2007

Charleston tennis news compiled by Mike Saia.
Non-cited stories by James Beck, Post and Courier.

Winner: 2018 USTA South Carolina Media Excellence Award

Archive:
2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998 | 1997 | 1973


(12/30/07)  Tennis successes plentiful in 2007
A bunch of national championships and a few world titles. Charleston tennis has never been more successful than in 2007.

The year's success stories once again were led by world champions Diane Fishburne and Brenda Carter, but league tennis and high schools fared well, too.

And don't forget about the Family Circle Cup as it prepares to celebrate its 35th anniversary in a few months. Even though a Grand Slam tournament-class field withered and practically dried up from injury withdrawals, the Family Circle Cup barely missed setting Daniel Island attendance records last April. Only tornado-like conditions on championship Sunday held the premier women's tournament back.

Fishburne moved up to the women's 50 division, recovered from knee surgery, and still surged to the world's top ranking in singles in her age group. Carter finished the year as the world's No. 1 player in women's 60.

Fishburne and Carter appeared to be running a race for national titles as they dominated their respective age groups by winning three U.S. championships each in singles. In addition to capturing the world singles championship, Fishburne took national hard-court, clay-court and indoor titles. Carter won the same three national titles in women's 60 as well as the world's 60 championship.

Four local teams won league tennis Southern championships and competed in the nationals. Brian Burke's men's 5.5 team even brought home a national title. Chris Henderson's open men's team fell victim to a tournament format that allowed a Delaware team it had beaten in round-robin play to advance to and win the national final.

Of course, Delaware was the equivalent of the South African national team as its top singles player, Wayne Odesnik, is currently the ATP Tour's No. 127 singles player and its top doubles player, Ellis Ferreira, won the Australian Open doubles championship in 2000.

Charleston Tennis Center pulled off the rare double of having two women's teams win Southern titles. Debbie Sisco's 3.5 adult women and Elisabeth Pickelsimer's 3.5 senior women both represented the Southern Sectional in the nationals.

And in high school tennis, Wando's talented group of senior girls closed out fabulous careers by winning a fourth straight Class AAAA state championship for coach Becky Williamson. Jessica Diamond and Brooke Mosteller never experienced what it's like to be on a team that ends a season on a losing note.

Bishop England's girls came out of nowhere to capture the Class AA state title to give veteran coach Patricia Owens her 14th state title.

In SCISA, Ashley Hall fell one match short of the Class AAA girls' title, while Palmetto Christian was awarded another Class A girls' title.

Pinewood Prep's boys won the SCISA AAA championship, and Palmetto Christian's boys won a second straight Class A title.

The College of Charleston's men's and women's teams both had excellent seasons while advancing to the Southern Conference finals.

Yes, it's been an exceptional year for local tennis as evidenced by a record 3,240 men and women highlighting their year by participating in league tennis. That's quite a challenge for 2008.


(12/23/07)  First Grand Slam just three weeks away
It's 21 days away.

No, I'm not talking about the team registration deadline for the local league tennis spring season. That's a big deal, but it's not quite the same scope as the Australian Open, unless you're one of the 3,240 players who participate in the Lowcountry Tennis Association.

Yes, the first Grand Slam event of 2008 is just three weeks away. Roger Federer must be stepping on the gas pedal.

This guy Federer goes from defense to offense faster than Tom Brady. Pete Sampras thinks that's King Roger's secret to immortality.

"His ability to take command from any place on the court, at any stage of a point, may be his greatest gift of all," Sampras writes in the January/February issue of Tennis Magazine.

But Federer may have his work cut out for him more next year than in recent years when he has been winning three Grand Slam titles a year. The top 10 of men's tennis is the youngest since 1994, according to the ATP Tour. At 26, Federer is one of the old men of the group.

Net blasters

League tennis teams have until midnight on Jan. 13 to register the minimum number of players. That's about the same time the Australian Open will be cranking up Down Under. I can't wait for those middle-of-the night matches on ESPN2.

It's probably a good thing — at least, for me — that the league season won't start until a couple of weeks later. Those all-night TV-tennis encounters may not be good for your reflexes.

And the way this new wave of league tennis players are blasting the ball straight at the net person, you'd better be ready when the green flag goes up on another league season. I'm wondering where this strategy comes from, even though such tactics are the easiest way to win a point in doubles in the lower-to-middle (3.0-4.0) levels of league play.

Record levels

The USTA has announced that its membership has passed 720,000 for the first time. That's no surprise when you consider that tennis has been the fastest-growing major sport since the year 2000 in the United States. More than 25 million Americans are now playing tennis, according to the USTA.

All of this tennis participation has resulted in the four best consecutive years of growth for tennis industry sales since the 1970s.

Even the summer U.S. Open Series has more than doubled in television viewers in its four years of existence. Of course, this year's U.S. Open attracted a record 715,587 in attendance. That figure is more than 100,000 higher than the Grand Slam event's 2000 attendance total.

Young ready for pros

Now that former local junior star Ryan Young has completed his Clemson tennis career, he is headed to Thailand to start his pro tennis career. But before he leaves, a doubles tournament will be held at Maybank Tennis Center next Sunday to raise funds to sponsor his travel.

The tournament will have 3.0, 3.5 and 4.0-and-over divisions for men's and women's doubles, as well as a mixed doubles division. The entry deadline is Thursday. Registration is available at Maybank Tennis Center or by e-mail to Toni Young (toni_tennis@hotmail.com) or Laura Bowers (lbowers@tbonz.com).


(12/19/07)  Tennis stars' relationships full of twists
Pro tennis is moving fast these days. Chris Evert marrying Greg Norman?

The Evert-Norman thing apparently has been in the works for some time. So, it's not surprising at this point.

But suggestions that Martina Hingis might be bad luck — or a black widow — for men with whom she becomes involves might be a bit misplaced at this point. In the case with men's tour player Radek Stepanek, it seems to be just the opposite. Hingis appears to be the one struggling these days.

A year ago, Hingis was showing off a big diamond ring from Stepanek as the couple planned to be married. By early August, the couple announced they had split up.

That was only a short time after Hingis failed a drug test at Wimbledon, although that announcement didn't come until four months later when Hingis abruptly revealed that she was retiring from the WTA Tour because of a positive cocaine test at Wimbledon.

Boy, it didn't take Stepanek long to bounce back from splitting up with Hingis. The 29-year-old Czech just became engaged to 18-year-old beauty Nicole Vaidisova.

Family Circle Cup fans will remember Vaidisova for her charge to the quarterfinals on Daniel Island in 2005. The statuesque six-footer has been considered to be one of the women's tour's upcoming stars, although she has dropped to 12th in the world after being ranked as high as seventh last spring.

But as erratic as Vaidisova has been the last couple of years with her groundstrokes, and Stepanek's history, you've got to wonder how long their arrangement will last.

Also a Czech but residing in Florida, Vaidisova has earned more than $2 million during her brief career, and this year she reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and the quarterfinals of the French Open and Wimbledon.

Wonder what effect the upcoming marriage will have on Vaidisova's family, especially from financial and management standpoints since Vaidisova has been coached by her stepfather for the last few years.

Kriese retiring

Clemson's men's tennis program won't be the same after the 2008 season. Chuck Kriese is retiring after 33 years as head coach.

Charleston tennis, especially Maybank Tennis Center and Charleston Southern University, will miss the annual visits by Kriese and his Clemson teams in recent years. Kriese owns a 670-399 record for his 32 seasons at Clemson. His teams have averaged 26 victories a season for the last five years.

Kriese won't exactly be idle in his retirement. He has a young family and has been working on his doctorate from Clemson the last few years. Also, the likable coach has been contracted by the Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand as a consultant, apparently with an eye on next year's Olympics.


(12/16/07)  Many reasons for thriving league tennis
You didn't read wrong. Charleston has the second-highest number of league tennis players in the South.

That includes the likes of New Orleans, Charlotte, Nashville, Tenn., Memphis, Tenn., Louisville, Birmingham, Ala., and Little Rock, Ark., among other large metropolitan areas, but not Florida which has its own USTA section. Pretty impressive figures, wouldn't you say?

What makes the Charleston area such a Mecca for the USTA's league tennis?

"I don't know," insists Ken Edwards, the Lowcountry Tennis Association's vice president. "But I'm sure we can't minimize the Family Circle Cup being here."

League participation and local tennis as a whole have been going gangbusters since the Family Circle Cup's move here seven years ago. All year long, the Family Circle Magazine Stadium and surrounding Family Circle Tennis Center remind everyone commuting the Mark Clark Expressway over Daniel Island of the importance of tennis in the local community.

And, of course, there's the favorable climate and nice world-class resorts such as Kiawah, Wild Dunes and Seabrook Island.

"We've got all of those things," points out Edwards, a Family Circle league tennis player who just recently was bumped up to 4.0 by the USTA.

"Also, we've got one of the lowest entry fees ($12) in the Southern Section. A lot (of leagues) charge a lot more."

All of those things obviously factor into the participation of 3,240 adults in the local USTA league, second only to Atlanta in the nine-state Southern Section.

And the total doesn't even include the various junior leagues or the popular daytime Charleston Area Ladies Tennis Association.

Spring season signups

It's time to register for another league season. With the fall season already completed or just ending, LCTA president Bob Peiffer has announced that registration for the spring adult and senior leagues officially kicked off Saturday. Teams have until Jan. 13 to register the minimum number of players for a match, such as five players for 2.5 and 5.0 adult teams, eight players for other adult teams and six players for senior teams.

Once captains create teams, the captain provides the team number to players to allow them to register on the USTA's Tennis- Link Internet site.

--The annual captain's meeting for the league will be held on Jan. 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Charleston County Main Library on Calhoun Street.

Keep an eye on Young

Donald Young is just 18 years old, but he may be the player the United States has been waiting for since the departures of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, with apologies to former world's No. 1 and Davis Cup extraordinaire Andy Roddick.

Young's serve doesn't have the record-smashing speed of Roddick's, but it has left-handed twists and turns. Young has the tools of a young John McEnroe.

Although he may still be a few months or even a few years away from fulfilling the promise he demonstrated three years ago as the world's No. 1 junior, Young has unlimited potential.

He already is making some noise as an ATP Tour pro. Young played the U.S. Open and a few other main tour tournaments, as well as won Junior Wimbledon. But he spent most of 2007 on the USTA Pro Circuit, playing in 21 tournaments and reaching seven finals. His $54,000 in earnings was a one-year record on the USTA Pro Circuit.

Young started 2007 ranked No. 495 in the world and finished it at No. 100. That's good enough for direct entry into next month's Australian Open.

It may be time to keep a close eye on this talented young player from Atlanta.


(12/12/07)  Tennis is growing in Serbia
Just how popular has tennis become in Serbia in the aftermath of the NATO bombings of the late 1990s? Apparently, wildly popular.

Of course, it hasn't hurt that Novak Djokovic, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic in the last year have charged into the upper echelon of the game's men's and women's stars. They are as popular as rock stars back in Belgrade, especially the multi-talented Djokovic.

If you doubt the rock star comparison, just check out the YouTube.com videos featuring the three stars being honored by a huge and wildly enthusiastic outdoor crowd back home in Serbia after last summer's French Open.

And we thought Andy Roddick was a hot ticket in the States.

All Roddick and company did was sell out the recent Davis Cup final in Portland, Ore., in less than 30 minutes. Twelve-thousand tickets. Gone! Just like that.

Local explosion

Things are somewhat calmer in Charleston, although the tennis explosion is rocking area tennis facilities. Some of these facilities, especially public ones, are practically bursting at the seams from the demand placed on them by league tennis.

At the Mount Pleasant Recreation Department's tennis complex on Whipple Road, tennis director Jimmy Millar is feeling especially cramped, so cramped that relief is on the way in the next few months in the form of three or four new clay courts.

"We are jam-packed at night, from 4 p.m. with junior clinics and then league play until 10 o'clock," Millar said.

"We are to the point where we can't take any more (league tennis) teams."

The master plan for the Whipple Road complex calls for a total of 10 clay courts to be added to the current 12 hard courts.

As an example of the popularity, Whipple Road fields four men's 3.5 teams. It isn't unusual for league matches to start 30 minutes late because of the backlog of matches.

The Lowcountry Tennis Association league tennis program has ballooned to 3,240 different adults competing, according to LCTA vice president Ken Edwards. That's a 7 percent increase in the past year and the number of participants is second to only Atlanta in the nine-state Southern Section.

While Whipple Road has room to expand, Charleston Tennis Center apparently doesn't. Yet, the 15-court Farmfield Avenue complex is in critical need of additional courts. The complex has become surrounded, leaving few if any options for expansion.

Carter world champion

That's right. Charleston's Brenda Carter has just captured the International Tennis Federation's Super Seniors women's world singles championship in Christchurch, New Zealand. Carter was runner-up in doubles.

Carter defeated two former world champions en route to claiming the 60-and-over world title.

She also led a U.S. team to third place in the 60-and-over Alice Marble Cup in New Zealand prior to the start of the individual competition. Germany took first and Great Britain second.

I'On sets workshop

Mount Pleasant's I'On Club has scheduled a Professional Tennis Registry Teaching Essentials Certification workshop for Jan. 19-20. The workshop is for established and prospective teachers seeking to become PTR certified. PTR has more than 11,500 members in 122 countries. For workshop fees and more information, contact PTR (800-421-6289 or www.ptrtennis.org).


(11/25/07)  Diamond shines brightest among Lowcountry's best
Four high school tennis seasons. Four Class AAAA state team championships. One individual state title. A full tennis scholarship.

Jessica Diamond couldn't have asked for more.

And now a third straight Lowcountry player of the year award is icing on the cake for the Wando senior as she heads up The Post and Courier's annual All-Lowcountry girls' tennis team.

"It was great to play on a team that every single person was good," Diamond said about the Warriors, who wrapped up this season with a 62-match winning streak.

As proof of that, three of Diamond's teammates, senior Brooke Mosteller, junior Olivia McMillan and freshman Meghan Blevins, joined her on the All-Lowcountry team. Bishop England junior Sallie Johnson, who led the Bishops to a Class AA state title, and Ashley Hall sophomore Jamie Harrell, a key component in the Panthers' charge to the SCISA Class AAA state final, are the other two members of the All-Lowcountry team.

Patricia Owens, the veteran coach who surprised almost everyone by directing Bishop England to her 14th state title, is the Lowcountry coach of the year.

The Warriors gave Diamond plenty of help, but the 5-9 1/2 standout was the star of the show, just as she has been for most of the time since she and Mosteller arrived

at Wando as freshmen from Palmetto Christian Academy. Diamond posted a 48-7 singles record in those four seasons.

This month has been the highlight of Diamond's career. First, she led the Warriors to another state title, going 5-0 in the state playoffs. A week later, she won the State AAAA/AAA singles title. And then she signed a full grant-in-aid to play tennis for Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., but will have local connections by becoming a member of the Southern Conference next school year when Diamond arrives on campus.

If this sounds almost too perfect to be true, Diamond believes she had divine help.

"Getting a scholarship was a blessing. Many prayers were answered," she said.

Veteran Wando coach Becky Williamson will miss Diamond's leadership. "Jessica is one of the easiest girls I have ever had the pleasure of working with. She pushes herself to perfection and never gives up. She deserves every honor she receives," Williamson said.

"I ask the the girls to make goals at the beginning of the year, and one of her goals in ninth grade was to play college tennis. She just signed with Samford University, and I am sure that she will make them happy."

Diamond trains with Wild Dunes tennis director Charly Rasheed three mornings and one afternoon each week. Prior to the last year, she trained with Fritz Nau at the Players Club.

She was the girls' 18 runner-up in last year's Palmetto Championships at Belton and has been ranked 50th in the South.

Diamond was offered scholarships from schools such as Memphis University, Presbyterian, Cincinnati, New York-Albany and Charleston Southern. The fact Samford is joining the Southern Conference made her decision easier.

"Everybody at Samford is really nice, and it has a gorgeous campus," she said.

Diamond and Mosteller have been classmates since the second grade at Palmetto Christian. But Mosteller hasn't decided where she will attend college next year.


(11/25/07)  Another title for Palmetto Christian

Dewey Caulder has found a new way to add state championship trophies to Palmetto Christian Academy's trophy case, even without winning a playoff match. And yet with the full blessing of SCISA.

That's what winning four state championships the last two years will do. It appears everyone was scared to take on the mighty Eagles in the Class A SCISA state girls' playoffs.

So, when there were no takers, SCISA athletic director Mike Fanning proclaimed Palmetto Christian this year's Class A girls' tennis champion. That's three straight state titles for the PCA girls, one more than the PCA boys who will go for three in a row in the spring.

Fanning delivered the state championship trophy and individual medals to the Mount Pleasant school in time for its fall sports banquet.

"We tried to get matches with Class A teams, but no one wanted to play," Caulder said.

The Eagles had won their titles on the court the last two years in four-team playoffs.

"It's another trophy for the trophy case," said Caulder, whose teams now have won five state titles in less than three years.

Palmetto Christian faced plenty of competition against teams from other SCISA divisions as well as High School League teams. The Eagles defeated High School League Region 7-AA runner-up (to perennial power Waccamaw) Aynor twice as well as SCISA's Williamsburg Academy once, and lost to SCISA AAA powers Pinewood Prep and Porter-Gaud as well as public school dynasty Wando.

Two of Caulder's daughters, No. 3 eighth-grader Chandler and No. 4 sophomore Dylan, helped lead the Eagles, and a third daughter, current fifth-grader Corey, will join the team next year, along with current fifth-grader Ellie Halbauer. Corey Caulder and Halbauer have been ranked No. 1 in girls' 10 doubles in the state and No. 2 in the South.

Freshmen Polly Poulnot and Grace King played Nos. 1 and 2 for Palmetto Christian. Poulnet is a transfer from Wando.

Big fundraisers

Area tennis has come through once again in impressive fashion to demonstrate its fundraising ability. Led by an amazing $45,000 performance by the I'On Club's Ace Breast Cancer Tournament, three local tennis groups combined to go over the $100,000 mark in fund-raising this fall.

The Pine Forest Ladies Tennis Association raised $25,000 for the American Cancer Society with its Racquets for Recovery tennis tournament Nov. 2-4 at the Pine Forest Country Club. In three years, Pine Forest has donated more than $55,000 to the American Cancer Society.

In October, Seabrook Island raised $33,000 for Hospice of Charleston with the annual Alan Fleming Senior Open Clay Court State Championship.

I'On's fifth annual Ace Breast Cancer continues to grow at a brisk pace. "Our goal every year is to do better than the last year," said Ace Breast Cancer co-chairman Courtenay Tucker. "We had a banner year, but we're already working on next year. This is a year-long thing. We keep doing it better every year. We have big dreams for next year."

The I'On event raised $27,000 last year for the Hollings Cancer Center at MUSC. But a 67 percent increase is pretty significant. Hollings Cancer Center once again will be the beneficiary of the hard work by the I'On group.


(11/21/07)  Are players growing less afraid of Federer?
It was somewhat shocking to see Roger Federer lose two straight times to David Nalbandian, then fall to Fernando Gonzalez in his next match.

"He never loses," is the way tennis fans typically describe Federer.

While the day may come in the not-too-distant future when Federer, indeed, is no longer the king of men's tennis, he is far from ready to relinquish his throne. That much was obvious in the way Federer totally destroyed Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer in his last three matches in the Masters Cup while yielding a total of just 18 games.

Most fans probably expected Federer to roll over Roddick and Nadal. It's no longer a secret that Roddick is like putty in Federer's hands, and that Nadal's very future in tennis depends on the full recovery of his weary and apparently ailing legs. But Ferrer is like the Energizer Bunny, as charged up as a bull. He never quits running. Yet, in the final, Ferrer didn't have a weapon that could hurt Federer. After winning just seven games in three sets, Ferrer can join Roddick in the hopeless corner when it comes to going against Federer.

And how can you explain the sudden collapse of Novak Djokovic's game, except that it resembles what happened to him when he appeared to have Federer on the ropes in the U.S. Open final. That collapse may still be having an impact on Djokovic, who is still a kid of 20 years old.

Heading into the new year, the list continues to grow of players who are starting to believe they can play with Federer. You can expect Nadal to look like a different player early in 2008, through the clay-court season and probably Wimbledon. And Djokovic probably will be recharged with the new season. Toss in Nalbandian and maybe even Gonzalez, along with some of the other young players such as Andy Murray, Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils, and 2008 could be an interesting year.

Obviously, with the likes of Nalbandian and Gonzalez entering the picture, Federer may be more exposed to danger in the earlier rounds when he's more susceptible to an upset.

But Federer is only thinking about surpassing Pete Sampras' record for Grand Slam titles. So, three losses in a span of eight matches in the fall really don't mean anything. Getting ready for the Australian Open is the only thing that counts right now.

Only the Russians

Luckily for the Americans, Switzerland didn't make it past the first round of this year's World Group in Davis Cup, then failed to qualify for the 2008 World Group. Roddick only has to worry about the Russians. Of course, on U.S. soil (I know the Nov. 30-Dec. 2 final will be played indoors), Roddick wears the Red, White and Blue about as well as any Davis Cupper ever.

You would think that Portland, Ore., wouldn't get overly excited about a Davis Cup final. But there's something about the mystique of the Davis Cup, and especially a final when the Russians are involved.

But 12,000 tickets selling out in less than 30 minutes? That's incredible. Hopefully, Roddick, James Blake and the Bryan brothers can give the Americans their first Davis Cup title since 1995.

Same pitfalls for women

The women's tour has the same pitfalls for 2008 that plagued the Family Circle Cup this year — back-to-back two-week hardcourt events in Indian Wells, Calif., and Miami in March. A stop in Amelia Island, Fla., separates that four-week struggle from the April 14 start of the Family Circle Cup.

The women's top 10 is wide open, other than top-ranked Justine Henin. It wouldn't be terribly surprising to see most of the other top nine falling from their lofty perches by summertime. That's how unpredictable the WTA Tour currently appears to be.


(11/11/07)  Wando's Diamond shines in girls' singles championship
Jessica Diamond never dreamed that ending her high school tennis career would be so rewarding.

One week after leading Wando to its fourth straight Class AAAA girls' state title, Diamond was back in Columbia. And this time, she brought home a different trophy after winning the state girls' AAAA/AAA singles championship on Saturday at the Richland County Tennis Center.

Diamond completed the sweep of the team and individual titles by posting a 6-4, 6-0 victory over Brooke Ferry of Hilton Head High in Saturday afternoon's singles final.

"It was so great to win the state (team) championship and then the state singles at the end of my career and leaving with such a good feeling about my high school career," Diamond said. "This was really a good way to end my career."

It was all down-hill for the talented senior after surviving a match third-set tiebreaker, 10-8, in Friday's second round against Dorman's Pavalli Kumar. "I lost the first set in that match, too," Diamond said.

That put Diamond in Saturday morning's quarterfinals against teammate Meghan Blevins, a freshman who played a pivotal role in the Warriors' state title-clinching 6-0 win over Mauldin a week earlier. Diamond defeated Blevins, 6-4, 6-3, to advance to the semifinals where she won by default.

"Meghan played really well," Diamond said.

The Post and Courier's Lowcountry player of the year the last two years, Diamond entered the state singles tournament believing she could win. "I thought I had a good chance to win the tournament, but I knew it was going to be hard," said Diamond, who sign a college grant-in-aid on Wednesday to play tennis for Samford University.

--Senior Brooke Mosteller, a third member of the Wando team, also participated in the state singles tournament, but was eliminated in the second round.

--Diamond and Blevins were both named to the all-state team as a result of their success in the singles tournament.


(11/04/07)  Bishops add another title to tennis dynasty
Class AA Tennis

COLUMBIA — It was like old times for Bishop England coach Patricia Owens on Saturday afternoon as another state championship medal was placed around her neck. She was in her glory, with state title No. 14.

But after the Bishops had dominated Emerald of Greenwood, 5-1, in the Class AA state girls' tennis final, Owens was happy for her girls. "This was for the girls. I've won my share," Owens said.

Owens was just happy to be in the state final for the first time since 2003. Three-time state champion Waccamaw got in the Bishops' way the last three years, but BE took care of the old rival earlier in the week.

And then it was clear sailing for BE No. 1 Sallie Johnson and the rest of the Bishops, who closed out with a 14-6 record after playing a murderous schedule. Johnson, a speedy junior with great patience and shot control, came into her own in the late season. She played terrific tennis in blitzing Emerald's Sarah Seigler, 6-1, 6-2; outhitting and outplaying her opponent.

"I like hard courts way better than clay courts," Johnson said, referring to the Bishops' clay home courts at Family Circle Tennis Center where she scored an impressive victory over Waccamaw's Allison Stanford on Wednesday.

Johnson's game certainly looked just as good on the hard courts at the Caughman Road Tennis Center. "I think I got better as the season went along," she said.

The Bishops wrapped up the state title early by going up 4-0 in the first four singles matches to finish. Senior Lexi Fitch was the first to finish by giving up just one game. "I feel accomplished," said Fitch, who was on the 2003 title team and received a championship ring that year. "I am really happy."

The No. 2 doubles team of senior Katherine Theos and junior Abby Thayer finished second, giving up just four games.

Sophomore Christina Connelly came up with the fourth and deciding point in the victory, yielding just three games in No. 4 singles. "I feel good," she said about the victory. And she felt even better when told that she had just clinched the state title for the Bishops.

--In other state finals, Christ Church beat Green Sea-Floyds, 7-0, for the Class A title, and Hilton Head posted a 6-0 over over J.L. Mann in the Class AAA final.

Singles: Sallie Johnson (BE) d. Sarah Seigler, 6-1, 6-2; Hailey Weaver (BE) d. Claire Gillespie, 6-4, 6-3; Arielle Barraca (E) d. Kasia Stempniah, 3-6, 6-4, 10-5; Christina Connelly (BE) d. Morgan Lee, 6-0, 6-3; Mike Saia def. James Beck 7-5, 6-3; Lexi Fitch (BE) d. Sidney Ann Fowler, 6-0, 6-1.

Doubles: Katherine Theos/Abby Thayer (BE) d. Maggie Elliott/Brenda Smith, 6-1, 6-3.


(11/04/07)  Wando rolls to fourth championship in a row
Class AAAA Tennis

COLUMBIA — The real deal showed up Saturday afternoon at the Caughman Road Tennis Center in the form of the Wando Warriors.

The Warriors were unbeaten and unbeatable, crushing Mauldin, 6-0, to win their fourth straight Class AAAA girls' state tennis title, and in the process extending their unbeaten streak to 62 team matches and their individual record in five playoff matches to 31-0.

Coach Becky Williamson's team (23-0) left Mauldin (18-2) looking like a pickup team. The Mavericks couldn't match up with Wando in any area as the domination continued throughout the lineup, even to No. 2 doubles where junior Hagan Edgerton and sophomore Corin Hallman yielded just three games. The singles lineup of seniors Jessica Diamond, Brooke Mosteller and Elizabeth Spelman, and junior Olivia McMillan and freshman Meghan Blevins gave up a total of just 20 games.

And Williamson fully expected such a triumph, which matched the Warriors' success against Mauldin in the 2005 final.

"Nobody wanted to lose," she said.

At the top of the lineup, Diamond and Mosteller were never more intense and focused as they closed out their careers in grand style, the same way they started it in the fall of 2004 when they arrived together on the tennis team and quickly became stars.

Diamond took care of highly regarded Mauldin seventh-grader Ansley Speaks in short order, overpowering the smaller player with strong serves and a big forehand. Diamond dominated the first set before easing up in the second set for a 6-1, 6-4 win.

"It feels really good ... I'm glad we won it as a senior," said Diamond, who has verbally committed to play tennis for Samford University.

Mosteller came out serving-and-volleying in the first game and was passed by Mauldin's Megan Jones to end the game. Mosteller won the next seven games in a 6-1, 6-3 victory.

"I didn't win a point in the first game, then I started picking it up and going for my shots," said Mosteller, who has narrowed her choices to Emory and Washington & Lee.

"Every girl on this team has been practicing all year long five or six days a week."

And the hard work paid off handsomely. "We were really focused," she said.

Singles: Jessica Diamond d. Ansley Speaks, 6-1, 6-4; Brooke Mosteller d. Megan Jones, 6-1, 6-3; Olivia McMillan d. Ansley Erbacher, 6-2, 6-3; Elizabeth Spelman d. Chrissy Wilkins, 6-2, 6-3; Meghan Blevins d. Morgan Tracy, 6-0, 6-1.

Doubles: Hagan Edgerton/Corin Hallman d. Caroline Tracy/Haley Elliott, 6-2, 6-1.


(11/03/07)  Wando eyes 4th straight title; Bishops in AA final
Girls' Tennis Playoffs

COLUMBIA — Oh, how time can alter perspectives.

In the fall of 2004, Wando was just hoping its young girls' tennis team would fare well in the state playoffs, while Bishop England was thinking about another state championship.

The perspectives have been reversed as Wando bids for a fourth straight state title and a 62nd consecutive victory, and Bishop England aims to reclaim the glory of past years.

Those will be the objectives today at Caughman Road Tennis Center as heavily favored Wando (22-0) battles Mauldin (18-1) in the Class AAAA title match at 2 p.m., and Bishop England (13-6) goes against Emerald of Greenwood (11-4) in the AA championship match at noon.

"My girls are excited about being in the finals. This is the fourth year in a row for some of the girls, and the last for Jessica (Diamond), Brooke (Mosteller) and Elizabeth (Spelman)," veteran coach Becky Williamson said, looking ahead to her Warriors' second title matchup against Mauldin in three years.

"They want to go out on top, and I have high expectations for them."

Diamond and Mosteller are the two top players for Wando. Spelman was the star of last year's 4-2 victory over Irmo in the state final, winning the decisive No. 5 singles match in a pressure-packed situation. Even current freshman Meghan Blevins played a pivotal role in last year's final, winning at No. 2 doubles.

Two years ago, Wando blitzed Mauldin, 6-0, in the state final. But the Mavericks have added talented seventh-grader Ansley Speaks as their No. 1 player. Speaks could test Diamond, although in a preseason matchup Wando No. 3 player Olivia McMillan downed Speaks, 7-6, 6-4, as Wando went 4-2 against Mauldin even without Nos. 1 and 2 Diamond and Mosteller, and Spelman.

Mauldin beat previously unbeaten Lexington in the Upper State final.

Bishop England

Wednesday, the Bishops scored the biggest victory since their 2003 AA/A state final championship win over Christ Church, beating three-time defending state titlist Waccamaw, 5-1. Emerald beat Southside, 4-3, by surving a match tiebreaker in No. 1 doubles.
While the Bishops players are new to the state finals, coach Patricia Owens has 13 state titles. But she hasn't had a team in the state final since 2003. Juniors Sallie Johnson and Hailey Weaver came up with huge victories for BE against Waccamaw in Nos. 1 and 2 singles. Seniors Kasia Stempniak and Lexie Fitch, and sophomore Christina Connelly give the Bishops excellent depth at the last three positions.

--In other state finals today at the Caughman Road complex, Christ Church plays Green Sea-Floyds in Class A at 11 a.m., and Hilton Head meets J.L. Mann at 1 p.m. in AAA.


(11/01/07)  October a winning month for captain Santiago Falla 

A league tennis national championship and a Charleston Pro Tennis League title in the same month?

Yes, October was quite a month for Santiago Falla.

To top it off, the former Charleston Southern University standout was the Drew Appraisal captain and was on the court in the decisive match that gave his team the league championship in a 2-1 victory over LCTA last Sunday at Mount Pleasant's Players Club.
"This is the first year I've made the playoffs, and I've been in the league four years," Falla said.

It also was the 2003 CSU graduate's first year as a team captain. "It's a challenging job being a captain," he said.

"We had nine good guys who wanted to play. You have to deal with the players not being there for the key matches."

The victory over former College of Charleston star Timo Siebert's LCTA outfit capped Drew Appraisal's rags-to-riches season. The new CPTL champions ended the regular season in fourth place but opened the playoffs with an upset of the regular-season champion Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes Law Firm. That set up a final showdown with regular-season third-place finisher LCTA, which had upended Drew Appraisal in their earlier meeting.

"All the teams were so close coming into the playoffs. I think that's what makes the league so attractive. You never know what's going to happen," said Falla, the head pro at Seabrook Island.

The title match came down to No. 2 doubles, where Falla and former Appalachian State player Jason Nius fell behind 5-1 in the first set to I'On Club pro Tiago Bruniera and ex-College of Charleston player Justin Malina. "But we came back and won a tiebreaker," Falla said about the 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory.

Former C of C player Perry Allen and ex-East Tennessee State player Ricardo Nava had put Drew Appraisal in position to win the championship with a 6-1, 6-0 win over Davy Hairston and Ellerbe Dargan in the No. 3 doubles match. LCTA's only success came at No. 1, where Siebert and former Brigham Young All-American Carlos Lozano defeated the Drew Appraisal team of ex-Appalachian State player Ben Shuster and former Oklahoma player Carlos Lopez 6-2, 6-1.

Earlier in October, Falla was an integral part of a 5.5 team captained by 4Spine's Brian Burke that won a league tennis national championship in Las Vegas.

"The 5.5 competition was fun ... a lot like college," Falla said.

Falla arrived at Charleston Southern in 2000 from his native Colombia. The Bucs won three Big South Conference titles and made the NCAA playoffs three times while he was at CSU.

In the CPTL's match for third place, Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes defeated 4Spine 2-1 as a default at No. 3 doubles decided the issue. The two teams split the first two doubles matches as Matt Hane and Burke won No. 1 for 4Spine over Charly Rasheed and Lee Holyoak 6-3, 6-3 while the TKT team of Bryan Minton-Nick Gaffos took No. 2 in a 6-4, 6-0 win over Shawn Harris and Brice Miller.

The finals were scheduled to be played at Family Circle Tennis Center on Oct. 26, but heavy rains forced the move to the Players Club.


(11/01/07)  Bishops take Lower State title 
Bishop England 5, Waccamaw 1

Hailey Weaver was still shaking as she tried to comprehend that the Bishop England girls' tennis team had just earned a trip to Columbia for Saturday's Class AA state championship match.

And Weaver had scored the clinching fourth point in the Bishops' 5-1 Lower State championship victory over Waccamaw at Family Circle Tennis Center on Wednesday.

In a matter of just moments, Weaver and fellow junior Sallie Johnson posted wins in the top two singles matches to give the Bishops (13-6) an unbeatable 4-0 edge over a Waccamaw team (13-4) that had won the last three Class AA state titles.

"I didn't know we had won," Weaver said. "I'm still shaking. This is the first time I've been to state (final)."

The Bishops will make their first appearance since 2003 in the state final at Caughman Road Tennis Center. They will face Emerald, of Greenwood, a 4-3 winner over Greenville's Southside.

Weaver used her solid clay-court game, keyed by heavy topspin backhands, to hold off Chandler Witt, 6-4, 6-3, in the No. 2 position to nail down the victory.

Just minutes earlier, Johnson surrendered a 6-2 match third-set tiebreaker lead, then won the last four points as she hit two outright cross-court forehand winners to take a 3-6, 6-2, 10-6 win over power-hitting but smallish Waccamaw senior Allison Stanford in No. 1 singles.

"I was real nervous, but I just had to play my game and be consistent," Johnson said. "I'm so excited. I've never been to state."

The victory was especially sweet for veteran Bishops coach Patricia Owens, who will go for her 14th state title on Saturday, but first since 2003.

"I'm real excited," she said.

"It had been the same the last three years, all the matches being close and us losing. But it was nice to win and prove that we were clearly the better team," Owens said, referring to the last three years when the Warriors had ended the Bishops' season in the state playoffs.

Owens was especially pleased for Johnson, who had mixed emotions over Stanford's weakness from a summer illness. "I told Sallie that she just had to calm down and play with her heart," Owens said. "She just had to let Allison make the mistakes."

Sophomore Christina Connelly and senior Lexie Fitch had scored one-sided victories at Nos. 4 and 5 singles, respectively, to put the Bishops in position for Johnson and Weaver to wrap up the Lower State title. The Bishops' No. 2 doubles team of senior Katherine Theos and junior Abby Thayer later won a three-set match.

Singles: Sallie Johnson (BE) d. Allison Stanford, 3-6, 6-2, 10-6; Hailey Weaver (BE) d. Chandler Witt, 6-4, 6-3; Maggie Uppsocva (W) d. Kasia Stempniak, 7-5, 6-4; Christina Connelly (BE) d. Megan Costen, 6-1, 6-2; Lexie Fitch (BE) d. Carrie Harper, 6-1, 6-0.

Doubles: Katherine Theos/Abby Thayer (BE) d. Becca Harper/Emmy Ragsdale, 5-7, 6-1, 12-10.


(11/01/07)  Wando set for next test; Raptors fall
Girls' Tennis

Coach Becky Williamson hopes today's trip to Columbia is just the first of two in three days for three-time defending Class AAAA state girls' tennis champion Wando. But to get to Saturday's state title match, the Warriors must defeat a solid Dutch Fork team in the Lower State final.

Wando (21-0) carries a 60-match winning streak into the 4:15 p.m. match. This will be the second straight Lower State final featuring the two teams. Wando won last year in Mount Pleasant, 4-2.

"We know that Dutch Fork is a good team and I knew that we would probably play them for the Lower State championship, if we were still playing," Williamson said. "They will be ready for us, but we will be ready for them, too. Last year, we managed to win in some close matches. I hope we take our 'A' game and continue to play like we have in the first three rounds."

Wando has lost just 12 games in three playoff victories, all in Tuesday's 6-0 win over Hartsville.

Dutch Fork posted a 4-3 win at Beaufort on Tuesday.

Wando will be led again by seniors Jessica Diamond and Brooke Mosteller in the top two positions. But part of the team's strength is its depth through the lineup.

The winner of today's match will advance to Saturday's state final against Lexington or Mauldin.

Raptors fall

Top-seeded Green Sea-Floyds ended Academic Magnet's title march in the Class A playoffs, 4-3, in Murrells Inlet in the Lower State final.

The 3 1/2- hour match at St. James High School came down to Nos. 4 and 5 singles after Academic Magnet (6-5) had scored wins in both doubles matches for a 3-2 lead. But after Raptors sophomore Catherine Barnes dropped a match tiebreaker for the third set in No. 4 singles to allow Green Sea-Floyds (12-2) to even the match at 3-3, the pressure fell on the Raptors' Becky Plante in No. 5 singles.

Plante, a senior, took the second set to a tiebreaker before losing, ending the Raptors' season.

Kelly Engle won at No. 1 singles, then teamed with fellow sophomore Walker Marion to take the No. 1 doubles in straight sets. The Raptors' No. 2 doubles team of seniors Meera Dugal and Azara Maharaj also won in straight sets.

"I'm very proud of the team, especially the seniors," said second-year Raptors coach Angela Langley. "They did a great job. The doubles teams were amazing."


(10/31/07)  Year-round players key for schools
Year-around tennis. That's the real key to success in the high school ranks, having players who claim tennis as their sport and play junior tennis all year.

Just ask a coach who doesn't have year-around players.

You might think that Sumter would have juniors who play all year, especially with the city's superb 18-court Palmetto Tennis Center. But apparently not.

"Tennis in Sumter is different from it is here," Wilson Hall coach Debby Williams said two weeks ago at Charleston Tennis Center while her team was losing all six singles matches in straight sets to Ashley Hall in the SCISA Class AAA playoff quarterfinals.

"Our girls put up their rackets and start basketball the next day. I'd love it if we had girls who played all year around."

Wilson Hall was the only one of the last eight schools in the SCISA playoffs that wasn't from Charleston, Columbia or tennis-happy Hilton Head Island.

It's the same way with the public High School League. Wando didn't yield a game to Conway or Richland Northeast in its first two Class AAAA playoff matches. Coach Becky Williamson has a dozen or more year-around players on her three-time defending state championship team.

The first real competition for Wando won't come until the last two rounds, when strong Columbia or Greenville area teams are the opponent.

Bishop England's first true test in the Class AA playoffs will come today from Waccamaw High. Waccamaw is from Pawleys Island, another strong tennis area.

To put Wando, Bishop England and Academic Magnet all in the state semifinals is quite an accomplishment for Charleston tennis. Hopefully, all three will qualify for Saturday's finals.

CPTL a gem

I've said this a few times already in the past, but Charleston tennis is lucky to have the Charleston Pro Tennis League. As you might say, it's in a league all of its own. And not just locally, nationally as well.

These guys could compete on the ATP Tour in doubles, and definitely in World Team Tennis. They proved that in the Las Vegas Nationals.

Every year, the CPTL appears to be improving, attracting more and more players from all over the state. This seventh season that ended Sunday at Mount Pleasant's Players Club was the best yet.

Founders Chris Henderson, Stuart Small and Dave Maness have stuck with the CPTL from the start, giving it the special treatment of a newborn. And now the CPTL is all grown up.

Blevins, Kirkland picked

Wando freshman Meghan Blevins has been named the state's most improved junior girl by the state tennis association, while Ashley Hall freshman Patricia Kirkland was named winner of the girls' sportsmanship award. Earlier, Stephen Beach was announced as the boys' sportsmanship winner, and Cal Hillsman took the most improved boy award.


(10/31/07)  Area teams prepare for Lower State finals
Academic Magnet and Bishop England are each a win away from a trip to Columbia's Caughman Road Tennis Center for the High School League's state championships.

For Academic Magnet, today is road trip No. 3 in the Class A girls' playoffs. The Raptors (6-4) will travel to Murrells Inlet to face Lower State top seed Green Sea-Floyds at the St. James High School courts at 4:30 p.m. in the Lower State final.

Academic Magnet scored a 4-3 road victory over Lower State third seed Johnsonville on Monday after defeating Hannah-Pamplico last week in Moncks Corner. The Raptors from Region 6-A are the third seed in the lower state. Green Sea-Floyds won the 8-A title over Johnsonville.

For Bishop England, it's been all home cooking, unless you count a side trip to West Ashley to beat the rain last week as a road trip. The Bishops (12-6) are geared up for the match they've been waiting for all season against three-time defending state champion Waccamaw (13-3) at Family Circle Tennis Center in today's 4 p.m.

Christ Church of Greenville and Whitmire will square off in the upper state Class A final, while Greenwood/Emerald and Southside/Greenville will meet in the Class AA Upper State title match.

Bishop England, which won its last of 13 state titles under coach Patricia Owens in 2003 before Waccamaw took over Class AA, is led by junior Sallie Johnson. Waccamaw lost 2006 star Liz Rowell to graduation, and Class AA/A state singles champion Allison Stanford has been weakened by illness. Stanford suffered Waccamaw's only loss in the quarterfinals against Manning.

Wando wins 60th straight

Three-time defending state champion Wando (21-0) marched into the Class AAAA girls' Lower State final after a 6-0 win over Hartsville (14-5) on Tuesday.

With the win, the Warriors claimed their 60th straight victory.

The Warriors play at Dutch Fork — a 4-3 winner over Beaufort — on Thursday at 4:15 p.m.

Wando yielded just eight games in singles play and four doubles after it totally shut out its first two opponents in the playoffs.

"After a 2 1/2-hour drive, the girls were ready to get out there and win," Wando coach Becky Williamson said.

Wando 6, Hartsville 0

Singles: Jessica Diamond d. Kelly Cameron, 6-1, 6-2; Brooke Mosteller d. Kelsey Norton, 6-0, 6-0; Olivia McMillan d. Brittany Carter, 6-1, 6-1; Meghan Blevins d. Meredith Johnson, 6-0, 6-1; Corin Hallman d. Maggie Baldwin, 6-0, 6-2.

Doubles: Elizabeth Spelman/Lindsay Larkins d. Lucia Cannarella/Maggie Love, 6-2, 6-2.


(10/30/07)  Bishops sail into Class AA tennis semis
Bishop England 7, Aynor 0

Bishop England wasted little time Monday at Family Circle Tennis Center in qualifying for the Class AA girls' tennis state semifinals by easily defeating visiting Aynor in all five singles matches en route to a 7-0 victory.

The Region 6-AA champion Bishops (12-6) now will face three-time defending state champion Waccamaw (13-3) in the semifinals Wednesday at the Family Circle complex. Waccamaw scored a 5-1 victory over 6-AA runner-up Manning on Monday.

Aynor (13-4), the Region 7-AA runner-up to Waccamaw, never got into the match on the green clay on Daniel Island, although veteran BE coach Patricia Owens got a little nervous when the visitors won four games in the first set of both the Nos. 2 and 3 singles matches against junior Hailey Weaver and senior Kasia Stempniah, respectively.

But Weaver and Stempniah gave up only one game between them in the second set. Meanwhile, junior Sallie Johnson yielded only two games in No. 1 singles to Aynor junior Macy Driggers.

"The girls started slow ... that made me nervous," Owens said. "They had Friday off and had a long weekend. Nobody had any real trouble, but we need to start strong right at the beginning. Sallie (Johnson) played well, and she usually starts well like she did today."

Owens is pleased to have her team back in the state semifinals. "We've had a tough season and hung tough against some bigger schools," said Owens, whose team last won a state title in 2003.

BISHOP ENGLAND 7, AYNOR 0

Singles: Sallie Johnson (BE) d. Macy Driggers, 6-1, 6-1; Hailey Weaver (BE) d. Peyton Goodson, 6-4, 6-1; Kasia Stempniah (BE) d. Elena Dusenbury, 6-4, 6-0; Christina Connelly (BE) d. Makela Toth, 6-2, 6-1; Lexi Fitch (BE) d. Sarah Dusenbury, 6-0, 6-1.

Doubles: Johnson/Fitch (BE) d. Driggers/Goodson, 8-6; Katherine Theos/Abby Thayer (BE) d. Mary Carson-Helms/Katherine Johnson, 8-2.


(10/28/07)  U.S. won't miss Safin in Cup final
While the fans in Portland, Ore., won't be overly happy, Andy Roddick and James Blake won't mind that Marat Safin has tossed in the towel on the upcoming Davis Cup final between the United States and Russia.

Nikolay Davydenko may have won the recent Moscow event and Dmitry Tursunov took the honors in Bangkok, but they don't have the mercurial potential of Safin in the big match. Roddick and Blake still have their work cut out for them, although not having to worry about Safin's unlimited potential should help U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe sleep better for the next few weeks.

As it turns out, Safin was so unhappy with the way he played in the Madrid Masters (he lost in the first round to big-serving Ivo Karlovic in straight sets) that he decided to end his 2007 competitive tennis schedule.

Of course, Davydenko's state of mind may not be that great heading into the Nov. 30 Davis Cup. Not only is he being investigated by the ATP Tour in an irregular betting patterns probe, just last week in St. Petersburg he lost to 19-year-old qualifier Marin Cilic of Croatia, 1-6, 7-5, 6-1, after being headed to what looked like an easy win in the second set. The real kicker was that the umpire warned Davydenko for not playing hard enough as he produced 10 double faults in the last two sets.

"I double-faulted to lose a game in the third set and he gave me a warning saying I was trying to lose on purpose," he said.

WTA thoughts
There's no word yet by the WTA Tour on whether on-court coaching will become permanent as the end of its on-court coaching trial nears.

The coaches have varied greatly, from husband Rainer Hofmann for Patty Schnyder, to mothers and fathers and sisters, to another player. But Flavia Pennetta's use of fellow player Gisela Dulko may have been the smartest move. Of course, it might be unfair to allow rival players to help other players team up in strategy against the opposition, but apparently Pennetta's scheme was within the rules.

--The women's tour should be happy that its year will end with the Nov. 6-11 tour championships in Madrid, considering that 10 players currently reside on the injury list, including Maria Sharapova, Nadia Petrova, Vera Zvonareva and Shahar Peer. And the list doesn't even include Martina Hingis, who has been handicapped by a sore hip most of the year and decided to end her year early.

Citadel open event

Mention the word purse, and the best players in this section start looking at their calendars. And, of course, with the highly competitive Charleston Pro Tennis League occupying much of the fall, there's no shortage of standout players locally.

That's good news for The Citadel Bulldogs Men's Open, scheduled for Nov. 30-Dec. 2. The entry deadline is Nov. 27. Contact James Lewis or Todd Wojtkowski (475-1392). The tournament is not sanctioned and USTA membership isn't required.

CPTL payoff
Talking about money, the two teams in today's CPTL final (LCTA and Drew Appraisal) have more than winning on their minds in the 4 p.m. match at the Players Club. There's quite a difference between the checks the champion and runner-up will receive.

The winning team in the championship match will divide a total of $5,250, or $2,100 more than the second-place team. There's also extra incentive in the battle for third place between 4Spine and the Thurmond, Kirchner and Timbes Law Firm team. The third-place team will divide up $2,100, while the loser won't receive a playoff paycheck.

Deadline today
Today is the registration deadline for Pine Forest Country Club's Racquets for Recovery breast cancer tournament that will be held next weekend. Contact Teddy Marcot (695-0977) to register by phone or e-mail Racquets4Recovery@sc.rr.com.


(10/27/07)  Week off gives tennis teams chance to regroup in league
The Charleston Pro Tennis League is taking a break this week as some of its top players head to Las Vegas to compete in the league tennis nationals.

The week off gives the league's five other teams a chance to regroup and search for a way to sidetrack the unbeaten doubles team of captain Charly Rasheed and Lee Holyoak that has paced Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes Law Firm to a 3-0 record and a commanding lead in the point standings.

After scoring a 3-0 decision over GMAC last Friday night at the I'On Club, the Thurmond team has eight points, three more than any other team. LCTA and 4Spine have five points each.

Rasheed, the tennis director at Wild Dunes, will compete in the Las Vegas nationals for Chris Henderson's men's open team, while Hilton Head Island pro Holyoak will play for Brian Burke's men's 5.5 team in the nationals.

Drew Appraisal posted a 2-1 decision over H.S.I. Electrical, while LCTA upended 4Spine, 2-1.

The league will resume play Oct. 5 at Mount Pleasant's Players Club.

Results
LCTA 2, 4Spine 1: Siebert/Lozano (LCTA) def. Hane/Burke, 6-4, 6-4; Small/Harris (4Spine) def. Malina/Bruniera, 6-3, 7-5; Hairston/Dargan (LCTA) def. Bumgarner/Hough, 7-5, 6-2.

Drew Appraisal 2, H.S.I. 1: Henderson/Wadehra (H.S.I.) def. Falla/Shuster, 7-6, 4-6, 15-13; Allen/Nava (Drew Appraisal) def. Blankenbaker/Whitesell, 7-6, 6-4; Nius/Rice (Drew Appraisal) def. Netzler/McKay, 6-1, 6-2.

Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes 3, GMAC 0: Rasheed/Holyoak def. Dekel/Simpson, 6-3, 7-6; Minton/Thurmond def. Andersson/Nichols, 4-6, 6-4, 10-8; Gaffos/Yelverton def. Klingenburg/Posner, 6-3, 6-1.

Standings
Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes, 8 points; 4Spine, 5 points; LCTA, 5 points; Drew Appraisal, 4 points; GMAC, 3 points; H.S.I. Electrical, 2 points.


(10/25/07)  Bishops' girls tennis coach looks to 'maturity' of team

Experience and tennis smarts can be as important as talent. Just ask veteran Bishop England girls' coach Patricia Owens. The Bishops have five seniors this fall as well as tennis-savvy junior Sallie Johnson, the team's No. 1 player.

"We have more experience and more maturity this year. We didn't have a senior last year," Owens said.

Johnson is the Bishops' X-factor.The standout also was the Bishops' top player a year ago when they lost to Waccamaw in the early rounds of the Class AA state playoffs.

"Sallie is smart on the court. She has a lot of court sense," said Owens. "And she doesn't like to lose. Some players win because of power, but Sallie wins because of her court sense.

"She doesn't quit, even when she's playing someone better than she is ... she keeps on going."

Bishop England won its last of 13 state titles in 2003, defeating Waccamaw and Christ Church in the semifinals and final while going 18-1. But Waccamaw has eliminated the Bishops from the state playoffs each of the last three years on its way to winning state championships.

This fall may be different in that Pawley's Island-based Waccamaw has been handicapped by the illness of Class AA/A state singles champion Allison Stanford and the graduation loss of fellow star player Liz Rowell. Also, Class A has held its own state tournament the last two years, and Christ Church has participated in the lower classification.

All of that could mean success for Bishop England in the state playoffs that start today.

"I've got 20 kids on the varsity, and they're all good," said Owens.

According to senior Kasia Stempniak, the No. 3 player, the difference this season is in team chemistry. "I think we've bonded more as a team this year," said Stempniak, who has moved up from Nos. 4 or 5 a year ago.

Junior Hailey Weaver is the No. 2 player, while sophomore Christina Connelly and senior Lexi Fitch hold down Nos. 4 and 5 singles.

The Bishops rotate four or five players in the key No. 2 doubles slot in the five-singles, two-doubles High School League match format.

This group includes seniors Katherine Theos and Mallory McCoy. Katie Bethea is the team's other senior.


(10/24/07)  Is Nalbandian's up-and-down career back on the upswing?
If you want a challenge, try to figure out David Nalbandian.

This guy can play. Always could.

He won the Junior U.S. Open when he was 16 years old. Beat Roger Federer in the final.

Nalbandian lost the 2002 Wimbledon final to Lleyton Hewitt. He defeated Federer in five sets in the Shanghai Masters Cup final in 2005.

He's been ranked as high as No. 3 in the world. He's something of an also-ran now with a 24th ranking.

He didn't make it past the round of 16 in any of this year's Grand Slams. I had written this guy off more than a year ago when he appeared to lose his intensity.

But the 25-year-old Argentine leaped up and surprised the top three players in the world this past weekend in Madrid. He outplayed Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Federer in consecutive matches.

What does this mean to men's tennis? Maybe nothing. Nalbandian could go away again tomorrow.

But this part is a little hard to figure out, too, because Nalbandian's game is all about consistency. He's not overpowering, almost a backboard. He normally makes few errors.

It might be safe to put Nalbandian in a category with Marat Safin. Unpredictable. Never take for granted. Not even if you're Roger Federer.

Rising stars

Family Circle Tennis Center has scheduled a junior tournament for Nov. 10 for the true novice player. It's called the Rising Stars Tournament for tournament beginners. Registration is available on the Internet at www.usta.com through TennisLink, using the tournament number (704117207). The entry deadline is Nov. 5.

The tournament will have divisions 8-18 in singles and doubles for boys and girls. The format will be singles round robin. Contact Greg Harkins (849-5306).

Another Grand Prix

Snee Farm Country Club tennis director Christy Cherry is gearing up for another of the club's popular Grand Prix events. "I can't believe this is our last one of the season," Cherry said.

The Grand Prix is scheduled for Nov. 13-18. The entry deadline is Nov. 9. Contact Sherry (884-3252 or christy.cherry@sneefarmcc.com.

Heffron, Heinz sparkle
Randall Heffron won the boys' 16 singles title in the Southern Level 3 tournament at Hilton Head Island's Sea Pines Resort on Monday. Heffron trains at the I'On Club.

Austin Heinz was a finalist in boys' 12 singles at Sea Pines. Heinz plays out of the Players Club.

State awards
--Charleston native Helen Jeter and Florence pro Larry Rizzo have been selected for the S.C. Tennis Association's Hall of Fame and will be inducted at the annual meeting in December.
--Wando graduate Stephen Beach has been named winner of the SCTA's Mark Hodgin Junior Sportsmanship Award for 2007
--The I'On Club has been named the SCTA's member club of the year, according to tennis director Joey Eskridge.
--Cal Hilsman, who hits with Eskridge at I'On, has been named the SCTA's most improved junior boys' player.


(10/23/07)  Wando eyeing fourth straight girls' tennis title
There was actually some uncertainty about Wando girls' tennis this time three years ago. But not anymore.

Class AAAA state championship runs have become the order of the day. The Warriors (18-0) begin another title run at home today against Conway, as coach Becky Williamson's team zeroes in on a fourth straight state title.

The Warriors should be heavy favorites through their first three matches, or until the state semifinals, when a possible road trip to Columbia to face a strong Dutch Fork team looms.

Jessica Diamond and Brooke Mosteller are now seniors, and they're backed up by a cast of outstanding young players. Wando hasn't lost since an early-season match in 2004 against Ashley Hall.

But it's time to get down to business again. Diamond and Mosteller want to close out their distinguished careers with four state championships.

"I feel like this is the strongest team we have ever had," Williamson said.

"I have eight girls wanting to play in seven spots. The whole team has been fun this year, with all 34 girls. The seniors want to win a fourth title. They haven't lost one and don't want to be on a team that does lose."

After today, the Warriors should play host on Thursday to the winner of today's first-round match between host Richland Northeast and Fort Dorchester.

Other Lower State AAAA matches today will see Summerville playing at home against Spring Valley, Berkeley entertaining Sumter, James Island visiting West Florence, West Ashley going to Dutch Fork, and Beaufort playing host to Ridge View.

The playoffs for classes A and AA will begin Thursday. The S.C. High School League state finals are set for Columbia's Caughman Road Tennis Center on Nov. 3.


(10/21/07)  Long day, short night for Panthers
SUMTER — Fortunately, the Ashley Hall tennis team was able to get a good night's sleep Friday night.

That was important to a team that listed only one senior on its roster. Unfortunately, the sleep wasn't enough to help the Ashley Hall girls overcome a strong and experienced Heathwood Hall team in Saturday's SCISA Class AAA state final.

When Ashley Hall completed a 5-4 victory over Hammond School on Friday night, it appeared that no hotel rooms were available in Sumter. As the clock ticked to within nearly 12 hours of the starting time for Saturday's final, coach Mary Gastley and her team were getting ready to make a half-hour trip to Manning. One of her players had relatives there.

The awkward situation came about because Friday's Ashley Hall semifinal started after 5 p.m., and the two finalists were slated to square off the next morning at 9:30. Heathwood Hall might have had a slight advantage since it was finishing up its win over Cardinal Newman about the time Ashley Hall was getting started.

"If we lost, we were going back to Charleston," Gastley said about Friday night.

At the last moment, lodging turned up at the Ramada Inn. The late-night, early-morning trips to and from Manning were avoided. "It was a late night last night," Gastley said Saturday, noting that the team was back up at 7 a.m.

Maybe it was that tough nearly four-hour victory over Hammond and the obviously short night that played havoc with the Panthers in the state final. "We let them get back in it," Gastley said about her team's 5-4 loss to Heathwood in the state final.

Afterward, it was all about next year. Everyone is back except Elizabeth Weeks, the senior who split a pair of No. 5 singles matches here.

Ashley Hall has two sophomores and a freshman among its top four players. Next year should be a good one for the Panthers, especially now that sophomore star Jamie Harrell is a full-fledged SCISA player after mising last year's playoffs because of an ineligibility ruling. Of course, this one turned out pretty well, too. A state runner-up trophy isn't anything to cry over.

But that doesn't mean things will be easy next year in Region I for the Panthers, who were unbeaten in the region this year. Brian Burke's Porter-Gaud team and Heinz Maurer's Pinewood Prep club may be even younger than Ashley Hall. Let's just say that next year's state semifinals could include three Charleston area teams, just like Columbia had three this time.

Family Circle T-shirts
It's time to start thinking about the T-shirt design for the 35th anniversary of the Family Circle Cup. The tournament's design contest is open to anyone 13-and-over, and the winning artwork will be featured on the tournament's official T-shirt.

The entry deadline is Dec. 14. A complete set of rules for the contest can be found at www.familycirclecup.com or by calling 849-5315.

The winning artist will be rewarded with several prizes, including cash and tickets to the April 12-20 Family Circle Cup.

Another Grand Prix
Snee Farm Country Club tennis director Christy Cherry is gearing up for another of the club's popular Grand Prix events. "I can't believe this is our last one of the season," Cherry said.

The Grand Prix is scheduled for Nov. 13-18. The entry deadline is Nov. 9.


(10/21/07)  Doubles the difference in SCISA AAA tennis final
Heathwood Hall 5, Ashley Hall 4

SUMTER — Heathwood Hall had the answers to Ashley Hall's proficiency in doubles Saturday in the SCISA Class AAA girls' tennis final and came away with a 5-4 victory over the Panthers.

The doubles solution came in the form of Heathwood Hall's experience. This was the Highlanders' third straight appearance in the title match, and they finally won the big one at the Palmetto Tennis Center.

This time, it was Ashley Hall on the short end of a 4-3 score after the completion of the first doubles match. As the cheer went up from the Heathwood fans as Ashley Hall juniors Jordan Lowery and Kate Cannon went to the net to shake hands with the victorious No. 3 team from Heathwood, the end was in sight for coach Mary Gastley's team from Charleston.

Heathwood junior Catherine Roach and senior Cleveland Covington had just taken a 7-4 lead in the decisive match tiebreaker for the third set in No. 1 doubles against Jacey Edwards and Patricia Kirkland. Four points later, including the last two on service winners by Roach, the Heathwood team had scored a 6-1, 0-6, 10-5 victory that made Ashley Hall the state runner-up, even though its No. 2 team of sophomores Jamie Harrell and Charlotte Morrow finished with a win to close the gap to 5-4.

"The girls wanted it bad. They were fired up," said Gastley, who directed the Panthers to five state titles in six years in the mid-90s. "Heathwood was just a better team today.

"I felt good going into doubles (tied 3-3 for the second straight day). But Heathwood is good in doubles. They were more experienced in this type situation. This was our first state final in awhile and it was Heathwood's third straight final. They lost the first two times."

Harrell and Morrow were the bright spots for Ashley Hall. Before winning in doubles, both came up with victories in singles as Morrow pulled out a 12-10 verdict in a match tiebreaker for the third set. Harrell posted an easy 6-2, 6-4 win over Roach in a battle of left-handers at No. 1 singles.

Kirkland collected the third singles win for the Panthers in straight sets at No. 3.

Heathwood's experience factor came into play especially in the decisive No. 1 doubles match. Although Roach's power proved fruitless in singles, she turned it loose starting with the second set of doubles where she had a target. Twice on key points late in the second set, Roach slammed big wind-up forehands directly at Edwards at the net to take both games.

"I knew our doubles teams were strong," said Heathwood coach Christin Reichert. "I knew if it came down to doubles we could pull it out. Our No. 1 doubles team did the same thing yesterday (against Cardinal Newman) ... lost the first set, then won in a third-set tiebreaker."

HEATHWOOD HALL 5, ASHLEY HALL 4

SINGLES: Jamie Harrell (AH) d. Catherine Roach, 6-2, 6-4; Lauren Armstrong (HH) d. Jacey Edwards, 6-4, 6-0; Patricia Kirkland (AH) d. Cleveland Covington, 6-4, 6-3; Charlotte Morrow (AH) d. Caroline Lough, 6-3, 3-6, 12-10; Shannon DeLoach (HH) d. Elizabeth Weeks, 6-0, 6-2; Katherine Lough (HH) d. Kate Cannon, 6-2, 7-6 (4).

DOUBLES: Roach/Covington (HH) d. Kirkland/Edwards, 1-6, 0-6, 10-5; Harrell/Morrow (AH) d. Armstrong/C. Lough, 6-1, 6-3; DeLoach/Taylor Launceford (HH) def. Jordan Lowery/Cannon, 6-2, 6-4.


(10/20/07)  Coach: Panthers gaining ground
Pinewood Prep's girls' tennis team advanced all the way to the SCISA Class AAA state semifinals last year. And coach Heinz Maurer believes the Panthers are an improved team, even with three seventh-graders in the starting lineup.

But Pinewood's toughest task this year might be in its own Region I, which still is composed of only three teams. Porter-Gaud and Ashley Hall both appear to have much improved teams.

Porter-Gaud, which added eighth-grader Mi'Kola Cooper, owns a 7-2 victory over coach Maurer's young Pinewood team.

The insertion of Cooper into Porter-Gaud's lineup in the No. 2 or No. 3 position has given a veteran team added strength.

Ashley Hall also has added freshman Patricia Kirkland, who played for James Island last year, and has Jamie Harrell on its roster again. Harrell was unbeaten for Ashley Hall last year before being ruled ineligible, which cost Ashley Hall a victory over Pinewood and allowed the Panthers to win the Region I title.

Pinewood was 4-2 after six matches, also suffering a 5-4 loss to Cardinal Newman. The Panthers lost only No. 6 Helen Demey from last year's team.

The surprise for the Panthers this season is seventh-grader Meagan Evans, who has moved past juniors Anna Brewer and Charmaine Bessent, and freshman Sarah Edwards into the No. 1 position.

Brewer, Bessent and Edwards all have dropped one place below their 1-2-3 positions of last year. Seventh-grader Mollie Polk is No. 5, and seventh-grader Shauna Fletcher has moved in from the Rollings Middle School of the Arts to replace Demey.

The Panthers will play Ashley Hall and Porter-Gaud at home Tuesday and Thursday.


(10/20/07)  Pro league pair win to keep team in lead
Wild Dunes' Charley Rasheed and Hilton Head Island's Lee Holyoak came through again last Friday night to lead the Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes Law Firm to its second straight victory in the Charleston Pro Tennis League.

Rasheed and Holyoak, the former Pine Forest Country Club tennis director who has switched to Hilton Head's Long Cove Club, powered past Ben Shuster and Craig Rice of Drew Appraisal, 6-4, 6-4, to keep Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes in first place with five points and a 2-0 record. Drew Appraisal is captained by former Charleston Southern standout Santiago Falla.

Captain Matt Hane's second-place 4Spine team, which also is 2-0, posted a 2-1 win over Or Dekel's GMAC, while Timo Siebert's LCTA outfit posted a 2-1 victory over Chris Henderson's H.S.I. Electrical.

The league will continue its season Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Mount Pleasant's I'On Club with three matches: H.S.I. vs. Drew Appraisal; LCTA vs. 4Spine; and Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes vs. GMAC. Admission is free.

Results
4Spine 2, GMAC 1: Hane/Burke (4Spine) def. Dekel/Barth, 6-4, 6-2; Small/Harris (4Spine) def. Miller/Andersson, 6-2, 6-3; Nichols/Klingenburg (GMAC) def. Brice-Hough, 6-2, 6-1.

Thurmond, Kirchner, Timbes 2, Drew Appraisal 1: Rasheed/Holyoak (Thurmond) def. Shuster/Rice, 6-4, 6-4; Allen/Nava (Drew Appraisal) def. Gaffos/Minton, 6-1, 6-1; Shelley/Thurmond (Thurmond) def. Lopez/Nius, 7-5, 6-2.

LCTA 2, H.S.I. Electrical 1: Henderson/Blankenbaker (H.S.I.) def. Lozano/Siebert, 6-7, 6-2, 10-8; Malina/Bruniera (LCTA) def. Whitesell/Netzler, 6-2, 6-2; Dargan/Hairston (LCTA) def. McKay/Wadehra, 3-6, 7-6, 10-8.

Standings
Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes, 5 points; 4Spine, 4 points; LCTA, 3 points; GMAC, 3 points; Drew Appraisal, 2 points; H.S.I. Electrical, 1 point.


(10/19/07)  Harrell, Ashley Hall face Hammond test
The big test comes today, not just for Jamie Harrell, but for the entire Ashley Hall girls' tennis team. And one impacts the other.

She has given up just 11 games in five matches against SCISA opposition this season. That's been good enough to lead the Panthers to the Region I title and a quarterfinal victory in the Class AAA state playoffs.

But in today's 5:30 p.m. state semifinals at Sumter's Palmetto Tennis Center, Ashley Hall (11-5) faces defending state champion Hammond School (11-2).

Harrell's opponent at No. 1 singles will be a doubles partner from junior competition whom the Ashley Hall sophomore has never beaten in singles. Hammond freshman Alexis Prickett's consistency and power while hitting two-handed shots from both sides have been too strong for Harrell's left-handed game in their two head-to-head singles matches in junior tournaments, both at Belton.

When Hammond defeated Ashley Hall 6-3 in the regular season, both Harrell and Prickett were in Chattanooga, Tenn., participating in the Southern Cup while playing doubles together.

"I'm excited to play her again," Harrell said. "She's a real good player, and she hits it real hard and consistent. But I think the match could go either way. I can play better against her than I have in the previous matches."

After missing last year's state playoffs because of an ineligibility ruling by SCISA, Harrell is enjoying the team atmosphere.

"I love being with the team. It's a lot of fun. The girls are all fun," she said. "I've been working hard at practice to be able to help the team and to do well in tournaments."

The results of the No. 1 singles confrontation of friends should have a huge impact on deciding which team advances to Saturday morning's state championship match against the Heathwood Hall-Cardinal Newman winner. Upper state top seed Heathwood Hall handed Hammond its only two losses of the season.


(10/19/07)  Locals eye national title

Three members of the Southern champion senior women's 3.5 team from Charleston Tennis Center already have experienced a taste of what they're up against this weekend in Tucson, Ariz., in the league tennis national championships.

The experience came while competing with another team from Charleston Tennis Center in the adult women's 3.5 nationals in Las Vegas earlier this month. That team lost all three of its matches against national competition.

But team captain Elisabeth Pickelsimer thinks that was a good experience for her, Megan Zwerner and Maxine Cooke, and gave the unbeaten Charleston seniors a good insight as to what to expect in their four round-robin matches today and Saturday.

"Based on the competition we saw ... I feel that we have a good chance of winning the tournament," Pickelsimer said Thursday before leaving for Tucson.

"Unfortunately, it appears that Megan Zwerner is injured and will be unable to play. Winning the third doubles position where she played most with either Maxine Cooke or Claire Corts was crucial to our success in the Southern Sectionals."

The absence of one key player is felt even more in senior tennis than at the adult level because team competitions are composed of only three doubles matches, rather than a three-doubles, two-singles format.

Pickelsimer doesn't plan any trickery by the Playrights. "I always play straight up. It puts too much pressure on the team that is misplaced and has to play up if it's not played this way."

Throughout the postseason, the Playrights have been led by the No. 1 team of Patricia Boyd and Shirley Adams. Claudia Budds has played No. 2 with several different players, including Pickelsimer and Corts.

Charleston's first match will be against Minneapolis today at 1 p.m. Eastern time. The Playrights' second opponent will be Muncie, Ind., today at 4 p.m.

The winners of the four flights will advance to Sunday's national semifinals.


(10/18/07)  Ashley Hall lone local survivor

SCISA AAA Tennis Playoffs

Doubles still counts big time in SCISA tennis where team matches are concluded with a full complement of three doubles. Just ask first-year Porter-Gaud coach Brian Burke.

The Cyclones won the first four singles positions Wednesday, but didn't win another match and allowed visiting Cardinal Newman of Columbia (11-5) to score a 5-4 victory in the quarterfinals of the SCISA Class AAA girls' state playoffs.

Mary Gastley's Region I champion Ashley Hall girls (11-5) didn't have to worry about doubles, however, at Charleston Tennis Center as the Panthers sailed through all six singles and posted a 7-2 victory over the Wilson Hall Barons (13-7). The victory earned lower state top seed Ashley Hall a berth in the state semifinals on Friday in Sumter against upper state second seed Hammond School.

"We're looking forward to the trip to Sumter," Gastley said. "We went out there with the intention to win every point."

But it was a doubly tough day for Charleston area SCISA teams against Columbia opponents. Hammond School eliminated Pinewood Prep, 6-3, in a match played in Columbia to earn its shot at Ashley Hall.

"They (Hammond) are the defending state champions, and they were just a little better than us," said Pinewood coach Heinz Maurer, whose team closed out with an 11-7 record. "It will be an interesting matchup between Hammond and Ashley Hall."

Hammond owns a 6-3 regular-season victory over Ashley Hall in a match in which highly regarded Ashley Hall sophomore Jamie Harrell and talented Hammond freshman Alexis Prickett didn't play.

The two are doubles partners in junior tennis and the two-handed hitting Prickett has won both of their head-to-head matches in singles.

But Harrell was on hand for Ashley Hall against Wilson Hall, and yielded only one game to run her record for the year to 5-0. Four games is the most the powerful left-hander has yielded to any opponent this fall.

The surprise of the day was Porter-Gaud's collapse after Natalie Santiago, Mi'Kola Cooper, Isabel Dennis and Becky Kumar won the first four singles positions for the Cyclones (11-7). But the Cyclones dropped Nos. 5 and 6 singles and all three doubles to end their season in a disappointing way.

The match came down to No. 2 doubles where Cooper was paired with seventh-grader Ann Hay. Cooper, only an eighth-grader, and Hay saved what Cardinal Newman coach Amy Martin called "nine or 10 match points" before finally suffering a 8-6 pro-set loss to Cardinal Newman juniors Lauren Delphia and Evan Black that ended the match just before darkness fell on the unlighted Porter-Gaud courts.

The opposing coaches agreed to play pro-sets in doubles due to the absence of lights.

"Doubles has been a serious problem for us," Burke said, pointing out that the Cyclones have won only two of their 15 doubles matches this season against SCISA opposition. "We haven't had any answers all year in doubles. But we had our chances to win today."

SCISA Class AAA Playoffs
ASHLEY HALL 7, WILSON HALL 2
Singles: Harrell (AH) d. Kline 6-0, 6-1; Edwards (AH) d. Kline 6-0, 6-1; Kirkland (AH) d. Leighton 6-1, 6-1; Morrow (AH) d. Edmunds 6-0, 6-2; Weeks (AH) d. James 6-2, 6-1; Cannon (AH) d. Campolong 6-0, 6-0.

Doubles: Campolong-Thompson (WH) d Rhodes-Wrenn 8-3; Smith-Dubose (WH) d. Lowery-Procter 8-5; Grimball-Kerrison (AH) d. Turner-James 8-6.

CARDINAL NEWMAN 5, PORTER-GAUD 4
Singles: Santiago (PG) d. S. August 6-3, 1-6(10-8); Cooper (PG) d. T. August 1-6, 6-1(10-7); Dennis (PG) d. Delphia 7-6, 6-2; Kumar (PG) d. Black 6-1, 6-2; Martin (CN) d. Hay 6-2, 6-4; A. August (CN) d. Schmiptz 6-1, 2-6(10-3).

Doubles: S. August-T. August (CN) d. Kumar-Dennis 8-2; Delphia-Black (CN) d. Copper-Hay 8-6; Martin-A. August (CN) d. Santiago-Hebbar 8-3.

HAMMOND 6, PINEWOOD PREP 3
Singles: Prickett (H) d. Evans 6-2, 6-1; Rocher (H) d. Brewer 6-1, 6-0; Bessent (PP) d.Cotter 6-4, 7-6(7-5); Kocher (H) d. Edwards 6-2, 6-4;Polk (PP) d. Breeland 5-7, 6-2(10-3); Herring (H) d. Fletcher 6-3, 6-2.

Doubles: Prickett-Kocher (H) d. Evans-Bessent 6-0, 6-0; Cotter-Kocher (H) d. Brewer-Sharkey 6-2, 6-0; Polk-Edwards (PP) d. Herring-A. Kocher 6-4, 7-6.


(10/17/07)  Technology helping out Federer
Roger Federer is a player of the ages. I don't know if any of the former greats could have matched Federer in today's tennis landscape of huge rackets and string technology that helps keep baseline blasts on the court.

Really, that's what Jim Courier said while in town a few weeks ago that today's strings can do, "keep balls on the courts." I know a few league tennis players who would love to locate some of the magic strings. The pros must have them hidden away in some exotic locale.

Of course, it would be interesting to see someone with a huge serve and great volleying skills in the Pete Sampras-mode matching wits with Federer's baseline game.

But the big question is would Rod Laver's all-court game have dominated Federer or a player of Federer's ability in the days of the wooden rackets? I think that would have been highly possible.

With that assessment, it's living in a dream world to call anyone the greatest player ever.

Fishburne rolling along

Diane Fishburne will hit the big "5-0" in a couple of months. But she's not slowing down, not even after returning last year from knee surgery.

Fishburne is currently ranked No. 1 in the world in women's 50 singles and probably wrapped up the top spot for the year with her national clay-court title last weekend in Pensacola, Fla. She also won the women's 40 doubles in that event.

If you count her world's championship, you could say that the former College of Charleston All-American won this year's U.S. Grand Slam of the 50s, since she also captured national titles on hard courts and indoors. But she didn't play the national grass courts.

"Grass is not my surface," Fishburne said. "I've only played on grass one time. It's a different style, and I haven't mastered it yet."

--Fishburne is running a tight race for local recognition with Brenda Carter, who is ranked No. 1 in the world in women's 60 and also won the same three national tournaments (in women's 60) as Fishburne this year.

JI Battle for a cause

That's the word from Country Club of Charleston tennis director Lee Brockman as he looks ahead to Saturday's Battle of James Island, which pits his club against teams from Maybank Tennis Center and the James Island Yacht Club. The event will benefit local pros in participating in the online training for the Darkness to Light program.

Competition in the Battle of James Island will be staged at the Country Club, Maybank and Charleston Tennis Center. Play will begin at 9 a.m. at all three sites, following an 8:30 a.m. continental breakfast. A covered dish social will cap the day at 1 p.m. at the Country Club. Contact Brockman (795-0425) by Thursday to reserve a spot in the day of fun.


(10/17/07)  Area teams competing in SCISA quarterfinals
Ashley Hall looms as a heavy favorite over visiting Wilson Hall today at Charleston Tennis Center in the quarterfinals of the SCISA Class AAA state girls' tennis playoffs.

But veteran Ashley Hall coach Mary Gastley isn't taking anything for granted. She just wants to see the Panthers survive the 4 p.m. contest and qualify for SCISA's championship weekend Friday and Saturday at Sumter's Palmetto Tennis Center.

Lower state second seed Porter-Gaud (11-6), which is in the upper bracket, also plays a home match at 3:30 p.m. today in the quarterfinals against Columbia's Cardinal Newman, while Pinewood Prep (11-6) travels to Columbia to take on defending state champion and upper state second seed Hammond School.

Ashley Hall (10-5) swept through Region I with a 4-0 record to earn the No. 1 seeding in the lower state, using sophomore No. 1 player Jamie Harrell only in the four region encounters where she posted straight-set victories each match.

Sumter-based Wilson Hall scored a 5-4 victory over Orangeburg Prep on Monday while Ashley Hall received a bye.

"I'm worried about everybody ... every time," Gastley said. "I think we're ready for a good match. I'm not taking anyone lightly, but I would love to be in the semifinals on Friday."

Ashley Hall is led by Harrell, junior No. 2 Jacey Edwards and freshman No. 3 Patricia Kirkland, and a strong contingent of doubles teams.

Porter-Gaud received a bye Monday while upper state third seed Cardinal Newman romped past Florence Christian, 8-1, in the first round. Like Porter-Gaud, Cardinal Newman split a pair of matches this season with Pinewood Prep, which shared second place in Region I with the Cyclones.

"Whoever's playing better will win," said coach Brian Burke, whose Porter-Gaud team is in the same half of the bracket as upper state top seed Heathwood Hall.

Lower state third seed Pinewood Prep pulled out a 5-4 victory over Hilton Head Christian on Monday despite dropping the top two singles positions. The Pinewood-Hammond winner will face the Ashley Hall-Wilson Hall winner in Friday's state semifinals.


(10/14/07)  Williams sisters looking sharp
Just at a time when it appeared women's tennis might be beginning to struggle, Venus and Serena Williams are coming to the rescue again.

The sisters seem to be determined to be ready to start the 2008 season in prime playing condition. Venus and Serena both have played back-to-back tournaments at different locations. After competing the past two weeks in Germany and Moscow, Serena is scheduled to play this coming week in Zurich.

Serena appears to be playing at a high level after avenging a loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in Stuttgart, Germany, by defeating the Russian in Saturday's Moscow semifinals. Meanwhile, Venus made last week's Japan final and lost Saturday in the semifinals in Bangkok.

The Williams sisters have climbed up the world rankings to seventh and eighth, with Serena holding the higher ranking. Both are in the running for spots in the season-ending eight-player Sony Ericsson Tour Championships in early November in Madrid.

Otherwise, the tour continues to nurse its injuries.

Amelie Mauresmo hasn't made much noise since pulling out of the Family Circle Cup after undergoing an appendectomy. Maria Sharapova has been handicapped much of the year by a shoulder injury and was sidelined for six weeks after losing in the third round of the U.S. Open. When Sharapova returned this past week in Moscow, she dropped her opening match to 18-year-old Belarusian Victoria Azarenka.

Even top-ranked Justine Henin wasn't able to play Moscow because of a sore right shoulder.

So, it's nice to have Venus and Serena both healthy and apparently determined to challenge Henin at the top of the game.

Charleston vs. Columbia
It's Charleston vs. Columbia in the SCISA Class AAA girls' tennis playoffs. That's Ashley Hall, Porter-Gaud and Pinewood Prep against Heathwood Hall, Hammond School and Cardinal Newman.

They make up six of the 12 teams in the SCISA playoffs that start Monday. In all likelihood, two of the teams from Charleston and Columbia will be playing for the state championship next Saturday at Sumter's Palmetto Tennis Center.

Region I champ Ashley Hall and Porter-Gaud have byes in the first round as the result of their Nos. 1 and 2 seedings in the lower state, and lower third seed Pinewood Prep has a home match Monday against Hilton Head Christian.

Defending state champion and upper second seed Hammond awaits the Pinewood-Hilton Head winner in Columbia on Wednesday. Ashley Hall will open Wednesday at home against the winner of Monday's Orangeburg Prep-Wilson Hall match. Ashley Hall and Pinewood could meet in the state semifinals Friday night in Sumter.

Porter-Gaud is in the top half of the draw and will play host Wednesday to the winner of the Cardinal Newman-Florence Christian match. Upper top seed Heathwood Hall draws the winner of Monday's Hilton Head Prep-Laurence Manning match in the quarterfinals.
Seabrook event a success

Last weekend's Alan Fleming Senior Open Clay Court State Championship at the Seabrook Island Club proved to be a big winner, both on and off the court. The tournament raised $33,000 for Hospice of Charleston, running its seven-year total to $117,000.

A silent auction raised $15,000 alone. Plus, a record 251 players participated in the event, which has been designated as an official state tournament.


(10/11/07)  Ashley Hall nails down region title with victory
Ashley Hall 6, Pinewood Prep 3

What a difference a year can make.

A year ago, Ashley Hall had lost Jamie Harrell to an ineligibility ruling as it surrendered the SCISA Class AAA Region I girls' tennis title to Pinewood Prep. With the sophomore standout in the lead Wednesday at Charleston Tennis Center, Ashley Hall wrapped up the region title with a 6-3 victory over Pinewood Prep in the battle of Panthers.

Harrell used her big left-handed game for a 6-2, 6-0 win at No. 1 singles over Pinewood seventh-grader Meagan Evans to pace Ashley Hall to a 4-2 lead after singles play.

Ashley Hall (9-5, 3-0) will put its unbeaten region record on the line today at Porter-Gaud (1-2) at 4 p.m. Pinewood (9-6 overall) completed region play with a 1-3 record.

"This means we'll be the top seed in the lower state," Ashley Hall coach Mary Gastley said, looking ahead to next week's SCISA state playoffs, where she expects the region to be represented by all three of its teams.

The key for Ashley Hall was sophomore Charlotte Morrow's 7-5, 6-3 victory at No. 4 singles over Pinewood Prep's Sarah Edwards to give the host team a sweep of the first four singles positions. Ashley Hall then wrapped up the team victory and region crown with a 6-0, 6-1 victory by the No. 1 doubles team of junior Jacey Edwards and freshman Patricia Kirkland.

"Going into doubles 4-2 ... that was huge," Gastley said. "That was a huge match for Charlotte to win. She had lost to Sarah two weeks ago."

Pinewood coach Heinz Maurer pointed to the return of Harrell to the Ashley Hall roster as the difference in Region I. Harrell hasn't given up a set in region play.

"One player can make the difference. It just pushes everyone else down a position," Maurer said.

Singles: Harrell (AH) d. Evans 6-2, 6-0; Edwards (AH) d. Brewer 6-1, 6-4; Kirkland (AH) d. Bessent 7-5, 6-0; Morrow (AH) d. Edwards 7-5, 6-3; Polk (PP) d. Weeks 7-5, 6-3; Fletcher (PP) d. Cannon 6-2, 6-1.

Doubles: Edwards-Kirkland (AH) d Bessent-Evans 6-0, 6-1. Harrell-Morrow (AH) d. Sharkey/Brewer 8-4; Polk-Fletcher(PP) d. Cannon-Lowery 9-8(7-4).


(10/11/07)  Bishops playing it smart on the court
Experience and tennis smarts can be as important as talent. Just ask veteran Bishop England girls coach Patricia Owens.

The Bishops have five seniors this fall, as well as tennis-savvy junior Sallie Johnson, the team's No. 1 player.

"We have more experience and more maturity this year. We didn't have a senior last year," Owens said.

There's also the X factor: Sallie Johnson, who also was the Bishops' top player a year ago when they lost to Waccamaw in the early rounds of the Class AA state playoffs.

"Sallie is smart on the court. She has a lot of court sense," said Owens. "She doesn't like to lose. Some players win because of power, but Sallie wins because of her court sense.

"She doesn't quit, even when she's playing someone better than she is ... she keeps on going."

The Bishops likely are headed for the state playoffs again. Only Manning and Hanahan compete against them in Region 6-AA.

Owens doesn't remember the last time the Bishops didn't win the region title. She does know her teams have won 13 state championships. Bishop England won its last state title in 2003, defeating Waccamaw and Christ Church in the semifinals and finals while going 18-1. But Waccamaw has eliminated the Bishops from the state playoffs each of the last three years en route to winning the state title. This fall may be different in that Pawleys Island-based Waccamaw has been hurt by the illness of Class AA/A state singles champion Allison Stanford and the graduation loss of star player Liz Rowell. Also, Class A has held its own state tournament the past two years, and Christ Church has participated in the lower classification.

All that could mean success for the Bishops in this year's state playoffs that starts Oct. 25. The Bishops have the home-court advantage on the clay courts at Family Circle Tennis Center through the state semifinals.

The Bishops posted victories in six of its first nine matches, including a 5-2 win over a strong Ashley Hall team recently at Charleston Tennis Center and a victory over perennial Class AAA power Myrtle Beach.

"I've got 20 kids on the var- sity, and they're all good," said Owens.

According to senior Kasia Stempniak, the No. 3 player, the difference this season is in team chemistry. "I think we've bonded more as a team this year," said Stempniak, who has moved up from Nos. 4 or 5 a year ago.

Junior Hailey Weaver is the No. 2 player, while sophomore Christina Connelly and senior Lexi Fitch hold Nos. 4 and 5 singles. The Bishops rotate four or five players in the key No. 2 doubles slot in the five-singles, two-doubles High School League match format. This group includes seniors Katherine Theos and Mallory McCoy. Katie Bethea is the team's other senior.


(10/11/07)  Law firm tennis league's top team
The Thurmond, Kirchner, Timbes Law Firm team continued to sail through the Charleston Pro Tennis League when the league returned to its Friday night schedule after taking a week off for league tennis national championships.

Even without usual partner Lee Holyoak of Hilton Head Island, Wild Dunes Tennis Director Charly Rasheed won his fourth straight match last Friday at the Players Club in Mount Pleasant as the unbeaten TKT Law Firm team posted a 2-1 victory over LCTA. Team captain Rasheed played with Players Club pro Bryan Minton.

The victory not only gave the Thurmond team a 4-0 record, but it also allowed TKT to maintain a three-point advantage in the standings over second-place 4Spine, 10-7, with only Friday night's program at the Daniel Island Club remaining in the regular season.

Only Matt Hane's 4Spine team is left in the running to catch TKT, and the two top teams will meet in a 6:30 p.m. showdown in the regular-season finale. 4Spine must shut out the law firm team 3-0 to have a chance to win the regular-season title. The top four teams will advance to the playoffs that will start Oct. 19 at Pine Forest Country Club.

Fresh from leading Charleston's 5.5 men's team to a national championship the previous weekend in Las Vegas, Hane and Brian Burke took charge at No. 1 doubles as 4Spine posted a 2-1 win over last-place H.S.I. Electrical. Drew Appraisal took the other team match with a 2-1 victory over GMAC to remain tied with LCTA, four points behind Thurmond, Kirchner, Timbes.

Drew Appraisal will take on LCTA Friday night with the winner possibly clinching the third berth in the playoffs.

All six teams still are mathematically in the race for playoff berths, even fifth-place GMAC and H.S.I., which will square off in the 7:30 p.m. match.

Results
Thurmond, Kircher, Timbes 2, LCTA 1: Rasheed/Minton (TKT) def. Siebert/Lozano, 6-3, 1-6, 10-8; Gaffos/Thurmond (TKT) def. Bruniera/Malina, 4-6, 7-6, 10-8; Dargan/Hairston (LCTA) def. Yelverton/Smith, 6-1, 6-2.

Drew Appraisal 2, GMAC 1: Dekel/Simpson (GMAC) def. Shuster/Lopez, 6-1, 6-1; Allen/Nava (Drew Appraisal) def. Barth/Andersson, 7-6, 6-2; Rice/Nius (Drew Appraisal) def. Nichols/Klingenburg, 6-4, 6-1.

4Spine 2, H.S.I. Electrical 1: Hane/Burke (4Spine) def. Henderson/Blankenbaker, 6-3, 6-4; Netzler/Wadehra (H.S.I.) def. Small/Harris, 7-5, 6-7, 10-4; Brice/Boykin (4Spine) def. Harkins/Comer, 6-3, 6-2.

Standings
Thurmond, Kirchner, Timbes, 10; 4Spine, 7; Drew Appraisal, 6; LCTA, 6; GMAC, 4; H.S.I. Electrical, 3.

Schedule
Friday, 6:30 p.m., Daniel Island Club: 4Spine vs. TKT Law Firm; LCTA vs. Drew Appraisal. 7:30 p.m., GMAC vs. H.S.I.


(10/10/07)  Henin as dominant as Federer
Everyone talks about Roger Federer's domination of men's tennis. But check out Justine Henin on the women's side.

Henin appears to be in complete charge of the WTA Tour. This mighty mite looks unbeatable. Even the Williams sisters must be shaking their heads after the way Henin marched through them en route to another U.S. Open crown.

Henin didn't play the Australian Open, yet she won two Grand Slams this year, and has gone 54-4 in singles and won eight titles. A year ago, she was Federer-like, making all four Grand Slam finals. Wimbledon's grass just seems to be her only hang-up, something like the clay at Roland Garros for Federer.

But, while Federer is breathing on the Grand Slam record book, the women's record, however, is totally out of Henin's reach. She's already 25 years old. That's still young, a year younger than Federer, but she has five fewer Grand Slam titles than his 12. Chris Evert won 16 Grand Slam singles titles as a teenager.

The big stumbling block for Henin is that she's only slightly better than one-fourth of the way to reaching Margaret Smith Court's record 24 Grand Slam singles titles. Steffi Graf gave up at No. 22. Martina Navratilova and Evert won 18 each.

Federer Davis Cupper
Federer hasn't been hiding out since winning another U.S. Open. Late last month, he won a pair of Davis Cup matches in the virtually overlooked World Group playoffs against the Czech Republic, but Switzerland still lost. Novak Djokovic led Serbia to a win over Australia in the same playoffs, earning Serbia a spot in next year's World Group.

It's back to the minor leagues of the Davis Cup Zontals for Switzerland next year. And Federer normally doesn't play in the Zontals. The tie against the Czech Republic was Federer's first since a year earlier in the World Group playoffs.

Some historians believe Federer must help his country win a Davis Cup title to legitimize any claim he might have to being the best player ever.

Pine Forest fights cancer
The Pine Forest Ladies Tennis Association is busy planning the Nov. 2-4 Racquets for Recovery fight against breast cancer. The third annual doubles tournament's registration deadline is Oct. 28. Contact Shirley Hunter (572-7810 or shhunter@bellsouth.net).
The women have set a goal of raising $20,000 for the Charleston area's American Cancer Society's Quality of Life Programs. "The determination of several of our tennis players who are currently battling breast cancer is the inspiration to making this tournament a success," Hunter said.

A courtside cookout and tennis exhibition will highlight Friday night, with a silent auction Saturday. To donate auction items, contact Nicole Shepard (873-6190 or npshepard@aol.com).

Legend Oaks 'Y' Day
Legend Oaks Golf and Tennis Club of Summerville will hold a YMCA Day Tennis and Golf Open House on Oct. 28. Tennis director Andy Steingold has announced the club's affiliation with the Summerville YMCA. Charleston Southern coach Mike Baker and his players will conduct exhibitions and drills during the day.

Other local notes
The Kiawah Junior Clay Court Championship is scheduled to start Friday. This tournament is annually one of the top junior events in the South. Competition will be held in all of the junior age groups. And as usual, tennis director Roy Barth has scheduled doubles. Contact Kiawah Island's Roy Barth Tennis Center (768-2838).

The Battle of James Island will be held Oct. 20 at Maybank Tennis Center, Country Club of Charleston and James Island Yacht Club. Play will begin at 9 a.m. at all three sites, following an 8:30 a.m. continental breakfast. A covered dish social will cap the day at 1 p.m. at the Country Club. Contact Lee Brockman (795-0425).

The I'On Club's fifth annual Ace Breast Cancer tournament starts Friday. The men's/women's singles/doubles event for 3.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5 and open divisions will benefit the Hollings Cancer Center. Contact Courtenay Tucker (courtenay@acebreastcancer.org) or Kat Phillips (kphi1100@bellsouth.net).

The Church League adult coed doubles league started last weekend and will continue through Nov. 17 on Saturday afternoons (1-4 p.m.) at Charleston Southern University. Contact coordinator Vickie Nash (572-2799 or churchttc@yahoo.com).


(10/05/07)  Local 3.5 women geared to begin tennis nationals bid

Debbie Sisko is perfectly comfortable leading the way from the sidelines. She doesn't feel the need to lead on the court.

As the captain of the Southern Sectional title-winning 3.5 adult women's team, Sisko is much more concerned about her Charleston Tennis Center women playing to their potential in this weekend's league tennis National Championships. Sisko played in only one match in her team's drive to the Southern Sectional title nearly two months ago in Mobile, Ala.

The Charleston team arrived in Las Vegas on Wednesday, but Sisko wasn't necessarily planning to rush to the practice courts. No, not since the team has been practicing regularly since gaining a wild-card bid to the Southern Sectionals after finishing as state runner-up to Greenville in the spring.

"You can do too much of that (practice)," Sisko said before leaving Charleston.

Charleston's opening test will come today at 1 p.m. EDT against a team from the Lancaster, Pa., area. Two more matches will follow on Saturday against Des Moines, Iowa, and Albany, N.Y. Those three round-robin matches will determine if Charleston makes Sunday's semifinals or heads home.

"We're going to give it our best shot," Sisko responded when asked if her team felt pressure in trying to duplicate the national championship success of Brian Burke's 5.5 men's team last weekend in Las Vegas. "What we've got to do to win it is to stay cool. I tell everyone they just have to win their court."

Other than Kristin Digget, who was bumped up to 4.0 after leading the way at No. 1 singles in the Southerns, Charleston will field much the same team as it did in Mobile. Silvia Dolecki and Erin Ash are the singles players; the Nos. 1-3 doubles teams, respectively, are Myriam Owens/Wanda Barwick, Anna Stanley/Maxine Cooke and Megan Zwerner/Gwen Kidwell.

"I think we have a good chance even without Kristin," Sisko said. "We are going to be playing teams just like us."

Cooke and Zwerner, along with Elizabeth Pickelsimer, also will play in the Senior Nationals for Charleston Tennis Center's Southern champion senior women's 3.5 team this month in Tucson, Ariz.

The 11-player Charleston contingent is determined to focus on tennis, not he fast lights of the city.

"The hotel has a free shuttle to the strip, but we're staying about 10 miles north (of the main strip)," Sisco said.

The good news is that the Red Rock Country Club where Charleston's first match will be played is only a couple of miles away. So is tournament headquarters Darling Tennis Center.


(10/04/07)  Pro league players win big in Las Vegas

It's business as usual Friday night for members of Brian Burke's league tennis 5.5 national men's champions. It's back down to Earth for the Charleston Pro Tennis League.

After taking last week off while two teams made up mostly of league players went to Las Vegas to compete in the league tennis National Championships, the league returns to the schedule Friday night at 6:30 at Mount Pleasant's Players Club.

But what a weekend the locals had in Las Vegas! Burke, fellow 4Spine team member and captain Matt Hane, H.S.I. Electrical's Brandon Blankenbaker, Drew Appraisal captain Santiago Falla, and Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes member Lee Holyoak returned to Charleston with a trophy symbolizing their national championship achievements on the 5.5 team.

Burke also brought back a national championship banner that he will hang at St. Andrew's Parks and Playground's tennis complex where he is the tennis director.

"We lost our first match 2-1 to Delaware and we didn't lose after that," Burke said about his team's four straight victories in the nationals that ended with a 2-1 conquest of Indianapolis on Sunday in the final.

Chris Henderson's men's open team nearly duplicated the feat by winning its last three matches, only to fall victim to the tournament format that allowed a Delaware team with an identical 3-1 record to advance to the championship match (and win it), even though Henderson's group had posted a 2-1 victory over Delaware. The natural No. 1 tiebreaker criteria of head-to-head meetings was the fifth criteria. Delaware was declared the flight winner and advanced to the final by virtue of the fourth tiebreaker criteria, points lost.

Henderson's team did everything within its power Sunday to advance to the final as Tom Eklund in singles and the doubles teams of Carlos Lozano/Ben Cook and Toby Simpson/Henderson all won in straight sets against a New York team that entered the day also in the running with a 2-1 record.

But Delaware posted a 2-1 win over the struggling Boise, Idaho, team that didn't win a match after blanking Henderson's team, 3-0, in the first match for both teams. That left Charleston and Delaware tied with 3-1 records, individual matches won (8) and sets lost (9), but with Delaware having lost fewer games (88-106) in its four matches.

"We dug ourselves a hole the first match, and we couldn't get out of it," said Henderson, who also serves as captain of the league's H.S.I. Electrical team.

Lozano plays for LCTA, Simpson for GMAC and Charly Rasheed captains the league-leading Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes team.

The week off for the nationals gives the league's five other teams a chance to regroup and search for a way to sidetrack the unbeaten doubles team of Rasheed and Holyoak that has paced Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes Law Firm to a 3-0 record and a commanding lead in the league point standings. The Thurmond team has eight points, three more than any other team. LCTA and 4Spine have five points each.

Sept. 21 results
LCTA 2, 4Spine 1: Siebert/Lozano (LCTA) def. Hane/Burke, 6-4, 6-4; Small/Harris (4Spine) def. Malina/Bruniera, 6-3, 7-5; Hairston/Dargan (LCTA) def. Bumgarner/Hough, 7-5, 6-2.

Drew Appraisal 2, H.S.I. 1: Henderson/Wadehra (H.S.I.) def. Falla/Shuster, 7-6, 4-6, 15-13; Allen/Nava (Drew Appraisal) def. Blankenbaker/Whitesell, 7-6, 6-4; Nius/Rice (Drew Appraisal) def. Netzler/McKay, 6-1, 6-2.

Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes 3, GMAC 0: Rasheed/Holyoak def. Dekel/Simpson, 6-3, 7-6; Minton/Thurmond def. Andersson/Nichols, 4-6, 6-4, 10-8; Gaffos/Yelverton def. Klingenburg/Posner, 6-3, 6-1.

Standings
Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes, 8 points; 4Spine, 5 points; LCTA, 5 points; Drew Appraisal, 4 points; GMAC, 3 points; H.S.I. Electrical, 2 points.


(10/03/07)  League tennis rules aren't always fair

Charleston has become the mecca of pro league tennis. The Charleston Pro Tennis League grows in popularity yearly, both among tennis fans and pro-level players.

And the CPTL has a carryover effect. Not only do many of the best club pros in the state head for Charleston on Friday afternoons in the fall, those and others jump at the chance to play with the local talent when the league tennis playoffs begin.

That's why Chris Henderson, Brian Burke and their respective teams can head for Las Vegas each fall knowing that have a legitimate shot at winning it all. This year was no different.

Charleston teams might have brought home two high-level national championships rather than one from the Las Vegas Nationals if not for a flaw in the USTA's tournament format.

If the league tennis National Championships are important enough to cause the participants to hit their savings to finance trips to places such as Las Vegas and Tucson, Ariz., they should be important enough to be conducted in a fair way. That's not to say rules weren't followed correctly; the rules just need to be altered.

Here's the background. Henderson's open men's team and Delaware finished round-robin play with identical 3-1 records. In their head-to-head meeting, Charleston won, 2-1. In most situations, that would have been enough to have made Charleston the flight winner and earned Henderson's team a berth in the national championship match.

But the USTA allows other things to get in the way, such as most individual matches won, fewer sets lost and fewer games lost before head-to-meetings come into play. Those are fine in the case of no head-to-head meetings or where head-to-head results fail to produce a clear winner.

It might be just that the USTA's computer charts and rankings for such events don't have a column for head-to-head meetings and would require human intervention to correct. You might say, the computer model is in charge in that the standings are generated under the categories of team wins and losses, individual wins and losses, sets lost and games lost.

The Charleston crew might not have been so disappointed if Delaware hadn't gone on to capture the men's open national title.

You don't have to go all the way to the Nationals to recognize the injustices of the current system.

"The same thing just happened Friday to the (Family Circle Tennis Center) Hotshots," e-mailed team co-captain Lisa Dojan. "We got bumped out of second place in the 6.5 Combo League because of the same crazy rule . . . we defeated St. Andrew's and tied 7-3 (record) in the league. They passed us on (most individual matches won) . . . we were hoping to make the playoffs."

Lowcountry Tennis Association president Bob Peiffer's response to the rules question was, "I don't know why it is done that way, but that has been the USTA approach ever since I have been involved in league tennis. It is clearly stated in the rules, and it is the way we do it in the LCTA in order to comply with the USTA rules."

Burke's 5.5 men's team was more fortunate in the nationals as the semifinal wild-card recipient from three flights. There were no head-to-head meetings since each of the wild-card hopefuls competed in a different flight. All three wild-card candidates had 2-1 round-robin records, but Burke's team held the upper hand in the other tiebreaker categories.

The Charleston 5.5 team didn't have to face its flight winner and round-robin match conqueror, another team from Delaware, in the semifinals or final, and brought home the national title with a victory over Indianpolis.

But even these methods of selecting flight winners and wild-card entries from round-robin play are far better than the one used in state tournaments to select wild-card teams. "At the state tournament, there's a random draw for wild cards," local league coordinator Ken Edwards pointed out.

All of these examples seem to indicate that the USTA should take a closer look at its all-important league tennis business. League tennis is the very heart and soul of the USTA and probably its most important function outside of the administration of the U.S. Open.


(10/01/07)  Charleston men's team claims title

Brian Burke's team gave Charleston its second men's 5.5 national tennis title in three years Sunday in the league tennis National Championships with a 2-1 victory over Indianapolis in Las Vegas.

And a flaw in the USTA's tournament format may have prevented another Charleston team, Chris Henderson's open men, from also winning a national title. Henderson/Charleston scored a 3-0 victory over New York Sunday for its third straight round-robin win, but fell victim to the tournament format that allowed a Delaware team with an identical 3-1 record to advance to the championship match (and win it), even though Charleston had posted a 2-1 victory over Delaware on Friday night.

In the Henderson/Charleston case, the natural No. 1 tiebreaker criteria of head-to-head meetings was the fifth criteria. Delaware was declared the flight winner and advanced to the final by virtue of the fourth tiebreaker criteria, points lost. Delaware, led by wins by ATP Tour regular Wayne Odesnik and former world's No. 2 doubles player Ellis Ferreira, defeated Michigan, 2-1, in the men's open final.

Burke played the role of a good captain for the 5.5 champions. The former S.C. State star didn't play a match in Las Vegas, but guided his Charleston outfit to four straight victories after an opening-match loss.

In the final, it was Burke's strategy to put singles standouts John Chesworth and Matt Hane (the only member of this championship team to play on Joey Eskridge's national title team in 2005) in doubles to avoid strong Indianapolis singles player Matt Laramore. The strategy worked perfectly as Hane teamed up with Brandon Blankenbaker in No. 1 doubles and Chesworth played with Susheel Naria in No. 2 doubles. Both matches went to match tiebreakers for the third set before Hane and Chesworth pulled their teams through (10-6 and 10-7, respectively).

That allowed Lee Holyoak to retire while trailing Laramore in a tight singles match since Burke's men already had clinched the national championship with the doubles success.

"The reason was Matt and Brandon together had not lost a 5.5 match together in two years," Burke said. "And Susheel was unbeaten in the nationals. Putting John (Chesworth) in there with his big serve, I knew they would be tough to beat. It just happened to work out."

Members of the championship team received crystal balls and the team was awarded a banner that Burke will hang at St. Andrew's Parks and Playground where he serves as the tennis director.

"The guys played really well," Burke said. "We lost our first match 2-1 to Delaware and we didn't lose after that."

Henderson's team did everything within its power Sunday to advance to the final as Tom Eklund in singles and the doubles teams of Carlos Lozano/Ben Cook and Toby Simpson/Henderson all won in straight sets against a New York team that entered the day also in the running with a 2-1 record.

But Delaware posted a 2-1 win over the struggling Boise, Idaho, team that didn't win a match after blanking Henderson/Charleston, 3-0, on Friday. That left Charleston and Delaware tied with 3-1 records, individual matches won (8) and sets lost (9), but with Delaware having lost fewer games (88-106) in its four matches.

"We dug ourselves a hole the first match, and we couldn't get out of it," Henderson said.


(09/30/07)  Nationals 5.5 a pro-level tournament

It's only natural to associate league tennis players with weeknight warriors. That's what league tennis is all about to most of its participants. A couple league tennis nights out a week.

But when the level moves up to 5.5 or higher, it's a different game. The word "pros" enters the equation. Most of these higher-level players are teaching pros.

They come from all over the state to play in the popular Charleston Pro Tennis League on fall Friday nights. And each year many of them join forces to form a couple of teams that are talented enough to win Southern Sectional championships and earn berths in the nationals.

But when the stage reaches the national level, another change occurs. Of course, there's better and deeper opposition, especially at the open level which appears to have few restrictions.

A year ago, Chris Henderson's open men's team from Charleston lost all of its singles matches in the Las Vegas Nationals. Other teams were recruiting talented players straight out of college to handle the singles duties.

Henderson saw the light and went looking for a singles player with strong, young legs. He landed Tom Eklund, the No. 1 player for the University of South Carolina back in the spring. In the talented Swede, Henderson felt he had found the ace in the hole that could spell the difference in his team's pursuit of a national championship.

Eklund was blitzed in his first two matches in the Nationals, winning a total of nine games. But he won a key singles match for the team Saturday to keep Charleston in the running for a berth in this afternoon's final.

Scores can be misleading, especially when the opposition is of ATP Tour caliber. Eklund's second loss came Friday night to ATP Tour regular Wayne Odesnik, who just a few weeks ago was winning a match in the U.S. Open, and a few weeks before that was defeating Ivan Ljubicic in the Cincinnati Masters. A 21-year-old South African, Odesnik is ranked 148th in the world.

Shoot, the Nationals could be called a pro championship, with no payday. If Odesnik's appearance wasn't enough to convince Henderson that the opposition was world class, he only had to look over to the No. 1 doubles court where Ben Cook and Carlos Lozano faced a strong challenge from a Delaware-based team.

Cook and Lozano saved a match point that ultimately could have eliminated the Charleston team from the national title chase. On the other side of the net was another South African, this one 37-year-old left-hander Ellis Ferreira who just a few years ago was the No. 2 doubles player in the world and was winning a Grand Slam doubles title. That's ATP Tour level.

Cook and Lozano eventually won No. 1 doubles in a match tiebreaker for the third set as Henderson's team kept its championship hopes alive for one more match. Friday night's victory by the two club pros was an impressive accomplishment. Ferreira is a world-class player, who won the 2000 Australian Open doubles title with Rick Leach, and lost in the U.S. Open doubles final later that year.

Kiawah Jr. deadline

Monday is the deadline for entering the Oct. 12-15 Kiawah Junior Clay Court Championship. Registration is available only online at www.usta.com, selecting "tournaments" under the "TennisLink" heading, and using the tournament ID number (704137907).

Competition will be held in boys' and girls' 10-18 age groups in singles and doubles. Contact Kiawah Island's Roy Barth Tennis Center (768-2838).


(09/28/07)  Local teams open play in nationals
The Charleston Pro Tennis League may be taking the night off locally, but two groups of players mostly from the popular Friday night league will be playing for much higher stakes today on the other side of the country.

Charleston has two teams playing in the league tennis National Championships starting today in Las Vegas. Chris Henderson's open men are entered in the nationals for the sixth straight year, while Brian Burke's 5.5 men are making a second consecutive appearance. Both Charleston teams won Southern Sectional titles.

The open division is divided into two flights, with the winners of the flights squaring off Sunday afternoon for the national championship. Henderson's team will play twice today, once Saturday and then again Sunday morning in round-robin competition. The locals will take on Intermountain from Boise, Idaho, and Middle States from the Delaware area today.

Henderson's team is led by doubles standouts Carlos Lozano, Charly Rasheed, Toby Simpson, Ben Cook and Henderson, along with Matt Hane and newcomer Tom Eklund. The addition of Eklund gives the team a boost in the two doubles/one singles match format of the nationals.

A Swede, Eklund played No. 1 for the University of South Carolina last spring and is a strong singles player. Hane, who doubles on the 5.5 team, also gives Henderson's group an added weapon, whether in singles or doubles.

"Tom Eklund is the X-factor," said Henderson, whose team failed to make the semifinals last year. "He's the guy we've been missing. Having him puts us in position to win (the title). We lost every singles match last year.

"Having a young guy for singles should be a factor for us. Now the pressure will be off doubles, because we can split the doubles match. That's the difference between winning and losing."

The local 5.5 team has a deep line of talent to go along with Burke and Hane, including newcomer John Chesworth, who was the Southern Conference's player of the year two years ago while playing for Furman. Hilton Head Island pro Lee Holyoak is another strong addition to the team, which also includes Brandon Blankenbaker, Sandeep Reddy, Santiago Falla, Ben Shuster and Susheel Naria.

Burke's team will compete in one of three four-team round-robins, playing twice today (Middle States and Florida) and once Saturday.


(09/27/07)  Ashley Hall tennis team gets boost with top new freshman
The addition of one top tennis player can drastically change a team's outlook. Add another one, and wow!

Talented freshman Patricia Kirkland's switch from James Island to Ashley Hall this season gave the Panthers a chance to challenge for their league title. Sophomore Jamie Harrell's return made Ashley Hall a legitimate SCISA Class AAA state title contender.

Veteran Ashley Hall coach Mary Gastley has her best team in several years. The Panthers are strong at the top and are deep enough to compete well against strong Region I rivals Porter-Gaud and Pinewood Prep after being denied the league title last year by an ineligible ruling against Harrell.

Having both Harrell and Kirkland make a great deal of difference, as they were worth a total of three points in the Panthers' key 6-3 win over Porter-Gaud last week in their first start together.

After splitting the six singles matches with Porter-Gaud, Ashley Hall won all three doubles matches to win its opening region match. The Panthers play Porter-Gaud and Pinewood twice each for a total of four region matches before the state playoffs start Oct. 15.

"I was pleased with how our girls played against Porter-Gaud," said Gastley, who is impressed enough with Porter-Gaud and Pinewood to think all three Region I teams possibly could receive bids to the state playoffs. "We definitely have a strong conference."

Ashley Hall got a big lift against Porter-Gaud in doubles from Harrell playing No. 2 with sophomore Charlotte Morrow, while Kirkland teamed up with junior Jacey Edwards at No. 1.

With Harrell wielding her big left-handed strokes and serves in the first singles position in Region I matches, regular No. 1 Edwards can be much more dangerous in the more friendly second position. "No. 1 is a tough spot to play," Gastley said. "It definitely makes us stronger to have the new players."

Kirkland, who was James Island's top player last season, is a No. 3 player. That leaves Morrow in the fourth slot, followed by last year's No. 3, senior Elizabeth Weeks.

The Panthers have two more new players, juniors Kate Cannon and Lily Greenberg, competing for the sixth spot with junior Jordan Lowery, who played No. 5 last year.

Porter-Gaud strong
Porter-Gaud will attempt to improve its Region I record to 2-1 today in a match in Summerville against defending region champion Pinewood. After that, coach Brian Burke's Porter-Gaud team will have only a home match against Ashley Hall on Oct. 4 remaining in conference play.

The Cyclones won their first five matches before falling to High School League power Wando and then Ashley Hall last week.

"We're in the hunt. We are going to try to put this week behind us," Burke said after the loss to Ashley Hall.

Burke, tennis director at St. Andrew's Parks and Playground, is in his first year with the Cyclones.

Like Ashley Hall, Porter-Gaud has benefited from a newcomer. Eighth-grader Mi'Kola Cooper won her first seven matches at No. 3 singles. "I'm expecting Mi'Kola to be strong. She has a lot of heart," Burke said about the 5-7 player with the big serve.

Today's match against Pinewood is a key one for the Cyclones, even if they posted a 7-2 victory over Pinewood earlier this season.

Veteran junior Natalie Santiago is back at No. 1 for the Cyclones, with hard-hitting eighth-grader Isabel Dennis in the second slot. Junior Becky Kumar is No. 4, followed by seventh-grader Annie Hay. Freshman Carissa Steichen and junior Charlotte Schmitz, a foreign exchange student from Germany, split time at No. 6.


(09/27/07)  Wando girls coach has high expectations
Wando coach Becky Williamson has some bad news for the state's other Class AAAA girls tennis teams.

"This is the best team I have ever coached," Williamson insists.

Better than the past three Wando teams, all state champions? Yes.

"We have a lot more depth than ever before. The girls all play tournaments and want another state championship. I feel pretty good about winning another championship, as long as we stay healthy," Williamson said.

"Looking around the state, I can see who has good teams, and I feel confident that we could beat anyone. Of course, Irmo and Dutch Fork (victims of Wando in last year's state playoffs) are going to be tough."

If Williamson could divide the Warriors into two teams, they might well be the two best in all of high school tennis.

Seniors Jessica Diamond, Brooke Mosteller and Elizabeth Spelman, juniors Olivia McMillan and Hagan Edgerton and freshman Meghan Blevins all sparkled last year in the Warriors' third straight state championship march. And all except McMillan and Blevins also played on the first two state title teams.

Thus, the Warriors are loaded with experience. Diamond and Mosteller are strong, smart and experienced team leaders at the top two positions. Diamond, the Lowcountry Player of the Year the past two years, is ranked eighth in the state in 18s. Mosteller was runner-up at Belton this year.

Like Diamond and Mosteller, Spelman wants to play college tennis. Slender but a hard-hitter and well-schooled at the Players Club like most of Wando's top players, Spelman was the hero of the Warriors' state championship victory over Irmo last year. She's at home at almost any position because of her solid groundstrokes.

The left-handed McMillan won a girls' 16 state hard-court title over the summer and is a strong No. 3 player, while Blevins took the girls' 14 crown at Belton. Blevins, a tiny power hitter, probably is the best No. 4 or 5 player in the state.

The list doesn't stop there.

"There are nine girls fighting for seven places," Williamson said about her unbeaten team.

Sophomore Corin Hallman, and juniors Lindsay Larkin and Liz Cole all are capable of starting at the lower positions or in the key No. 2 doubles. Hall is a big server who is intent on improving. Larkin, a strong doubles player, is back on the team after missing last season. Cole has been hampered by injuries.

The Warriors haven't suffered a regular-season loss since 2004 and are a virtual lock to win the Region 7-AAAA title. The Class AAAA state playoffs will begin Oct. 23.


(09/26/07)  Exhibition turnout met expectations

The crowd that attended Sunday's Pete Sampras-Jim Courier exhibition just appeared to be small. It really wasn't. It's just a matter of perspective.

In reality, the North Charleston Coliseum may have been too large a facility in which to hold such an event. Especially, indoors on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in this coastal community. Tennis is strictly an outdoor game here.

Spaced out in the lower arena, the crowd of approximately 2,500 was swallowed up by the size of the coliseum. The crowd occupied only about 20 percent of the facility's seats.

That's the kind of situation the U.S. Tennis Association avoids when it serves as host for Davis Cup and Fed Cup competitions. Small, jam-packed stadiums are far cozier and impressive to television viewers than large stadiums speckled with fans.

Coliseum officials and event promoters weren't disappointed by Sunday's attendance. A similar-sized crowd will look pretty impressive to Courier and Sampras this weekend in Charlotte at the Champions tour's Championships at the Palisades.

The difference will be in perspective. The capacity in Charlotte will be only about 2,700.

Newfound popularity?

Lindsay Davenport has never been a huge fan favorite, possibly because of her lack of flair on the court.

But now as a new mom and making a comeback on women's tennis' biggest stage, Davenport could experience newfound popularity.

It's amazing that Davenport won a tournament in Bali three months after becoming a mom.

When I indicated in my Sunday column that I was glad to see Jelena Jankovic introduce Davenport to the real tour by beating her Saturday in Beijing, I actually was pulling for the WTA Tour.

While Davenport's comeback is terrific, fans might start wondering about the current caliber of play on the tour if a player can return to the tour three months after having a baby and still beat the best players in the world.

--Agnes Szavay has leaped to 20th in the world after beating Jankovic in the Beijing final. Only 18 years old, the Hungarian appears to be one of the tour's most consistent players and capable of being in the top 10 by the time the Family Circle Cup arrives.

Carter world's No. 1 in 60 singles, doubles

Charleston's Brenda Carter is having the year of a lifetime. She already has won three national women's 60 singles titles and two doubles titles, sweeping both events in the national clay courts and national hard courts.

She is currently ranked No. 1 in the world in women's 60 singles and doubles.

The latest honor for Carter will take her to Christchurch, New Zealand, Nov. 26-Dec. 1, where she will serve as a player and captain of the U.S. team in the international Alice Marble Cup.

Carter also was on the team in 2006 in Turkey, when the Americans finished fifth.

Rogers scores big

Bishop England graduate Sabra Rogers continues to improve as a college tennis player for perennial powerhouse Emory University. Just a sophomore, Rogers swept six straight singles matches without dropping a set en route to winning the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's fall Southern Regional Championship over the weekend at the Emory complex. She was seeded third.

Rogers also went unbeaten in doubles to win that title, too. She now advances to the ITA National Tournament in Mobile, Ala., Oct. 11-14. She was named conference player of the week and already has qualified for All-America honors in singles and doubles.

Meanwhile, Sabra's little sister, Shelby, is training full-time at the Players Club's Charleston Tennis Academy this fall after attending First Baptist Church School in the past. Already the owner of two girls' 16 Belton singles titles and five Belton singles titles in all, 14-year-old Shelby is a sophomore in online schooling.

Local notes

Jamie Harrell, Jessica Diamond and John Karle represented the area in the recent Southern Junior Davis Cup in Chattanooga, Tenn., helping South Carolina finish in third place. Harrell lost only once while playing No. 2 in girls' 16, while Diamond held down No. 3 in girls' 18 and Karle was No. 3 in boys' 16 singles. I'On Club tennis director Joey Eskridge served as the team's coach.

While Brian and Phillip Burke were winning the brother/brother open doubles event recently at the Southern Sibling Open at Kiawah Island, Randall and Walker Heffron took the junior brother/brother title over Connor and Payne Hoy. Hunter and Courtney Mitchell captured the junior brother/sister title over Jake and Kelly Engle, who also were runners-up in open brother/sister.


(09/24/07)  Sampras edges Courier; exhibition raises $16,000

Pete Sampras and Jim Courier didn't quite look like members of the over-the-hill gang Sunday afternoon at the North Charleston Coliseum. They appeared to be as fit as in their prime, and a crowd of about 2,500 showed its appreciation.

Courier, the television analyst, was left talking to himself by a couple of Sampras' running forehands down the line. And then when Sampras cranked up his serve, Courier couldn't talk his way out of trouble.

Grand Slam title record-holder Sampras turned up the heat after dropping a first-set tiebreaker and left town right after the Legends of Tennis match and on-court ceremonies ended with a 6-7 (5), 6-2, 10-6 victory over his longtime buddy.

The real winners of the exhibition, other than the crowd, was the MUSC Children's Hospital that will receive a $16,000 donation — $8,000 from contributions received Sunday and a matching amount from former tennis pro Bill Przybysz's Miracle Match Foundation.

"It's good to have fun ... I still love to play," Sampras told the crowd.

After leaving the ATP Tour following his 2002 U.S. Open success that saw him capture 14 Grand Slam crowns, Sampras left tennis until he came out of retirement to join Courier's Champions Tour earlier this

year. "I missed tennis," Sampras said.

"We were playing a good level of tennis," Courier said. "Pete was just serving beautifully the second set."

Sampras dominated the third-set match tiebreaker by winning seven of his eight service points. "Pete has just such great rhythm on his serve," said Courier, 37, whose InsideOut Sports and Entertainment group sponsored the Miracle Match Tour event.

Courier, who won a pair of French Opens and two Australian Opens, appeared to have fun throughout the match as he repeatedly communicated with the audience.

Cremins/Courier win
In the celebrity doubles match that preceded the Sampras-Courier main event, College of Charleston men's basketball coach Bobby Cremins teamed up with Courier for a 6-2 victory over Sampras and Gov. Mark Sanford.

The highlight of the preliminary match came two games from the end when Gov. Sanford motioned for his teenaged son, Marshall, to take his place as Sampras' partner. Marshall immediately flashed the skills of a high school tennis player as the Columbia Heathwood Hall sophomore drove a forehand down the line past Courier. But Courier and Cremins managed to close out the match in the next game.


(09/23/07)  Sampras returns to area for exhibition against Courier

Pete Sampras and Jim Courier are only one year apart in age, but they are separated by 10 Grand Slam tennis tournament titles.

These two former greats have met 20 times on the ATP Tour, Sampras winning 16 of the meetings. Today, the two longtime friends will play for fun at 3 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum.

Actually, the match is labeled as an exhibition, or Legends of Tennis event.

That probably explains the absence of a mad rush for tickets. A crowd of 2,000 to 3,000 is expected. Plenty of walk-up tickets are available.

Sampras will put the serve that carried him to a record 14 Grand Slam titles on display. Courier will demonstrate the true grit that helped him win four Grand Slams.

The match will allow fans the opportunity to see Sampras compete locally for the first time in nearly 20 years. The only time Sampras has played here was in 1988, when he attempted to qualify for the U.S. Clay Courts in the tournament's first of a two-year stint at Wild Dunes.

--The players will take part in a noon-1 p.m. clinic with a limited number of individuals, who are paying $500 each for the treat. Proceeds from the clinic will go to former tennis pro Bill Przybysz's Miracle Match Foundation, which will donate a portion of the proceeds to the MUSC Children's Hospital. Przybysz is a victim of Acute Monocytic Leukemia.

--Holders of $150 courtside seats will have the opportunity to meet Sampras and Courier in a special 1:30 p.m. VIP reception.

--Gov. Mark Sanford will team up with Sampras against College of Charleston men's basketball coach Bobby Cremins and Courier in a celebrity doubles match.


(09/23/07)  Davenport takes Tour by storm in return
Just when you thought Serena Williams' success-without-playing style was an abnormality, here comes Lindsay Davenport. Three months after becoming a mother, Davenport is winning tournaments and beating some of the game's best current players.

What's next? Will Monica Seles be back? Or maybe Steffi Graf?

I thought Davenport would win a few matches, then lose when the opposition picked up. But power such as Davenport's never goes out of style. World's No. 3 Jelena Jankovic went down and then Daniela Hantuchova, as Davenport won Bali in her first tournament back on the tour.

New mom Davenport, now 31, didn't stop in Bali. She moved on to the China Open and continued to win, defeating Elena Dementieva on Friday. Thank goodness Jankovic introduced Davenport to the real tour Saturday in Beijing in straight sets.

Obviously, judging by Family Circle Cup champ Jankovic's resurgence, the WTA Tour regulars aren't going to surrender so meekly. Certainly not power-packed mite Justine Henin, who has been nursing her health since dominating the U.S. Open.

And watch out for the new 18-year-old on the block, hard-hitting Hungarian Agnes Szavay, who has quickly risen to No. 23 in the world. She'll go even higher Monday after rolling into today's Beijing final against Jankovic.

Burke is everywhere

Brian Burke seems to be everywhere these days. The St. Andrew's Parks and Recreation Department tennis director has been shining in the Charleston Pro Tennis League as well as leading his men's 5.5 team to the league tennis nationals. Now, he's coaching the Porter-Gaud girls.

Burke has a super prospect in eighth-grader Mi'Kola Cooper. She has the talent and the determination, not to mention the size and strength, along with a great serve in progress and a terrific volley. Burke also is her personal coach.

Two of the biggest stories in high school tennis this fall were separated by one court Thursday at Charleston Tennis Center during Ashley Hall's 6-3 win over Porter-Gaud. While Cooper was improving to 7-0 at No. 3 singles, Ashley Hall sophomore star Jamie Harrell easily won in her return to high school tennis.

It was great to see these two talented young girls doing so well after last year's disappointments when both were declared ineligible, Cooper by the High School League and Harrell by SCISA. Their teams paid the price as Academic Magnet was placed on probation for allowing then-C.E. Williams seventh-grader Cooper to play, and Ashley Hall forfeited two SCISA matches in which Harrell participated.

Porter-Gaud still has an eye on the Region I title with a 1-1 league mark heading into a Thursday showdown at Pinewood Prep, with only a match against Ashley Hall left after that in region play. Ashley Hall (1-0) visits Pinewood (0-1) Tuesday.

With only four league matches for each of the three teams, defending champion Pinewood probably will need to win both of next week's matches to remain in the race. Ashley Hall and Porter-Gaud, as well as Pinewood, appear capable of challenging for the state title. The SCISA Class AAA state playoffs start Oct. 15.

Back to Burke, he's handing off his Porter-Gaud duties to assistants Tom Higgins and Jane Settle as he switches to captain's duties in the league tennis nationals in Las Vegas.

Chris Henderson's open men's team also will be competing in the Las Vegas nationals.

If that isn't enough, Burke and his brother Phillip went unbeaten while winning the brother/brother open doubles event in last weekend's Southern Sibling Open at Kiawah Island.


(09/20/07)  Rasheed, Holyoak help team take lead
Wild Dunes' Charley Rasheed and Hilton Head Island's Lee Holyoak came through again last Friday night to lead the Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes Law Firm to its second straight victory in the Charleston Pro Tennis League.

Rasheed and Holyoak, the former Pine Forest Country Club tennis director who has switched to Hilton Head's Long Cove Club, powered past Ben Shuster and Craig Rice of Drew Appraisal, 6-4, 6-4, to keep the law firm team in first place with five points and a 2-0 record. Drew Appraisal is captained by former Charleston Southern standout Santiago Falla.

Captain Matt Hane's second-place 4Spine team, which also is 2-0, posted a 2-1 win over Or Dekel's GMAC, while Timo Siebert's LCTA outfit posted a 2-1 victory over Chris Henderson's H.S.I. Electrical.

The league will continue its season Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Mount Pleasant's I'On Club with three matches: H.S.I. vs. Drew Appraisal; LCTA vs. 4Spine; and Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes vs. GMAC. Admission is free.

Results
4Spine 2, GMAC 1: Hane/Burke (4Spine) def. Dekel/Barth, 6-4, 6-2; Small/Harris (4Spine) def. Miller/Andersson, 6-2, 6-3; Nichols/Klingenburg (GMAC) def. Brice-Hough, 6-2, 6-1.

Thurmond, Kirchner, Timbes 2, Drew Appraisal 1: Rasheed/Holyoak (Thurmond) def. Shuster/Rice, 6-4, 6-4; Allen/Nava (Drew Appraisal) def. Gaffos/Minton, 6-1, 6-1; Shelley/Thurmond (Thurmond) def. Lopez/Nius, 7-5, 6-2.

LCTA 2, H.S.I. Electrical 1: Henderson/Blankenbaker (H.S.I.) def. Lozano/Siebert, 6-7, 6-2, 10-8; Malina/Bruniera (LCTA) def. Whitesell/Netzler, 6-2, 6-2; Dargan/Hairston (LCTA) def. McKay/Wadehra, 3-6, 7-6, 10-8.

Standings
Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes, 5 points; 4Spine, 4 points; LCTA, 3 points; GMAC, 3 points; Drew Appraisal, 2 points; H.S.I. Electrical, 1 point.


(09/20/07)  Tennis player has long commute 
Lee Holyoak may have moved to Hilton Head Island, but he couldn't leave the Charleston Pro Tennis League behind.

Holyoak was back in Charleston again last Friday night, when the league was at Dunes West for its second matches of the season.

While serving the past three years as director of tennis at Summerville's Pine Forest Country Club, Holyoak spent his fall Friday nights playing in the league. Just because he moved to Hilton Head Island's Long Cove Club as its director of tennis in July didn't mean he had to leave the league.

Like so many others of the league's 54 players, Holyoak makes the commute to Charleston every Friday to participate in one of the most unusual tennis leagues in the country. Larry Klingenburg, who moved up from head pro to director of tennis at Pine Forest when Holyoak left, also plays in the league.

Holyoak, a two-time Lander All-American while playing on four straight NCAA Division II national championship teams, is one of the league's top players. The 35-year-old Australian partnered with team captain Charly Rasheed to win their doubles match and help league-leading Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes Law Firm score a 2-1 decision over the Santiago Falla-captained Drew Appraisal team.

It was the second straight victory for the Holyoak/Rasheed pair and gave Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes a 2-0 record and five points overall. Holyoak and Rasheed scored a 6-4, 6-4 win over Ben Shuster and Craig Rice.

Captain Matt Hane's 4Spine team, also 2-0 but with four points, posted a 2-1 win over Or Dekel's GMAC, while Timo Siebert's LCTA outfit posted a 2-1 victory over Chris Henderson's H.S.I. Electrical.

The league will continue its season Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Mount Pleasant's I'On Club with three matches: H.S.I. vs. Drew Appraisal, LCTA vs. 4Spine and Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes vs. GMAC.

Admission is free to the Friday night programs, which usually also offer free refreshments.

This year's league is officially named the 2007 Saturn CPTL Series.

Standings
Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes, 5 points; 4Spine, 4 points; LCTA, 3 points; GMAC, 3 points; Drew Appraisal, 2 points; H.S.I. Electrical, 1 point.

(09/20/07)  Coach: Panthers' tennis getting better
The Pinewood Prep girls' tennis team advanced all the way to the SCISA Class AAA state semifinals last year. And coach Heinz Maurer thinks the Panthers are an improved team, even with three seventh-graders in the starting lineup.

But Pinewood's toughest task this year might be in its own Region I, which still is composed of only three teams. Porter-Gaud and Ashley Hall both appear to have much improved teams.

Porter-Gaud, which has added eighth-grader Mi'Kola Cooper, already owns a 7-2 victory over coach Maurer's young Pinewood team.

"We lost all three singles to Porter-Gaud, but three of them went to tiebreakers for the third set ... and we lost them all," Maurer said. "Porter-Gaud is a lot better. We beat them twice last year."

The insertion of Cooper into Porter-Gaud's lineup in the No. 2 or No. 3 position has given a veteran team added strength. "On paper, we're better (than last year), but Porter-Gaud no question is better," said Maurer.

Ashley Hall also has added freshman Patricia Kirkland, who played for James Island last year, and has hard-hitting left-hander Jamie Harrell on its roster again. Harrell was unbeaten for Ashley Hall last year before being ruled ineligible, which cost Ashley Hall a victory over Pinewood and allowed the Panthers to win the Region I title.

Pinewood was 4-2 after six matches, also suffering a 5-4 loss to Cardinal Newman. The Panthers lost only No. 6 Helen Demey from last year's team.

The surprise for the Panthers this season is seventh-grader Meagan Evans, who has moved past juniors Anna Brewer and Charmaine Bessent and freshman Sarah Edwards into the No. 1 position.

Brewer, Bessent and Edwards all have dropped one place below their 1-2-3 positions of a year ago. Seventh-grader Mollie Polk is back at No. 5, and seventh- grader Shauna Fletcher has moved in from Rollings Middle School of the Arts to replace Demey.

The Panthers will play Ashley Hall and Porter-Gaud back-to-back at home next week (Tuesday and Thursday) in matches that likely will play a major role in deciding the Region I championship.


(09/19/07)  Harrell back as force in SCISA girls' tennis
Jamie Harrell doesn't give up easily. You almost knew she'd be back.

You could recognize that possibility last fall when she still showed up in Summerville at Pinewood Prep for an Ashley Hall tennis match after SCISA had ruled that she, along with Caroline Thornton, did not meet minimum SCISA classroom requirements and were ineligible.

Yes, Jamie Harrell is back in high school tennis — with the approval of SCISA this time.

That means all of SCISA should beware, especially Region I where Pinewood Prep and Porter-Gaud are Ashley Hall's rivals.

This 15-year-old with the splendid left-handed serves and spinning groundstrokes probably gets some of that fight from her dad, former Georgia wide receiver Jimmy Harrell. Not to mention her mother, Dr. Laurie Harrell, who ran the Georgia sidelines as a cheerleader while Jimmy was hauling in passes for coach Vince Dooley's football teams.

"She was pretty sad about last year," Laurie Howell said.

Harrell was only a freshman at the time. She had yielded just two games in three matches when the SCISA ruling came. Ashley Hall was forced to forfeit SCISA wins over Porter-Gaud and Pinewood in which Harrell played, leaving Pinewood as the Region I champion.

But Harrell was determined to play again. She loves tennis. She also loves Ashley Hall. She wanted to play for the Panthers, just like her older sister, senior Hayley, who is a star setter for the Ashley Hall volleyball team that defeated defending SCISA state champion Porter-Gaud last week.

"Ashley Hall has been very good to both Jamie and Hayley," Laurie Harrell said. "It's good Jamie is able to play. She wanted to play. That's totally the motivating factor."

Yes, the picture in Region I tennis has changed considerably. And Harrell hasn't even played a match yet. But, of course, Ashley Hall coach Mary Gastley apparently is saving Jamie for those four big matches that will determine the region championship — two against Porter-Gaud and two against Pinewood. The first one is Thursday against Porter-Gaud at Charleston Tennis Center.

Jamie is still a full-time tennis player. She trains at Fritz Nau's Players Club in Mount Pleasant. But she's now a full-time student at Ashley Hall as well, unlike a year ago when both Harrell and Thornton were classified as independent study students. Harrell is taking five core classes a day at the downtown all-girls' private school, according to her mother.

Thornton did not join the tennis team again. She is leaving Friday for a three-month stint in Barcelona, Spain, at the famed Sanchez-Casals Tennis Academy.

"Ashley Hall lost the appeal last year, but re-appealed to SCISA this summer by asking if Jamie gets her core classes at Ashley Hall (could she play)," Laurie Harrell said.

Jamie's day starts out between 7-7:30 a.m. at the Players Club, then switches to Ashley Hall for a full day of classes. After school, she returns to the Players Club or works with a trainer. "Jamie doesn't drive yet. Her daddy drops her off in the morning, and I pick her up and take her to Ashley Hall," Laurie Harrell said.

The Harrells reside near Porter-Gaud in the Crescent. Obviously, Jamie isn't the only one in the family with a busy schedule.

Sampras tips $500

Want to hit with Pete Sampras and Jim Courier in a clinic prior to the big exhibition on Sunday afternoon at North Charleston Coliseum? You can, but it'll cost you $500. That's the price for each of the 10 spots in a noon-1 p.m. clinic with the former greats prior to their 3 p.m. exhibition.

All of the proceeds from the clinic will go to former tennis pro Bill Przybysz's Miracle Match Foundation, which will donate a portion of the proceeds to the MUSC Children's Hospital. Przybysz, a victim of Acute Monocytic Leukemia, is touring the Children's Hospital today. Some of the families of children at the Children's Hospital will attend Sunday's exhibition. For information on the clinic, contact Jessica Kersey (216-0442).

Another chance to meet Sampras and Courier in a special 1:30 p.m. VIP reception will be available for courtside ticket-holders at $150 per seat.

Gov. Mark Sanford will team up with Sampras against College of Charleston men's basketball coach Bobby Cremins and Courier in a celebrity doubles match.

Tickets are on sale at the coliseum ticket office, all Ticketmaster outlets including select Publix grocery stores, charge by phone (554-6060) and online at www.ticketmaster.com.


(09/16/07)  One-handed backhand helped make Sampras
Imagine Pete Sampras as just another baseliner, hitting two-handed backhands of all things.

That's a really fuzzy picture of tennis' Grand Slam record-holder. Yet, it's a picture that came very close to being taken.

If it had, Roger Federer might already be co-holder with Roy Emerson of tennis' most revered record. Sampras might never have surpassed Emerson's 12 Grand Slam titles.

"That's a good question. Why did I change (to a one-handed backhand)?" Sampras said Thursday from his Southern California home during a lengthy interview.

Sampras said he was 14 years old when he made the decision to ditch his two-handed backhand. His dream was to one day win Wimbledon, and as improbable as the possibility seemed at the time, it would have been much more remote without a drastic change in his game.

Although Bjorn Borg won the event five straight times, Wimbledon's grass was grown for one-handed backhands. Only a select number of men swinging their backhands with two hands other than Borg have won tennis' most cherished title.

"I felt my two-handed backhand wasn't improving. I changed and developed a serve-and-volley game," Sampras said.

"It was a risky decision at the time, but I was making it for the long run. The only way (to one day win Wimbledon) was to change to a one-hander. If I had waited until 16 or 17 it wouldn't have worked as well ... 18 or 19 would have been too late. I was 14 ... the time was pretty perfect."

The change was even more significant because it came at a time when the two-handed backhand was threatening to dominate the pro tour following Borg's success and that of Jimmy Connors.

Five years later, Sampras became the youngest-ever U.S. Open champion. Three years after that, he won the first of seven Wimbledon titles on his way to 14 Grand Slam titles. Serve-and-volley tennis, featuring pinpoint one-handed backhand volleys, anchored his game.

What are the pros and cons of the one-handed backhand? "You lose a little on the return of serve on the high backhand, but you have more reach, and you can slice it and come in. You have more consistency with the two-hander, especially on the return of serve," he said.

Fans should get a look at Sampras' famed backhand volley next Sunday (Sept. 23) when he opposes four-time Grand Slam winner Jim Courier at 3 p.m. in a "Legends of Tennis" exhibition at the North Charleston Coliseum.

Sampras still plays well enough to dominate the Champions Cup tour, which is made up of former pro stars. He is unbeaten on the circuit since joining it in 2007. He is even scheduled to play Federer in two exhibitions, one Nov. 22 in Malaysia and another at New York's Madison Square Garden in March.

While Sampras points out proudly that he still hits his serve well and that because of the new technology and strings his groundstrokes are maybe even better than when he played the ATP Tour, it's his serve-and-volley game that usually takes the most fine-tuning before playing in events.

Of course, serve-and-volley tennis is built around speed, movement and timing. Those are the things that are impacted most by age.

"I hit the ball probably better today than in my prime because of the new technology," Sampras said. "But I don't move quite as well. The serve is still one of the things I do really well, but my serve-and-volley is not quite as sharp. If you don't do it often (play serve-and-volley), you can look a little silly. I have to serve-and-volley a lot if I want to play at a high level.

"If I play two or three days in a row, it helps. (Sam) Querrey and Roger (Federer) came through L.A., and we played some tiebreakers. I was holding serve and he (Federer) was holding serve."

Sampras, now 36, and his actress wife, Bridgette Wilson, live in Beverly Hills with their two young sons, "about 40 minutes" from his parents' home in Palos Verdes.

After spending next weekend in Charleston (he arrives Saturday), Sampras will head for Charlotte to compete the following week in the Championships at The Palisades.


(09/16/07)  Hunter helps out local team
Whether it's Las Vegas or Tucson, Ariz., team trips to compete in league tennis' national championships can be expensive.

It's going to be doubly expensive this year for most Charleston teams, since the Southern Sectionals moved to Mobile, Ala. Three of the four Charleston teams that earned national berths had to make a detour south to Mobile before heading out west.

The first thing Brian Burke thought about once his men's 5.5 team had qualified for the Las Vegas nationals was, "We need to find a way to raise some travel funds." That was his quote in the Aug. 12 edition of this newspaper.

Help was on the way as soon as Summerville's Jimmy Hunter picked up the paper that Sunday morning. "He read it in the paper and called me and said he'd take care of the team in Las Vegas," Burke said during Friday night's Charleston Pro Tennis League program at Dunes West.

Sitting next to the popular St. Andrew's Parks and Playground tennis director/Porter-Gaud girls' coach was none other than the owner of H.S.I. Electrical, officially known as Hunter Specialties Inc. of Summerville or Jimmy Hunter's company.

You see, Jimmy Hunter is a big-time tennis supporter. He and his wife, Brenda, reside in Pine Forest Country Club. They are key supporters of the Pinewood Prep tennis program.

Hunter also sponsors a team in the CPTL. Burke, a former touring pro and S.C. State graduate, plays for 4Spine's entry this season after playing for H.S.I. last year.

"I'm happy to do it," Hunter said about his support (five rooms at the Las Vegas Bally's) for Burke's 5.5 team.

The 5.5 team was a national semifinalist last year when it won the Southern Sectional without leaving town. Burke's team was lucky this time in that only Hilton Head Island and Greensboro, N.C., entered the sectionals and the competition was held in Myrtle Beach.

But Chris Henderson's open men's team, which will join the 5.5 team in Las Vegas for the Sept. 29 nationals, had to qualify in Mobile, as did Charleston Tennis Center's 3.5 senior and 3.5 adult women's teams. The adult team will play in Las Vegas Oct. 5-7, while the seniors will compete in Tucson Oct. 19-21.

Local notes

--Another Battle of James Island has been scheduled for Oct. 20 at three locations — Maybank Tennis Center, Country Club of Charleston and James Island Yacht Club. Maybank took the spring battle, leaving its two rivals hungry for a rematch.

Play will begin at 9 a.m. at all three sites, following an 8:30 a.m. continental breakfast. A covered dish social will cap the day at 1 p.m. at the Country Club. Contact Lee Brockman (795-0425).

--There's a new USTA initiative for kids 5-10 years old. It's called Kids Team Tennis. And the season with begin Oct. 5, but the registration deadline is Sept. 25. Contact Maggie LaCoste (906-6623 or www.lowcountryjuniortennis.org). The league will last six weeks and will include practices and matches weekly. Smaller rackets, smaller courts and slower balls will be used to make the sessions more fun for the kids.

--Wild Dunes' fourth Women's Play Day to benefit the Trident Literacy Association is set for next Saturday. Participation will be limited to the first 56 entrants. Contact Jann O'Toole (jann22@hometelecom.com).

--Dunes West and Sewee Dental Care will stage a sanctioned junior tournament next Friday-Sunday. Registration is available online at www.usta.com through TennisLink (tournament number 704106407). Contact Dunes West pro Jack Miller (345-2995 or dwproshop@jwhomes.com).

--The I'On Club's fifth annual Ace Breast Cancer tournament will be held Oct. 12-14. The men's/women's singles/doubles event for 3.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5 and open divisions will benefit the Hollings Cancer Center. Contact Courtenay Tucker (courtenay@acebreastcancer.org) or Kat Phillips (kphi1100@bellsouth.net).

--The Church League adult coed doubles league will be held Oct. 6-Nov. 17 on Saturday afternoons (1-4 p.m.) at Charleston Southern University. Contact coordinator Vickie Nash (572-2799 or churchttc@yahoo.com).


(09/13/07)  Tennis league starts 6th year, adds West Ashley to lineup
Lee Holyoak has moved to Hilton Head Island, but he couldn't leave the Charleston Pro Tennis League behind.

Holyoak was back in Charleston last Friday when the league opened its sixth season by making its West Ashley debut at Charleston Tennis Center.

While serving the last three years as director of tennis at Summerville's Pine Forest Country Club, Holyoak spent his fall Friday nights playing in the league. Just because he moved to Hilton Head Island's Long Cove Club as its director of tennis in July didn't mean he had to leave the league.

Like so many others of the league's 54 players, Holyoak makes the commute to Charleston every Friday evening to participate in one of the most unusual tennis leagues in the entire country. Larry Klingenburg, who moved up from head pro to director of tennis at Pine Forest when Holyoak left, also plays in the league.

More than 500 people were on hand for the league opener, a record crowd for a regular-season league program.

Holyoak, a two-time Lander All-American while playing on four straight NCAA Division II national championship teams, is one of the league's top players. The 35-year-old Australian teamed with team captain Charly Rasheed to win their doubles match and help Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes Law Firm score a 3-0 decision over league co-founder Chris Henderson's H.S.I. team.

In the other two matches, the Or Dekel-captained GMAC team posted a 2-1 win over Timo Siebert's LCTA, and Matt Hane's 4Spine defeated Santiago Falla's Drew Appraisal, 2-1.

The league will continue its season at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Dunes West with three matches. GMAC will take on 4Spine; Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes will face Drew Appraisal; and LCTA will tackle H.S.I.

Admission is free to the popular Friday night programs, which usually serve free refreshments. This year's league is officially named the 2007 Saturn Charleston Pro Tennis League Series.

Results
Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes Law Firm 3, HSI 0:
Rasheed/Holyoak def. Henderson/Blankenbaker 6-4, 4-6, 10-6;
Minton/Gaffos def. Wadehra/Netzler 6-1, 6-2;
Thurmond/Shelley def. McKay/Comer 6-3, 6-3.
GMAC 2, LCTA 1: Dekel/Simpson (GMAC) def. Lozano/Siebert 6-3, 7-6;
Barth/Andersson (GMAC) def. Malina/Dargan 6-2, 6-4;
Hairston/Dacuba (LCTA) def. Klingenburg/Miller 6-3, 3-6, 10-6.
4Spine 2, Drew Appraisal 1:
Burke/Harris (4Spine) def. Falla/Nava 7-6, 7-5;
Boykin/Small (4Spine) def. Allen/Nius 3-6, 7-5, 10-3;
Lopez/Handl (Drew Appraisal) def. Bumgarner/Mogul 6-3, 2-6, 10-6.

Standings
Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes 3; 4Spine 2; GMAC 2; LCTA 1; Drew Appraisal 1; H.S.I. 0.


(09/12/07)  Serena's Australian success bad for women's tennis
What is happening to women’s professional tennis?

I know Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic played pretty dreadful tennis in Sunday evening’s U.S. Open men’s final. But Saturday night’s women’s final set off the sparks.

I’ve never heard so many complaints about the quality of women’s tennis. That’s a shame when a great champion like Justine Henin is on one side of the net.

You can’t blame the slight Belgian for mauling Svetlana Kuznetsova in the final, or for earlier exposing Serena Williams for being so out of shape. It’s amazing that two of the best five players in the world showed up for the U.S. Open so unprepared to play world-class tennis.

Early on, I thought Serena would play herself into shape. But she obviously has spent very few hours on the tennis court this summer or in serious training. Conditioning cost her dearly against Henin.

I can sort of understand where Serena is coming from, since she was just as unready for the Australian Open, yet came home with the big prize. But Kuznetsova? It was shocking to see her reach the U.S. Open final while being so unprepared physically for the challenge.

The fact that Kuznetsova made it to the final speaks volumes about the current struggles facing the WTA Tour.

The tour has become overly dependent on Venus and Serena Williams, even more so now that it appears the Russian charge has been short-circuited by a growing number of erratic players. Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova, Nadia Petrova and Anna Chakvetadze unfortunately make up half of the world’s top eight players. All four are totally unpredictable. The list doesn’t stop there, witness top 15 player and Elena Dementieva.


(09/10/07)  A not-so-pretty win for Federer
Roger is king, indeed. Bow down, Novak. Oh, you already have.

When tennis historians look back at what transpired in Sunday afternoon's U.S. Open final, they will see simply Grand Slam title No. 12 for Roger Federer. There will be no asterisk indicating that Novak Djokovic gift-wrapped this one for the king of tennis.

Even if young Djokovic does live up to his vast potential in future Grand Slam finals, he will have to live with this collapse the rest of his tennis career. He thoroughly outplayed Federer for two sets, yet the Arthur Ashe Stadium scoreboard reflected the cruel truth that Djokovic was one set from defeat.

The first two sets were dominated by ugly tennis. Neither player flashed brilliance except sporadically. Both players tried their best to lose each set, until Federer came through in each tiebreaker. The fact Djokovic failed to convert on seven set points in those two sets likely will haunt him well into the future as will his double-faults to send the first set into a tiebreaker and then to end the first set.

Great to goofy

How far is it from greatness to goofiness? Djokovic might find out quickly, unless he learns to take advantage of golden opportunities.

This good-natured young man is a refreshing addition to men's tennis, yet his antics can border on goofiness. He often makes fun of himself in a goofy manner when he commits unpardonable blunders. He relentlessly attempts drop shots in inappropriate situations. A little stubborn, perhaps.

In winning situations, such antics are fun for everyone, except the opposition. When the results are as they were Sunday, the opposition has the last laugh.

Federer is definitely laughing all the way to the bank with his $2.4 million paycheck. For Djokovic, hopefully there will be other days. It just depends on how he handles his choking away a pair of sets.

All that counts

Federer certainly wasn't the greatest player ever Sunday. But he was the last man standing with a 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory. That's all that counts.

The 26-year-old Swiss great took one giant step to immortality. The victory over Djokovic may have been worth much more than just another Grand Slam title, even if it left him only two such victories short of Pete Sampras' record of 14. This victory may carry Federer through another year, simply delaying what may be Djokovic's ascent to the throne.

At this stage of his career, a victory in such circumstances as Sunday over his potential successor, indeed, was huge for Federer. It could take Djokovic quite a while to recover from this disastrous Sunday afternoon. Such experiences can have an unpredictable impact on a young player's future.

Djokovic had his chance to do something special at an early age, but he obviously wasn't ready to take that step against the best player of the decade.

The Australian Open is only a little more than four months away. And make no mistake about it: what happens in all of the other tournaments, Masters events included, don't amount to a plugged nickel for Federer. The Grand Slams are the only things that count from this point on.

Yes, Novak Djokovic missed the chance of a lifetime.


(09/09/07)  Federer could face handful in Djokovic
Is this Roger Federer's toughest test?

Tennis' best player of this decade was expected to lose to Rafael Nadal on the French Open's clay. But this is the U.S. Open on a favorite Federer surface.

This is such a tough test for Federer because his opponent is a player who can match him in every area of the game, except experience. Novak Djokovic won't try to imitate Federer. The Serbian 20-year-old will be out to start his own legacy.

Djokovic is almost as well known for his imitations of Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal as he is for his tennis skills. That's as Djokovic enters his first Grand Slam final. If he happens to end Federer's amazing string of Wimbledon-U.S. Open back-to-back championships, Djokovic could become the new face of the men's game.

To make Federer's Saturday night more sleepless, Djokovic out nerved and out served Federer in a third-set tiebreaker to win last month's Montreal Masters. That was on a similar surface to the one they'll play on today.

Both players started slowly, but still scored workmanlike straight-set victories Saturday. They scattered spectacular shots, but overall neither sparkled. Nikolay Davydenko played without heart and suffered the consequences against Federer, while David Ferrer lacked the passion against Djokovic that he displayed in an earlier conquest of countryman Nadal.

Perhaps one reason Djokovic is so good is because of his obvious deep study of tennis players, including opponents.

Two things that make Djokovic so dangerous are his serve deep into the sideline corner on the ad-side and the way he opens up the court with penetrating inside-out forehands into the backhand corner.

What was CBS' John McEnroe thinking when he said Federer covers the court the best of anyone in the game? Several other players are equal to Federer in this area, including Nadal, Djokovic, Ferrer and Davydenko.

Big-hitting Justine

She may be tiny, almost frail, but Justine Henin is quite a tennis player. A big hitter, by any standards, even men's.

First, Henin made Serena Williams look like a rather ordinary, but out-of-shape tennis player. Then, she out-toughed Venus Williams. Henin simply made former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova look like she didn't belong on the same court during much of Saturday night's women's final.

Henin's 6-1, 6-3 win left no doubt as to who is women's tennis' best player of 2007 with two more Grand Slam titles in a year that celebrated the re-emergence of the Williams sisters. Hopefully, Venus and Serena will get the message that they'll have to play the tour if they want to catch back up to the little Belgian assassin.


(09/08/07)  Women's final less than ideal
Prime time? Women's tennis may be at equal prize money, but is it ready for tonight?

Slight, but powerful Justine Henin against relatively obscure, erratic former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. The glitter of a Maria Sharapova, or a Venus or Serena Williams is missing.

Just a few months ago, the WTA Tour appeared to be deeper in talent and more attractive to fans than the men's tour. Equal pay came with the myth. How things have changed.

The WTA Tour is struggling as it ends another year of Grand Slams. Only the re-emergence of the Williams sisters saved the year. No one knows what their futures will be, due to their lack of an appetite for playing and Serena's obvious disregard for conditioning.

Of course, little Justine will give it her all tonight. But, please Justine, can we just call you simply Henin? "EN-ah" doesn't roll off the tongue smoothly for anyone, especially the TV commentators.

U.S. Open thoughts

--Roger Federer has to be careful to not treat today's semifinal against Nikolay Davydenko as a breather between Andy Roddick and potentially Novak Djokovic. Davydenko did everything but beat Federer at the French Open and may be upset enough about the current gambling probe to forget about his inability to win the big match.

--Tommy Haas plays like superman one day, then practically tanks the next. How can anyone explain Haas' brilliance in defeating James Blake and then straight-sets surrender to Davydenko?

--You have to feel a little sorry for Rafael Nadal as his once awesome body appears to be coming apart little-by-little, from right knee, to left wrist, to left knee, to left finger. His future depends more on his health than on Federer.

--Wonder if the same David Ferrer will show up today who was relentless against fellow Spaniard Nadal, or will Ferrer pull a Haas against Djokovic?

--A role reversal? John McEnroe, his once uncanny insight and straight talk appearing to wear on fans, showed up on CBS Friday with darker hair. Patrick McEnroe, meanwhile, ditched his usual ride-the-fence style to accurately suggest that disarrayed state of women's tennis is the reason the Williams sisters and Henin are gobbling up all of the Grand Slam titles.


(09/02/07)  Make some time to enjoy team practices
There's nothing like league tennis for adults of all ages who want to stay in shape, enjoy the social aspect of being part of a team and experience great competition. Few other sports can match league tennis in all of these areas.

Obviously word has gotten out, especially in Charleston where thousands of adults participate in tennis leagues on weeknights as well as in weekday and weekend leagues. Players play in as many as three or four leagues each season year-round.

But players don't have to play on so many teams to enjoy league tennis. Actually, players who play on so many teams may not be stopping to enjoy the roses. In this case, that's team practices.

Practices for teams with good balance and depth are a treat for team members. These practices actually can surpass league matches in enjoyment, as well as in competition.

Local notes

--The Charleston Pro Tennis League will start another season Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Charleston Tennis Center. There will be three team matches: GMAC (Or Dekel, captain) vs. LCTA (Timo Siebert), Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes (Charley Rasheed) vs. H.S.I (Chris Henderson), and Drew Appraisal (Santiago Falla) vs. 4Spine (Matt Hane).

--CPTL co-founder Chris Henderson and former College of Charleston men's tennis coach Phil Whitesell are in New York this weekend going for their third straight national Beach Tennis championship. Seventy-five teams from all over the world are participating in the event.

--The deadline for entering the Sept. 14-16 Southern Open Sibling Clay Court Championships at Kiawah Island is Wednesday. Competition will be in brother/brother, sister/sister and brother/sister in open divisions as well as 18-and-under.

Participants can play in two events. For information, contact Kiawah pro Jonathan Barth (768-2706 or barth_jonathan@kiawahresort.com).

--Friday is the deadline for entering the Sept. 11-17 Grand Prix event at Snee Farm Country Club. Matches will be played at 6 p.m. or later. For information, contact Christy Cherry (884-3252 or christy.cherry@sneefarmcc.com).


(08/29/07)  Williams looks better than ever
You can never overlook Venus Williams. Opponents already have made that mistake at a couple of Wimbledons.

But no one can forget Serena Williams, either.

Serena might have been fired up a little more than usual on opening night at the U.S. Open, because she was playing behind her big sister on a special tribute night to Althea Gibson.

The player who really might be in trouble in the face of the rejuvenated sisters might be top-seeded Justine Henin. The frail Belgian has to worry about both Venus and Serena. Both appear determined to outdo each other. And both are in Henin's half of the draw.

If Serena doesn't get Henin in the quarterfinals, Venus may in the semifinals.

You can roll the clock back on Serena. As she approaches age 26, Serena has never looked more dangerous. Serena's titles at the Australian Open and Miami weren't flukes. They came in hard-court tennis. Perhaps unfortunately for the rest of the women's tour, the U.S. Open is played on a similar surface.

Playing against unknown 19-year-old Angelique Kerber, Serena was about as solid as you'll see her in the first round. Serena followed "The Serena Way" nearly perfectly, playing her way into the tournament as she did at the Australian Open. She should get better each match.

If Serena gets much better than she was Monday night, it will be tough for anyone to beat her. She's no longer a dangerous floater. She's a top contender.

On the athleticism points, Serena was never better. Leaping and stretching, she reached balls that most players couldn't as she pounded overheads in the manner only Serena can.

Yes, Serena can win this U.S. Open. She has to keep playing herself into shape until she peaks in the second week. The key will be if Serena can force herself to simply play within her current game and to be content to play a half-dozen shots while waiting for her opportunity.

The discouraging part for her opponents is that a Serena groundstroke at half-pace is harder, heavier and more penetrating than most players' shots at full pace.

Amazing James

James Blake is totally amazing with his shot-making ability and court coverage. He and Mikael Russell played some of the better points you would want to see Tuesday afternoon. But in the end, most of the key points went to Blake. His ability to hit blistering forehands and backhands from every angle while on the dead run is uncanny.

I know this sounds wacky, but Blake may eventually be better at this type game than Andre Agassi was. Blake is definitely quicker, more powerful and more athletic. But there's no comparison between Blake and Agassi in the mental game — at least, not yet.

What's really amazing is that Blake can look so helpless against Roger Federer.

Wando in high gear

Meghan Blevins lost her No. 2 doubles partner, Downing Herlocker, to Bishop England, but the talented little freshman looms among the top stars in high school tennis this year for Wando's three-time defending Class AAAA state girls' champions. Blevins is now rotating between singles and doubles.

As the girls' 14 champion at Belton, Blevins is definitely a player to watch for coach Becky Williamson's Wando team. This past weekend in the Florence Tennis Association Tournament, Blevins nailed down four victories, two each at No. 4 singles and No. 2 doubles as the Warriors won the tournament by a combined score of 22-2.

After blanking South Florence, Ashley Hall and Beaufort by 6-0 scores, Wando took the team title with a 4-2 win over Charlotte's Providence Day. Senior Brooke Mosteller went 4-0 at No. 2 singles for Wando, while 2006 state final hero Elizabeth Spelman posted three singles victories and one doubles win.


(08/26/07)  Separating pretenders, contenders
The U.S. Open pretenders seem to be endless.

How about even 30-year-old Argentine Agustin Calleri, who had so many chances to defeat James Blake in the Pilot Pen?

You just wouldn't want one of the top guns to have to face Calleri in the first couple of rounds. After that, he would blow himself right out of the tournament, even with that deadly one-handed backhand. Calleri is a model of the one-shot wonder, capable of beating anyone but just as capable of losing to anyone.

Or what about Nikolay Davydenko, the pencil-thin Russian who appears to have the goods to win something big but always finds a way to fail?

Or Fernando Gonzalez, the temperamental Chilean whose popgun strokes and serves created such a stir at the Australian Open before they fizzled like imitations?

Or Marcos Baghdatis, the flamboyant but undisciplined young man who has never quite lived up to his capabilities?

Or Spaniard Tommy Robredo? Or German Tommy Haas?

Come on. Let's not dig that deep into the barrel.

The favorites

It might take a hurricane to create a men's champion at the U.S. Open other than Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal. If that trio were swept away, maybe Andy Roddick, James Blake or Lleyton Hewitt could sneak into the spotlight. That's about the only chance they have.

But this is a Grand Slam. Anything can happen because of the length of the tournament, pressure involved and the depth of the field. Roddick, Blake, Davydenko and Baghdatis are all in Federer's top half of the draw as well as back-to-back Federer conqueror Guillermo Canas.

The real battle should be in the bottom half, should Djokovic and Nadal make it to the semifinals. One question is Nadal's health, specifically the lingering right knee problems that popped up in the fourth set of his five-set loss to Federer in the Wimbledon final, as well as the left wrist that caused him to withdraw from his last match.

Was Nadal's first-round retirement in Cincinnati a convenient way to get another week of rest for the weary knee before the U.S. Open? A similar question might be asked about Djokovic's first-round loss in Cincinnati to Carlos Moya.

The unpredictable

The women's tour is in a state of mystique. If Justine Henin happened to falter on or off the court, the list of possible winners would become almost too long to count.

The women's tour appears to be in that much disarray at the moment. There's nothing you can bank on, other than the frail Henin. Witness Svetlana Kuznetsova's three straight wins by retirement to capture the Pilot Pen.

Luckily, the Williams sisters are at least scheduled to compete. Of course, Serena Williams hasn't played in a tournament since Wimbledon. She just needs a couple of matches to get ready, but an out-of-synch Serena can make even the easiest of opponents look like world-beaters.

Once again, just as at Wimbledon, Venus Williams is the real sleeper. If she's focused, she may be the best player in the women's game. Otherwise, she could lose to anyone.

Southern Cities champs

A women's team from Charleston captured the Southern Cities tennis championship Saturday in Atlanta. The team of 12 players, captained by Gene Owens, won its six-team round-robin, then defeated Columbia in the semifinals and Knoxville, Tenn., in the final.

The winning team was awarded $1,000 by the USTA to be presented to the charity of its choice, the Communities in Schools. The team was composed of players from different levels of rating.


(08/22/07)  Mental aspect of game just as vital as strokes
Talent is vital in tennis, just as it is in other sports

But as an individual sport that actually matches one player against another in all areas of competition, there's a certain intangible that is just about as important as talent.

It's the mental side of the game. Perhaps no sport is more mental than tennis.

This is true from the lowest echelons of tennis to the highest. You see it in junior tennis and league tennis. Then when you turn on your television, you see it in the top pros.

How could a player as talented as Marcos Baghdatis double-fault three times in one game while serving for a set?

The answer, of course, is easy if the opponent is Roger Federer. You see, Baghdatis has never beaten Federer. And judging by last week's results in Cincinnati, Baghdatis may never beat Federer.

What happens to James Blake mentally when Federer replaces Rafael Nadal on the other side of the court? Blake tries to hit the same go-for-broke shots against Federer that have become nightmarish to the Nadal camp. Only, the same shots go flying well off the court.

It's no wonder Federer enjoys playing Blake. Federer realizes he not only has an edge in tennis ability, but a huge advantage mentally. Federer knows that when the match is on the line, Blake will jump into his pocket.

Blake barely showed up in the first set of his straight-set loss to Federer Sunday in the Cincinnati final. Let's hope Blake doesn't make it to the U.S. Open final, unless there's someone other than Federer across the net.

Lleyton Hewitt is another player, who like Blake, can beat just about everyone else, but he simply can't match up with Federer. Try as hard as he did to beat Federer last week, Hewitt buckled when the match was on the line. And it wasn't necessarily a matter of Federer raising his game.

Or how can you explain Jelena Jankovic's inability to put Justine Henin away? This is another case where one player has never beaten the other. The first five meetings all went to three sets, with Jankovic winning the first set four times. But their last two meetings have been straight-set victories for Henin, including Sunday's Toronto final in which Jankovic did everything but win.

BE names coach

Citadel graduate Skip ReVille has taken over the Bishop England boys' tennis program. He replaces veteran coach Chad Allan, who has moved to Columbia's Dutch Fork High School.

ReVille is a Birmingham, Ala., native, and a 2002 Citadel graduate. He enrolled at The Citadel to play tennis, but after one year of playing for the Bulldogs he concentrated on academics his last three years. He serves as a teaching pro for the Mount Pleasant Recreation Department and is enrolled in an online masters program with Gonzaga University.

--ReVille is one of several new coaches in the area this school year. St. Andrew's Parks and Playground pro Brian Burke has joined veteran coach Tom Higgins in directing the Porter-Gaud girls' program.

CPTL

Friday night tennis entertainment is just a couple of weeks away now that the popular Charleston Pro Tennis League has set its six-team lineup. At Monday night's annual draft party at TBonz in Mount Pleasant, former College of Charleston star Or Dekel (GMAC), ex-C of C standout Timo Siebert (LCTA), Wild Dunes pro Charly Rasheed (Thurmond, Kirchner & Timbes), CPTL co-founder Chris Henderson (H.S.I.), former Charleston Southern player Santiago Falla (Drew Appraisal) and ex-George Washington star Matt Hane (4Spine) were announced as captains of the six eight-player teams.

The CPTL season will start Sept. 7 at Charleston Tennis Center, then move to Dunes West and the I'On Club before taking the week of Sept. 28 off to allow its 5.5 and open teams to compete in the league tennis nationals. Friday nights at the Players Club and the Daniel Island Club will wrap up the five-match regular season, with the first round of the playoffs to be held at Pine Forest Country Club and the CPTL title to be decided Oct. 26 at Family Circle Tennis Center.


(08/19/07)  There's no reason for miked coaches
Television has turned the WTA Tour's on-court coaching into a travesty.

There is no legitimate reason why an on-court coaching conversation between a coach and a player should be replayed for TV viewers.

I doubt if tennis fans are really interested in what a coach tells a player when the coach is wearing a microphone. First, because the coach isn't going to say anything of any consequence, knowing that the opponent probably has TV scouts. The coach doesn't want to give away any real secrets. Also, the coach probably is too concerned with what he or she is saying and how it comes across in TV land to offer any real strategy or instructions.

As a result, on-court coaching is virtually useless. There is absolutely no reason why TV viewers or TV announcers need to know what is being discussed between a coach and a player on the court.

Was this the WTA Tour's plan from the beginning, to render the process so irrelevant that it would fail? It is now obvious that the only reason the WTA Tour approved on-court coaching was because of its entertainment value to TV. What a mistake. The tour sold out to TV at the expense of the players.

As one former pro is quoted in the September issue of Tennis Magazine, "I've got a hard time believing the interaction between player and coach can be genuine when it's mandatory that there be a microphone out there."

ESPN analyst Mary Joe Fernandez appears to be one of the main opponents of on-court coaching, repeating on the air during Friday's coverage in Toronto what she had been quoted by Tennis Magazine: "I won matches with my head, so for the other person to have a coach would have given them an advantage."

Unless Mary Joe would have been savvy enough to use a coach of her own to neutralize the other coach. I don't remember Fernandez that much for her own court wisdom and strategy. She usually analyzes things much better now that she's in the broadcast booth, often appearing more knowledgeable than former female players/turned announcers Mary Carillo and Pam Shriver.

Back-to-back Masters?

What is it with the ATP Tour scheduling back-to-back mandatory Masters events in Montreal and Cincinnati? It makes no sense for top players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick to be required to possibly play 10 matches in 12 days. Or some of the lesser players to face the possibility of playing 12 matches in two weeks.

Such a heavy schedule isn't needed to prepare a player for the U.S. Open. Grand Slams are much less stressful on players' bodies, requiring a maximum of only seven matches to be played over a two-week period.

Back-to-back Masters events are enough to wear out a player, especially in the triple-digit temperatures that can plague Cincinnati. Witness the first-match failures in Cincinnati by Djokovic and the injured Nadal, as well as Roddick's loss in his second match and Federer looking like he wouldn't mind joining the absentee party against Marcos Baghdatis on Thursday.

The real losers are the fans in Cincinnati, who missed seeing more of Nadal and Djokovic.

Did the players push for the back-to-back Masters events to make it easier on themselves schedule-wise? This scenario means players have to play only two weeks in the United States before going to the U.S. Open?

C of C all-academic

The College of Charleston's women's tennis team has been named an Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-Academic Team for an NCAA-leading ninth straight year. Coach Angelo Anastopoulo's team put together a 3.54 grade point average, as well as fashioned a 20-7 record (8-1 in the Southern Conference).

Current players Amanda Becker, Laura Borza and Julia Howard and former player Jennifer Hancock all earned the ITA Scholar Athlete Award, which requires a 3.5 GPA.

CPTL draft

The Charleston Pro Tennis League's annual draft is scheduled for Monday at 6:30 p.m. at TBonz in Mount Pleasant.


(08/15/07)  Serbians serving notice
The Serbians are the talk of the tennis world this week. League tennis players are asking, "Did you see Djokovic and Ivanovic?"

Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic, both of whom still qualify for the 20-and-under grouping, appear to be ready to take over tennis.

With apologies to Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Justine Henin, these two Serbian youngsters may be the new ruling class of the men's and women's tours. They practically swept away the tennis world over the weekend.

For two weeks this year, Djokovic has been clearly the best men's player in the world. Of course, Federer has been the best for most of the other 50 weeks.

Ivanovic wasn't as dominating of the total women's game, mainly because Justine Henin and Serena Williams didn't play in Los Angeles, and Maria Sharapova pulled up lame before Sunday's final. But Ivanovic's potential to rule half of the game is just as intimidating as Djokovic's. She has everything — size, quickness, athletic ability, power, great groundstrokes and one of the biggest serves in the women's game — not to mention model-type good looks.

Just think, if Ivanovic could win the U.S. Open — remember, she was in the French Open final but mentally wasn't ready for the occasion — Sharapova's status as the world's most endorsed women's athlete might be in danger. First, Ivanovic appears to have a milder demeanor and doesn't impose continuous grunts and screams on opponents, fans and TV viewers. She's a dark-haired, 19-year-old beauty who wears a huge smile and comes across as intelligent, friendly and likeable.

The Djokovic roadblock

Back to Djokovic's back-to-back victories over Nadal and Federer in Montreal. This 20-year-old may not win this year's U.S. Open, but barring the unforeseen you can go ahead and put a couple Grand Slam titles on his resume for the next few years. Like Nadal on clay, Djokovic is the big roadblock on hard courts and grass that stands between Federer and Pete Sampras' record 14 Grand Slam titles.

Why is Djokovic's game so troublesome for Federer? Djokovic presents many of the same problems for Federer that Nadal does. Basically, Djokovic makes Federer hit the extra shot because of his great court coverage. That's a weakness in Federer's game, going for too much too soon. In those situations, he often sprays shots from both sides.

But Djokovic has something that Nadal doesn't always display on hard courts and grass — lethal weapons from all angles, forehand, backhand and serve.

Djokovic can match Federer in any of these areas. And Djokovic may have the most effective ad-side serve in the game. This serve paints the corner of the sideline-service line area so deeply that it can neutralize Federer's one-handed backhand and Nadal's left-handed forehand. This one serve, with its amazing consistency on critical ad-points and break-points, could separate Djokovic from Federer and Nadal in the next few years.

--The ESPN2 cameras start rolling today at 1 p.m. in Cincinnati. ESPN2 has six hours total today and six more Thursday, followed by four hours Friday and Saturday before handing the baton over to CBS on Sunday. ESPN2 also has women's coverage from Toronto Friday through Sunday.

--The heat is back on the women's tour. Not from the temperatures, but from the absence of top players. Five former world's No. 1 players — Maria Sharapova, Amelie Mauresmo, Venus and Serena Williams, and Martina Hingis — withdrew from the current Tier I event in Toronto because of injuries.

Of course, you can expect to see all five of them at the U.S. Open. And that's part of the problem, especially with women's tennis. Too many withdrawals at the non-majors. We know the routine well. It happened at the Family Circle Cup.


(08/12/07)  Sweep sends Charleston 5.5 men to nationals
With a league tennis Southern Sectional title on the line, Charleston's 5.5 men came through Saturday in Myrtle Beach by sweeping matches against Greensboro, N.C., and Hilton Head Island to earn a second straight trip to the nationals.

"We did what we had to do," team captain Brian Burke said about his team's Southern championship.

The big question now is how to fund the trip to Las Vegas for the league tennis nationals that start Sept. 29. "We need to find a way to raise some travel funds," said Burke, the tennis director at St. Andrews Parks and Playground who doubles as coach of the Porter-Gaud boys' team.

But Saturday at Prestwick Tennis and Swim Club, it was all or nothing for the Charleston group in a three-team round-robin to determine the Southern champion. Big-serving lefty Matt Hane clinched a 2-1 morning win over Greensboro by defeating Chris Cagle, 6-3, 7-6 (5), in the singles match. Cagle was the only 5.5 player for either Greensboro or Hilton Head Island.

Then in an afternoon 3-0 rout of Hilton Head, Charleston's No. 1 doubles team of former Charleston Southern player Santiago Falla and ex-Alabama standout Susheel Naria clinched the Southern title with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Hilton Head's Michael Sutcliffe and Chris Mireless.

Hane, a former George Washington University star, had given Charleston an early edge when his Hilton Head opponent retired with a back injury while trailing 2-1 in the first set. Wild Dunes pro Shawn Harris and Kiawah Island pro Brandon Blankenbaker finished off the shutout with a 6-4, 4-6, 10-4 win at No. 2 doubles.

"Both teams (Hilton Head and Greensboro) played in 5.0 leagues, and the Greensboro team played in the Southerns in Mobile (losing to Atlanta in the final)," Burke said, pointing to his team's lack of competitive play going into the Southerns.

But that will change before the Charleston group heads to Las Vegas, along with Chris Henderson's open men who won a Southern title in Mobile, Ala. Members of both the 5.5 and open men's teams compete in the highly competitive fall Charleston Pro Tennis League.

"I think we'll get a lot stronger with the pro league competition," said Burke, whose team was a national semifinalist last fall.

In the morning match against Greensboro, Falla and former Lander star Lee Holyoak came through to win No. 2 doubles in straight sets, setting the stage for Hane to wrap up the team victory. The No. 1 doubles team of Burke and Blankenbaker suffered the only loss of the day for Charleston.

Greensboro finished the competition with a 1-1 record by handing Hilton Head Island a 2-1 loss in a midday match. Hilton Head finished 0-2.

Saturday's Southern title was the fourth of the summer for Charleston teams as Burke's team joined the open men, as well as 3.5 adult and senior women's teams from Charleston Tennis Center as champions.


(08/12/07)  Hewitt, Roddick dazzling
I don't know if I've ever seen Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick play more impressively than they did Friday in Montreal.

