Steve Tidball and John Austin are nine years apart in age, but it is almost eerie how identical their tennis careers have been. Both played collegiately at UCLA, both played professionally after college and both are now tennis pros at local country clubs.

Their careers will have one more similarity starting this week, when their clubs host the USTA boys 16-and-under clay-court championships at Woodmont and Congressional country clubs in Maryland. The tournament will last through Sunday.

"The tennis business is a small world," said Austin, 43, the pro at Woodmont. "You never know who you're going to meet and where you're finally going to end up."

This is the third consecutive year the tournament is being held in Maryland after being held in Nashville in previous years. The top 192 15- and 16-year-olds in the country will participate, according to tournament director Jeff Szekely.

Three local players, all ranked in the top five in the Mid-Atlantic region, will play. First-team All-Met David Emery from W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax will top the list of local competitors, playing in his second tournament in a week. Emery spent most of last week at a tournament in Louisiana. Chris Brown of Fairfax (No. 4 in the Mid-Atlantic region) and Andy Iriarte (No. 5) of Rockville are the other local players.

The tournament has an extensive and impressive list of alumni, including Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, Pete Sampras and Jim Courier, who all played in the 1984 championships. Jimmy Connors and recent Hall of Fame inductee John McEnroe also played in the tournament.

Tidball and Austin also played in the tournament. Tidball won the junior doubles title in the early 1960s, and Austin got to the third round in singles in 1973. Tidball was an all-American at UCLA in 1967, and later took a job teaching tennis in the special services division of the Army during the Vietnam War.

Both pros said the face of the tournament has changed greatly in two decades.

"It's really a different game today," Austin said. "There's a lot more power and a lot less finesse."

"The kids play a much more slashing game now than they did back then," said Tidball, 52, the pro at Congressional. "Now there's a lot more good players, and their parents have to spend a fortune just to keep them in the game." In addition to winning the 16-year-old doubles title, Tidball was ranked 10th in the nation in singles as a 16-year-old.

"The good players back then would just keep hitting the ball back until you missed," he said. "Now it seems like you can't get away with that at all. You have to hit the ball hard."