Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

No love lost in DU coaches’ friendly clash

If Chris Lam, DU’s assistant men’s tennis coach, is looking for work on Monday, blame his backhand and his forehand and his kick serve. And all the parts of his tennis game that pushed him past his boss, men’s head tennis coach Danny Westerman, it the quarterfinals of the prestigious Denver City Open tennis tournament on Friday, June 19.

Lam won the hard-fought, hard-court tussle 6-4; 6-3 in the open division, where the toughest competitors in Denver’s 93rd City Open compete.

“We work together every day but more than anything, we’re pretty good friends. I was joking that if he wants a job tomorrow he might want to let me win,” Westerman laughed after the match. “But he didn’t hear that part.”

For the last three weeks, Westerman and Lam have been drilling each other on the practice court, working on weaknesses, testing match situations and building stamina for the Denver tournament. The two former touring pros and college standouts hoped a strong showing might create a stir in the Colorado tennis community and build up the status of the DU program.

But the draw put the friends and doubles partners in the same bracket, where two wins into the tournament they were forced to face off. When that happened early Friday morning, there was plenty of politeness and sportsmanship, but also plenty of intensity.

“I play high-risk tennis,” Westerman says. “He played to use pace and I played to rip, to hit hard.”

The two faced off back in college when Westerman was all-conference for three years at the University of Wisconsin and Lam was all-conference for a UCLA team that won the Division I NCAA title in 2005.

“He got me in college,” Westerman says. “It was something like 7-5 or 7-6 in the third. So I wanted to win. There’s not many guys I have a losing record against.”

For a while, Lam thought it might be the boss’ day.

“(Westerman) came out on fire the first two games; I was really worried,” Lam said. “My strategy was to get the point going. I’m not out there to hit winners; I’m out there to move him around.”

Without upsetting the boss, of course.

Westerman smiles when he recalls one tight call in the match, a sideline shot Lam called out. “He was real concerned about it. But I told him don’t worry, you’ve got a job tomorrow.”

After, of course, Westerman had taken a look at the mark. “It was out,” he says. “If anything, Chris was giving me calls throughout the match.”

“If I was,” Lam said, “it was because he was hitting the ball by me so fast I couldn’t see it.”

As the Lam-Westerman drama unfolded, DU’s top female player this season, Mallory Voelker, was taking apart her quarterfinal opponent, Casey Wetzig, 6-0; 6-2. Voelker, who is top seeded in the Denver tournament, posted a 20-2 singles mark in leading the Pioneers to a second place finish in the Sun Belt Conference and a qualifying berth in the NCAA tournament this past season.

The spring graduate faces Rhona Kacmarczyk of Grand Junction in semifinal action June 20 at 9:30 a.m. Lam, who is seeded fourth, will face second-seeded Clancy Shields at 9 a.m. Both matches are at the Denver Tennis Club courts at 400 Forest St.

Westerman enters his third season as DU coach, where his men’s team is 31-14 in two seasons. Lam enters his second season as an assistant with the Pioneers.

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