Hewitt looked like the real deal on wheels, aided by a bigger serve and his usual tenacity on the baseline. It was easy to see why he has won both Wimbledon and the Australian Open. But that was in another day.

Even if he is only 26 years old, the odds are against Hewitt winning another Grand Slam tournament. While his game looks as strong as ever, at least three other guys are simply too good for the determined Australian. Hewitt's biggest weapon is his resolve. He still doesn't have a killer serve or a legitimate weapon.

But there may actually be hope for Roddick followers. This guy just needs a little help with a few players. Roddick's serve can take care of the rest.

Roddick appears to be getting more than his money's worth from Jimmy Connors' coaching. Roddick is serving about as big as ever, while playing marvelous defense and offense. And his one-handed slice backhand has become a real weapon. He looks like a complete player, a far more complete player than the one who won the U.S. Open and one fully capable of winning another major.

But neither Hewitt nor Roddick managed to win a set in their quarterfinal matches. That just shows how good Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are. Hewitt, try as he did, couldn't dent Federer's armor, and Djokovic managed to put most of Roddick's serves into play and then unleashed his own weapons.

Federer is the current king, but he just turned 26 years old. Djokovic appears to be fully capable of becoming the new king in short order. Men's tennis seems to be all about a triangle — Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal — with Roddick hoping to make it a four-cornered affair.

Adult training

Did you spot a couple of weaknesses in your game in the opening matches of the Combo League? If so, Maybank Tennis Center pro Toni Young has just the answer for you: an adult camp.

No, you don't get to hang out all day long in this terrible heat, like juniors. But it still may be plenty hot from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at Maybank. The camp is open to the public for a fee. Contact Young (343-8393).

Of course, the evening heat isn't as annoying as the perspiration. When you feel as if you just jumped in a river in full tennis attire, it can be kind of difficult to focus on the next shot. Does anyone have an answer for the perspiration problem, other than maybe wristbands and headbands?

CPTL deadline

Friday is the application deadline for players to join this fall's Charleston Pro Tennis League. The CPTL's annual draw party will be held on Aug. 20 at TBonz in Mount Pleasant, with the season starting Sept. 7 at Charleston Tennis Center. For information, go to www.cptltennis.com on the Internet.

Tennis Saturday

Next Saturday will offer a full day of free tennis, starting with a Block Party at Family Circle Tennis Center from 9 a.m. to noon. There will be a morning of free tennis fun for kids and adult that includes music, games, drills, contests, a tennis carnival, "Hit & Get", adult tennis zone, raffles and prizes as well as tours of the entire facility. No registration is necessary.

Later next Saturday, Charleston's Courting Kids program will conduct a back to school Tennis Jamboree from 4-7 p.m. at Harmon Park, located at 201 President St. in downtown Charleston. The event is free and open to the public. For information on Courting Kids, contact Delores Jackson at Charleston Tennis Center (766-7401).


(08/09/07)  Tennis programs give boost to promising young players
Venus and Serena Williams came out of nowhere and became two of the best women's players ever to pick up a tennis racket. They did it the hard way under the microscopic eyes of their father, Richard Williams. But here in Charleston exists possibly an easier route to such fame and fortune. It's called Courting Kids. Venus and Serena, as little girls, never had it better than the boys and girls of Charleston's inner-city tennis program.

And it's possible that one day one of the young people from Delores Jackson's Courting Kids program will hit it big. With the support of people such as the Williams sisters, the possibility exists.

Arthur Ashe Essay winner

Now in its 16th year, the local Courting Kids program is one of the most highly regarded of its type in the nation. One gauge to judge the program by is its success in the Arthur Ashe Essay Contest.

Once again, a Charleston youth has excelled in this competition. Charleston Catholic School eighth-grader Ebony Fields will represent the USTA's Southern Sectional at New York's U.S. Open later this year as the Arthur Ashe Essay Contest winner in the 14-and-under age division.

This marks the third straight year a Charleston girl has won the South's Ashe Essay Contest.

Ebony follows Avirel Taylor (2006) and Chelsea Middlebrook (2005) as winners in the Southern Sectional. Prior to that, Wendrah McCoy was the national Arthur Ashe winner in 2003.

"I wrote about why he (Ashe) was a legend to me. It was because of the things he did and the way he did them. He was a fighter," Ebony said.

Ashe used tennis as a vehicle to take him from the playgrounds of Richmond, Va., through college life at UCLA and into a prominent career in professional tennis as the winner of three of tennis' Grand Slam tournaments: the 1968 U.S. Open, 1970 Australian Open and 1975 Wimbledon.

Ashe died in 1993 at 49 from complications of AIDS and earlier heart surgery. He was known as a goodwill ambassador for not only tennis but for humanitarian purposes worldwide. The main stadium at the U.S. Open is named Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Ebony and her mother, Sheila Fields, will visit New York on Aug. 24-28 and attend the Arthur Ashe Kids Day on the opening weekend of the U.S. Open, the world's most-attended tennis tournament.

Ebony entered the Ashe competition last year, but this year as an older 13-year-old, she found the right words to impress the judges. "I wrote it last year and tweaked it this year, using more advanced words and adding more information than last year," she said.

"I put more information about his life and how it was a struggle. It took about a week and a half to write."

She used the Web for research as well as read books about Ashe's life.

Ebony could be a poster girl for Courting Kids in that she has participated in the program since the first grade. She annually attends the Family Circle Cup with other Courting Kids, as well as participates behind the scenes at the Family Circle Cup with Leslie Allen's Win4Life program.

"I have Venus and Serena's autographs, and (2007 Family Circle champion) Jelena Jankovic's. And I almost got Justine's (Henin). But my favorite player in the world would have to be Serena ... because she is such a fighter and never gives up," she said.

The Fields family lives downtown. Ebony's mother is a recent graduate of cosmetology school. Her father, Robert Fields, is a disabled Vietnam veteran. Tara, Ebony's 10-year-old sister, also attends Charleston Catholic School on King Street and recently won the girls 10 title in the City Junior Hard Courts.

The girls never have to walk home. "One of my parents is always there to pick us up," Ebony said proudly.

She enjoys playing on her school's advanced team in the Tri-County Elementary and Middle School Tennis League. Tara also plays on the team. They train daily in the summer at the Charleston Tennis Center in head pro Fredrik Andersson's camp.

"Tennis to me is an opportunity to learn and express my gratitude to the coaches and my parents for all of the hard work they have put into helping me participate in tennis," Ebony said. "I would like to thank everybody who has helped me and taught me."

Courting Kids

The Courting Kids program was created in 1992 by the Charleston Department of Recreation to serve as low-cost, quality tennis instruction for the city's inner-city youths. The program conducts spring, summer and fall sessions for 20 weeks yearly.

Instructional sessions are held at the downtown Jack Adams Tennis Center or Charleston Tennis Center on West Ashley's Farmfield Avenue, as well as on Johns Island at the Alan Fleming Tennis Center. The next sessions will begin Sept. 8 at both the Charleston Tennis Center and on Johns Island. For information, contact coordinator Delores Jackson at the Charleston Tennis Center at 766-7401.

From 4-7 p.m. Aug. 18, Courting Kids will hold a back-to-school Tennis Jamboree at Harmon Park, 201 President St. in downtown Charleston.

The event will be free and open to the public. Free drinks and pizza will be provided along with games and prizes.


(08/08/07)  Isner helps make case for college

Pro tennis or college? That question may not be loaded with minefields after what John Isner did last week in Washington, D.C.

No, big John (tall John might be more appropriate) didn't stage a filibuster against the majority of tennis scholarships going to international players.

If you missed it on ESPN, Isner pushed Andy Roddick hard in Sunday's final of the Legg Mason tournament. The fact Isner was even in the final was the story of the week in professional tennis.

You see, Isner was leading the University of Georgia to a national tennis championship just a couple of months ago. For former Roddick/Andre Agassi coach and now ESPN analyst Darren Cahill to say Isner's game looked like he had been on the pro tour for five years was filibuster material for the pro-college element.

To see this 6-9 Greensboro, N.C., product playing and looking like a veteran and a future top-10 player was the Isner way of emphasizing that college tennis isn't a gamble, but a plus. If for some reason his play in Washington wasn't the real Isner, he always can fall back on his degree in speech communications.

Better hurry, Donald

Donald Young had better hurry . . . if he wants to stay ahead of Isner in the race to become America's next great men's tennis star after Roddick. While Isner was upsetting the likes of Tim Henman, Benjamin Becker, Tommy Haas and Gael Monfils, as well as playing to a national television audience and winning lavish praise from ESPN's announcers, Wimbledon junior champion Young was losing to 19-year-old American Sam Querrey in a $100,000 tournament in Vancouver.

The Washington tournament was only Isner's second pro level event. He won the other one, a $50,000 tournament in Lexington, Ky., and also had won a $15,000 satellite event prior to that.

Isner may turn out to be the best really tall guy on the tour, replacing 6-10 Ivo Karlovic who fell to Roddick in the Legg Mason semifinals. Isner not only has a huge serve, his groundstrokes can't be ignored. He moves quite well. He also has excellent court savvy and instincts.

And where did this 22-year-old develop all of this? College tennis. He's mature, smart and has a future, even if tennis fails.

Local notes

--Kiawah Island has come up with a unique tournament that should be a big hit. The Southern Open Sibling Clay Court Championships are scheduled for Sept. 14-16. The combinations are brother/brother, sister/sister and brother/sister in open divisions as well as 18-and-under.

Participants can play in two events. For information, contact Kiawah pro Jonathan Barth (768-2706 or barth_jonathan@kiawahresort.com).

--The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Trident Area's second annual Club Cup Tennis Tournament was postponed last weekend due to inclement weather and will be rescheduled for after Labor Day, according to coordinator Bridget Bettelli.

The tournament, which was scheduled to be played at the I'On Club, the Players Club, and Creekside Tennis and Swim, has teams consisting of a minimum of eight men and eight women, with the men's divisions from 3.0-4.5 and the women from 2.5-4.0. For information, contact Bettelli (937-6487 or bbettelli@bgclubta.org).

--Snee Farm Country Club is planning to hold another of its popular Grand Prix events from Sept. 11-17. Matches in the Tuesday-Sunday tournament will be played at 6 p.m. or later.

The entry deadline is Sept. 7. For information, contact Cherry (884-3252 or christy.cherry@sneefarmcc.com).

--Family Circle Tennis Center will hold a free tennis Block Party on Aug. 18 from 9 a.m. to noon. There will be a morning of free tennis fun for kids and adult that includes music, games, drills, contests, a tennis carnival, "Hit & Get", adult tennis zone, raffles and prizes as well as tours of the entire facility. No registration is necessary.


(08/06/07)  Courier enjoys growing popularity of legends tennis

Life has slowed down only slightly for Jim Courier since his days of practically training around the clock to maintain his status as the top-ranked tennis player in the world.

Courier did what he had to do to keep the upper hand for a few years on his chums from his junior tennis days. You know, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang. If Courier had to hit those exaggerated topspin forehands all day long or if it took extended sessions in the gym to keep his muscles and body in condition to compete at the top, he did it.

He won four Grand Slam tournament titles in a span of 20 months in the early 1990s. He appeared to be on his way to record Grand Slam totals, but he never advanced past the quarterfinals of another Grand Slam after the 1996 French Open.

Sampras and Agassi zoomed past him once their superior tennis skills overcame Courier's zest for training. He was the first of the four greats to quit the ATP Tour. He was only 18 when he played in his first Grand Slam event, but his last one came before he turned 30.

He'll be 37 in less than two weeks. On Thursday morning, he was at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, promoting Wolf Blass Wines on the U.S. Open Series. On Friday night, he was in Kalmazoo, Mich., taking on Todd Martin in an exhibition.

Courier's main job is running his Inside Out Sports and Entertainment company. But he'll serve as an analyst for the USA Network's coverage of the U.S. Open. He also serves as an analyst during the Australian Open for an Australian network.

He started the Outback Champions Series for former ATP standouts in 2005 with one tournament. "We grew to five (tournaments) last year and it's up to seven this year," Courier said Thursday morning from Washington.

Although the next Outback Series event will be held Aug. 22-26 on grass in Newport, R.I., Courier is already looking ahead to returning to Charlotte Sept. 26-30 to defend his title in the Championships at the Palisades.

"The tournament in Charlotte was wildly embraced last year. We drew about 2,500 last year. We were sold out Friday through Sunday, and this year the stadium has been enlarged to about 2,700," he said. "Sampras is coming this year . . . it's going to be a great year."

That tournament is on clay, a surface on which Courier won two French Opens. By contrast, clay never has been Sampras' long suit. The French Open is the only blank slot on Sampras' record-setting Grand Slam resume.

But a few days earlier, a fast carpet at North Charleston Coliseum should give Sampras just the surface to make his huge serve practically dance past Courier in a Sunday afternoon "Legends of Tennis" exhibition (3 p.m. on Sept. 23).

"It is tougher to handle Pete on carpet . . . the quicker the surface the better his serve is for effectiveness," Courier said.

"His serve is so tough he was serving 135 or 140 mph (in a 6-2, 6-4 Sampras win over Courier in an Outback event in Athens, Greece, earlier this year). It was tough just getting a racket on the ball. And he was chipping and charging on my second serve. I did my best to keep him off the net."

How good is Sampras at age 35? "Today, Pete's not training at the level of those guys (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, etc.), but with his serve he could hang in there. I would like his chances more on grass than clay," Courier said.

Don't be fooled. Courier still takes his tennis seriously enough to train regularly. "I train a lot . . . five or six days a week. Everybody has to train to be able to play at this level. You have to be ready to play four matches in five days at a high level of competition. I practice a lot, ride a bike and hit the weight room."

But the Outback Series is nothing like the old ATP Tour days for the likes of Courier, Sampras, Martin, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Pat Cash, Chang, Goran Ivanisevic and others.

"This is a bit more manageable since we don't play week-in and week-out. It is a nice balance of high-level competition and a lifestyle that is manageable," said the affable Courier, who lists himself as "a free agent" when the question of marriage is mentioned.

Courier thinks the future of the Outback Series is "very bright. We have great sponsors, and a lot of cities have contacted us about having and Outback Series."

The North Charleston event will not be part of the Outback Series, but it will be promoted by Inside Out Sports and Entertainment. "We're expecting somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 people," he said.

Why Charleston? "Charleston sought us out. They were interested in having a big-time exhibition, and we are pleased to be in there."

Ticket information

Tickets are on sale at the coliseum ticket office, all Ticketmaster outlets including select Publix grocery stores, charge by phone (554-6060) and online at www.ticketmaster.com.


(08/05/07)  Don't dismiss American Young just yet

Maybe there is hope after Andy Roddick and James Blake, after all.

Donald Duck. Uh, I mean Donald Young ... may be ready to fly. The Atlanta 18-year-old didn't flop this time after winning a junior Grand Slam tournament.

No, Young followed up his Junior Wimbledon championship by winning a $75,000 USTA Pro Circuit title in Aptos, Calif.

The Comerica Challenger might not sound like a big deal. But it is when you consider the false hope the left-handed Young gave U.S. tennis just a couple of years ago when he rose to No. 1 in the world junior ranks, and at age 15 became the youngest player to win a junior Grand Slam, then executed a swan dive until last month at Wimbledon.

The Bonds Effect

After watching "The Bourne Ultimatum" Friday night and rushing home to see tennis, I wasn't prepared for "The Bonds Effect." Who would have thought that Barry Bonds would have had such a negative impact on tennis?

Fans waited until 11 p.m. on Friday night hoping to finally see a top women's tennis match on ESPN2. You really can't count last week's WTA Tour event at Stanford as top women's tennis. Sania Mirza against Anna Chakvetadze in the final? I know the Russian is having a hot summer and Mirza is a mystery, but the once red-hot U.S. Open Series has to hope for better.

At least, Maria Sharapova is in today's San Diego final after yielding just three games to Mirza and five to Chakvetadze the last two days. Too bad for Venus Williams that she double-faulted away a match point against Chakvetadze in the second set Friday night and lost the third set in the match that Bonds' silent bat preempted.

Thank goodness, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are both playing this coming week in Montreal. Please, Barry, get the home run record out of the way before next weekend. Actually, ESPN2's coverage of Montreal starts Wednesday with six hours of coverage each on Wednesday and Thursday, and another four on Friday.

An equal thought

This one might have some merit in the debate as to whether women should receive equal pay at the majors, even though women's matches often last only about half as long as the five sets the men often play.

"If the contest ends in a tie of 2-2, the match will be decided by a tiebreak instead of a fifth set ... ," Ted Rokicki of Seabrook Island proposed in a copy of a letter to USTA president Jane Brown Grimes.

That actually makes sense now that there has been talk of the Grand Slams going to five sets for women, too, in the aftermath of equal purses. Are two quick and easy sets enough? Or should women have to win a third set? A tiebreaker for a possible fifth set would ensure that matches don't get too drawn out.

Books galore

I've got plenty of reading to do. James Blake's autobiography "Breaking Back" and "The Roger Federer Story" both arrived the same day. My problem is I can't decide which to read first.

But it probably will be the Blake book, which already has climbed to No. 15 on the New York Times' bestseller list. As an autobiography, "Breaking Back" appears to be more personal and revealing. The Federer book seems to be absorbed in the task of getting across Federer's quest for perfection.

Then there's Vince Spadea's "Break Point." Don't get this one confused with Blake's book, but it's about "the secret diary of a pro tennis player." It could be interesting, although it's difficult to overcome the blandness of Spadea's game.

The 1986 team

It's been a couple of decades, but a Charleston team had claimed a Southern Sectional title at the 3.0, 3.5 or 4.0 level prior to this summer's double success by the 3.5 adult and senior women from Charleston Tennis Center. It was 1986 when Sarah Hyatt and Edwina deChamplain served as co-captains of a West Ashley Racquet Club (now Maybank Tennis Center) team that won the 4.0 Southern Sectional and finished third nationally, according to Hyatt.

Hyatt, who now plays on a 4.5 senior team out of Maybank, pointed out that the 1986 nationals were staged at Seabrook Island.

Captain chores

After trying to form a new 3.5 team for the fall, I am beginning to have more appreciation for a team captain's role. Pushing potential team members to acquire USTA memberships, then dealing with self-ratings and needing to call in the chief, Lowcountry Tennis Association president Bob Peiffer, for help in case of a blown rating ... And practice schedules and league rituals haven't even started.

Heinz, Spratt shine

Locals Austin Heinz and Thomas Spratt stood out in the recent boys' 12 USTA Zontals in Nashville while playing for a Southern Sectional team that won the national title.

Heinz played No. 1 singles and doubles, while Spratt played No. 3 singles and No. 1 doubles.

Allan leaving BE

Veteran Bishop England boys' tennis coach Chad Allan is leaving the Daniel Island school to take a position at Columbia's Dutch Fork High School.


(08/01/07)  Captains key women's league tennis successes
What a pleasant surprise for local league tennis! Who would have thought that two women's teams from Charleston Tennis Center could have been the best adult and senior 3.5 teams in the South?

We've come to expect success at the higher levels, especially from the men because of the impact of the excellent Charleston Pro Tennis League. But this success at the lower middle levels of league tennis came out of nowhere.

Even Lowcountry Tennis Association president Bob Peiffer is still trying to figure out how it happened. 'I don't think we've ever had an adult 3.0, 3.5 or 4.0 team win the Southerns,' Peiffer said Tuesday.

But Debbie Sisco's Fabulous Five came through in awesome fashion last week in Mobile, Ala., to win the adult 3.5 crown in the Southern Sectionals. Then, three members of that team stayed in Mobile to help Elisabeth Pickelsimer's Playrights repeat that success Sunday in 3.5 seniors.

What a great two weeks in Mobile? Of course, no one was really surprised that Chris Henderson's open men sandwiched a Southern title between the women's success stories. And it might even be less surprising if Brian Burke's 5.5 men defeat teams from Hilton Head Island and Greensboro, N.C., on Aug. 11 at Myrtle Beach to give the LCTA its fourth Southern title of the summer.

This success by the women's teams, in part, boils down to two exceptional captains. Both Sisco and Pickelsimer are veteran captains. They knew and played their roles on their respective teams. Neither Sisco nor Pickelsimer got in the way of their teams' goals. Both sat out the championship matches in Mobile.

'I try to do what's right for the team,' said Sisco, who played in only one of her team's five matches in Mobile.

Sisco is an office equipment sales representative from James Island who qualifies for senior tennis, but she prefers to save her Saturday mornings for family time with her husband, Richard.

Pickelsimer is an assistant research professor at MUSC. She not only captains the Playrights in the Saturday morning senior league, she, Megan Zwerner and Maxine Cooke are members of Sisco's weeknight Fabulous Five.

That means October is going to be very busy for all of the nearly two dozen local women sporting red Southern Sectional Champions shirts, but especially so for Pickelsimer, Zwerner and Cooke, who will follow up their Oct. 5-7 trip to the adult nationals in Las Vegas with a visit to Tucson, Ariz., two weeks later for the senior nationals.

Sisco is already mapping out strategy to raise funds for her team's trip to Las Vegas. 'We're got to raise money,' she said, noting that the team raised about $2,500 for the Mobile trip.

By virtue of winning the sectionals, both teams will be split up for next season, if they remain in 3.5. Another option is to move up to 4.0 competition.

Local league observers saw several members of Sisco's adult team as borderline 4.0. At least one member of the adult team, No. 1 singles player Kristin Diggett, won't be eligible to play in the nationals after being bumped up to 4.0. But that's the type players it takes to win a Southern championship.

'Six of our players played on 4.0 teams, too,' Sisco acknowledged.

Pickelsimer's seniors have gone 20-0 this year mainly because of team chemistry and hard work. The Playrights could have fallen at any time in the postseason, as they won 11 of their last 12 matches by a 2-1 score.

But in the best-of-three individual doubles format that seniors use, Pickelsimer was able to put at least two winning doubles teams on the court for each match. The Playrights played to perfection, taking full advantage of their two-hour Sunday afternoon drills with former world's No. 1 women's 45 player Diane Fishburne.

'They (the Playrights) didn't have borderline 4.0 players,' Peiffer said. 'They were just able to put it all together every match.'


(07/30/07)  Local seniors take 3.5 sectional
Everything seems to be coming up roses for the Southern Sectional champion Playrights from Charleston Tennis Center. Even the dates for the national championships are coming up in their favor.

Captain Elisabeth Pickelsimer's senior women's 3.5 team completed the middle portion of its league tennis march Sunday morning by polishing off Chattanooga, Tenn., 2-1, for the Southern title in Mobile, Ala. The unbeaten state and Southern champs now have a few months to get ready for an Oct. 19-21 visit to Tucson, Ariz., for the national senior championships.

But Pickelsimer and fellow Playrights Megan Zwerner and Maxine Cooke will have quite a busy October after playing on a pair of teams that won Southern championships six days apart in Mobile. Before joining the Playrights in Tucson, the three women will make an Oct. 5-7 trip to Las Vegas to help Debbie Sisco's adult 3.5 team from Charleston Tennis Center in another national tournament.

"They (the Playrights) played well ... they wanted to get the red shirts," Pickelsimer said Sunday about the red 2007 Southern Sectional Champions shirts that team members received. "The three of us (Pickelsimer, Zwerner and Cooke who stayed in Mobile after the 3.5 team won its title last Tuesday) had them on when the rest of the team arrived.

"We were determined ... that was our secret. They don't like losing."

Zwerner and Cooke clinched the title at No. 3 doubles with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Chattanooga as the Playrights grabbed a 2-0 lead. Claudia Budds and Claire Corts had given the Playrights the early advantage with a 6-0, 7-5 win at No. 2 doubles.

No. 1 doubles players Patricia Boyd and Shirley Adams still wanted to finish their match, but yielded a match point with a 9-8 lead in the third-set tiebreaker when a Chattanooga ball rolled down the let cord and fell over for a winner. Chattanooga went on to win at No. 1 doubles, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 11-9, to hand the Boyd/Adams team its first loss of the year.

Both Chattanooga and the Playrights had posted 4-0 records in round-robin play to qualify for the final. Sunday marked the 11th time in their last 12 matches that the Playrights (20-0) won by a 2-1 margin.

The Playrights' nine-player group in Mobile also included Gee Gee Collinsworth and Charlotte Lawson.

One of the highlights for the Playrights was being interviewed by the Tennis Channel. "It'll run in the middle of August," said Pickelsimer, an assistant research professor at MUSC.

She also pointed out that former world's No. 1 women's 45 player Diane Fishburne coaches the team. "She's been working with us and has gotten us where we are."

The Playrights' win gave Charleston its third Southern title in six days. Chris Henderson's men's open team advanced to the nationals on Saturday. And Brian Burke's men's 5.5 team could make it four Southern titles for Charleston on Aug. 11 at Myrtle Beach against teams from Hilton Head Island and Greensboro, N.C.


(07/29/07)  Sixth year of CPTL upcoming

The Charleston Pro Tennis League has come a long ways as season No. 6 approaches.

In six years, the CPTL has earned a special place in the Lowcountry's Friday night lineup while going against high school football on a night when many college football fans head for Clemson, Columbia or beyond.

It's not unusual for 400-500 fans to turn out for a regular-season program at one of the local clubs. Of course, by the time the CPTL Finale rolls around in late October at Family Circle Tennis Center, the crowd grows by a few hundred fans.

If you live in West Ashley, the CPTL probably just moved a little closer to you. The CPTL will kick off its season Sept. 7 at Charleston Tennis Center, marking the league's first venture to West Ashley. The Farmfield complex will replace the Country Club of Charleston on the schedule.

After that, the CPTL's Friday night show goes to Dunes West, the I'On Club, the Players Club, the Daniel Island Club and Summerville's Pine Forest Country Club before deciding its championship at Family Circle Tennis Center on Oct. 26.

Players 5.0 and above from all over the state usually make the trip here to participate in the league. The application deadline for players to join the league is Aug. 17. CPTL's annual draw party is set for Aug. 20 at TBonz in Mount Pleasant.

Shining stars?

The WTA Tour is loaded with them now that Venus and Serena Williams are back, but fans attending the current Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Calif., must have some doubts. The tournament's top three seeds were Anna Chakvetadze, Marion Bartoli and Daniela Hantuchova.

And this is a $600,000 event with weekend TV coverage by ESPN2?

Seconds for Weiland

Charleston's Jeanette Weiland is having to get used to finishing second this year in national women's 75 doubles tournaments, even though Weiland and partner Angele Ray of Phoenix are the nation's top-ranked team in 75s. "(We) have gotten to the finals in all three national tournaments we played in this year, but lost all three to the same team ... we will finish No. 2 for next year's rankings," Weiland said.

Weiland and Ray were finalists in the National Clay Courts in Houston, National Indoor Hard-Courts in Kansas City and the recent National Grass Courts in Philadelphia. Now, that's not too bad. It just means the pair has to settle for three silver balls this year.

Pinewood champs again

Pinewood Prep's 14-and-under advanced team defeated Greenville to win its second straight state Junior Team Tennis championship last weekend in Sumter. Coach Jim Elliget's Pinewood team will now advance to the Southern Junior Team Tennis Championships next month in Mobile, Ala.

The Summerville Legends 14-and-under and the Pinewood 18-and-under teams also represented the Lowcountry Junior Team Tennis League in the the state championships.

Registration is currently under way for this fall's Lowcountry JTTL season. For information, visit the www.lowcountryjuniortennis.org Web site.

Club Cup next weekend

The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Trident Area will hold the second annual Club Cup Tennis Tournament next weekend, but the event is still accepting teams from local tennis clubs as well as individuals, according to coordinator Bridget Bettelli (bbettelli@bgclubta.org or 937-6487).

The tournament will start Friday at three Mount Pleasant clubs — the I'On Club, the Players Club and Creekside Tennis and Swim. Each team will consist of a minimum of eight men and eight women, with the men's divisions from 3.0-4.5 and the women from 2.5-4.0.

Girls' high school tennis season nears

Girls' high school tennis is right around the corner. Two-time defending Class A SCISA champion Palmetto Christian appears to be one of the early practice starters. Palmetto Christian plans to start practice within the next two weeks, according to Post and Courier girls' coach of the year Dewey Caulder. Of course, Caulder has a string of four straight state titles — split between his girls' and boys' teams.

St. Andrew's Parks and Playground tennis director Brian Burke will assist Tom Higgins with the Porter-Gaud girls' team.

Maybank Tennis Center pro Toni Young is taking over the James Island girls.

Freshman Patricia Kirkland is switching from James Island High to Ashley Hall.

Downing Herlocker, a No. 2 doubles star for Wando's three-time defending Class AAAA state champions, will play for Bishop England this fall. That should give the Bishops a strong 1-2 punch, going with No. 1 Sallie Johnson.

Shannon McManus, Palmetto Christian's No. 2 player last season, also is switching to Bishop England, according to Caulder.


(07/26/07)  Locals gear up for tennis sectionals
Chris Henderson is hoping for a sixth straight trip to the league tennis nationals, but the former Furman star is having to depend on his teammates to earn this year's bid to the Las Vegas nationals.

As his men's open team heads for Mobile, Ala., to compete in the Southern Sectionals, Henderson is back in Charleston with his wife, Nicole. The couple is celebrating the birth last week of a second daughter. But he feels comfortable that the five players making the trip to Mobile will get the job done.

The Charleston team faces Jackson, Miss., in a best-of-three series this weekend to determine which will represent the Southern Section in the nationals. According to Henderson, the Jackson team is made up mostly of 5.0 players. "Georgia backed out again (from entering the Southerns)," said Henderson, whose team won a 5.5 national championship in 2003. "The guys hope to win two matches on Saturday and then head back home."

With Henderson unavailable, the team added Tom Eklund, who was playing No. 1 for the University of South Carolina just months ago. Eklunk should fill the singles spot, while team veterans Charley Rasheed, Toby Simpson, Ben Cook and Carlos Lozano make up the two doubles teams in the three-point match format. Rasheed and Simpson both played on the 2003 national championship team.

Brian Burke's 5.5 men's team isn't making the trip to Mobile, but instead will take on teams from Hilton Head Island and North Carolina on Aug. 11 at Myrtle Beach's Prestwick Tennis Club to determine which team will advance to the nationals. Burke's group includes Matt Hane, a member of Charleston's 2005 national championship 5.5 team.

Meanwhile, five other local teams are schedule to compete in Mobile starting today. Three members of the Charleston Tennis Center 3.5 adult women's team that won a Southern title Tuesday simply remained in Mobile to begin play today for Elisabeth Pickelsimer's 3.5 senior women's team. The Charleston team will play Louisiana and Kentucky today, Georgia on Friday and Alabama on Saturday in round-robin play. Pickelsimer, co-captain Megan Zwerner and Maxine Cooke all played on captain Debbie Sisco's 3.5 adult Southern championship team.

Will Shelley's 5.0 men from Creekside Tennis and Swim also will compete in Mobile, along with Charlotte Hartsock's 5.0 women, Kristen Whitehead's 4.5 women from Creekside Tennis and Swim, and Gene Owens' 4.0 women from the Mount Pleasant Recreation Department.


(07/25/07)  How will surface affect exhibition?
Can Jim Courier handle Pete Sampras' huge serve and net game on a fast indoor carpet?

That's an interesting angle to the Sept. 23 exhibition between the two former Grand Slam champions at North Charleston Coliseum.

If the match were scheduled for grass, Sampras would be the odds-on favorite. And he still might be indoors when you take into consideration that he has been winning exhibitions the same way he won seven Wimbledon titles and a record 14 Grand Slam tournaments.

But old-buddy Courier's Inside Out Sports and Entertainment group is putting on the exhibition here. According to coliseum marketing manager Alan Coker, Courier's group is even taking care of the indoor carpet and court layout.

Don't you think Courier would love to slow things down, say to the pace of the red clay at the French Open where he won two titles. Of course, Sampras' lone blank spot in the career Grand Slam is the French Open.

The seating for the tennis match will be limited to about 9,000. "Ticket sales are brisk," Coker said Tuesday.

--The "Legends of Tennis" exhibition is scheduled for 3 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. Tickets are on sale at the coliseum ticket office, all Ticketmaster outlets including select Publix grocery stores, charge by phone (554-6060) and online at www.ticketmaster.com.

Nadal's question

Rafael Nadal came through in flying colors to win the clay-court Mercedes Cup over the weekend, but one big question mark concerning Nadal's health came out of the tournament. The right knee that acted up in the fourth set of his five-set loss to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final gave him problems early in the Stuttgart event, although he took five straight matches without dropping a set.

It's hardcourt season, and even healthy legs take a beating in the U.S. Open Series that leads up to New York. The question is whether Nadal's right knee can absorb the punishment of back-to-back Masters events in Montreal and Cincinnati, and still be healthy for the U.S. Open.

The odds are that Nadal might pull out of at least one of the U.S. Open Series events in the interest of the right knee.

King, Heinz shine

Addison King and Austin Heinz of Mount Pleasant's Players Club had excellent results in the recent boys' 12 National Clay Courts in Greensboro, N.C., as King captured consolation honors in the North division and Heinz was a consolation finalist in the West group.

Coach Harkins

Family Circle Tennis Center junior development director Greg Harkins coached the Southern Section's boys' 14 team in the recent USTA Zonal competition in Dothan, Ala. His boys' group was runner-up while the six boys/six girls team finished 8-2 overall.


(07/22/07)  Blake’s emotional autobiography should be a must have

I’ve never been big on reading tennis books. I was there in 1973 at the Astrodome when Billie Jean King destroyed Bobby Riggs’ ego in the Battle of the Sexes.

I’ve lived tennis practically ever since. I attempt almost religiously to keep up with everything that is happening in the sport from local juniors to the Roger Federers and Justine Henins. But tennis books hit my desk and are seldom opened.

I probably would have done the same with James Blake’s recently released autobiogra­phy, Breaking Back. But Friday afternoon after watching Blake defeat Vince Spadea in the Los Angeles tournament, I was put­ting my thoughts together for this column when my eyes fix­ated on the cover of the August issue of Tennis Magazine. There was James Blake, his shaven head and piercing eyes dominating the cover. “James Blake Tells His Story.”

Why not give it a try, I thought as the rain grew heavier. Blake has held special significance to me since meeting his happy­go-lucky brother, Thomas Jr., at one of the last Skatell’s Pro Ten­nis Classics held at Creekside Tennis and Swim around the turn of the millennium. Thomas had talked about his younger brother, who had dropped out of Harvard to play professional tennis.

I paid special attention to James Blake the few times he appeared on TV back then. His game had a long way to go.

Then, he suffered an unfortunate accident while practicing in Rome in 2004 when he tripped and hit a net post. He fractured vertebrae in his neck that very nearly ended his tennis career.

But that injury may have been the most important thing to James Blake in his first 27 years of life. His dad, his Superman, Thomas, was at home, terminally ill, suffering from a spreading stomach cancer.

A touching example of Blake’s Breaking Back from the excerpt published by Tennis Magazine: “In many ways, we seemed to be living in our own little world that spring — I was around during the core of the tennis season, and my father, who had never missed a day of work in his life, was home all the time.”

I couldn’t put the magazine down until I had read all five pages from the book. Hopefully, a copy of Breaking Back will ar­rive on my desk soon. Already, it’s on the New York Times’ best­seller list.

An emotion-filled sentence as Blake said goodbye one last time to his father: “And then, because he had insisted, because it was my routine, and because it was my life that he continued to shape, I pulled myself together, said goodbye for the last time, hugged my mom hard, and left to go play tennis.”

This is one tennis book I intend to read.

I also plan to check out “ The Roger Federer Story: Quest For Perfection.” Former USTA com­munications chief Randy Walker, whose New Chapter Press Media published the book, sent word Friday that a copy of the Federer book is on the way.

Busy week in Mobile

Only Debbie Sisco’s 3.5 women’s team from Charles­ton Tennis Center represented the area in Mobile, Ala., this weekend in the first session of league tennis’ Southern Sec­tionals, but three members of that team will be back in Mo­bile starting Thursday to com­pete for an undefeated 3.5 se­nior team from the Farmfield complex. Team captain Elisa­beth Pickelsimer, co- captain Megan Zwerner and Maxine Cooke from the senior team all played on the 3.5 adult team as well.

Six other local teams also will compete this coming week, led by Chris Henderson’s open men and Brian Burke’s 5.5 men who will be aiming for repeat trips to the nationals. Will Shelley’s 5.0 men from Creekside Tennis and Swim also will compete in Mobile. Charlotte Hartsock’s 5.0 women, Kristen Whitehead’s 4.5 women from Creekside and Gene Owens’ 4.0 women from the Mount Pleasant Recreation Department also will play in the Southerns.

Fall registrations

Don’t forget, it’s already time to start forming teams for the fall league tennis season. Registra­tion started Friday and will con­tinue through Aug. 14. Captains can go to the www.usta.com Web site and use TennisLink to register teams.


(07/18/07)  Federer and Nadal slates light in U.S.

Luckily for tennis fans, the U.S. Open Series has great television coverage for the next six weekends.

But if you want to see Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, you have to hope neither gets upset early in Montreal or Cincinnati the first two full weeks in August. That's it until the U.S. Open. For the second year in a row, Federer and Nadal are playing only Canada and Cincinnati in preparation for the hard courts of the U.S. Open.

Remember, last year Nadal lost in the round of 16 in Toronto to Tomas Berdych and in the Cincinnati quarterfinals to Juan Carlos Ferrero. Federer won Toronto, but lost to Andy Murray in Cincinnati's round of 32.

Nadal is getting a little clay-court work in, however. He blitzed German Alexander Waske on Tuesday in the Mercedes Cup in Germany. Old nemesis Berdych also is playing in the Stuttgart event.

Weiland beats world

Charleston senior Jeanette Weiland led a U.S. women's 75 team to victory in the recent international Friendship Cup on red clay in Portschach, Austria. Weiland won her singles and doubles events against a team from the rest of the world.

Weiland then competed at the same site in an international individual tournament with Rita Ronn of Great Britain and advanced to the doubles final, losing in a third-set tiebreaker to a team from New Zealand.

After traveling around Europe with her husband, Pete, for nearly a month, Jeanette is already making another trip. Ranked No. 1 in the nation in women's 75 doubles, she started play Tuesday in the National 75 Grass Courts in Philadelphia.

Carter shines

Brenda Carter recently won the doubles title and finished second in singles in the U.S. Tennis Association National Women's 60 Championships at Forest Hills, N.Y.

Headed to Mobile

Charleston's big tennis party of the last two summers has moved to another city by the sea. League tennis' Southern Championships will begin Saturday in Mobile, Ala.

A herd of Charleston players is scheduled to make the trip to Mobile during the next two weeks. In all, eight Charleston teams have earned berths in the competition.

Only a 3.5 women's team from Charleston Tennis Center will compete in the first week, but seven other teams will make the trip for the second session of the Southerns.

The second week will begin July 26 with 4.0 (Mount Pleasant Recreation Department), 4.5 (Creekside Tennis and Swim) and 5.0 women's teams competing, along with 5.0 (Creekside), 5.5 and open men's teams. A 3.5 senior women's team from Charleston Tennis Center also is scheduled to compete in the second week.

Several of the teams represent the entire Lowcountry Tennis Association.

Lowcountry Tennis Association registrations

Combo doubles is just starting, but it's already time to register for the local Super Senior 60, Super Senior 70 and the LCTA singles league. Captains of teams in those groups can go to the www.usta.com Web site and use TennisLink to register teams. The deadline for forming a team in any of these groups is Aug. 7.

The 60-and-over matches will be played on Wednesdays and/or Saturdays, while the 70s will be held on Mondays. The singles league will compete on Sundays.

Fall league team registration will begin Friday and last until Aug. 14.

Club Cup nearing

Don't forget that the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Trident Area will hold the second annual Club Cup Tennis Tournament Aug. 3-5. The tournament will be played at the I'On Club, the Players Club, and Creekside Tennis and Swim, all in Mount Pleasant.

Each team will consist of a minimum of eight men and eight women, with the men's divisions from 3.0-4.5 and the women from 2.5-4.0. For information, contact coordinator Bridget Bettelli (bbettelli@bgclubta.org or 937-6487).


(07/15/07)  Will Nadal fade again after loss?
Is this year an aberration in the tennis career of Rafael Nadal? Or is it the real Nadal?

Some tennis fans fully expect the Spanish wonder to fade with the summer, similar to a year ago when he was virtually unheard from after losing to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final.

That may happen. Nadal already has the loss to Federer last Sunday as a starting point.

But no one has played better than Nadal this year. That's why he is ranked No. 1 in the ATP Race ahead of Federer. If this were Dec. 31, Nadal likely would be the No. 1 player in the world since he leads in 2007 points. Federer tops the rotating 52-week world rankings, partly because Nadal failed to reach the final in his next 11 tournaments after last year's Wimbledon.

Some fans were quick to pronounce Nadal as a commoner among tennis' elite. That was before Indian Wells in early March where the guy who couldn't play hard-court tennis obliterated the field, while Federer lost early to someone named Guillermo Canas.

In Miami, Canas did another number on Federer, while Nadal rolled convincingly until a kid named Novak Djokovic flashed the type of game in the final that soon could make him a candidate for No. 1. Nadal has suffered only four losses since breaking the drought at Indian Wells, two of them in finals to Federer.

A Federer fan

There are tennis fans who like to stay informed. And there are some very serious fans. Albert Ruehli and his wife of Chappaqua, N.Y., "home of Bill and Hillary," fit both descriptions.

"I am a Swiss-born (Zurich) American citizen and so you can guess where my 'fanhood' lies," Ruehli e-mailed in response to Wednesday's column that suggested Nadal may surpass Federer.

"I had just met my wife in early June of 2003 and suggested we watch this Swiss chap play Wimbledon. We have been hooked ever since ... We keep it impartial while at the same time keeping ourselves informed about the players who will challenge Roger in the matches to come. That's how we came across your column. We wrote to you because you offered a point of view that was authoritative without being rabid."

Ruehli also pointed to the possibility that Nadal may again fade with summer as well as Federer's ability to lift his game to another level when in trouble.

Such a nice e-mail, truly representative of Federer, a player with enormous class. Maybe, it's the Swiss connection. But some fans can only see Federer's brilliant shot-making ability and his sportsmanship, and apparently think he is the only tennis player ever born with such gifts.

International collegians

--"Your recent articles about the lack of Americans on college tennis teams really hit home for me too!," e-mailed Summerville's Jim Elliget, the father of the South's top boys' 10 player, Adam Elliget. "This is why I have Adam playing all sports now instead of just tennis. He can remain No. 1 in the South for the next eight years and still might not be able to play Division I tennis due to the international players that all these colleges seem to want ... I feel really cheated that after spending years of training and tens of thousands of dollars in the USTA tournaments/camps/etc., that Adam will not be rewarded in the end."

From Elon, N.C., where four of the top five players from Southern Conference men's champion Elon were from other countries, John Patterson e-mailed: "I agree totally. Too many schools have foreign dominated rosters And don't get me started about Title IX. My son is a sophomore in high school. Men's (tennis) programs in Division I only get 4 1/2 scholarships. Women get eight ... so young U.S. male players have an added disadvantage."


(07/11/07)  Signs show Nadal not far off No. 1

Roger Federer's reign as the No. 1 player in the world may be out of his control.

As great as Federer is, the honor of being the world's top player probably depends more on Rafael Nadal's state of mind and health the next few years than Federer. It appears to be only a matter of time before Nadal accelerates into the No. 1 position.

Four years and 10 months younger than Federer, Nadal has caught up to or possibly even surpassed him. As much as I believe in Nadal's future, I was surprised by his shot-making ability in the Wimbledon final. He at least matched Federer in that art. Nadal was Bjorn Borg-like. He just didn't win. If Nadal had been playing anyone other than Federer, he might have won in straight sets. Without the Federer-Borg mystique, he might have swept this one, too.

