It's never been about the money for Andy Gerst.
The tennis player from San Luis Obispo, Calif., has traveled as far as Thailand to play and as distant as Tallahassee, Fla., to coach. Airfare, gas, tournament fees, lodging, food and equipment costs add up quickly, he's learned.
Gerst, 26, devoted more than a year of his earlier life touring the world in hopes of rising the tennis totem pole. He competed in Thailand three times, played in Québec and completed the eight-stop Pacific Northwest Open Circuit, which begins at the Lithia Toyota Open Championships at Rogue Valley Swim and Tennis Club.
He's back in Medford this weekend as the Open's No. 1 seed.
"It's really hard," he said of pursuing a professional tennis career. "The level out there is incredible. Everyone is so fit and the difference between everyone is so small. You could go four or six weeks losing first rounds and having a tough luck of the draw and you're doing everything right. It's really tough. You have to have the mental fortitude."
Gerst never got rich — his biggest cash was a $2,500 weekend in Salem after claiming singles and doubles titles last season, marking his first-ever singles triumph on the PNW Open Circuit.
But the journey — literally — made the pursuit worthwhile.
"For me, I love the game and I love the travel," Gerst said. "A lot of guys don't like the travel. You're in the middle of nowhere in Thailand and BBC is the only thing on TV that you can understand. But that is also the cool thing about it. You're in Thailand."
All that said, he's got a chance to fatten his wallet today.
Gerst, who is now a web editor and product tester at Tennis Warehouse, defeated fifth-seeded Joel Kusnierz of San Francisco in the Open semifinals on Saturday. He'll face second-seeded Mathew Berry of San Francisco today in the championship match at 11:30 a.m. The doubles final will follow.
In the doubles championship, the No. 1 pairing of Gerst and ex-North Medford standout Jon Endrikat will take on No. 2 Berry and Charlie Cutler.
The purse for this year's tournament is $5,000, with $1,500 going to the singles champion and $400 apiece for the doubles champions.
Navigating through the Open field has been no easy task, Gerst said.
"It is a deep field," he said. "Everyone is really good, and I don't think there is a whole lot of difference between us. I think I have a shot. I really like the way I'm playing. I've been serving really well, which is extremely helpful. If I keep playing this way and preparing and coming in with the same mind set, I like my chances."
Gerst said that if he secured first-place cash, he'd do something fun with it. He has never won a singles or doubles title in Medford in at least four attempts, he says, and it would be worth celebrating.
"I'm moving into a new house, so maybe a nice couch and a good barbecue," said Gerst, who has a girlfriend and three cats.
Gerst, who is from Redondo Beach, Calif., is just starting to settle down after an adventurous last few years.
He played tennis collegiately at Washington for two seasons before transferring to Cal Poly and graduating in 2010 with a degree in philosophy. After that he went pro for just over a year and then became an assistant coach for Cal Poly's women's tennis team.
A little later, a close friend asked Gerst if he wanted to coach at Florida State. The tennis pal had planned on taking the volunteer assistant gig himself before being offered another job on the West Coast that was more appealing.
"He had to refer them to somebody," Gerst said. "I thought that I'd at least look into it. Three weeks later, I'm on the court teaching at FSU."
Gerst coached there for nine months, working with the men's squad and also helping lead a junior academy.
"It felt like a different county," he said. "It is the deep south. You are 15 minutes from Georgia and 45 minutes from Alabama. It was very different but I loved my experience there."
Soon after that, he took the job at Tennis Warehouse. The company had sponsored him and liked his travel blog, he said.
Gerst expects to next play in PNW Open Circuit events in Portland and Salem.
Medford has become a favorite stop, he added.
Endrikat, who has grown to know Gerst well, is always happy to see his well-traveled friend.
"First off, he is just a really excellent human being," said Endrikat, who has actually defeated Gerst in the last two doubles finals at the Open. "He returns so clean and he has one of the best backhands, a world-class backhand. He's a great player."
Men's Open Singles (Quarterfinal Round)
Andy Gerst (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) d. Tim Layman (Salem), 6-4, 6-2; Joel Kusnierz (San Francisco) d. Charlie Cutler (San Francisco) 6-4, 5-7, 6-3; Jonathan Endrikat (Central Point) d. Brett Van Linge (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) 6-1, 4-6, 6-1; Mathew Berry (San Francisco) d. Artem Petushkov (Roseville) 6-2, 7-6 (6).
Men's Open Singles (Semifinal Round)
Andy Gerst d. Joel Kusnierz, 7-5, 6-4; Mathew Berry d. Jonathan Endrikat, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5).
Men's Open Doubles (Semifinal Round)
Jonathan Endrikat-Andy Gerst d. Matthew Pronesti-Brett Van Linge, 6-2, 6-3; Mathew Berry-Charlie Cutler d. John Devorss-Tim Layman, 7-6 (3), 6-4.
NTRP Combined Women's 8.0 Doubles (Round Robin)
Victoria Nylund-Dana Smith d. Katherine Dron-Jen Sturges, 6-1, 6-2; Victoria Nylund-Dana Smith d. Ellen Miller-Elizabeth Schoenleber, 7-6 (3), 6-3.
NTRP Men's 4.0 Singles (Semifinal Round)
Carl Norgauer (Williams) d. Rory Tosh (Medford), 4-6, 6-4, 6-3; John Petersen (Klamath Falls) d. Nathan Young (Klamath Falls) Wo (pc).
NTRP Men's 4.0 Singles (Final Round)
John Petersen (Klamath Falls) d. Carl Norgauer (Williams) 6-4, 7-6 (8).
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt