Awhile back we watched David Ferrer, the great Spanish tennis player who is combination pit bull and lab. Pit bull because he is relentless and lab because he is even-tempered in his pursuit of your scalp. What made this match memorable was that our seats were five rows up. Proximity produced clarity. It was like being ringside during a heavyweight fight. The sweat, the squeak of the tennis shoes, the physical grace -- I felt like I was in the match, perhaps as Ferrer's accomplice.

I was reminded of this when Hank Pfister told me about the Maze Cup, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Stockdale Country Club. The Maze Cup features the best 16- and 18-year-old players (boys and girls) from Southern and Northern California, who square off in a Davis Cup-like format.

As with my seat the Ferrer match, the Maze Cup offers spectating intimacy unavailable 200 rows back, where you are flagging planes, or while sitting in front of your TV. At Stockdale, you'll be able to stand against the fence or sit 10 feet away in outdoor recreational furniture and watch some of the best talent in the nation duke it out.

Former greats Pete Sampras, Lindsay Davenport, Michael Chang, Brad Gilbert, Marianne Werdel, Camille Benjamin, Eliot Teltscher, Andre Agassi, Bob Bryan and Robert Kendrick played the Maze Cup. Part of the fun is trying to imagine which of the players may turn into the next Agassi or Williams.

Tennis is different now. I played in the era of wooden rackets and the first generation of steel and composites. I had no power. In fact I couldn't break an egg. But even those players who could make an omelet, if you look at old film, were playing creampuff tennis compared to what's happening now.

The players are bigger, faster, stronger and better (yes, the equipment is more potent today). If you time-capsuled to 1974, the year of the first Maze Cup, you'd barely recognize that it was the same game.

The Maze Cup is named for the late George Maze, a tennis player and farmer who -- before moving north -- lived in Bakersfield with his wife, Sheila, and their three children, George Jr., Joan and Billy.

In addition to his dry sense of humor, my chief memory of George was that he would hide behind a pole, wall or parked car in order to watch a match played by son Bill -- a national champion at 16 and now the girls coach at UC Davis. George couldn't take it, and you can't blame him. Watching your children play tennis can be excruciating because unlike a soccer match or basketball game, yelling is frowned upon. All you can do is hide, frown and chew on a towel.

George, when he wasn't standing behind a pole, was a big supporter of junior tennis. It was his idea to bring the top juniors together for practice and competition before the players headed East for the summer USTA National Championships.

George died in 1973, and the first Maze Cup was held at the Fig Garden Racquet Club in Fresno in 1974. It has alternated each year between Northern and Southern California; the Bakersfield venue had been the Racquet Club until this year, when Stockdale made its successful bid.

Players to watch include Tyler Lu, Stefan Menichella, Ena Shibahara and Monica Robinson.

You haven't heard of them, but some day you might. Go, if you want to be five feet from the next David Ferrer. It's free, you don't have to be a member to attend, and Stockdale is a beautiful club. And, since the players are not your children, you don't have to hide behind a pole to watch.


Anybody interested in housing the players can call Hank at 834-1113. The player dinner draw party (prime rib: $25) is open to the public also and scheduled for Thursday.

These are Herb Benham's opinions and not necessarily those of The Californian. Email him at