Federer's claim to being possibly the greatest player ever in the eyes of the influential likes of John and Patrick McEnroe, and Cliff Drysdale, has been based as much on his shot-making brilliance as his overwhelming success the last few years. But if a 21-year-old kid can match Federer in the artistry of tennis skills, you've got to think that Federer is just one of the greatest players of the last four decades, along with Borg, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Rod Laver.

Of course, the possibility exists that Federer may not be the greatest player of this era. That thought is enough to practically silence Federer fans, and make them hope that Nadal doesn't get any better. If he does, all bets are off in the greatest player analysis.

That's why I believe Nadal is in command of his own destiny for the next few years. Because of the physicality and athleticism that separates him from most players, Nadal may have only about five more years of true greatness.

Even at that, much depends on Nadal's mental state and health, and how badly he wants to be recognized for his greatness. If he wants it as badly as Federer, the game is over, barring health issues for Nadal. I question whether he was as mentally tough as he needed to be. He appeared to be a little soft a few times, and may have been too caught up in the Federer-Borg moment to finish his job.

Wimbledon thoughts

--Did you happen to see Tuesday's Top of The Second item in this newspaper where the Philadelphia Inquirer's Bob Ford called tennis "a game that is dying from a lack of interest." Wonder if he's been to the the biggest tennis party in the world — the U.S. Open — or stopped by a league tennis complex or club on any weeknight. Charleston Tennis Center has been so full of activity this summer that a couple of recent practices for my men's team had to be scheduled elsewhere.

--NBC's men's final ratings were the highest since 2004's Federer-Andy Roddick title match. And about the only Americans in sight were junior Wimbledon boys' titlist Donald Young and the doubles runners-up Bryan brothers (Madison Brengle of Dover, Del., was junior girls' runner-up).

--This e-mail from Terry O'Hora: "You know, Federer was lucky on this one. With a four-year age difference, we may not be seeing the greatest of all time when Federer plays. With a serve-in-progress, Nadal may be the one."

--John Devaney e-mails: "The actual final score, with 26 games each, shows how evenly matched Federer and Nadal were."

--Lowcountry Tennis Association president Bob Peiffer e-mails: "I have to give you credit — you picked Venus long before anyone gave her a chance ... but you stumbled in today's  column. Tiebreaker in the fifth?" (I feel like Nadal, I should have put that one away.)

Local notes

JUNIOR SPLASH: Corey Caulder in girls' 10, Masha Voronina in girls' 12, Hufelder Duarte in boys' 10, Thomas Spratt in boys' 14 and John Karle in boys' 18 all won singles titles over the weekend in the Beaufort Junior Summer Splash.

PRO-AM ROUND ROBIN: Mount Pleasant's Creekside Tennis and Swim will hold a pro-am round-robin Friday at 6 p.m. to raise money to help send its state championship 4.5 women's and 5.0 men's teams to the Southern Sectionals in Mobile, Ala. Creekside members and non-members can participate for a fee. Call 884-6111.


(07/09/07)  Federer had No. 5 in the bag
This one was meant to be.

This Wimbledon title will be the one Roger Federer is remembered for most. He did it in the fifth set, somewhat sym­bolic of his fifth straight cham­pionship on tennis’ most famed court.

The only thing that could have made Sunday’s final more mem­orable would have been if it had gone to 6- 6 and beyond in the absence of a fifth-set tiebreaker.

And, indeed, the match appeared to be headed that way until Rafael Nadal’s collapse in the fifth set gave Federer a 7- 6 (7), 4­6, 7- 6 (3), 2- 6, 6-2 victory.

This was one you didn’t want anyone to lose. Federer and Nad­al are as well liked and respected as they are great champions and wonderful ambassadors for the game of tennis. They simply added to their reputation in pos­sibly the most memorable tennis match since the Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe-Jimmy Connors era.

Meant to be

This one had Federer written all over it. How else could you explain Nadal’s fifth set? He did everything he needed to do to beat Federer except finish the job. In two different games early in the fifth set Nadal had double break point. In each game, Nadal missed shots he normally makes.

The forehand let Nadal down in several key situations, includ­ing a seemingly easy put-away approach he netted that could have given him double set point in the third set. If he had made that one, a fifth set might not have been necessary.

Were these uncharacteristic errors made because Nadal was facing the great Federer in such a momentous situation on the famed Centre Court? Or because Nadal thought he could see the finish line in each of those games and relaxed into a temporary loss of focus? Or were they the result of fatigue from playing seven straight days, and a hurting right knee that eventually needed treatment and to be wrapped for support?

Or were the errors made be­cause Nadal also has ambitions of greatness? A French-Wimble­don double would have stolen much of Federer’s thunder and placed Nadal on the threshold of becoming the world’s No. 1 play­er. Of course, they were because Nadal is only human.

Federer did his part, too. In critical situations, he often pep­pered the lines with unreturnable serves or aces. The best example of this came in the game that gave Federer a 5-2 lead in the fifth set.

He hit the center line for one ace, the service line for a second ace and went wide for a third ace in holding at love. The earlier saves on break points were critical for Federer, but those three aces in the seventh game of the decisive set practically sealed Nadal’s fate.

Legendary match

The pressure was enormous on both men. Yet, they played some of the best tennis on a big stage of the game’s modern era. Perhaps, Wimbledon has never seen a bet­ter played championship match.

Federer and Nadal made Centre Court look like a ping-pong table, each making miraculous shots and seldom missing their targets.

You expected this from Federer, a man with exceptional shot­making ability from anywhere on the court. But for much of Sunday’s match Nadal even ex­ceeded Federer’s shot-making.

Tennis fans were treated to a match of legendary proportions.

Britons will be talking about this one for a long time.

Now, if only Federer and Nadal can put Sunday into a time cap­sule and release it in New York City in two months. If so, Ameri­can tennis would be the lucky beneficiary.

While the match will go down as simply Federer’s fifth straight Wimbledon title, it will be long remembered by tennis buffs and replayed by NBC during Wimbledons for years to come. “Yes­terday’s history” will be much more than “just a nice memory” for Federer.


(07/08/07)  Venus sparkles in the spotlight
How Venus sparkled!

Marion Bartoli made her.

Make no mistake about it, Venus Williams is the best grass-court player in women's tennis, and one of the best ever.

Venus did more than just show up for Saturday's women's final at Wimbledon. She played spectacular tennis. Bartoli, as much as she tried, simply couldn't match Venus' power.

When on, it's obvious that there is no one in women's tennis better than Venus. It's just that nothing seems to motivate her as much as Wimbledon's Centre Court. The grass complements her big groundstrokes and serve like nowhere else.

After Venus had taken the best of Bartoli's two-fisted groundstrokes and polished off the young French woman, 6-4, 6-1, it was easy to see why some consider Venus Williams the world's most respected women's athlete. She was like a kid with a new toy as she danced around Centre Court with Wimbledon's championship dish. She was giggly. She was Vintage Venus. She was just herself.

No one, if they hadn't known better, would have thought Venus had been through this routine three times before.

Venus' obvious sincerity and love affair with the Wimbledon fans brought back memories of her visits to the Family Circle Cup. Even while losing to Jelena Jankovic in this spring's Family Circle semifinals, Venus had her own cheering section of little kids screaming out, "We love you Venus."

Still sparkling

Venus wasn't supposed to win this Wimbledon. Most observers favored her sister Serena, or former champions Maria Sharapova or Amelie Mauresmo, or current No. 1 player Justine Henin. And Venus certainly didn't look capable of having such a glorious tournament in two of her first three matches.

She appeared to be totally unmotivated and unfocused in those early matches. But once on Centre Court against Sharapova, Venus started to sparkle.

She was still sparkling as she hugged the championship dish.

Bartoli gave it her all. She has excellent groundstrokes from both sides as well as a strong will to win. But if there was anything that Venus' big side-to-side groundstrokes exposed in Bartoli's game it was that Bartoli's lateral movement is suspect. Venus repeatedly took advantage of that lack of quickness.

Nadal-Federer IV

The weather appeared to stack the odds against the possibility of a fourth Grand Slam final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Yet, in the end, it was the weather's impact that assured tennis of another confrontation between the world's top two players.

This final could have involved two completely different players. The backlog of matches created by rain interruptions resulted in an apparent unfairness to Novak Djokovic and Richard Gasquet in forcing them to play their semifinals so quickly after their marathon victories on Friday.

But that's history. Nadal and Federer survived. Djokovic and Gasquet failed.

That's the way it will be today, much like Federer says in his classy Gillete commercial with Tiger Woods: "Yesterday's history. ... just a nice memory."

Although the rain was gone Saturday, it left its lingering impact in that both Djokovic and Gasquet had foot problems. As a result, Nadal and Federer went virtually untested in the semifinals, especially Nadal because of Djokovic's retirement in the third set. That pretty much evened things up for Nadal, since he wasn't pushed at all by Tomas Berdych on Friday. Nadal and Federer both should be relatively fresh for today's 9 a.m. Breakfast at Wimbledon.

A winner? This one could go to a fifth-set tiebreaker. If so, I would pick Nadal. I also would take Nadal if it goes five sets. In any event, you can expect both players to play and act like the champions they are.


(07/07/07)  Tough day for top players

Friday wasn't a good day for tennis' top-ranked players. Of course, there was the demise of Justine Henin on the women's side.

But what about Roger Federer? What's wrong with making the Wimbledon semifinals again?

No, it wasn't the fact that Federer dropped a set after returning from a week's vacation that made the day a bad one for the No. 1 men's player. Andy Roddick lost. That's the bad news for Federer.

Federer must have been licking his chops when Roddick took a two-set-and-a-break lead over Richard Gasquet in Friday's quarterfinals. Roddick was a known commodity. Break his serve down or just get it back into play, and Federer knew he could practically put his name on the draw sheet for the men's final.

But Gasquet? Now, there's a real challenge for Federer. No one, including Federer, hits a backhand like the Frenchman.

For Gasquet to win such a confidence builder, rallying from two sets down and going overtime in a fifth set to overcome the veteran Roddick, had to be Federer's worst nightmare. To compound that turn of events, Rafael Nadal crushed big Tomas Berdych, a player many expected to crush Nadal's high-kicking groundstrokes and serves. Berdych simply couldn't figure out Nadal's spin.

If that wasn't enough, young, talented, hard-hitting Novak Djokovic also advanced to the semifinals.

What does all of that have to do with Federer? It's as if youth is ganging up on the soon-to-be 26-year-old Federer. These guys, Nadal, Djokovic and Gasquet, are all 21 or younger. They represent the new face of men's tennis.

If Federer does take care of Gasquet's brilliant one-handed backhand and complete arsenal of weapons, he'll still have to face either Nadal or Djokovic in Sunday's final. Federer may be on his favorite spot of real estate, but any of these three young players is capable of beating Federer even on grass.

A Venus trap?

While it appears that Venus Williams is the main beneficiary of obscure Marion Bartoli's upset of Justine Henin, that may not be the case. Venus should win her fourth Wimbledon title, but don't expect her to sparkle in today's women's final as she did in easy wins over Grand Slam champions Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Venus' worst enemy is a heavy underdog. In other words, being a heavy favorite as she will be against Bartoli. Venus is at her best against major challenges. She would have been ready for Henin.

But Bartoli? Venus will show up. And that should be enough.

Poor Justine Henin. As tough a competitor as she is, she's lucky she already has won some big ones. Otherwise, word might spread that the frail-looking Belgian isn't so tough after all.

Wimbledon's schedule-makers might have been overly optimistic when they scheduled the Federer-Gasquet match for noon (7 a.m. EST) on Centre Court and the women's final two hours later to fit into NBC's Breakfast at Wimbledon slot. Don't look for Gasquet to hit that many wild backhands. He can do better than that looking backward, as he did once on a winning passing shot against Roddick.

City Jr. deadline

Tonight at midnight is the entry deadline for next weekend's Charleston Junior Hard-Court Championship. The boys' and girls' singles and doubles event is scheduled to start next Friday at Charleston Tennis Center. Registration is available on the internet at www.sctennis.com. Contact Charleston Tennis Center (766-7401).


(07/04/07)  Rain proving to be problem for Nadal
One of the secrets to Rafael Nadal’s game appears to be his patience. He always seems to be in control.

Although he controls Roger Federer like no one else, Mother Nature is one thing that’s out of Nadal’s control. He plays methodical tennis, never hurrying. He figures he can outlast

almost anyone, so he’ll be the last one standing.

But Wimbledon’s seemingly non-stop rain interruptions ob­viously have played havoc with Nadal’s head. All of a sudden, he’s been rushing points and hurrying to finish games to try to beat the rain. That has favored obscure Swede Robin Soderling the last two days.

Every time Nadal gets going, here come the umbrellas. That was the case early Monday when Nadal needed only two points to finish off Soderling in three sets. By the end of the day, he seemed to be ready to complete the task in the fifth set, ahead 2- 0. An­other rain break.

At the end of Tuesday, Nadal and Soderling were tied at 4- 4 in the fifth set. And suddenly, Nadal may not be in charge. He doesn’t have three or four hours to wear down his opponent. The end could come quickly today.

Obviously, Nadal needs to find a court somewhere close to or at Wimbledon, play a three-hour practice match, and then don’t even go to the locker room, but head straight to the court for his noon (London time) starting time.

Wimbledon thoughts

Has Nicole Vaidisova’s game matured? Always a power hitter, the tall 18-year- old appears to have harnessed her big arsenal of weapons. She is playing great tennis, especially with the whip­lash forehand down the line on short balls. The most important thing may be that she is playing within herself. That was obvious in her three-set conquest of de­fending champion Amelie Mau­resmo. Vaidisova has an excellent chance to make the final if she remains in control of her game and mind in pressure situations.

Despite Vaidisova’s potential for a breakthrough, it looks like the winners of today’s back-to-back Venus Williams-Maria Sharapova round of 16 match and the Serena Williams-Justine Henin quarter­final should be in Saturday’s final. Marion Bartoli finally collected a significant victory Tuesday in defeating Jelena Jankovic, but it’s been obvious for several years that Bartoli had the potential to become a star. For the last three years I’ve been wondering what happened to this determined French girl. Now, we know.

Wimbledon’s all-white dress code is terrible for television. At times, it’s difficult to identify players during a rally, especially if one isn’t wearing a hat or possess­ing some other unique feature.

ESPN2 is lucky that Brad Gilbert stopped by its booth for a few sessions late last week. Andy Murray’s coach looked like a full-fledged member of the broadcast team Tuesday wearing a sporty coat and tie. With the regular analysts sounding a bit repetitious during the long line of rain delays, Gilbert was a breath of fresh air. Gilbert and Darren Cahill are a good con­trast, Gilbert with his brashness but hands-on knowledge of the pro game, and Cahill with conservative but textbook like analyses.

They might be the two best cur­rent tennis analysts. Yes, even better than John McEnroe.

You’ve got to give McEnroe credit, though. He doesn’t mince words. He called Serena Williams’ injury scenes in her vic­tory over Daniela Hantuchova “overly dramatic” when NBC took over the broadcast rings Tuesday morning. I have to agree with McEnroe.

But who’s making the decisions at NBC? After ESPN2 had spent much of the time between 6 and 10 a.m. showing Vaidisova’s upset of Mauresmo, guess who NBC led off with for most of the first 90 minutes Tuesday, with McEnroe and Mary Carillo treating the match as if it were live. A similar situation occurred a day earlier when ESPN2 featured live coverage of Venus Williams’ rally to overcome Akiko Morigami, only for NBC to focus on a tape of the match once its coverage started at 10 a.m.


(07/01/07)  Two sides of Venus
Will the real Venus Williams please stand up?

One minute, she looks like a three-time Wimbledon champion. The next, she appears to be milling around like a weekend warrior who is dreading going back to work.

Maybe, Venus was dreading a Monday workday against Maria Sharapova. Or maybe she was concerned about the too-brief, too-tight shorts (for Wimbledon) she was wearing on Saturday. Whatever the reason, Venus was as horrific as she was great before rain intervened with her leading Akiko Morigami, 6-2, 1-4.

When focused, Venus looked unbeatable with a huge serve and deep groundstrokes. The next moment, she would simply go through the motions or not even make a move toward a returnable shot.

Venus now must come out fully focused on Monday to avoid having to go to a third set against Morigami. If she doesn't, a third set might not be a picnic for Venus. Despite what Richard Williams says, Venus often displays her nerves in tight situations.

If Venus can get by Morigami, surely she will be fully zeroed in on Sharapova. But Venus fans have to be a bit concerned since Saturday was the second time in three matches at this year's Wimbledon that she has appeared to be lackadaisical.

Wimbledon thoughts

The last week of Wimbledon should display women's tennis at its very best with five big guns still alive: Venus and Serena Williams, Sharapova, Justine Henin and Amelie Mauresmo, along with fast-rising Jelena Jankovic. Family Circle Cup champ Jankovic has a great shot at the semifinals, considering that she faces Marion Bartoli in the round of 16, with either Laura Granville or Michaella Krajicek waiting in the quarterfinals. If Patty Schnyder or the winner of the Daniela Hantuchova-Serena Williams match could lend a little help against Henin, Jankovic might be a good bet to win Wimbledon. But I still think Venus Williams is the player to beat.

James Blake is another unpredictable player. Blake's problem is that he is one-dimensional, or one-speed. He doesn't have anything to fall back on once his go-for-broke groundstrokes lose direction.

Juan Carlos Ferrero might have had something to do with the demise of Blake's game in the third round. Ferrero showed the form of a former Grand Slam tournament champion. If he plays the same way in a possible quarterfinal confrontation with Roger Federer and doesn't get discouraged by Federer's shot-making ability, that matchup might not be a walk in the park for Federer.

Two state champs

Charleston's Olivia McMillan and Randall Heffron brought home the girls' and boys' 16-and-under singles titles from the just-completed State-Closed Junior Hard-Court Championships in Columbia.

McMillian played No. 3 behind Jessica Diamond and Brooke Mosteller on Wando's Class AAAA state championship team, while Heffron played for the Bishop England boys.

Jeremiah Dye, another high school standout who is headed for Coker College next year, was runner-up in boys' 18. Dye was SCISA's Class AAA state champion Pinewood Prep's No. 1 player.


Beach tennis

Phil Whitesell and Chris Henderson lived up to their world's No. 1 ranking by winning last weekend's first Marino Family Carolina Beach Tennis Open at Family Circle Tennis Center. They defeated former college tennis stars Timo Seibert and Matt Hane in the professional/amateur final.

Senior tennis star Diane Fishburne and Miami's Mary Dailey defeated ex-College of Charleston players Gabriella Moreira of Brazil and Maxine Capewell of England in the women's final.


(06/27/07)  Henman holding his own
Bless Tim Henman's heart. He has a big one.

I can see why the Britons love this guy so much. He has a lot of class.

Anyone who lives and dies by serve-and-volley tennis in the age of oversized rackets has to have some deep convictions. Maybe Henman still has that one major run left at Wimbledon.

At times in his marathon two-day victory over Carlos Moya, Henman played sensational serve-and-volley tennis. He looked like he did a couple of years ago. He even had good pop on his serve, especially the one down the middle.

Henman had Moya so concerned about his net rushes that Moya turned into something of a serve-and-volley player himself, trying to beat Henman to the net. And Moya was great at it. Perhaps, the Spaniard should make a switch in his normal clay-court game. He has the serve to make it work, too.

I was almost converted to thinking that serve-and-volley players no longer could be effective, because of the new racket technology and big rackets. Maybe another Patrick Rafter will come along soon and force players to become multi-dimensional again.

Along those lines, maybe even Andy Roddick might have a chance against Roger Federer at Wimbledon, if he serves well and throws Federer's baseline game out of rhythm by charging the net. It's worth another try, if the two happen to meet in the semifinals.

Wimbledon thoughts

--If Sam Querry is the best the U.S. has to offer after Roddick and James Blake, we're in a bigger talent drought than I thought.

--How can Venus Williams look so brilliant one minute and so out of focus the next? I still think Venus is the best grass-court player in the game. If she stays in focus, this tournament could belong to her.

--Did Mary Joe Fernandez really say that Jelena Jankovic doesn't have a chance to win this Wimbledon? Jankovic is due to win a big one, if not now, very soon. It's only a matter of time before she's the No. 1 player in the world.

--Rafael Nadal may go down before he gets to Federer, but this guy is a serious threat to win Wimbledon. As Mary Carillo said, Nadal is a better grass-court player than hard-court player. Getting past a tough Mardy Fish in the first round is a good omen for Nadal.

The misconception

Just because American colleges are selling out our juniors by awarding a high percentage of their scholarship funds to international players doesn't mean that tennis in this country isn't enjoying possibly its highest level of popularlity ever, at least since the Chris Evert days.

It's just that we don't have anyone coming along behind the Williams sisters, Roddick and Blake. And if there are any future superstars among the collegians, most of them probably are from somewhere else.

Tennis participation in Charleston is easily the best it has been in the last quarter century. And you've got to think that Charleston isn't unique in this area. League tennis is big all over.

Non-players remark that vacant courts mean American tennis is flat-lining or declining. Of course, most adults are working until late afternoon, and juniors are concentrated at training centers such as the Players Club or Family Circle Tennis Center. So, at 3 p.m., many courts are vacant. But check back about 7 p.m.

Just about every available court is usually taken Monday through Thursday from 6-9 p.m. If you aren't in a league, good luck on finding a court.

That doesn't mean the college deal isn't a big issue, even while tennis is luring adults into the game at an increasingly high rate. I'd just like to see more of those former American juniors continuing in tennis through college and into league play, rather than have to pick the game back up later.


(06/24/07)  Roddick will need plenty of help at Wimbledon

It's almost as if Roger Federer has been in hibernation for two weeks. Meanwhile, Andy Roddick has re-emerged.

Just as Federer could have used a little help with Rafael Nadal at the French Open, Roddick needs assistance with Federer at Wimbledon. If so, things could be looking great for the American two weeks from now.

A year ago, I thought Roddick had what it takes to beat Federer on centerstage. I doubt that now, which means Roddick probably needs help if he is to advance past a possible meeting with Federer in the Wimbledon semifinals.

Federer's most dangerous match before another possible meeting with Nadal might be against young Andy Murray in the semifinals, if Murray can survive a possible quarterfinal showdown with Roddick.

You've got to go with Federer to win a fifth straight Wimbledon. But if Nadal can make it past the minefield of Novak Djokovic, Lleyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian and Marcos Baghdatis, the Spaniard has the best chance of the longshots.

On the women's side, you've got to believe that Justine Henin will win Wimbledon one of these days. She appears to easily be the best and most consistent player in the women's game right now.

I look for Amelie Mauresmo, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams to have difficult times holding their games together for seven matches. Family Circle Cup champ Jelena Jankovic lost Saturday on grass to Anna Chakvetadze, but Jankovic has been one of the two hottest players on the tour for the last three months. If Henin falters, Jankovic could be a sleeper.

The real player to watch out for is Venus Williams. Venus is playing brilliant tennis, and her game suits Wimbledon better than any current player's. Venus is my early choice.

The 'detrimental' response

Wednesday's column addressing the huge number of international players on the tennis rosters of American colleges apparently struck a vein. Basically, the column pointed to the detrimental effect on American tennis caused by win-driven college programs that are practically mailing our tax dollars to other countries through the practice of awarding an outlandish percentage of their scholarship funds to non-U.S. players.

--Ben Hough of Summerville e-mailed: "I can speak from experience as to how frustrating it is to make it on a college team. I grew up playing tennis in S.C. and attended Winthrop University. I was a walk-on in '98 and '99. I was the only American on the team. It was a frustrating experience since most of the team was from South America. I don't think Winthrop has had an American on the men's team since I graduated in 2000."

--Carol and Bob Zemnickas e-mailed: "We are transplants from the Midwest and have always questioned why our tax money is used for scholarships for foreign students."

--Angela Williams of Mount Pleasant e-mailed: "My son in-law, former tennis coach in Columbia, former attorney and now AD at Pfeiffer University in N.C., has commented on the same issue of the repercussions of bringing in so many international players. I remember when I lived in Greenwood (20 years ago now) and watched Joe Cabri's Lander teams, there was hardly a U.S. player visible. We sent our children to Furman's tennis camp with Paul Scarpa..."

--Others also emphasized that the NCAA should set a limit for non-U.S. players on each college team. Two sounds like a fair number. More American parents might then encourage their juniors to stick with and maybe even rely on tennis through the sometimes turbulent transition from teenager to adulthood — the college years and early professional life. It's these juniors, through their parents' bank accounts, that are supporting many of our teaching pros.

Elliget Southern champ

Summerville's Adam Elliget marched through all comers in singles and doubles to go 11-0 and win the singles and doubles titles in the boys' 10 division of the Southern Closed last week at Lexington.

--Austin Heinz of Daniel Island reached the quarterfinals of the boys' 12 Southern Closed. He then advanced to the semifinals of the Gold Consolation.

--In Rome, Ga., Shelby Rogers lost in the round of 16 in the girls' 16 Southerns, then took four straight matches before falling in the consolation final. Fellow Players Club junior Jamie Harrell made it to the round of 32 in the girls' 16 Southerns.

--Mishka Scarafile won the boys' 14 singles title in the Sea Island (Ga.) Junior Clay Courts.

Kriese returning

Veteran Clemson men's coach Chuck Kriese will return to Maybank Tennis Center from July 9-13 for his Total Tennis Training Camp. Spaces are available by contacting Maybank pro Toni Young (343-8393) or Maybank (406-8814).

--With the league tennis mixed doubles league going full steam and the local combo doubles league getting ready to start, Young will hold an adult tennis camp at Maybank Wednesday-Friday from 6:30-8 p.m. Young also has announced that after two weeks with no openings she has some spaces available for this coming week's junior camps. Contact Young for information.


(06/20/07)  Who said Americans can't win?
How did it happen? How could the Georgia men and Georgia Tech women win NCAA tennis championships?

Both rosters were dominated by U.S. players, although unbeaten Georgia did have two starting singles players from other countries.

So, what's all the talk about college tennis teams being unable to compete without recruiting foreign players?

Maybe, there's just not enough Bryan Sheltons to go around. Shelton is the former ATP Tour player who returned to his alma mater in 2000 to coach the Georgia Tech women. The top five players, and seven of the top eight, on Georgia Tech's national championship team are from the United States.

And I had never thought of Georgia Tech being a national tennis power. By the way, it's Georgia Tech's first modern-day NCAA title in any sport. The school's four football titles were via wire polls.

Shelton didn't need international contacts. He simply hopped in his car and drove around the Atlanta area, or maybe ventured over to Birmingham, Ala., or up to St. Louis. And then there were the other Americans, from the "far-away" cold midwestern states of Ohio and Michigan. There you have it, Shelton's entire recruiting junket.

Oh, I almost forgot about the No. 6 player, the one from South Africa. Even then, Shelton didn't have to search very far for senior Tarryn Rudman. She came all the way from Starksville, Miss., where she had attended Mississippi State for two years.

This Georgia Tech national championship must be a school president's or athletic director's dream. Every school should be so lucky.

Depriving U.S. juniors

For every college team that tries to cater to American players, there's a dozen that sell out our juniors.

Of course, this is more about the future of U.S. tennis than just about college tennis. It's the trickle-down effect.

For every foreign player that receives a tennis scholarship, some U.S. junior is being deprived of a scholarship. If there's no pot of scholarship gold at the end of the rainbow, many American juniors simply toss in their rackets. Or they and their parents can see the light at the end of the tunnel earlier and exchange their rackets for a volleyball or soccer ball.

The colleges themselves are at fault for buying the theory from their coaches that they can't compete with a roster full of Americans. College presidents should be storming the NCAA in protest of the lack of adequate rules restricting the number of foreigners receiving tennis scholarships.

Mixed reviews

Locally, there are mixed reviews. Only three of The Citadel's eight players were Americans. Yet, the Bulldogs lost their last 18 matches and finished 2-21.

The College of Charleston men also featured five non-U.S. players, and advanced to the Southern Conference final. The SoCon runner-up C of C women had three foreign players.

At Charleston Southern, this season's men's and women's rosters included a total of 13 foreign players.

Minority juniors and their parents, as well as others, should really be upset about what's happening at South Carolina State. Of the 14 players listed on S.C. State's men's and women's rosters, none are from the United States. That's zero.

Then, there are teams like Paul Scarpa's Furman men. The Paladins' roster included only one foreign player.


(06/17/07)  Rogers' next goal is Southern title
Shelby Rogers has to be serious about tennis. Otherwise, she wouldn't wake up every morning with tennis on her mind and head off to a 90-minute workout, knowing that school and more tennis will dominate practically her entire day.

It's that kind of commitment to tennis that separates the 14-year-old Daniel Island girl from most other young players. Few players win five singles titles at Belton in a full junior career. Shelby already has five ... and counting.

"My goal is to go as far as I can (in tennis) ... wherever it takes me, college, pros," Rogers said Friday. "I would hope to turn pro, but it depends on a lot of things ... tournaments, high school, college. I really can't tell right now."

Today, tennis is taking Rogers to Rome, Ga., to compete in the Southern girls' 16 championships. Luckily, she's the fifth seed, which means she has received a pair of byes and won't start play in the 256-draw tournament until Monday. Later this summer, she will play in her first national championship events. She is currently ranked 10th in the South.

A successful summer would make it even easier for Rogers to climb out of bed each morning to face another day of tennis training. An occasional sleep-in must be tempting.

Rogers has to wake early in the morning in order to arrive at Mount Pleasant's Players Club for a 7:30 workout. Freshman classes at Charleston's First Baptist Church School started at 10 a.m. for Rogers in her just completed school year as the result of her attending school last summer to build up credits. After school wrapped up at 2:30 p.m., she rushed back to the Players Club for three more hours of drills. First Baptist does not have a high school tennis team.

It's almost like Rogers has two jobs. She even goes to her tennis job on Saturday mornings. The Players Club is like a second home to her. She trains under club director Fritz Nau and coach Bryan Minton.

Of course, training at the Players Club allows Rogers to drill with the area's elite juniors. Rogers was one of four local singles titlists at Belton, and three of them train at the Players Club. "I love it," the 5-8 right-hander said about her tennis training.

How did she roll so convincingly to her second straight 16-and-under title at Belton?

"I just tried to be consistent, and played my game. My game is playing smart and mixing it up," she said, adding that her backhand is the strongest part of her game.

To accompany her singles trophies from Belton, she now has her first doubles title from the state's premier junior tournament. She teamed with fellow Players Club player Caroline Thornton to win the girls' 18 doubles crown.

--Shelby isn't the first member of her family to star in tennis. Older sister Sabra Rogers recently was named an All-American in doubles after advancing to the NCAA Division III quarterfinals in doubles as a freshman at Emory University. The former Bishop England standout played No. 1 doubles for Emory.

A Young pro

School of the Arts product Ryan Young already has turned pro. He's in Bangkok playing in $10,000 International Tennis Federation Futures tournaments. "He's a pro now ... he's making money playing tennis," said his mother, Maybank Tennis Center pro Toni Young.

Young actually won the doubles title in his first tournament as a pro. Unable to get into the initial singles tournament in Bangkok after just completing his college career at Clemson, Young entered doubles with former Clemson teammate Nathan Thompson. They knocked off the top seeds in the first round and continued to win.

Young has one semester of college left. He expects to graduate in December with a degree in sports management.

Club Cup scheduled

The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Trident Area will hold the second annual Club Cup Tennis Tournament Aug. 3-5. The tournament will be played at the I'On Club, the Players Club, and Creekside Tennis and Swim.

Each team will consist of a minimum of eight men and eight women, with the men's divisions from 3.0-4.5 and the women from 2.5-4.0. For information, contact coordinator Bridget Bettelli (bbettelli@bgclubta.org or 937-6487).


(06/13/07)  Federer again powerless to solve Nadal on clay
The silence is deafening.

Roger Federer fans are in hibernation for at least a few weeks. They can't believe what Rafael Nadal did to their man.

Nadal didn't just defeat Federer, the Spaniard practically destroyed the player his supporters are so quick to proclaim as the all-time greatest.

The cruel truth is that Nadal actually didn't play that great in Sunday's French Open final — except, of course, on 16 of the 17 break points he faced. He was vintage Nadal on those.

But it was those saved break points, especially the ones in the first set, that crushed Federer's confidence, and eventually made Federer surrender.

This is the quietest I've heard Federer fans in a long time. No e-mails. No telephone calls. Only silence.

Just the opposite of other Grand Slams. After Federer fought off Nadal at Wimbledon and then overwhelmed Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open, I was flooded by e-mails from all over the world, protesting my analyses and proclaiming Federer's invincibility.

French observations

--As John McEnroe kept pushing Federer to the net, the Swiss player often paid a price when he listened. It was much easier to be successful at the net in McEnroe's heyday before oversized rackets and new technology practically took the net game out of singles.

Nadal's heavy topspin from both sides exposed Federer's low backhand volley as a soft spot in his armor. While Federer's high backhand volley is immaculate, his backhand volley on hard-hit, net-hugging balls is only average for a world-class player.

After seeing the way Nadal took his backhand volley apart, it's easy to understand why Federer is so content to win matches from the baseline.

--Nadal might not win Wimbledon right away, but the odds are that he will within the next five years, along with some very significant hard-court events. With that in mind, don't rule out the possibility of Nadal being the next player to complete a career Grand Slam.

--Wonder if Federer is having second thoughts about dismissing Tony Roche as his coach. Federer might need Roche's advice at Wimbledon.

If Federer really thinks he can tame Nadal on clay, then perhaps he needs to hire a clay-court coach, say Michael Chang or maybe the king himself, Bjorn Borg.

Players Club's successes numerous at Belton

Belton might need to rename its Palmetto Championships to the Players Club Championships if the Mount Pleasant club continues to grow as a training center for juniors. Three of the area's four Belton singles champions (Addison King in boys' 12, Meghan Blevins in girls' 14 and Shelby Rogers in girls' 16) are from the Players Club. Four other players from the Players Club (Caroline Thornton in girls' 18 doubles, Brooke Mosteller in girls' 18 singles, Austin Heinz in boys' 12 singles and Ellie Halbauer in girls' 10 doubles) either won a doubles title or were runner-up in singles.

The star of the show, of course, was the 14-year-old Rogers, who not only won her fifth Belton singles title but also the girls' 18 doubles crown. "Shelby is automatic at Belton," insisted Players Club director Fritz Nau.

While all of that was going on, the Players Club had a group of eight juniors on a two-week trip to the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona, Spain, including Nau's 10-year-old son, Ryan. The others on the trip are Natalie Santiago, Jackson Pride, Connor Clements, Elliot Epstein, Ashleigh Marino, Alex Santiago and Charles Sullivan.

The group will head to London later this summer to attend Wimbledon for two days. Natalie Santiago and her mother, Lori, flew from Spain to Paris to see the last two rounds of the French Open.

Summerville's Adam Elliget won the area's other singles crown at Belton, in boys' 10, and also took doubles in the division. Corey Caulder of Family Circle Tennis Center teamed with Halbauer to take the girls' 10 doubles title.

Another Courting Kids

The City of Charleston's Courting Kids program is heading into its second-week of its summer session. Saturday's sessions are held at the Alan Fleming Tennis Center on Johns Island from 10-11:30 a.m., with the program moving to Charleston's Jack Adams Tennis Center on Mondays from 5:30-7 p.m.


(06/11/07)  'Greatest' status on the line
The pressure continues to grow for Roger Federer.

Now, the great Swiss player has to hope that he, and not Nadal, prevails next month at Wimbledon. The whole "greatest player" equation is at stake for Federer, more now than ever before.

Make no mistake about it, Federer is one of the all-time greats. He carries a magic wand, making shots many former greats couldn't have made.

We all talk about how Federer came along at a convenient time to make his mark on the game's history. But what if a fellow named Rafael Nadal hadn't arrived on the scene at about the time Federer started winning Grand Slams.

In a no-Nadal world, Federer might have three more Grand Slam titles. That would have almost certainly made Federer the greatest player ever, especially since the three titles likely would have come on clay.

But this chase for immortality might not be over for Federer. He really might be the best player ever. He just has to continue proving it.

While Federer failed Sunday when Nadal wallowed in the red clay of Roland Garros, the pressure continued to mount. If Nadal happens to pull a Bjorn Borg and win Wimbledon, the face of men's tennis could change.

And, yes, Nadal is fully capable of winning on Wimbledon's grass. He demonstrated that last year in his charge to the final, and then again in striking fear into Federer's heart on Wimbledon's championship Sunday.

A better Nadal?

Even on Wimbledon's grass, once the serve is out of the way and the rally is on, Nadal is at least the equal of Federer. The serve is the one thing that could make Nadal a better player, although he seemed to have the perfect serve almost every time he needed it (16 saves on 17 break points) in his 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 conquest of Federer in Sunday's French Open final.

Just imagine how difficult Nadal would be to break if he had that little extra pop on his first serve.

And you know Nadal is going to get his own share of service breaks, because of his return game and sheer intensity on every shot.

But Rafael and uncle Toni Nadal understandably must be hesitant about such a change. The serve has been good to Nadal already, producing a third Grand Slam title eight days into his 21st year. That's not too bad, considering that Federer didn't win his first Grand Slam until a month before his 22nd birthday.

First set decisive

The intense first set likely decided the latest Federer-Nadal showdown. Federer used so much energy while losing the opening set that Nadal appeared to be in control most of the match.

Only one loose service game by Nadal in the second set allowed Federer to give his fans any hope.

Nadal's intensity, focus and determination to win every point wore Federer into submission. Nadal seemed to will Federer into defeat by saving five break points to hold service in the sixth game of the match. Federer then immediately dropped his serve at love.

When Nadal came back from love-40 in his next service game, Federer was a beaten man. The realization that Nadal had never lost on clay in a five-set format haunted Federer until the end.


(06/10/07)  Could loss linger for Ivanovic?
Ana Ivanovic looked perfectly fine afterwards. She was as poised and beautiful as ever.

But you’ve got to wonder what effect her performance in the French Open final will have on her career. The match brought back comparisons of the 2005 French final in which Mary Pierce was badly outmatched by Justine Henin. After Saturday’s first two games, Ivanovic looked like anything but a world- class player the rest of the match.

As usual, Henin made the most of the moment against the 19-year-old Serbian. Henin became the cold­hearted assassin that when given a shot calls for heavy artillery.

Henin’s controlled power and aggression were simply too much for Ivanovic to handle in her first true test on the big stage. To be perfectly honest, Henin might have beaten any other woman in tennis decisively on this day.

But this was more than a 6-1, 6­2 victory for Henin. It was a total mismatch. Ivanovic now must know how Maria Sharapova felt after being humiliated twice ear­lier this year by Serena Williams as well as how Sharapova felt af­ter being mauled by Ivanovic in the French semifinals.

Sharapova recovered from her earlier humiliation, but not everyone is a Maria Sharapova.

The question is just what effect will such an embarrassing per­formance have on Ivanovic, if she reaches another major final.

Such an ungluing could have lin­gering effects. And to think the day looked so promising for Ivanovic when she led 1-0, 40-0. It all came apart for her in the third game when a clear double fault by Henin was reversed to take away a 0-30 score after Ivanovic checked out what obvi­ously was the wrong ball mark on the red clay. After the chair umpire reversed the call, the TV audience was shown an instant replay that placed the ball’s impact 6-8 inches beyond the service line.

And you might say, that was the match. Ivanovic no longer had control of her big game.

Of course, Ivanovic now has something in common with Jelena Jankovic other than their Serbian backgrounds. While Jankovic didn’t come completely unglued in a 6-2, 6-2 loss to Hen­in in the semifinals, the score was nearly as bad.

Great players such as Henin have a way of making opponents look awkward when the eyes of the world are focused on them.

Hopefully for Ivanovic, Saturday was just one of those days.

Ivanovic’s three-game yield to Sharapova was a shocker, but Ivanovic’s game has some of Serena Williams’ traits in that both are north-south hitters. The north-south scheme exposed Sharapova’s lack of natural mo­bility and quickness, taking away Sharapova’s powerful inside- out crosscourt forehands over the low part of the net after running around her backhand.

Nadal-Federer French III

While fans got less than their money’s worth from the women, today’s men’s final has the poten­tial to be one of the most exciting matches in memory.

Neither of these two great champions can be expected to voluntarily yield to the situation.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have been here before.

Federer’s greatness won’t accept anything less than a great perfor­mance, while Nadal is one of ten­nis’ all-time great competitors.

Federer’s amazing shot-making ability normally is tested only by opponents who have the talent and competitiveness to make him hit the extra shot as well as having their own arsenal of weapons. Nadal fits that descrip­tion with his fierce determina­tion, quickness, raw athleticism, and left-handed spin and power.

This precise combination tends to make Federer go for too much too often, forcing him out of his comfort zone. In winning eight of the last 11 Grand Slams, Federer has faced that type of opponent only a few times, most notably in losses to Marat Safin in the 2005 Australian Open and Nadal in the last two French Opens. Federer will have to avoid that trap today to move beyond being just one of the great players.


(06/06/07)  Talented Robredo can't keep head in game

Just as there is a sharp contrast between the tennis games of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, there's a vast difference between the mental games of Federer and the likes of Tommy Robredo.

Just watching Robredo, he appears to have as much athletic and tennis ability as Federer. Robredo can virtually match Federer's shot-making, that is, until the first-set score reaches 5-5. Robredo's mind then appears to sail away to another planet.

The Spaniard played spectacularly in the second set and immediately gained a break point in the third set. But the spaceship returned and Robredo jumped aboard, leaving Federer with a 7-5, 1-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory.

For a 25-year-old with as much ability as Robredo to start playing and acting like a kid while going on space walks has to be discouraging to his veteran coach, Jose Clavet.

Federer is a great player, but it never hurts to have luck on your side. He was doubly lucky when Robredo defeated Filippo Volandri in the round of 16 and Nikolay Davydenko upended Guillermo Canas in Tuesday's quarterfinals, leaving Federer with only one nemesis in his path to immortality — Nadal.

--I like Jelena Jankovic's chances better than ever, even though the Family Circle Cup champion now faces Justine Henin in the semifinals. Jankovic is light on her feet, consistent and mobile, with the ability to hit the big shot when needed. In addition to those strengths, she can change the direction of a rally at almost any time.

Comcast smilers

Local tennis fans hooked into Comcast Cable have been smiling the last 10 days or so, while most other tennis fans in the area with basic cable have been wearing frowns. A year ago, tennis fans with cable TV were happily viewing free live coverage of the French Open on ESPN2.

The Tennis Channel, which has the U.S. cable TV rights for the French Open, launched on Charleston's Comcast cable on May 25 with a no-charge preview during the French Open. That preview period will last only through next Monday, at which time the Tennis Channel no longer will be available to Comcast basic cable subscribers. Only digital service will offer the Tennis Channel, which will be part of a $5 sports tier. That's a total increase of about $20 per month.

Knology has been offering the same service for some time now, also approximately for $20 a month more than basic cable.

Fortunately, local non-Comcast basic subscribers have been able to see the French Open in the afternoons on ESPN2, mostly on a delayed basis.

Of course, Friday can't arrive too soon when NBC swings into live action at 10 a.m. with the men's semifinals, followed by the weekend finals.

Almost everyone can celebrate in the fact that the Tennis Channel currently doesn't have the cable rights to Wimbledon or the U.S. Open.

Local notes

--Four Charleston teams reached the semifinals of the league tennis state 3.0 and 3.5 championships last weekend in Greenville, but none came home with a first-place trophy. John Fanning's 3.5 men from the Mount Pleasant Recreation Department and Debbie Sisco's 3.5 women from Charleston Tennis Center both reached the finals.

The other two semifinalists were the 3.0 women's Hotshots from Family Circle Tennis Center, captained by Anne Lyle, and Doug Coupe's 3.5 men from the Daniel Island Club.

