers than tennis players. So I competed as a diver in college (Dartmouth) for 4 years.

Did you ever think about pursuing the goal of being a professional player?

I never felt quite that serious about tennis, and never fully committed. My parents really emphasized well-roundedness, so I liked competing in a variety of sports, and I also took academics seriously. I always knew that sports would be a big part of my life, but more as a recreational, fun activity.

How did you get involved with the GLTA circuit of tournaments?

I didn’t play much tennis for about 10 years (during college and medical school). Then I moved to Oakland in 2005 for my pediatric residency (at Children’s Hospital Oakland). I started hitting occasionally with one of my classmates, so I slowly got back into it. Then I met Dave Campbell, ex-USGO tournament director and GLTF member, through a friend of a friend at a party, and he told me about Cal Cup and the GLTA. My first event was Cal Cup in 2008, and that’s actually where I met (my partner) Elisban!

(Note: The Cal Cup competition pits the top players from the GLTA clubs of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.)

I loved watching you guys play doubles, and only afterward discovered that you were “life” partners.  How did you meet? Who spoke to whom first?

We were both recruited for Cal Cup in SF in 2008, but neither of us could get to the practices, so we met at Golden Gate Park and didn’t even know that we were teammates at first. We watched each other’s matches and kept an eye on each other. Eventually I introduced myself.  I actually introduced myself to his sister first, which I thought would be ingratiating.

Playing doubles with someone you’re dating can be tricky. Are you and he able to leave your losses/disagreements on the court when you go home?

It’s been tricky to learn to play together. But the benefits of having tennis as a shared activity far outweigh the challenges. Because we know each other so well, and we’re very comfortable with each other, we’re more likely to say what we’re thinking. Also, a slight change in tone of voice or a subtle facial expression has a lot of meaning behind it.  There’s no hiding our true feelings on the court.

Generally, we get over our losses and disagreements pretty quickly. We do have to hash things out occasionally, but we can move on pretty well.

Let’s talk about your match against Gordon Paitimusa in the finals.  Had you played Gordon before that USGO final?

The only other time we had played each other was at Cal Cup in SF in October, 2011, but it was doubles. I got a glimpse of his lethal forehand then, and I think he’s just been steadily improving.

There were dramatic momentum swings that seemed, in part, due to Gordon’s uneven level of play (great shots followed by sprayed shots). What do you think contributed to the momentum swings?

I think there were multiple factors. The wind was tough because it wasn’t consistent in its direction and speed. I also tried to mix up my shots so that he couldn’t get into as much of a rhythm (some loopy shots with lots of topspin, and some flatter, harder shots). It’s also a different feeling to play in front of a crowd on a stadium court like that, so I think that contributed as well.

Do you think that playing someone as young as Gordon (born in 1991) gave you an advantage because you have more experience with tournament play?

I think experience does help. I was able to identify an effective strategy and stick with it i.e. mix up the pace and try to keep it to his backhand. One of the biggest assets of his youth is his amazing foot speed – he’s ridiculously fast!! I couldn’t believe the shots he could get to, and that he could get there with enough time to rip winners. He hit some unbelievable shots that whizzed by me – all I could do was say “nice shot.”

What was the key to your victory?

I was able to keep the ball deep enough to his backhand. The times when my ball dropped short he could run around and rip a winner, so the key for me was keeping the ball deep.

What were you least happy with about the match?

I was frustrated that I missed a lot of short balls – I felt like I constructed some points well waiting for the short ball, and on numerous occasions I was unable to put the ball away.

Where do you keep your trophies? And which one is your favorite?

I have some trophies at home, and a few in my office at work.  My favorite trophy is this most recent USGO one, because it’s my best win.

What was the first thing you did when you got home after your win?

I took some ibuprofen, sat on the couch, and watched bad reality TV.

Final question. Because inquiring minds want to know, what do you mean by “bad reality TV”?  Give me an example.

My favorite “bad reality TV” show is American Idol. My favorite “good reality TV” show is So You Think You Can Dance.

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When the discussion turns to reality TV, it’s time to wrap things up!
Thanks to Toby for being so open and generous with his time.
Congratulations on the win, and to all the other winners/finalists as well. See you next year for USGO 2013.

3 Responses to “United States Gay Open 2012: A Chat With Men’s Open Champion Toby Hays”

  • Robb Lee says:

    Kevin,
    I knew about your blogs and writings but never took the time to read any. This interview was very nicely written and enjoyable and entertaining.
    Thanks for your brilliant work!
    robb

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