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Todd Dominiak entered yesterday's 87th men's singles finals of the City Tennis Championship already in some elite company, having been one of just four athletes to win seven of the tournament's titles. Less than two hours later, he left the court at the Toledo Tennis Club in a place all his own.
Dominiak, the No. 1 seed, took out second-seeded Shaul Aloni in straight sets 6-1, 6-4, to win his record eighth tournament title.
"At my age , you never know how many more titles you can win, so you like to take advantage of every opportunity to get to the finals," Dominiak said. "It feels incredible to get eight. I remember sitting here watching the finals of this tournament when I first started to play, thinking, 'I'll never be as good as these guys.' So to have eight titles is a little surreal for me."
Dominiak won his first city title in 1988. He then took a hiatus from the tournament until 1994 and he's reached the finals every year since then, taking home the trophy in 1996, 1998, 1999, and four between 2002 and yesterday's victory. Dominiak admitted that he did feel some pressure to break the record.
"I didn't really feel it during the matches," he said. "I felt it more in the weeks leading up to this when somebody would ask me about it. They'd say that if I didn't win that seven titles was still pretty good, but it's not really in my character to think that way."
A graduate of St. Francis de Sales High School and a standout player at the University of Toledo from 1985 to 1988, Dominiak holds the City Championships in high regard because of the great players who played in it before him. Among them were the three others who had held seven titles: Conant Ohl, who captured his between 1926 and 1934; Ed Rathbun, who won his first in 1937 and his last in 1954; and Mike Ducey, who dominated the tournament from 1969 to 1976.
Aloni, who attended Sylvania High School before playing at Arizona State, was Dominiak's opponent in the finals for the fourth consecutive year, but is still seeking that elusive first championship.
"I knew I had to play better than before," Aloni said. "Every year I go with the same tactics, and every year he beats me. This year I tried the same thing again, and I lost again."
Serving first to start the first set, Dominiak came out aggressive, blasting his serves right to the baseline and hitting well-placed shots from one end of the court to the other.
"He makes me move a lot and hit a lot of balls," Aloni said. "He doesn't make many errors."
After losing the first game, Aloni kept up with the pace and fired shots past Dominiak when he could and won the second game, his first and only of the set. Although Aloni gained the advantage at the end of some of the games, he couldn't keep up with Dominiak's near-flawless performance, who cruised to the 6-1 victory in the set.
At the onset of the second set, Aloni played more aggressively and took advantage of some Dominiak miscues to take the first and third games, and was up 0-40 in the second before Dominiak rallied.
"I always try to come out and think of the second set as my set, because a lot of people let down a bit in the second set," Dominiak said. "I really tried hard not to do that myself. I gave him a couple extra opportunities early, but he started playing better. He's too good a player for me to expect him to waste these opportunities."
After being blanked in the fourth game, Aloni gained some ground back by dictating the pace and hammering forehands past Dominiak when he saw an opening. Aloni used this strategy to win a grueling fifth game and walked away with the sixth soon after. But it was Dominiak who poured it on strong in the end.
"At 4-2, it was like my back was up against the wall, and it kind of clicked on," Dominiak said. "I felt like the pressure was off me because I had nothing to lose, so I was able to relax and play my game. He made some errors and I just played a little better."
Aloni again played to gain the advantage at the end of the seventh game, but started to fade just as Dominiak hit some of his best shots of the day.
"I went into the second set with a good mindset," Aloni said. "I thought I could win it. I felt like I started better, but I was kind of tired by the end. At 4-3 or so, I started to miss a lot, so I tried to end the point quicker, but it didn't work."
More of Aloni's shots found their way into net as the set wore on, and Dominiak took advantage, winning four straight games to take the set, 6-4, and the match.
Dominiak, although happy with his record-breaking eighth title, hopes that it won't be his last.
"I'll be here next year," he said. "I think I owe it to the people who have played before me. If I'm still able to play, I should play. I don't know how many more of these I'll win, but I'll still be around. I look forward to it every year."