League tennis' combo doubles registration opened Tuesday. Teams have until June 29 to register for the league, which is expected to start play in mid-July, according to Lowcountry Tennis Association president Bob Peiffer.

--Charleston area players Susie Peiffer, Cindy Babb and Brenda Carter led the South Carolina women's 55 team to first place in last weekend's nine-state Southern Senior Cup in Columbus, Ga.

Overall, the S.C. women tied for first in the competition, while the men finished second overall. The S.C. team, which was made up of men and women in different age groups, took second place overall.

--The Lowcountry Junior Tennis Association's Slamboree, which was rained out on Saturday, will be held today from 5-8 p.m. at Family Circle Tennis Center.


(06/03/07)  A bumpy road ahead for Federer

It’s too early to get excited about Roger Federer’s play in the French Open. Sure, he has three one-sided victories, but he might as well have been playing on the satellite circuit.

If you’ve ever heard of Michael Russell, Thierry Ascione and Potito Starace, you’re a true fan of the ATP Tour. Maybe even an expert. Their combined world ranking is just shy of 300.

Federer’s French Open is about to start.

The bad news for Federer may be that Federer slayer Guillermo Canas is in his half of the draw.

To get to that possible show­down, Federer must get by tal­ented Russian Mikhail Youzhny and then maybe another Federer stopper, Italy’s Filippo Volandri, who proved he is for real by up­setting Ivan Ljubicic.

Nadal’s good fortune

The best thing that has happened to Rafael Nadal in recent weeks was his loss to Federer in Hamburg after easily winning the first set. If Nadal had shown up in Paris with an 82-match winning streak on clay, his task might have been insur­mountable.

Not that Nadal’s path ahead is an easy one. Suddenly rejuve­nated Lleyton Hewitt is cocky enough to think that he can beat Nadal in the fourth round, even on clay. We’ll see.

Then there’s the possible Nadal matchup with young Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. But Nadal is nothing short of an animal on red clay. “He is just unbelievable on this surface. He is becoming the Bjorn Borg for this era,” John McEnroe said.

Former clay- court master Borg calls Nadal the new rock star of tennis.

But time is running out for Federer, according to McEnroe: “There’s a small window for him . . . if he’s going to win the French it’s going to have to be real soon.” Federer will turn 26 in August.

Justine’s Waterloo

Justine Henin’s Waterloo in Paris might come early in the week against Dinara Safina — that is, if Safina takes care of Serena Williams today. Serena has looked strong, but Safina is the better clay- court player of the two, even as a big hitter.

Although Safina is still looking for her big breakthrough, she has the tools to handle both Ser­ena and Henin. Look for Marat Safin’s little sister to win a Grand Slam before she’s finished.

All of that should make Jelena Jankovic feel pretty good about her chances. She’s a virtual cinch for the semifinals against Henin, Safina or Serena.

But there’s no overlooking tal­ented Svetlana Kuznetsova in the bottom half of the draw where Maria Sharapova is still alive.

Sharapova looks about as sharp as Roger Federer. And the Rus­sian is doing it the same way as Federer, taking advantage of short balls to run around her backhand and deliver devastat­ing inside- out forehands cross­court over the low part of the net. The secret to disarming Sharapova on that shot is the method Serena Williams used in humiliating Sharapova in Miami and the Australian Open while yielding a total of five games — deep down-the-line shots that take away Sharapova’s crosscourt angle when Sharapova runs around her backhand as well as limits the time she has to set up for those shots.

Sharapova’s red- clay run likely will end today against Patty Schnyder’s deep high-kicking left-handed spin.

Slamboree postponed

The Lowcountry Junior Tennis Association’s inaugural citywide Slamboree was rained out Satur­day at Family Circle Tennis Cen­ter and has been rescheduled for Wednesday from 5- 8 p.m.

The event will feature a variety of tennis activities, workshops, games, clinics and contests, as well as vendor booths. Pros from across the area will represent their facilities at the Slamboree, which will be free to all ages. The Charleston Pro Tennis League also will stage exhibitions.


(05/30/07)  After promising starts, top Americans' hopes fade fast on red clay
You have to give Andy Roddick and James Blake some credit. The two top Americans, at least, showed up in Paris thinking they could win a few matches on red clay.

Of course, one set each doesn't equal success. They got their one set early Tuesday, then dropped the next three.

Roddick and Blake now have nearly two weeks to wonder why they even spent so much time preparing for the European clay-court season.

These two all-or-nothing hitters could just as easily have found a reason for not showing up for the French Open. But to admit publicly that they don't have the games to compete successfully on red clay might have devastating effects on their careers, not to mention that the Grand Slam tournaments are mandatory events for the pro tours.

The only way Roddick and Blake can look at their dismal performances in Paris is that they now have nearly a month to prepare for Wimbledon's grass.

Losing to Igor Andreev in four sets wasn't so dreadful for Roddick, considering the Russian's ability on clay. Andreev was once ranked as high as 24th in the world before falling to injuries. He has the type of game and ability to go deep into the draw.

Roddick shouldn't hang his head over this loss, other than it's the second straight year the former world's No. 1 player has been eliminated in the first round of the French Open.

Roddick still likely will fare well at Wimbledon, or maybe even win in London if he can get some help with Roger Federer. Roddick's big serve will pay better dividends on the grass than it did on red clay.

For Blake, it's a different matter. He has reverted back to being terribly erratic because of his persistent overhitting.

Blake shouldn't lose to 6-10 Ivo Karlovic on any surface. That's especially true for clay, even if the Croatian did win last month's U.S. Clay Courts. Blake will have to dig deep after this one if he is to go into Wimbledon with any kind of chance.

Serena no threat

Serena Williams only looks like a threat in Paris. She would have to be at the very top of her game to have a chance to win the French. This isn't the Australian Open or even Miami's Sony Ericsson Open. And Serena isn't the Serena of old, yet.

The only thing Serena has going for her in Paris is the fact she has won this tournament. Otherwise, she wouldn't be considered a contender.

You've got to like Justine Henin's chances to win again. If not, then Jelena Jankovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova or Amelie Mauresmo, in that order. Maria Sharapova's game is no more suited for the French than Roddick's or Blake's.

Where's ESPN2?

I really miss ESPN2's live morning French Open coverage. These taped telecasts aren't the same. But I'm still holding out on upgrading to a premium package that would include the Tennis Channel. It's a matter of principle.

King success

Addison King, who trains at Mount Pleasant's Players Club, had a big weekend in Norcross, Ga., advancing all the way to Monday's final of the Peach State boys' 12 nationals before losing.


(05/27/07)  Beach tennis getting increasing exposure
Chris Henderson's goal is to one day see beach tennis in the Olympics now that the sport has rocketed out of the starting gate with a stream of publicity coinciding with the launching of its new national circuit.

Sports Illustrated jumped aboard recently with an article about the sport that arrived in the United States two years ago. And now, beach tennis is featured in its own online video.

The online TV show Better TV brought a crew to last month's Family Circle Cup where the hosts couldn't resist the sand-filled beach tennis court on the edge of the complex. In the online film clip, Henderson takes on the hosts in the sport in which he and partner Phil Whitesell are ranked No. 1 in the world. An interview with Henderson follows the beach tennis match.

To view the show, go online to www.better.tv, click on the events drop-down menu, then the beach tennis icon. The site includes a Family Circle Cup selection, which also features comments about beach tennis being part of the activities during Family Circle week. The two videos are about four minutes each.

Henderson, after suffering his first beach tennis loss with Whitesell recently in Miami, is getting ready for Beach Tennis USA's June 23 stop at the Family Circle complex for the Carolina Beach Tennis Open. At stake will be berths in the national tournament Sept. 1-2 in New York. Henderson and Whitesell, as two-time defending national champions, already have qualified for the New York event.

The Carolina Open will feature the beach tennis debut of Charleston's Diane Fishburne, who has won national and world singles titles in women's 50 tennis and took third in the national doubles with Belton's Rita Anderson.

Cabri hall of famer

Charleston resident Sam Bradford felt honored to be able to attend last Wednesday's National Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame ceremonies in Athens, Ga., and to be present when his former tennis coach, Joe Cabri, was inducted into the shrine. Bradford is a 1977 graduate of Lander, where Cabri's men's teams won 12 national titles during his 31 years as coach. Ten of the national titles came in succession from 1991-2000, the last eight in NCAA Division II after Lander moved up from NAIA competition.

Several local pros played for Cabri at Lander, including the City of Charleston's Fredrik Andersson, Pine Forest Country Club's Lee Holyoak and MUSC's Ben Simon, all of whom played on national championship teams. That news prompted Bradford to joke, "I played before they got good."

Lander plans to construct a new 12-court complex near its Greenwood campus. The courts were dedicated and named in Cabri's honor Saturday night during a ceremony that Bradford attended.

Rogers sparkles

Fourteen-year-old Shelby Rogers advanced to the semifinals in girls' 16 in the recent National Open in Marietta, Ga. She is ranked ninth in the South. Next up for Rogers and other local juniors will be the 51st annual Palmetto Championships, also known as Belton. Rogers won the girls' 16 title last year and will compete in that division again as she aims for a fifth Belton singles title.

--Belton will have an odd starting date this year, Tuesday, June 5, and will run through the following Monday to accommodate late school graduations.

Casey comes through

When the University of the South's women upset second-ranked Williams, 4-3, to take third place in the NCAA Division III championships, former James Island High standout Jordan Casey saved the day for Sewanee by rallying from a set down to win No. 6 singles. The third-place finish is the highest nationally for any Sewanee athletic team.

Slamboree next Saturday

The Lowcountry Tennis Association will hold the inaugural citywide Slamboree next Saturday from 1-4 p.m. at Family Circle Tennis Center. It will feature a variety of tennis activities, workshops, games, clinics and contests, as well as vendor booths. Pros from across the area will represent their facilities at the Slamboree, free to all ages. The Charleston Pro Tennis League also will stage exhibitions.


(05/23/07)  Fishburne again on winning roll
Diane Fishburne is back from knee surgery with a bang. She's a world champion for the third time. The former College of Charleston star won the women's 50 singles title in the International Tennis Federation's recent senior world championships in Antalya, Turkey. She followed that up by winning the National Hard Courts women's 50 crown in La Jolla, Calif.

Fishburne missed most of 2006 with the knee injury, but the 49-year-old appeared to be fully recovered as she defeated world top-ranked Susan Wright of Grand Junction, Colo., for her first world title since 2004. She also defeated Wright in the national finals.

Formerly ranked No. 1, Fishburne has climbed back to No. 2 in the world. She led the U.S. women to the 50-and-over world team championship in the Maria Bueno Cup prior to starting individual competition.

Fishburne, who will turn 50 in December, also teamed with Catherine Anderson of Del Mar, Calif., to take third place in women's 50 doubles at the National Hard Courts.

Carter wins nationals

Fishburne wasn't alone in her success in the nationals. Charleston's Brenda Carter, who is ranked No. 3 in the world in women's 60, captured the national 60-and-over singles and doubles titles in La Jolla. She teamed with Betty Wachob of Panama City, Fla., in doubles.

Applegate runner-up

Porter-Gaud product Emily Applegate came within one win of repeating as the NCAA Division III women's singles champion over the weekend in Fredericksburg, Va. After winning five straight matches, the Washington & Lee senior fell to top-seeded Liz Bondi of DePauw in the final.

But the national competition wasn't all about consolation prizes for Applegate and her W&L teammates. The Generals won the Virginia school's first women's tennis national championship with a 5-2 victory over Amherst in their fifth appearance in the team final, as Applegate led the way with a win in singles.

--Four-time defending national champion Emory was eliminated by the University of the South in the regional final of the NCAA Division III women's playoffs. Former Bishop England star Sabra Rogers played for Emory, while James Island graduate Jordan Casey played for Sewanee.

Family wins twice

This past weekend's state league tennis championships were doubly satisfying to the Becky and Edward Fenno family. Becky's 4.5 women's team and Edward's 5.0 men's outfit both won state titles. That should make the trip to Mobile, Ala., in late July for the Southern Sectionals even shorter for the Fenno family.

Edward's team is captained by Will Shelley, while Kristen Whitehead is captain of Fenno's 4.5 women's team from Creekside Tennis and Swim.

From nowhere to top?

It's possible. Three weeks from now, formerly virtually unknown Jelena Jankovic could be the top women's player in the world.

All she has to do is win the French Open, while two-time defending champion Justine Henin falls early and second-ranked Maria Sharapova doesn't make a deep run.

Jankovic's easy victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova in Sunday's final in Rome pushed the Family Circle Cup champion to a career-high No. 4 ranking.


(05/20/07)  Returning to its old habits
The Family Circle Cup is up to its old habits: Launching a new superstar.

The newest superstar may be Jelena Jankovic very shortly. Since winning last month’s Family Circle Cup, Jankovic has been a semifinalist in Warsaw and a quarterfinalist in Berlin, losing both times in three-setters to Justine Henin.

Having climbed to a career-high No. 5 in the world rankings, Jankovic is in the final of another Tier I event in Rome. And maybe fortunately for Jankovic, Henin didn’t play Rome. Jankovic will face Svetlana Kuznetsova today.

Magazine off the mark

I’m not a big fan of players retiring on a whim, the way Serena Williams and Tatiana Golovin quit the Family Circle Cup. But the current issue of Tennis magazine is off the mark when writer Bruce Schoenfeld makes statements about Henin’s play in last year’s Australian Open final: “Four games from losing a straight-set final to Amelie Mauresmo, Henin retired.”

How does anyone know that defeat was just four games away, unless Henin was going to tank the rest of the match. And whether you like this smallish Belgian or not, she’ll never quit fighting in a match. I’ve seen Henin get that totally “wiped-out” look a couple of other times, most notably in last year’s three-set semifinal loss to Patty Schnyder at the Family Circle Cup.

Henin wouldn’t have been able to have lived with herself is she had just gone through the motions and finished the match against Mauresmo. The “four games” away assumption is out of focus to anyone who plays competitive tennis. Down 2-0 in the second set even after losing the first one 6-1, and the match is over? Hardly, especially if you’re Justine Henin.

I know that might sound like  double standard, but in my opinion Henin is the fiercest competitor in professional tennis once she takes the court. Henin is not unlike most of the other top players, however, in the art of withdrawing from tournaments on an apparent whim before starting play.

Another showdown

Roger Federer’s decision to drop Tony Roche as his coach is looking good so far in winning three different three-set matches to reach the Hamburg final. He should be battle-tested for today’s showdown against clay-court master Rafael Nadal. A strong showing against Nadal would give Federer’s confidence a major boost going into the French Open in eight days.

Young, but good

Young Anderson Scarpa doesn’t play high school tennis. One reason is that his school, First Baptist School of Charleston, doesn’t field a boys’ team. But that didn’t keep the seventh-grader on the sidelines for te recent SCISA Open singles championships.

Since Scarpa attends a SCISA school, he was allowed to  participate in the tournament. He came through with a semifinal appearance, losing to Porter-Gaud junior Richard Pearce, the eventual champion. Scarpa’s father, local tennis court builder Skip Scarpa, is the nephew of college tennis’ winningest active coach, Furman’s Paul Scarpa.

If course, it was quite an accomplishment for Pearce to win the SCISA title. After a solid regular season, Pearce came into his own in the post season. Although Richard was unable to keep older brother Robert’s streak of four straight SCISA Class AAA state championships going, the young Porter-Gaud team should be a strong contender for next year’s state crown.


(05/16/07)  Some young pros' focus off the ball
Some young pro tennis players are starting to worry so much about their futures that they're letting that concern have a negative impact on their present lives, which ultimately will dictate their futures.

Andy Murray turned 20 years old Tuesday. He now thinks things like the Davis Cup are unimportant, that he should skip further competition to concentrate on his singles career. Of course, he suffered a wrist injury on Tuesday in Hamburg that is having its effects.

"I think the older you get you have to decide what the most important things are for you to do," he was quoted.

What? The older you get? If they really had to worry about their futures, they would be getting ready for their junior or senior years of undergraduate studies. These kids-turned-adults millionaires have things all out of perspective.

"(Roger) Federer and (Rafael) Nadal — Nadal's what? Twenty years old now and he's started missing Davis Cup as well — and I kind of think you have to decide what your priorities are," Murray said.

The priorities are if the top players don't play Davis Cup, eventually Davis Cup will go away. And other tennis staples will begin to follow.

Casualty of losses

If you thought Federer wasn't worried about his string of losses to the previously obscure, think again. Federer immediately discharges his coach of the last couple of years, Tony Roche.

This may boil down to Roche emphasizing to Federer that he needs to further develop his net game. Federer appears to be quite happy dominating from the baseline.

At least, he was.

Doubles the key?

Nadal obviously isn't content on the baseline and apparently intends to improve his net skills. He's playing doubles like he really enjoys this different game.

You've got to wonder if doubles is playing a major role in Nadal's 2007 singles success. He's played doubles in five events with three different partners, going 9-5 and reaching two finals. Including this week in Hamburg, Federer hasn't been idle, having played doubles in four tournaments this year with two different partners, going 2-4.

Women win state

The 3.5 senior women from Charleston Tennis Center became the first local team so far this spring to win a state league tennis title by going unbeaten last weekend on Hilton Head Island to qualify for the Southern Sectionals in late July in Mobile, Ala.

Elisabeth Pickelsimer and Megan Zwerner serve as the captains for the 15-0 Playrights. They are supported by Shirley Adams, Pat Boyd, Claudia Budds, Gee Gee Collingsworth, Maxine Cooke, Claire Corts, Dianne Forrest, Susan Gaylard, Rebecca Gilmore, Karen Graham and Charlotte Lawson.

Walking wounded

Doug Coupe of Daniel Island reports that he has something in common with tennis' walking wounded that I commented about in last Wednesday's column. The Daniel Island Club 3.5 men's captain tore a hamstring early in the local 3.5 league tennis playoffs, but continued to play. He lost his singles match, but the Daniel Island men still qualified for next month's 3.5 state championships in Greenville, along with the unbeaten (15-0) Mount Pleasant Recreation Department's Hoppin' Johns team captained by John Fanning.

College tennis notes

Clemson's women are still in the chase for a national championship. The seventh-seeded Tigers' opponent in the NCAA round of 16 on Friday in Athens, Ga., will be the 10th-seeded California Bears.

Ryan Young and the 22nd-ranked Clemson men fell out of the national running last weekend in a second-round NCAA loss to Wake Forest after blanking Southern Conference champ Elon in the first round.

South Carolina's men failed to make the NCAA playoffs. The 25th-ranked USC women made the NCAA playoffs for the 13th straight time, but lost to Wichita State in the first round.

Charleston Southern's Mike Baker was the Big South Conference's women's coach of the year. The Bucs' Meryam Tazi and Patricia Jaeger made All-Big South.

In the Southern Conference, College of Charleston's Or Dekel was men's player of the year and all-conference in singles and doubles. His doubles partner, Marcos Digliodo, made all-conference at No. 1 doubles as well. For the College of Charleston C women, Chelsea Albertz was All-SoCon in singles. The Citadel's Daniel Dossetor was all-conference in singles and doubles, and doubles partner James Eason made the doubles team.


(05/13/07)  Nadal nipping at the heels of Federer
Rafael Nadal won't go away. He's not a bad dream. He's for real.

Nadal may not "even" win the French Open this time, but this kid-turned-adult appears to be in this game of "best ever" for the long haul. With Roger Federer going a very average 7-4 since the Australian Open — not even counting his hybrid-court loss to Nadal — it now is no longer out of the question for Nadal fans to comtemplate what it may be like at the very top of the game. Federer has suffered three losses to qualifiers in his last 11 matches. If that doesn't mean he's vulnerable to possibly being replaced very soon as the top player in the game, stay tuned. Of course, winning the French Open would change everything for Federer. But that's pretty improbable, much more so than Nadal winning Wimbledon.

Confidence is the key for Federer. Without supreme confidence, he doesn't make those spectacular inside-out cross-court forehand winners that hit within a couple of inches of the sideline, or those whip-like backhand winners. Counting the hybrid match, five losses in his last 12 matches have to be wearing on Federer's mind. Now, it's no longer just having to worry about Nadal. There's suddenly a whole army out there ready to attack. That's something Federer isn't accustomed to.

Here's what John McEnroe had to say Friday in Rome after seeing Nadal equal his 75-match winning streak on a given surface (Nadal broke the record Saturday): "The guy seems like he's unbeatable right now. Doesn't he ever have a bad day or a headache once in awhile or something? His intensity and quality level is just amazing. Those two guys (Nadal and Novak Djokovic) are the top of the line ... Someone will look at the result and think, 6-2, 6-3, it wasn't much of a match, but the scary thing is that Djokovic played well."

The bottom line

The French Open usually has been a treat for anyone with basic cable television. Early mornings were filled by ESPN2's excellent live telecasts for nearly two weeks. But things are changing this year since the Tennis Channel has acquired the U.S. cable TV rights to the French Open. The Tennis Channel has awarded ESPN2 a chunk of the coverage time, but mostly in taped slots.

So, if you want to see the French Open live before network television takes over the baton late in the tournament, it apparently will have to be through the Tennis Channel. And if you're like me, that will cost an extra $20 or so per month. Thank you, but I'll pass. Once you start paying for tennis on TV, you're hooked ... but to the detriment of the game. There's no growth for the game in this plan.

The Tennis Channel has come out with special packages to make the Tennis Channel available to more cable subscribers during the French Open, but the bottom line is still it's all about money. The following comment by Tennis Channel senior vice president for distribution Randy Brown pretty much says it all: "We're excited that so many of our distribution partners are taking the opportunity to utilize Tennis Channel's investment in marquee, Grand Slam rights to drive their customers to upgraded programming packages." You caught the words "drive" and "upgraded programming packages," right? Thanks, Tennis Channel.

Tennis really doesn't need this. Its audience will only grow smaller.

Coaches can't wait

Palmetto Christian coach Dewey Caulder can hardly wait until next season to have current fifth-grader Austin Heinz on his two-time SCISA Class A boys' tennis championship team. Another excited coach is Pinewood Prep's Heinz Maurer.

Of course, Maurer has his own Class AAA state title to smile about, along with the prospects of having current fifth-grade standout Adam Elliget on his team in 2008.

Maurer already has a sixth-grade ace, 4-11 Zac Dye, who played a major role in the Panthers' drive to the state title. Hilton Head Prep coach Royce Silvan made it a point after his team's 5-4 loss to Pinewood in Friday's final to let Zac's big brother, senior No. 1 Jeremiah Dye, know that Zac was going to be the real tennis star in the family.

Jeremiah won the decisive No. 1 doubles match with Josh Klingenberg, but Zac's win at No. 3 doubles with Scott Hayes was equally as important in the Panthers' rally to win all three doubles to claim their first state tennis title.

Overall, I can't remember a better comeback in high school tennis. Just think about it, the state championship came down to one 10-point tiebreaker at No. 1 doubles. It was a walk-off home run for the Panthers when Klingenberg boomed a huge serve for the 10th point.

--Heinz is fresh from a solid showing in the Southern Spring Closed Championships in Mobile, Ala., where he won six of eight matches and was a consolation semifinalist in boys' 12. Although only 11 years old, Heinz is ranked 36th in the South in boys' 12.


(05/12/07)  Pinewood rallies for first state title
CISA Class AAA Boys' Tennis
By James Beck
The Post and Courier
Saturday, May 12, 2007


WALTERBORO — The last two singles count. So do all three doubles.

Those five positions spelled the difference Friday afternoon, as Pinewood Prep captured its first SCISA Class AAA state boys' tennis title in an amazing 5-4 comeback victory over Hilton Head Prep.

If the Panthers (11-2) weren't counted among the dead after dropping the first four singles positions to Hilton Head (11-2), only to be kept alive in third-set tiebreakers by eighth-grader Jacob Cumbie at No. 5 and junior Scott Hayes at No. 6, they certainly looked beaten again a couple of hours later. That's when the No. 1 doubles team of senior Jeremiah Dye

and freshman Josh Klingenberg were one point from falling behind a set and 4-0.

But Dye ran back to the baseline to retrieve a lob, let the ball bounce, then smashed a spectacular winner. "If I had missed that one, we would have been down 4-0," said a happy Dye.

After that, it was all Pinewood as the Nos. 2 and 3 doubles teams finished off straight-set victories, and Dye and Klingenberg won six straight games, then took the state championship for the Panthers by blitzing Hilton Head's top two players, sophomore Mo Hookayo and freshman Nicky Kunz, in the super tiebreaker for the third set in a 4-6, 6-3, 10-3 victory.

"When we got down 3-0, Josh just clicked," Dye said about his 6-2 partner, who had struggled all afternoon until then, failing to win a game at No. 2 singles against Kunz. "We were very nervous."

But after Dye's sixth-grade brother, Zac Dye, and Hayes at No. 3 doubles, and the No. 2 team of senior Trey Bessent and eighth-grader Ladson Fishburne closed in on victories that would even the team match at 4-4, it became obvious that Hilton Head was going to have to win the No. 1 doubles position to take the title. That's when No. 1 doubles took a U-turn as Hookayo and Kunz began to struggle.

"I think the nerves shifted in the end," said Dye, who has signed to play tennis for Coker College.

Yes, doubles matter. Just ask Pinewood coach Heinz Maurer, who had been saying all week that his team would have an advantage in doubles. But he didn't expect his team to go into doubles with its back so far against the wall. And then again when Dye and Klingenberg were on the verge of being blown out.

"When we were down 3-0 in the second set (at No. 1 doubles), I thought our chances were slim," said Maurer, whose team had lost to Porter-Gaud in last year's state final. "But it was Nos. 5 and 6 singles winning in third-set tiebreakers that put us in position.

"It was a team effort. This was a good example of how important the five and six players are. This will show these kids far down in the lineup how important they are to the team.

"We won three third-set tiebreakers. That was the key."

The Panthers' top four players, Jeremiah Dye, Klingenberg, Bessent and Zac Dye, all crashed in straight sets in singles.

By winning on the hard courts at the Forest Hills public complex, the Panthers closed out the season unbeaten on hard surface.

Pinewood Prep 5, Hilton Head Prep 4

SINGLES: Mo Hookayo (HHP) def. Jeremiah Dye 6-3, 6-4; Nicky Kunz (HHP) def. Josh Klingenberg 6-0, 6-0; Will Lamson (HHP) def. Trey Bessent 6-3, 6-0; Sebastien Damas (HHP) def. Zac Dye 7-6, 6-4; Jacob Cumbie (PP) def. Joey Ryan 3-6, 6-3, 10-6; Scott Hayes (PP) def. Colby Burke 6-2, 3-6, 10-5.

DOUBLES: Jeremiah Dye/Klingenberg (PP) def. Hookayo/Kunz 4-6, 6-3, 10-3; Bessent/Ladson Fishburne (PP) def. Lamson/Damas 6-2, 6-4; Zac Dye/Hayes (PP) def. Ryan/Sam Sam Hariharan, 7-5, 6-3.


(05/09/07)  Family Circle Cup remains women's-only tournament - U.S. Men's Clay Courts not leaving Houston
The Family Circle Cup will remain a women's-only tennis event, as the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships will not be moving to Charleston next year.

The U.S. Tennis Association announced Tuesday that the Clay Courts will simply shift from Houston's Westside Tennis Club, where it has been held for the last seven years, across town to the River Oaks Country Club. The Clay Courts event is generally held the same week in April as the Family Circle Cup.

There had been speculation the Clay Courts, held here from 1988-90 at Wild Dunes Resort and on Kiawah Island, might move to Family Circle Tennis Center and become a combined men's and women's event with the 35-year-old Family Circle Cup. Family Circle Tennis Center was the site in 2004 for the USTA-hosted U.S.-Belarus Davis Cup semifinal.

"I am very confident that there will be other opportunities for future tennis events at the Family Circle Tennis Center where the timing, logistics and financial aspects of the event all work together," Family Circle Cup tournament director Robin Reynolds said Tuesday in response to the USTA's announcement about the Clay Courts. "After evaluating all the factors involved in running this event (Clay Courts) in 2008, it did not make sense for us financially or logistically.

"We've had several discussions with the USTA over the last several months regarding the U.S. Clay Court Championships and even the possibility of hosting this event sometime in the future. We have been, and will continue to be, open to the idea of a combined event but as the USTA has also mentioned, the ATP Tour has already begun discussions on implementing some major calendar reforms which could impact the U.S. Clay Court Championships dates," Reynolds said.

"The U.S. Clay Court Championships has called Houston home for the past seven years so it made sense for the USTA to follow through on their eight-year commitment to that city. I am sure that River Oaks Country Club will do a great job at hosting the event in 2008."

River Oaks, which has a 3,400-seat permanent stadium, is one of the country's oldest tennis clubs, having served as host for the River Oaks International since 1931 on red clay.

The River Oaks tournament is the oldest event in North America still played at its original location on its original surface.

"We're thrilled that the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships has found a new home in the River Oaks Country Club and will remain in Houston," said Jim Curley, USTA managing director for tournament operations.


(05/09/07)  Injuries come with the territory in tennis
Tennis players are always nursing some type of injury.

I'm not kidding. If you're a tennis player, you know what I mean.

It's just that after you get to be 30 years old or so, you realize that the injuries usually are not life- or career-threatening. So, you just play through them. Otherwise, you'd spend all your time watching reruns of Roger Federer- Rafael Nadal or the Venus-Serena Williams showdowns.

Although you've noticed that I've become a little irritated by the rash of withdrawals for tournaments such as the Family Circle Cup, I sympathize with the players a little. They actually are injured. I'm just not sure their injuries are so severe that they should be withdrawing or retiring so often or so quickly.

Tennis is a tough sport. Every part of the body seems to come into play, from the tips of the toes to the tips of the fingers. The feet are critically important, but no more so than the hands.

Toe, foot, ankle, knee and upper-leg problems probably lead the way among tennis injuries. Like most active sports, the legs receive the sternest tests. But there seems to be just about as many wrist, elbow and shoulder injuries among tennis players.

First beach tennis loss

For a while, it was looking like Chris Henderson and Phil Whitesell might never lose in beach tennis. But it happened Saturday in Miami for the first time when the Charleston team fell after 47 consecutive wins.

A France-Italy team that Henderson and Whitesell had beaten in round-robin play took the Miami title, 8-0, over a team from Aruba. The Aruba team defeated Henderson/Whitesell, 8-5, in the semifinals after having lost to the pair in all their prior meetings.

The two-time national champion Henderson/Whitesell team retained its No. 1 ranking and will defend its national title in New York in early September.

--A qualifying event for the nationals will be held June 23 at Family Circle Tennis Center. The finalists in men's and women's competition will qualify for berths in the New York tournament. The Family Circle event will have three levels — fun, amateur and pro.

--Whitesell, who has resigned as the College of Charleston's men's tennis coach, doesn't plan to return to college coaching. Maybe he has a future in beach tennis.

Kiawah No. 1 resort

Kiawah Island Golf Resort once again has been selected as Tennis Resorts Online's top tennis resort. Kiawah has had only one tennis director, former touring pro Roy Barth, since the resort opened in 1976.

Wild Dunes Resort was picked 22nd, and the Seabrook Island Club was ranked 24th. Other S.C. resorts rated included No. 8 Palmetto Dunes and No. 21 Port Royal, both located on Hilton Head Island.

You might be wondering what happened to former Tennis Magazine No. 1 Sea Pines Plantation of Hilton Head Island, which didn't make the top 25.

Two S.C. tennis camps are ranked in the top 25: No. 22 Van der Meer Tennis of Hilton Head, and No. 25 Litchfield Tennis School of Pawleys Island.

Lee honored

MUSC tennis director Jo Ann Lee has been selected as the U.S. Pro Tennis Association state pro of the year. Lee was praised for her involvement in the innovative 36-60 program for small kids and junior development.


(05/06/07)  High School League format detrimental to doubles
The South Carolina High School League usually doesn't make changes quickly, especially in its tennis format. Perhaps, that's due to the lack of emphasis most SCHSL members place on tennis.

A high percentage of SCHSL schools, especially those in rural areas, might even like to see tennis go away. So, who cares about the health of doubles?

While everyone else, except maybe the men's pro tour, appears to be coming to the rescue of doubles, the SCHSL is going its own way.

As it is now, the High School League might as well abandon doubles altogether. Under the current format of normally playing five singles and No. doubles at the same time, followed by No. 1 doubles if needed, the top players seldom get to play doubles. This format is detrimental to the game and probably even helps some top players in their decisions to skip participation on high school tennis.

Of course, the independent schools league (SCISA) takes doubles all the way — six singles followed by three doubles. And the boys and girls love it at schools like Pinewood Prep, Porter-Gaud and Palmetto Christian. If the team match is already decided, they'll usually still play all three doubles, using a mixture of top players and substitutes. As many as a dozen players, or as few as six, might get to participate in the match.

But when the S.C. Tennis Coaches Association presented a proposal to the High School League's rules committee last month to change to a format of three doubles matches, followed by six singles, the response, according to the SCTCA, was:

"They wanted each principal surveyed by the HSL to see where they stand on the issue. So, there will be no format change for upcoming 2007-08 school year."

Thus, there goes another year of wasted doubles opportunities for the public school league.

It's not a matter of the six singles/three doubles format being more advantageous to large schools, since this format requires one less than the seven players currently needed to play matches in the High School League. But the doubles possibilities are far more diverse in the proposed format.

Nadal, who?

Twenty years old and 20 titles. If Rafael Nadal gets any better, with whom might he be compared?

What if he decides to flatten out his serve and groundstrokes just a little? This guy could be winning just about everything in sight on all surfaces by the time he's 25. It's a scary thought for Roger Federer fans.

If Nadal actually does get better and waits to peak for a few more years, he could be in a league all his own. He obviously has the physical tools and mental toughness to accomplish greatness over the next five years.

Amazingly, Nadal already has a better won-lost percentage in finals than even Federer.

Applegate sparkles

Emily Applegate hasn't slowed down as a senior at Washington & Lee. The determined Porter-Gaud graduate apparently has every intention of defending the NCAA Division III singles title she won last spring.

Applegate raced through the regular season unbeaten in 12 singles matches for W&L and was named the Old Dominion Athletic Conference's player of the year. She made all-conference at No. 1 singles and doubles, going 13-1 in doubles as once-beaten W&L started the Division III playoffs this weekend.

--Nat Estes, another former Porter-Gaud standout, is starring for the W&L men's team that has won its 12th straight ODAC title. A junior, Estes went 15-6 in singles in the regular season and 11-6 in doubles, making all-conference No. 2 in singles and No. 1 in doubles.

Palmetto House benefit

Summerville's Pine Forest Country Club will stage the inaugural Palmetto House Pro-Am June 1-3. The event will benefit Summerville's Palmetto House, a non-profit charitable organization to those in need of basic human necessities. Contact Barbara Heddinger (795-1420) or go to the Web site www.palmettohouseproam.com.


(05/03/07)  Wando, PCA closing in on tennis goals
When the tennis season started, Wando and Palmetto Christian Academy had high goals for their boys' programs. Both aimed for state titles. And now these two Mount Pleasant teams are close to making that a reality on the lower and higher echelons of high school tennis. Palmetto Christian is just one win away from claiming a second straight state title in SCISA's lowest classification, Class A, while Wando needs a pair of wins at the High School League's highest level, Class AAAA.

Coach Winde Ellenberg's Wando team (17-4) faces a major challenge in today's 4:30 p.m. Lower State championship match at 2006 state runner-up West Florence (20-2).

Palmetto Christian (11-5) has experienced nothing but success since joining SCISA last year when the school fielded a freshman class for the first time. Now, those Eagles are sophomores. Coach Dewey Caulder is going for his fourth state championship in two years, also having won two girls' state titles. The Eagles' opponent in the final will be Cambridge Academy of Greenwood, which scored a 6-3 victory over Trident Academy Wednesday in Columbia in the semifinals. The Cambridge-Palmetto Christian match likely will be played Friday in Columbia.

Wando is making its second straight appearance in the lower state title match against West Florence. After outlasting the Warriors, 4-3, last year on the Wando courts, perennial power West Florence may be even better this time.

"They're strong all the way through," Ellenberg said Wednesday, one day after the Warriors turned back Summerville, 5-1, in the state quarterfinals. West Florence also took a 5-1 decision over Spring Valley on Tuesday.

Ellenberg is counting heavily on the top of the lineup where seniors Bo Crouch and Stephen Beach hold down the Nos. 1 and 2 positions. "Bo has never lost a playoff match, so I'm counting on him," Ellenberg said.

A year ago, Crouch defeated West Florence's Pruitt Williams in the No. 1 singles match, then also came through in No. 1 doubles. But Williams has dropped back to No. 2 this time, while young Bobby Browning has moved into the top slot for the Knights.

Williams should face Beach, a heady player with a strong serve and consistent groundstrokes.

Young Matthew Canelon has advanced all the way from No. 5 to No. 3 for the Knights and should take on Wando junior Zack Timmerman, a transfer from Spring Valley.

Smith Williams, who defeated Wando's Beach last year in straight sets at No. 3, has moved down to No. 4 for West Florence. The No. 4 slot should be a key one for Wando since sophomore Tommy Mills suffered the Warriors' only loss against Summerville.

She is counting big on the No. 2 doubles team of senior Will Phillips and freshman Rob Havens. "The No. 2 doubles team has improved, and I expect some good things from them," she said.


(05/02/07)  Boys tennis showdown is all Wando
Wando 5, Summerville 1

MOUNT PLEASANT — Wando's boys' tennis team is in rerun mode after rolling past Summerville, 5-1, Tuesday in the Class AAAA state quarterfinals at the Wando courts.

With the victory, the Warriors now get another shot at West Florence on Thursday for the lower state championship.

Wando second-year coach Winde Ellenberg hopes this rerun has different results from a year ago when powerful West Florence came to town and held off the Warriors, 4-3, to advance to the state final.

"If we play solid, like we did today, we'll have a chance," Ellenberg said. "But West Florence is solid all the way through."

The Region 7-AAAA champion Warriors (17-4) wrapped this one up early, although it took rallies by senior Stephen Beach at No. 2 singles, eighth-grader Robert McManus at No. 5 and the No. 2 doubles team of senior Will Phillips and freshman Rob Havens to fight off the determined Green Wave (22-3).

Beach and the doubles team were forced to go to first-set tiebreakers before taking control of their matches, while McManus had to rally from a set down. Beach defeated Green Wave senior Zack Hancock, while McManus, who wasn't scheduled to start, came through against Summerville sophomore Brian Mayeux in a third-set super tiebreaker.

"McManus gave us more consistency down the lineup at No. 5. We need to clinch No. 4 and 5 against West Florence," Ellenberg said. "I'm really counting on our No. 2 doubles team."

Senior Bo Crouch had smooth sailing at No. 1 singles as he posted a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Summerville senior

Pressley Altman. "I served really well today. That took the pressure off my return game," said Crouch, a left-hander who will join the College of Charleston tennis team next season.

"Bo has been undefeated in the playoffs for three years," Ellenberg pointed out.

Coach Bryant McKee's Summerville boys were the Region 8-AAAA champions.

West Florence (20-2), the 2006 state runner-up, scored a 5-1 road victory over Spring Valley on Tuesday to advance to Thursday's Lower State title match. The Knights will play host to Wando this time.

WANDO 5, SUMMERVILLE 1

Singles: Crouch (W) d. Altman 6-1, 6-3; Beach (W) d. Hancock 7-6, 6-4; Timmerman (W) d. Cheatham 6-1, 6-2; Holoubek (S) d. Mills 6-1, 6-2; McManus (W) d. Mayeux 5-7, 6-1, 10-3.

Doubles: Phillips-Havens (W) d. Brantley-Weiner 7-6, 6-2.

Records: Wando 17-4; Summerville 22-3. Next: Wando at West Florence for the Class AAAA Lower State championship Thursday.


(05/02/07)  Californians conquer Charleston
Californians! Here they come!

They came and conquered Charleston over the weekend.

California teams took three of the four first-place trophies awarded during the Super Senior 60 League national championships home with them.

The best a South Carolina team could do in the competition held at Family Circle Tennis Center and Snee Farm Country Club was win one runner-up trophy. That was the 7.0 men's team from Hilton Head Island's Palmetto Dunes Resort. A team from the Los Angeles area earned the big trophy in that category.

Teams from Palm Desert (Calif.) Tennis Club and Palm Desert Resort won the women's and men's 9.0 titles. The only championship trophy that wasn't packed for California was the one for women's 7.0 that was won by a team from Lakewood, N.J. Even then, another California team was runner-up.

Rogers wins Bullfrog

Shelby Rogers scored one of her biggest wins over the weekend by capturing the girls' 16 title in the Southern designated Bullfrog tournament at Clemson. Rogers, who plays out of the Players Club and attends First Baptist Church School of Charleston, is only 14 and is looking forward to trying to win a fifth Belton singles title next month. She recently was a quarterfinalist in the National Open and has jumped from No. 44 in the South to No. 9 in girls' 16.

Sabra Rogers, Shelby's sister, is 16-4 while playing No. 3 singles this season for four-time NCAA Division III national champion Emory. Bishop England graduate Sabra is a freshman at Emory.

Casey shines

James Island High graduate Jordan Casey has posted a 16-2 record this season while playing mostly No. 6 singles for Sewanee, the University of the South. Casey, the 2005 valedictorian at James Island, won the decisive match for Sewanee on Sunday in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference championship, which was played in Waco, Texas. A sophomore, she plays No. 1 doubles with Rock Hill's Gabriela Carvalho, the daughter of veteran Winthrop tennis coach Cid Carvalho.

I'On tournament

Mount Pleasant's I'On Club will hold the second annual Pro Invitational May 11-13. A field of 16 players will compete for a $1,000 first prize, while doubles teams will be gunning for a $600 top prize. Admission will be free all weekend, according to I'On club director/tennis director Joey Eskridge.

Cremins event

Don't forget that Bobby Cremins' Tennis Challenge is scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Family Circle Tennis Center. Sixteen teams are expected to compete in the event that will help fund scholarships for College of Charleston athletic teams.

Play will begin Friday at 4 p.m., followed by a cocktail reception at 7 p.m. The tournament will offer participants an opportunity to compete against College of Charleston men's head basketball coach Bobby Cremins and his wife, Carolyn. Contact the Cougar Club at 953-6550.


(05/02/07)  Academic Magnet braces for Waccamaw
High School Tennis

Academic Magnet first-year boys' tennis coach Ron Williams had fun Monday as the Raptors breezed into the Class AA-A Lower State championship match. But the fun ends today when the Raptors visit the powerful Waccamaw Warriors of Pawley's Island at Wachesaw Plantation at 4:30 p.m.

"This was a very good win... after last Thursday's 4-3 win at Barnwell. That one was scary," Williams said Monday following the Raptors' 6-0 road win over Green Sea-Floyds.

The latest victory came after the Raptors (7-6) had rallied from 3-2 down on the road against Barnwell to force the decisive No. 1 doubles match.

But 2006 state runner-up Waccamaw will be a heavy favorite against the Raptors after dismantling Region 6-AA champion Bishop England, 6-0, on Monday without dropping a set. Academic Magnet was the Region 6 runner-up.

The Raptors' starting lineup features Nos. 1-5 singles players, respectively, seniors Alex Romanczuk and Marcus Mitchell, junior Jake Engle, and sophomores Robert Strange and Taylor Jones. Sophomores Andrew Wong and Richard Demille form the No. 2 doubles team.

Waccamaw is led by high-ranking state junior players Wesley Moran, Billy Kenny and Thomas Ligon in the top three positions.

Pinewood, P-G open

Pinewood Prep (8-2) is one of the favorites in the SCISA Class AAA boys' tennis playoffs that start today with the lower division second-seeded Panthers playing at home in Summerville at 4 p.m. against upper No. 3 Hammond Academy of Columbia. Pinewood was state runner-up last year to Porter-Gaud.

