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'An honor to be selected'

Jonathan Stark didn't set out to be a doubles specialist.

In fact, the tennis star from Medford winces at that designation.

"The term 'doubles specialist' is a little frustrating," says Stark, a 1989 South Medford High graduate whose professional tennis career earned him induction into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. "I considered myself a tennis player. You'd go into tournaments with an emphasis first on singles, then doubles. Believe me, I am under no illusion that my singles career came close to my doubles career as far as success. But I am very proud of my singles career, too. I take pride in both."

Stark, 38, won two singles events in an 11-year career on the ATP Tour that saw him ranked as high as 36th in that discipline. However, he rose to a No. 1 world ranking as a doubles player.

He received word last month that he had been elected into the Hall of Fame as part of the 2009 class. He'll be one of eight inductees honored during a ceremony Sept. 29 at Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland.

The official announcement came on Tuesday.

Also in Stark's class, which represents the 30th anniversary of the Hall, is Gary Payton, the former Oregon State star who went on to a brilliant NBA career.

Payton played 13 seasons in Seattle, and that's where Stark, wife Dana and their three children reside. Stark has been the director of the junior program at Seattle Tennis Club for six years.

"I thought that was pretty cool," Stark says of going in with Payton. "He was always one of my favorites. It's quite an honor, being from Medford and coming from the state of Oregon, to be recognized for my achievements with guys like Payton and all the others."

Also going in are Stan and Pete Brock (football), Jerry Cundari (golf), Tom Levak (karate), Anna Maria Lopez (special contributor), Chuck Richards (special contributor).

Stark, who retired from competition in 2001, joins a list of southern Oregonians in the Hall that includes Prink Callison (coaching), Chandler Egan (golf), Bill Enyart (football), Dick Fosbury (track and field), Marshall Holman (bowling), Bob Newland (special contributor) and Fred Spiegelberg (coaching).

Stark knew early in his career that he could compete at a high level.

While training under local professional Frank Inn, his junior peers at time included Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and Michael Chang.

"You always think when you're doing something as a kid that you'll play professionally,'" says Stark. "Of course, that's extremely unrealistic. But maybe the point when I thought I could do it was when I saw a lot of my peers doing extremely well. Michael Chang won the French Open when he was 16, and I played him in a tournament months before and beat him. And Pete Sampras had huge success and won the U.S. Open at 19, and Jim Courier was doing really well.

"I was seeing all of these guys I played junior tennis with as my peers — I was beating them and they were beating me — doing that and I thought, 'Gosh, there's no reason I can't do it, too.'"

By the time he went to Stanford, where he was an All-American twice over, Stark knew he'd turn pro before finishing school.

In his 11 touring seasons, his highlights were winning his first singles title in 1993 over Cedric Pioline. That tournament was in Bolzano, Italy, and his parents, Dick and Janet, were present.

Other highlights were teaming with Martina Navratilova to capture the Wimbledon mixed doubles titles in 1995 and playing on four U.S. Davis Cup teams.

Stark's other singles crown was in 1996, when he defeated Chang in the Singapore Open.

He had 20 doubles championships to his credit, including the 1994 French Open with Byron Black and the 1997 World Doubles Championships with Rick Leach.

"I played 11 years, and for eight or nine years, I played singles and doubles," says Stark. "The last couple years I was doubles only. Doubles is something you just kind of fall into."

The Hall of Fame honor comes at a time when it's easy to appreciate.

"You're still involved in tennis and you do little things here and there," says Stark, "but it's nothing like playing the tour and going to places like Wimbledon and that stuff. I'm lucky enough to be honored and recognized for my accomplishments. When you get older, and rightfully so, things change. You become a working stiff, and other priorities in your life take over. So it's nice to be recognized for what you were able to accomplish as a professional tennis player.

"People ask me all the time, 'How were you able to do it coming from Medford, Ore.' I had so much support from everybody. That's always meant so much to me, coming from there, and I still feel it when I go back. It's pretty cool."

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

Medford native Jonathan Stark, seen here playing in an exhibition match in 2005, is one of eight athletes to enter the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. The ceremony will be held Sept. 29 at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland. - MT file photo