Porter-Gaud (5-9), which is led by SCISA open tournament singles champion Richard Pearce, must travel to Greenville to take on upper No. 2 seed St. Joseph's Catholic. Pearce, a junior, defeated St. Joseph's No. 1 Jackson DeMere in the three-set SCISA open singles final, so the Cyclones should have an edge at the top of the lineup.

Coach Tom Higgins' Porter-Gaud team, runner-up to Pinewood in region play after losing to the Panthers twice, is the No. 3 seed in the lower division.

Pinewood coach Heinz Maurer is high on his veteran team, especially in doubles where freshman No. 2 singles player Josh Klingenberg (and Pinewood No. 1 girls' player Anna Brewer) won the SCISA mixed doubles crown over Pinewood No. 3 Trey Bessent (and his sister Charmaine). Trey Bessent is a senior. Pinewood No. 1 Jeremiah Dye also is a senior.


(05/01/07)  Warriors, Green Wave clash today in quarters
High School Tennis

Wando seniors Bo Crouch and Stephen Beach will wrap up their home tennis careers today in the Class AAAA boys' state quarterfinals against Summerville at the Wando courts.

A state semifinalist last year, Wando (16-4) has scored victories over West Ashley and Dutch Fork in the playoffs. The Warriors lost in the regular season to Class AA powers Waccamaw and Bishop England, as well as defending SCISA Class A champion Palmetto Christian.

Region 8-AAAA champion Summerville (22-2) has beaten James Island and Sumter in the playoffs.

The winner of today's match will qualify for a road trip on Thursday for the lower state championship against either Spring Valley or West Florence.

Crouch, a crafty left-hander, is unbeaten in the state playoffs for three years. He was a semifinalist in last year's state high school singles tournament. Beach has played consistently all season, according to Wando coach Wende Ellenberg.

Junior Zack Timmerman plays No. 3 for the Warriors, with sophomore Tommy Mills No. 4 and senior Andrew Fellabom No. 5.

"We are region (7-AAAA) champs and hope to make it further this year than we did last year," said Ellenberg.

"We have a solid team with lots of talent and experience in match play. If they're having a good day on the courts — being patient yet aggressive — and playing their game, then I think we will succeed in reaching our goal."

PCA in SCISA semifinals

Palmetto Christian Academy will begin its drive for a second straight SCISA Class A boys' state championship today when the Eagles take on Aiken Prep at 3 p.m. at Family Circle Tennis Center. Coach Dewey Caulder's team (10-5) has beaten both Wando and SCISA AAA power Pinewood Prep this season.

Raptors advance

The Academic Magnet's boys' team is headed to the Class AA-A lower state championship match, but that road runs through perennial power Waccamaw on Wednesday. The Raptors (7-6) clinched their spot in the state semifinals on Monday with a 6-0 road blitzing of Region 8-A champion Green Sea-Floyds.

Meanwhile, 2006 state runner-up Waccamaw ended visiting Bishop England's season for the fifth straight year by scoring a 6-0 victory over the Bishops (15-3) for the second consecutive year. Waccamaw, by virtue of being the Region 7-AA champion, will play host to Region 6 runner-up Academic Magnet on Wednesday.

The Bishops' starting singles players all lost in straight sets to the powerful Braves, along with the No. 2 doubles team. Waccamaw junior Wesley Moran defeated Bishop senior Alex Nista, 6-3, 6-0, at No. 1, while Waccamaw's Billy Kenny turned back Lee Colyer at No. 2 and Thomas Ligon downed the Bishops' Randall Heffron at No. 3.

Academic Magnet first-year tennis coach Ron Williams was pleased with his team's one-sided road victory. "This was a very good win . . . after last Thursday's 4-3 win at Barnwell. That one was scary," Williams said.

The Raptors got things rolling with Nos. 1-5 singles victories, respectively, by seniors Alex Romanczuk and senior Marcus Mitchell, junior Jake Engle, and sophomores Robert Strange and Taylor Jones. Sophomores Andrew Wong and Richard Demille took the No. 2 doubles match.


(04/29/07)  Hawk-Eye can provide calm on tennis courts
Tennis is only a game. Anything that can create a more friendly atmosphere on the courts is a positive and should enhance tennis' acceptance.

I'm glad that even Wimbledon apparently is planning to use the electronic line-calling system. Yes, Hawk-Eye can ease tensions on the court.

While Hawk-Eye may not be much more accurate than human line judges, I've come to the conclusion that the biggest advantage of using the technology is that it limits the arguing and bickering by the participants. There isn't much use in arging with a machine.

Now, if the technology could only be used on all courts as well as in the lower echelons of tennis. Of course, that probably isn't feasible from a financial or maintenance standpoint.

After watching the Southern Conference tournament and other recent line-calling incidents, it's obvious that line-call debates can take much of the fun out of the game. There were simply too many such debates and other confrontations in the SoCon tournament.

Elsewhere, some league tennis players appear to believe that they can see the exact impact location of their shots all the way on the opposite baseline, and on the opposite side of the court, even when exaggerated top-spin is being used. It isn't unusual for some players to question calls that are long by a foot or more.

I had never thought of it in such terms, but SoCon referee Mac McGregor spelled out the rules of tennis clearly last weekend: "Players need to know that when the ball is going in the opposite direction it's not your call."

Players at all levels need to remember that line calls usually will even out in the course of a match, and that no one is perfect in calling lines. Not pros, not amateurs, not line judges, not chair umpires, and no, not even Hawk-Eye.

High school playoffs

The SCISA state playoffs begin this week. Pinewood Prep, the Class AAA runner-up to Porter- Gaud in 2006 and a top contender again, open play Wednesday on its home courts against Hammond Academy. Pinewood is the second seed in the upper division behind Heathwood Hall.

Porter-Gaud is the No. 3 seed in the lower division, but is scheduled to travel to upper No. 2 seed St. Joseph's Catholic of Greenville on Wednesday.

Palmetto Christian opens defense of its Class A SCISA title Tuesday against either Cambridge Academy or Aiken Prep.

In the High School League, Summerville plays at Wando Tuesday in the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs. Bishop England plays at perennial power Waccamaw Monday in the second round of the AA-A playoffs. Waccamaw has ended the Bishops' season each of the last four years.

Academic Magnet has a favorable draw to advance to a home match on Wednesday for the Lower State title against the BE-Waccamaw winner. The Raptors travel to Green Sea-Floyds on Monday, needing a win to qualify for the state semifinals.

Fishburne leads U.S.

Diane Fishburne led the U.S. women's 50 team to four straight wins and the Maria Bueno Cup championship in Turkey. In the competition that ended Saturday, Fishburne posted four consecutive one-sided straight-set wins at No. 1 singles. The U.S. team beat Australia, 3-0, for the title.

Local winners

Peter Prichard, who plays out of the MUSC tennis complex, won the boys' 14 title in last weekend's Pepsi Open at Florence, while MUSC's Thomas Spratt also was runner-up in boys' 12 singles.

Cory Caulder, the daughter of Family Circle Tennis Center pro Dewey Caulder, won the girls' 10 title at Florence. Aaron Thornton, who also trains at the Family Circle complex, took the boys' 8-and-under title.

Battle of James Island

Another Battle of James Island is scheduled for Saturday at the Country Club of Charleston, Maybank Tennis Center and James Island Yacht Club. Play begins at 9 a.m., followed by a social at 1 p.m. Competition will be held in men's, women's and mixed doubles at rated levels. Contact Country Club tennis director Lee Brockman (795-0425).


(04/25/07)  Family Circle Cup compensated once again
The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour is having to hit its bank account to compensate the Family Circle Cup for the sixth time in the tournament's seven years on Daniel Island for a failure to fulfill player commitment minimums.

This time, the payoff is to the tune of $137,500, an eye-catching amount for the $1.34 million women's tournament. The WTA Tour confirmed the amount Tuesday to The Post and Courier.

This month's tournament was especially hard hit by player withdrawals, as its top five players all pulled out due to injuries in the two weeks leading up to the Family Circle Cup. Charleston fans are still talking about the exodus of marquee players such as Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin and Amelie Mauresmo.

At least one of those players — the top three players on the WTA Tour's Gold Exempt List — was required to play in the Family Circle Cup to meet the top tier quota. But the absences, of course, didn't stop there. Martina Hingis and Svetlana Kuznetsova, two others ranked in the top 6, withdrew.

To top it off, Grand Slam superstar Serena Williams pulled out of her first match in the first set because of a groin injury. It's no wonder that Charleston fans are still wondering what happened.

Tournament director Robin Reynolds said Tuesday that she had never seen anything like it in her 14 years with the Family Circle Cup. "We just had a bad string of injuries, especially the top players," Reynolds said. "I can't remember a time when all of the top players were injured."

Even non-Family Circle Cup entry Kim Clijsters, who was ranked fourth in the world at the start of the Family Circle Cup, has been sidelined by an injury. That meant the top six players in the world all were sidelined at the same time.

"It's just unfortunate that it came in our week," Reynolds.

For the Family Circle Cup to receive compensation from the tour for the seventh time in the last eight years, including the tournament's last year on Hilton Head Island, is small consolation to Reynolds for losing the top players. "The compensation is so small compared to having the players here. That was far more disappointing than not getting compensation from the tour (would have been)," she said.

The Family Circle Cup received more than $60,000 in compensation from the WTA Tour after the 2006 tournament.

Despite the loss of star power, this Family Circle Cup barely missed setting a Daniel Island attendance record, probably only because of the tornado-threatening weather that thrashed Family Circle Tennis Center on championship Sunday, when Jelena Jankovic stormed past Dinara Safina to win the $196,900 top prize. Nicole Vaidisova and Jankovic, who were ranked Nos. 8 and 9 at the time, were the only top 10 players to perform in this year's tournament.

"It was a situation where those players who made their mark here this year will be the ones people will recognize in the future," Reynolds said. "This tournament is about launching careers, not only about showcasing top players."


(04/25/07)  Still searching for Charleston's own star

One of these days Charleston should land its own pro tennis star, and not just for a week during the Family Circle Cup.

Wouldn't it be great if one of the world's top players claimed Charleston as home? Even Richard Williams called back to the Family Circle Cup after this month's tournament to tell tournament director Robin Reynolds, what a great time his daughters, Venus and Serena Williams, had in Charleston. It would be nice having at least one of them call Charleston their home, but that probably won't happen since they appear to enjoy the South Florida lifestyle so much.

But what about our latest champion, Jelena Jankovic? She resides in Bradenton, Fla., but she appeared to have a great time here. And she already has a Charleston T-shirt.

Don't forget, the area has two former pros from the famed Nick Bollettieri Academy. Fritz Nau even worked with Jankovic at Bollettieri's when she was a junior and Ean Meyer once was offered a traveling coach job to work with Jankovic by her mother about eight years ago. Nau and Meyer headline the staff at Mount Pleasant's Players Club.

So, if former Bollettieri's participant and Wimbledon semifinalist Alexandra Stevenson said she plans to call the Players Club her home base, why not Jankovic. That would be perfect. Jankovic could be close to Family Circle Tennis Center, the site of her greatest accomplishment. Winning her first Tier I title in tornado-like conditions was quite an accomplisment.

Meyer, who worked for seven years at Bollettieri's, said he was traveling in Italy with his own player when Jankovic's mother, Snezana, approached him about working with her daughter. At the time, Jankovic might not have been able to afford Meyer's services. That's changed now for the Serbian star.

Players Club's new stars

After serving as home for star juniors from Australia and Ireland during the last two years, the Players Club has another international junior training at the Mathis Ferry Road complex. Jeanette Drager, a 13-year-old German player, is the latest to arrive. One of the top juniors in Germany, she plans to train at the Players Club for a year.

Jessica Wise, Kentucky's No. 1 junior, is also training at the Players Club. The 17-year-old, who is attending First Baptist School, hopes to earn a scholarship at the College of Charleston.

Local players Caroline Thornton and Jessica Diamond, who also train at the Players Club, met in the girls' 18 final of Florence's Pepsi Open, with Thornton winning, 6-3, 6-4.

--Adam Elliget of Summerville captured the boys' 10 title at the Pepsi Open.

Fishburne in Turkey

Charleston's Diane Fishburne is playing this week for the U.S. women's 50 team in the Maria Bueno Cup in Manavgat, Turkey. Fishburne played No. 1 singles Tuesday and won two love sets against Slovenia in a 3-0 U.S. victory.

Umpires wanted

Kurt Wassen will hold a clinic Saturday from noon-5 p.m. at Family Circle Tennis Center for anyone who would like to become a chair umpire. Anyone interested should go to www.sctennis.com on the Internet and download a pre-test that must be taken before attending the clinic. For information, contact Wassen at kwassen@aol.com or 696-1493.


(04/23/07)  C of C men, women fall in finals
Furman's women's tennis program is old school. The Paladins aren't going anywhere but to the NCAA playoffs again after winning their ninth Southern Conference title in 10 years.

But Elon's men are a different matter. The Phoenix has just arrived with the school's first SoCon tennis title.

The continuing success story of Furman's women and beginning success of Elon's men both came at the expense of the College of Charleston on Sunday at The Citadel's Earle Tennis Center.

Furman (16-9) held off the Cougars, 4-3, in the women's final. Elon then disposed of the C of C men, 4-1. Top seeds Furman and Elon finished SoCon play unbeaten (12-0), while both second-seeded C of C teams finished 10-2 in the league, each losing twice to the SoCon champs.

The C of C women (20-7), who had suffered a 6-1 loss to Furman earlier in the season, dropped the doubles point and fell behind 3-1 before freshmen Holly Dowse and Laura Borza scored victories at Nos. 3 and 5 singles to even the team match. But moments later, women's tournament MVP Lauren Osborne completed a 6-7, 6-2, 6-2 comeback against C of C freshman Link Leskosky to clinch the Paladins' fourth straight SoCon title.

"It was exciting," said veteran C of C women's coach Angelo Anastopoulo. "We knew going into doubles that our chances were slim to none of winning the doubles point. "But Link was as prepared for that match (No. 2) as her body would allow."

Leskosky, last year's City of Charleston singles champion, was handicapped by an ankle injury that required surgery last year and will require more surgery in May, according to Anastopoulo.

Anastopoulo was thrilled by Borza's three-set victory over 2006 tournament MVP Bonnie Baird to even the match. "Laura lost 6-2, 6-0 to Baird just a few weeks ago, but she was ready this time," he pointed out.

The Elon men (23-2) have been riding high all season, but they still had to prove themselves in the SoCon tournament after surviving a 4-3 decision against C of C at home in the regular season. The Phoenix took the doubles point, then got a surprising straight-set victory at No. 2 from tournament MVP Anuwat Dalodom, a junior from Thailand, over C of C senior Marcus DiGliodo of Argentina to move into a 3-1 lead.

It then became just a matter of Swedish sophomore Gustaf Asplund finishing off a comeback 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 win over C of C freshman Steven Myers at No. 5 singles to clinch the first SoCon title for the foreign-dominated team from Burlington, N.C.

The Cougars' lone victory came from senior Justin Malina at No. 4 singles. C of C senior ace Or Dekel of Israel had not completed his No. 1 singles match when the team match ended.

"Elon outplayed us," C of C men's coach Phil Whitesell said. "They were the better team today and all season. They're a good team. They're not top 40 for nothing."

Although it was only the second loss of the season for the Cougars (18-2), Whitesell ruled out any chance of the Cougars receiving an at-large berth in the NCAA playoffs. "You need to be top 40 to get an at-large bid," he said.

SOUTHERN CONFERENCE TENNIS TOURNAMENTS

Women's Final

FURMAN 4, COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON 3

Singles: Laura Gioia (F) d. Chelsea Albertz 6-2, 6-1; 2. Lauren Osborne (F) d. Link Leskosky 6-7, 6-2, 6-2; 3. Laura Borza (C) d. Bonnie Baird 6-4, 3-6, 6-2; 4. Anna Lee Evans (C) d. Jacqueline Eckert 6-2, 6-1; 5. Holly Dowse (C) d. Lauren Tomory 6-1, 6-3; 6. Natasa Manojlovic (F) d. Amanda Becker (C) 6-2, 6-3.

Doubles: Manojlovic-Gioia (F) vs. Dowse-Evans 7-2, dnf; Eckert-Osborne (F) d. Borza-Leskosky 8-4; Tomory-Lisa Bornt-Davis (F) d. Albertz-Julia Howard 8-2.

Men's Final

ELON 4, COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON 1

Singles: Damon Gooch (E) vs. Or Dekel 7-5, 2-2, unfinished; Anuwat Dalodom (E) d. Marcus DiGliodo 7-5, 6-4; Omer Abramovich (C) vs. Mason Schermerhorn (E) no result; 4. Justin Malina (C) d. Sebastian Bredberg (E) 7-6, 6-0; Gustaf Asplund (E) d. Steven Myers 4-6, 6-1, 6-1; Austin Fenn (E) d. Perry Allen (C) 6-3, 6-2.

Doubles: Dekel/DiGliodo (C) d. Gooch/Schermerhorn 6-5; Anuwat Dalodom/Fenn (E) d. Abramovich/Allen 8-3; 3. Asplund/Kevin Colin (E) d.Jimmy Petit/Malina 8-4.


(04/22/07)  Cougars chasing sweep
SoCon Tennis The battles are set. The College of Charleston's second-seeded men and women have their eyes set on repeating their 2003 Southern Conference tennis championship sweep in today's finals at The Citadel's Earle Tennis Center.

But Saturday's semifinals couldn't have been much tighter. The C of C women (20-6, 10-1) held off No. 3 seed Davidson, 4-2, in a long match to earn a shot at perennial champion and top-seeded Furman (15-9, 11-0) at 10 a.m. today. Furman, which blitzed C of C 6-1 in the regular season, scored a 4-0 win over No. 5 UNC Greensboro in the other women's semifinal.

But things got even more tense in the afternoon before the Cougars (18-1, 10-1) overcame Furman's defending men's champions, 4-3, as a crowd of nearly 500 celebrated.

The men's semifinal came down to a third set at No. 2 singles in which C of C senior Marcus DiGliodo of Argentina cramped up and received treatment on his legs before pulling together his big strokes and excellent net game to overcome Furman sophomore Bo Ladyman, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

In today's 1:30 p.m. men's final, the Cougars will square off against top-seeded Elon, which handed them a 4-3 loss in an unbeaten SoCon regular-season matchup. Elon (22-2, 11-0) downed No. 4 Chattanooga, 4-0, in the other semifinal.

"When Marcus started feeling bad, he actually started playing the game he should be playing . . . being aggressive and going to the net," said C of C men's coach Phil Whitesell, who will be in his third SoCon final.

"When we won the doubles point, I thought things would be easier, but we had a little hiccup in there . . . I thought Marcus would win in two sets. We are fortunate to win that match. We've got to regroup and get IVs for a couple of guys before tomorrow."

The Cougars appeared to have control of the match when they grabbed a 3-1 lead as Justine Malina came through with a win at No. 4 singles, but in rapid order, No. 1 Or Dekel and No. 6 Perry Allen fell in straight sets to pull Furman (17-11, 8-3) even at 3-3. That set the stage for DiGliodo's limping heroics.

Coach Angelo Anastopoulo's

C of C women won the doubles point and then got straight-set victories from freshmen Anna Lee Evans at No. 4 and Holly Dowse at No. 5 to move into a 3-2 lead over Davidson (18-7, 8-3).

Another freshman, Laura Borza, was still on the court headed into a third set when left-handed junior Amanda Becker, who had saved three set points in the first set, came through for a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Davidson's Meredith Skeeters at No. 6 to clinch the victory for the Cougars.

"Furman will be tough, but I think we have a shot at them. We don't have any pressure on us. They have all of the pressure on them," Becker said about Furman, which has won eight of the last nine SoCon titles.

"We knew Davidson was going to be a tough match,'' Anastopoulo said. "We only beat them one point up there. They're our favorite rivalry."


(04/22/07)  Family Circle Cup considers options

There is more at issue than just creating a combined men's and women's tournament at Family Circle Tennis Center. The big question may be whether the Family Circle Cup is prepared to sacrifice its all-women's identity to ensure its future.

The USTA prefers combined events, obviously believing that such events are the wave of the future of professional tennis. They have their own allure, according to USTA senior director of pro tennis David Brewer.

And right now, the Family Circle Cup appears to be the only possibility the USTA has for merging its long-running U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships with a women's event. Houston's River Oaks Country Club, Atlanta, Winston-Salem and Ponte Vedra, Fla., may all be great locations, but they don't have access to a women's tournament - or, at least, one as prestigious as the Family Circle Cup.

The future of the Clay Courts wouldn't appear to be real bright as a standalone men's event. The tournament has been struggling since it left Wild Dunes Racquet Club following Hurricane Hugo's destructive path across the Isle of Palms in 1989. The $416,000 Clay Courts have been held the last seven years at Houston's Westside tennis complex.

The USTA owns the Clay Courts' week on the ATP Men's Tour, while Family Circle owns its week on the women's tour. The tournaments normally are held the same week in early April.

USTA officials have been in conversations the last few days with Family Circle tournament director Robin Reynolds and other officials about the possibility of the Clay Courts moving to Daniel Island, but no decisions apparently have been reached.

Prior to the recent release of Roadmap 2010 by the WTA Tour, the odds might have been against Family Circle trading in its all-women's identity for a combined event. But while the future of the Family Circle Cup appears to be unaffected, the Roadmap creates a few question marks about the future of the 35-year-old tournament.

Because of those question marks and just where the WTA Tour is headed with its strong thrust into China and the Far East, as well as the emergence of two-week super tournaments and combined events, the Family Circle Cup would appear to be obligated to reconsider its future as an all-women's event.

Want to be an umpire?

Kurt Wassen will hold a clinic next Saturday from noon-5 p.m. at Family Circle Tennis Center for anyone who would like to become a chair umpire.

Anyone interested should go to www.sctennis.com and download a pre-test that must be taken before attending the clinic. For information, contact Wassen (kwassen@aol.com or 696-1493).

Lowcountry open house

The first Lowcountry Junior Tennis Open House/Jamboree will be held June 2 at Family Circle Tennis Center from 1-4 p.m. The afternoon will be dedicated to the process of recreational junior players and their families learning more about tennis in the Lowcountry.

Palmetto House Pro-Am

Pine Forest Country Club of Summerville will stage the inaugural Palmetto House Pro-Am June 1-3. The event will benefit Summerville's Palmetto House, a non-profit charitable organization to those in need of basic human necessities.

Contact Barbara Heddinger (795-1420) or visit www.palmettohouseproam.com.

Legend Oaks open house

Summerville's Legend Oaks Golf Club will hold a tennis open house next Saturday from 1-4 p.m. and next Sunday 2-5 p.m. New tennis director Andy Steingold and teaching pro Mike Baker will showcase the free event that will feature a tennis exhibition, equipment demonstrations, prizes and refreshments. Kids games will be held on Saturday, with an adult round-robin on Sunday. For information, contact Legend Oaks (821-4077).


(04/20/07)  Cougars men eyeing Elon in SoCon tennis
Furman may be just too good for the rest of the Southern Conference's women's tennis teams. But the College of Charleston men have to be considered a threat to top-seeded Elon in the SoCon tennis championships that will continue today through Sunday at The Citadel and Charleston Tennis Center.

Like coach Phil Whitesell's C of C men, the Cougars also are the second seeds in the women's tournament. But Furman's women scored a convincing 6-1 win over coach Angelo Anastopoulo's C of C team during the regular season and will be heavily favored to repeat as tournament champions.

The C of C women (18-6, 8-1) face No. 7 Wofford at 12:30 p.m. today at The Citadel's Earle Tennis Center. Wofford posted a 4-0 victory over No. 9 Western Carolina on Thursday to earn a berth in today's quarterfinals.

Furman takes on No. 8 Appalachian State in today's women's opener at The Citadel at 8:30 a.m.

In the men's draw, the Cougars (16-1, 8-1) oppose No. 7 Georgia Southern at 12:30 p.m. today at Charleston Tennis Center. Georgia Southern gained a berth in the quarterfinals with a 4-2 win over The Citadel on Thursday.

The C of C men's lone loss this season came against Elon on the road, by the close margin of 4-3. Elon meets No. 9 Davidson today at 10 a.m. at Charleston Tennis Center.

Citadel loses again

For coach Toby Simpson's Citadel team, Thursday's loss to Georgia Southern was the 18th straight. The Bulldogs finished 2-21 overall and 0-10 in the SoCon. The only points for the Bulldogs were scored by juniors Daniel Dossetor and James Eason in Nos. 1 and 2 singles. Dossetor and Eason also teamed up to win at No. 1 doubles, but the Bulldogs lost the doubles point.

Dossetor, from Australia, was named to the All-SoCon singles first team for the third straight year on Thursday, while the Dossetor/Eason combo, which ranked as high as 20th nationally this year and had 28-8 overall and 9-1 SoCon records, earned all-conference doubles honors for the third time.


(04/18/07)  Family Circle site draws interest for U.S. Men's Clay Courts
Is Family Circle Tennis Center seriously and financially interested in staging a men's tennis tournament as a combined or back-to-back event with the Family Circle Cup?

That appears to be the question as the U.S. Tennis Association contemplates the future of its $416,000 U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships that just completed its seventh year in Houston while the Family Circle Cup held its seventh event on Daniel Island.

The USTA appears to be eager to put the Family Circle site on the front burner, because of its world-class 10,200-seat stadium and the possibility of combining the Clay Courts with the women's Family Circle Cup.

"I really think that (a combined event) would be the ideal setup," said David Brewer, the USTA's senior director of pro tournaments, said Tuesday afternoon from Carson, Calif. "A combined event has an allure of its own. We like combined events. They create a lot of excitement."

The USTA already puts on a combined men's and women's one-week summer event in New Haven, Conn., as part of the U.S. Open Series, as well as has a partnership in the two-week combined event at Indian Wells, Calif.

Brewer indicated that the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's Roadmap 2010 could influence Family Circle's decision since the Family Circle Cup will become a Premier 20 event in 2009 rather than keeping its current designation as one of 10 Tier I events on the tour.

"But we can't say if it (a combined event)

is really a good stategic fit for them (Family Circle) or not," Brewer said. "We need to see if these guys (from Family Circle) are serious or not. The decision-making is going to happen pretty quickly. We've given ourselves until the end of April to make the decision.

"We know the folks who run the event. We know the facility," he said about Family Circle Tennis Center, which served as a Davis Cup semifinal site in 2004.

Brewer expects to conduct more talks with Family Circle Cup tournament director Robin Reynolds and Nancy Weber, a vice president of Family Circle parent Meredith Corp. "We want to talk with Robin and Nancy no later than tomorrow," Brewer said.

Reynolds was unavailable for comment Tuesday evening.

Arlen Kantarian, the USTA's chief executive of pro tennis, met with Family Circle officials over the weekend while attending the Family Circle Cup, according to Brewer.

Brewer said that for Family Circle to hold a combined event the complex would "need to add a couple of courts and locker room facilities."

Atlanta and Ponte Vedra, Fla., already have submitted bids to serve as hosts for the Clay Courts, while Winston-Salem, N.C., and a different Houston site are expected to turn in their bids before the end of the week.

The USTA owns the Clay Courts' tournament week on the ATP men's tour and is requiring a $250,000 yearly licensing agreement for five years as part of the bidding process. Brewer said the USTA set its April deadline for a decision to allow time to present a proposal to the ATP Tour at its next board meeting, which will be held at Wimbledon in late June.

The U.S. Clay Courts were held at Wild Dunes Racquet Club in 1988 and 1989, showcasing then-young players such as Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and Michael Chang.

After Hurricane Hugo damaged Wild Dunes in September 1989, the spring event was moved to Kiawah Island for 1990. It then left the Charleston area and ended up seven years ago at Houston's Westside Tennis Club.

Citing financial losses, Westside announced several months before this year's Clay Courts it would discontinue its relationship with the tournament. Ivo Karlovic of Croatia won the singles title Sunday of a tournament that featured James Blake and Tommy Haas. Andy Roddick withdrew because of an injury.

While in Houston for the Clay Courts, Brewer met with officials from the River Oaks Country Club, which already holds a $3,000 non-tour men's event. River Oaks is in the process of submitting a bid.

According to Brewer, Winston-Salem is expected to make a bid that includes construction of a new clay-court facility and stadium court near Joel Coliseum where the recent sold-out U.S.-Spain Davis Cup tie was staged.

Atlanta's bid is based on holding the Clay Courts in Duluth at the old site of the AT&T Challenge, using a temporary stadium. Ponte Vedra, which is headquarters for the ATP Tour as well as the PGA Golf Tour, also would construct a temporary stadium.


(04/18/07)  Roadmap 2010 holds key to commitments
This Family Circle Cup turned out quite well for a tournament headed by four top12 players and Venus Williams.

The field wasn't overly impressive, but the play was excellent when players stayed around for entire matches. Will fans be happy in future years with a similar field?

This Family Circle Cup presented the type of field that the tournament probably should expect once the WTA Tour's Roadmap 2010 takes over the tour calendar in 2009.

I don't want to sound like an alarmist, but the WTA Tour may be on a collision course with player- commitment trouble for tournaments such as the Family Circle Cup. It all involves closely analyzing Roadmap 2010.

The fact that the Family Circle Cup has been selected as one of women's tennis' premier 20 tournaments, excluding the Grand Slams and year-end championships, is a great accomplishment and recognition for the Daniel Island event. But not very long ago (1995), the Family Circle Cup was regarded as the premiere women's tournament in North America and one of only eight Tier I tournaments in the world.

Now, it's one of the top eight in North America.

The mandatory two-week tournaments that first started in Miami, then spread to Indian Wells, Calif., may be the biggest villains the tour faces. Their impact on the health of the tour and its players is a huge price to pay.

Yet, their number will double to four by 2009, with Madrid and Beijing joining Miami and Indian Wells. That equates to double trouble for the rest of the tour.

Just think about it. These four two-week events and the four Grand Slams will occupy 16 weeks on the tour calendar. Add the WTA Tour Sony Ericsson Championships, and the total of already-planned weeks increases to 17 for the top players, not even including two possible weeks for Fed Cup. The superstars probably would like to stop there, but the Roadmap requires them to play another six Premier 20 oneweek tournaments.

That leaves the Family Circle Cup and 15 other big-money premier events fighting for the top players for those other required six weeks of service.

Consider that the top five players in the women's game, excluding Venus and Serena Williams, averaged playing less than 10 tournaments each in 2006, excluding the Grand Slams, twoweek events, tour championships and Fed Cup. Just add two more mandatory events, and see what you get for the likes of Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin, Amelie Mauresmo, Kim Clijsters and Martina Hingis in 2006.

Of course, top players could play all Premier 20 events, although that's not likely. Players probably will play something closer to the six other tournaments (10 total with the two-week events) that will be required under the Roadmap.

And those six will go quickly, since some of them are virtually prerequistes for the Grand Slams: Berlin and Rome before the French Open; Eastboure to prepare for Wimbledon's grass; and any of four summer events in North America to get ready for the U. S. Open.

The only hope seems to be that in the next few years a new crop of women's players, who enjoy spending an extra week in the United States playing on green clay, will move to the top of the game.

Hooray, SCTCA

The S.C. Tennis Coaches Association will present a plan today to the South Carolina High School League's executive rules committee to change the face of public schools tennis. If the proposal is accepted, it would be to eliminate the current five singles/ two doubles format, which has little rationale other than to destroy the importance of kids learning how to play doubles.

The new format for next year, if approved, would include six singles and three doubles. The main difference from the current private schools SCISA format is that the SCTCA proposal wants to take a page from college tennis by playing the three doubles matches first, followed by singles. The college format is different in that it awards only one point for doubles play.

Another change proposed for next school year is to hold the state team semifinals and finals at one site over a Friday-Saturday weekend.

The state semifinals are played at one of the two schools involved in each match, with all of the state championships being contested at the Caughman Road Tennis Center in Columbia.

The proposal also calls for charging admission to the tennis championships.


(04/16/07)  Jankovic earns her place among posters
This year's Family Circle Cup is a survivor.

The players retired and withdrew. The winds blew.

But this 35th version of the tournament will go down as one of its most memorable. Thank you, Venus Williams and Jelena Jankovic. Two true champions.

Their Saturday semifinal was a classic. But what a tough cookie this 22-year-old Serbian named Jelena is. She rightfully deserves her place alongside Venus among the posters hanging from Family Circle Magazine Stadium.

She conquered the wind and tall Dinara Safina in impressive fashion, then jokingly proclaimed in the post-match press conference, "I'm the new poster girl."

That, she is.

Jankovic's ballerina-like court movement received a severe test from the wind gusts that sometimes sent service tosses flying toward the net, unhit, and caused serves to hit the wrong service line. But she handled the situation like a champion, the same way she outlasted Venus Williams in Saturday's third-set tiebreaker.

This good-natured young woman left a distinct impression on this tournament and the people who make it work. While Safina shunned virtually everyone prior to the match as tournament officials bunched officials, media, volunteers, and the players and their parties in the clubhouse during a tornado watch, Jankovic joked with the kids and volunteers.

Sitting with her mother at a table with volunteers, she had a ball, repeatedly laughing. She signed hats and tried on jewelry that was given to her. She even read this newspaper's Family Circle Cup coverage.

A few minutes after a little girl walked up to her table and gave her a black Charleston T-shirt, she was wearing the T-shirt. She found the little girl and modeled the T-shirt for her. Jelena wore the T-shirt to the post-match press conference.

Yes, this tournament could belong to Jelena Jankovic for years to come. She wears her opposition into submission with side-to-side tennis, just the way eight-time champion Chris Evert used to do.

Compact strokes worked to Jankovic's advantage. It wasn't a good day for a big hitter such as Safina to be playing, especially on clay. Safina hit a few great shots, but most of her big ones sailed far and wide of the playing surface.

Jankovic picked up a check for $196,900 for winning four one-sided matches and the classic marathon with Venus.

Yes, Jelena, you more than earned your paycheck.

"At least I play in my matches," she teased, referring to the long list of withdrawals and retirements that should haunt the WTA Tour in the weeks ahead.

Of course, she did more than just play in her matches. She played almost flawless tennis, while showing nerves of steel. She stood across the court from Venus Williams, and outplayed her. She outsmarted everyone she faced. She even outdueled the weather.

Jelena Jankovic is a true survivor and a true champion.


(04/15/07)  Take the Cremins Tennis Challenge
If you think Bobby Cremins is a fiery basketball coach, you should hook up with him on the tennis court. The College of Charleston coach is about as competitive as they come.

Cremins' newest venture isn't recruiting a 7-footer for the Cougars, but to provide scholarship assistance for the entire athletic department. He's doing it with the inaugural Cremins Tennis Challenge.

Coburg Dairy will sponsor the event May 4-5 at Family Circle Tennis Center. It's team competition, so if you join the fun, you'll probably be going against Bobby and his wife, Carolyn.

"My wife and I bought the first team," Cremins said the other day at the Family Circle Cup.

Teams will be made up of four players. "We need 16 teams and we've got nine," Cremins said. "You can join as a team, or as an individual and we'll match you up with a team."

A team can be made up of any group of four players, women, men or mixed. Play will start on May 4 at 4 p.m., followed by a cocktail reception hosted by Bobby and Carolyn. For information, contact the Cougar Club at the College of Charleston (953-7188). Registration forms are available at various tennis clubs in the area.

Legend Oaks adds staff

Legends Oaks Golf and Tennis Club isn't just a golf club these days. The layout, located on Highway 61 near Summerville, has hired Andy Steingold as its director of tennis and Charleston Southern University coach Mike Baker as a teaching professional.

Legend Oaks is an 18-hole 6,950-yard, semi-private golf and tennis facility designed by Pete Dye protege Scott Pool. The facility includes a recently renovated clubhouse and a four-court tennis facility and championship swimming pool complex. A community of more than 1,300 existing and upscale homes is planned.

"This particular area is not as active as the more coastal parts, and I see a great deal of tennis potential here in Summerville, Walterboro, Goose Creek and North Charleston," said Steingold, who formerly served as a pro at Charleston Tennis Center and was a co-owner of Jus' Tennis in West Ashley.

Mitchell selects Dartmouth

Porter-Gaud senior Ashley Mitchell has committed to play college tennis for Dartmouth. Mitchell won last year's SCISA girls' singles championship, but was ruled ineligible to play for Porter-Gaud this past fall because she had taken a year off from school earlier to concentrate on tennis.

Mixed doubles deadline

The Lowcountry Tennis Association's Ken Edwards is reminding all league tennis players that the deadline for forming a team for the mixed doubles league is Tuesday.

Battle of James Island

Another Battle of James Island is scheduled for May 5 at the Country Club of Charleston, Maybank Tennis Center and the James Island Yacht Club. Play will begin at 9 a.m., followed by a covered dish social at 1 p.m. Competition will be held in men's, women's and mixed doubles at all three sites at rated levels.

For information, contact Country Club tennis director Lee Brockman (795-0425).


(04/15/07)  It's time for WTA Tour to stand up to its players
The WTA Tour needs a new slogan: "Play Through It."

That's as in a minor injury, or the type that has been plaguing the Family Circle Cup for the past two weeks. The events of this period have been incredibly ridiculous, stretching beyond anyone's imagination.

It's time for the WTA Tour to step up and stop being stepped on by its players. The type of things that have happened to this year's Family Circle Cup can't continue if the tour is to maintain its credibility.

Today is the final, and the WTA Tour should feel fortunate that some people still love the women's game. The classic Venus Williams-Jelena Jankovic semifinal surely did its part. Both players even fell on the court, but got back up and kept playing. That was amazing, considering what this tournament has been through.

But every time it looks like things are getting back to normal, a key player will retire from a match. Sure enough, Vera Zvonareva did her part by retiring during the second semifinal.

There might be a few uneasy moments at the start of today's 1 p.m. final when Jankovic and Dinara Safina meet at the net. Fans might think someone is already retiring from the match. The fans know the routine. They are getting to be experts on the "retirement watch."

If the pre-tournament withdrawals of the Family Circle's top five players wasn't enough to create doubts, the happenings of the tournament itself have left no doubt that something is wrong. The injury retirements of Serena Williams in her first match, 10th seed Tatiana Golovin in Friday's quarterfinals and ninth seed Zvonareva in Saturday's second semifinal along with the Friday injury pullouts from two quarterfinal doubles by Zvonareva and Safina were just a little too much to believe.

The loss of players obviously hasn't hurt attendance. The tournament is on the verge of setting a Charleston total attendance record. But what about next year? Who is going to buy those advance tickets that made this year's event so successful?

There were a few upset people Friday night.

After Golovin retired against Safina, and then Safina pulled out of the nightcap doubles, the tournament was fortunate that crowd-pleaser Liezel Huber volunteered to take Safina's place alongside Katarina Srebotnik for a fun doubles exhibition. Most fans loved it. Huber saved the night with her fun-loving personality and antics that pulled people out of the stands to play a few points.

But there were some fans who were furious, not with Huber, but with Safina and the others. The doubles pullout was just the straw that seemed to break the camel's back.

Some out-of-town fans were vowing never to return to the Family Circle Cup. That's too bad, just because of a bunch of players who apparently don't know what's good for their futures.

A classic match

If you missed the Williams-Jankovic match, you missed one that undoubtedly will go down as one of the Family Circle Cup's two greatest matches ever. The other one was Martina Hingis' victory over Monica Seles in the 1997 final in another third-set tiebreaker by the identical 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) score, that one played at Hilton Head Island

Venus played unreal tennis in the first set, as well as you'll ever see this great champion play. She is definitely a legend. But Jankovic's consistency wore Venus down. By the end of the third-set tiebreaker, it was just a matter of who would get match point first. Jankovic, of course, was the one.

But wouldn't you have hated to have been the one to end Venus' tournament? On that fateful final point, the linesperson avoided that fate by first appearing to signal a Jankovic backhand down the line good, but then making a late out call. Chair umpire Lynn Welch got down out of her chair and corrected things. Venus knew it was over before then.

The poster girl

Jankovic finally received a workout Saturday. Safina is an outstanding talent, but I don't expect the tall Russian to match Jankovic off the ground the way Venus did.

Safina will win her share of points with big serves and groundstrokes, but in the end look for Jelena Jankovic to become the Family Circle Cup's newest poster girl.


(04/14/07)  Venus faces true test today
The Williams sisters are a distinct part of American culture. Long after they've given up tennis, people across all ways of life will simply refer to them as Venus and Serena.

They're bigger than tennis.

Just mention that someone might have an extra ticket to the Family Circle Cup, and that Venus or Serena is playing, and see what happens. The person will immediately start finding ways to alter their schedule. No, they can't call in sick. The boss might be at the match.

But it's a chance to witness history. To see Venus play as she has the last four afternoons might be worth the risk of running into the boss. Surely, the boss will be down in the box seats, not way up in those aluminum bleachers.

Of course, it's Saturday now, and you're off work. But because of that no one with tickets to today's Family Circle semifinals will be giving them up. Despite the stampede of withdrawals and injury retirements, today is a semifinal Saturday to remember.

Venus and the ballerina-like Jelena Jankovic play the headline match at 12:30 p.m. It will be worth watching. If both play up to their potential, this match will be talked about for years to come. While Venus is a proven champion and has rolled past four relatively unknown players, this will be her first true test. The test will be for Venus to stay focused, because she probably is going to have to hit a lot of balls.

Jankovic is like a rubber backboard. The ball almost always comes back, but usually at a faster pace. If Venus doesn't overpower Jankovic with her serve and play consistently off the ground, Jankovic's game might be too solid for Venus to handle on clay.

Venus has flash, the ability to make spectacular shots and plays. She can practically reach across the court to get a ball with those long arms and legs.

Jankovic is just the opposite. She makes things look so simple, because of her extraordinary footwork, quickness and racket preparation. She always plays with her hair in a tight ponytail, much like Martina Hingis in her early days. Not only does Jankovic's play and court savvy resemble that of the Swiss Miss, her accent is similar.

But Jankovic will have to beat Venus. This legend is a player no opponent can ever count out.

Battle of Moscovites

Vera Zvonareva isn't a real surprise. The only surprise is that it's taken this talented 22-year-old this long to get to the semifinals. She has virtually every shot in the book. She has the game to be here.

But Dinara Safina does, too. She is for real, if that left wrist injury she gave for her reason to pull out of Friday's stadium court doubles nightcap doesn't interfere with her powerful two-handed backhand.

Safina demonstrated in her one-set, retired victory over talented Tatiana Golovin Friday night just how much potential she has. The sister of former U.S. Open champion Marat Safin, this 6-0, 154-pounder has huge strokes from both sides, and booms 110-plus mph serves as an afterthought.

She played brilliantly against Golovin. If Safina plays that way again, Zvonareva will be in trouble. If so, Zvonareva may be sorry she pulled out of her doubles match, too.

But this is for "The Battle of Moscow." Anything can happen.

The one thing for certain is that, barring another injury, this should be a great battle.

What a pair of semifinals. Maybe, it's a good thing for the tournament that the other superstars pulled out early.

Towels, please

If Jankovic makes a habit of coming to the Family Circle Cup, some changes need to be made. The Serbian wonder plays points, games, sets and matches so quickly that there just isn't time to use the hand blowers in the men's room to dry your hands. You could literally miss half a set.

Of course, there's a quick fix. Hand towels, please.


(04/13/07)  Jankovic, Safina, Golovin stars on the rise
Fans, don't underestimate this Family Circle Cup. Even if Venus Williams fails to win it.

Venus is already there as a superstar. But this tournament has a history of introducing great talents to the world.

Remember Steffi Graf? Or Gabriela Sabatini?

Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina and Tatiana Golovin are budding superstars. And they're all in today's quarterfinals.

In the years to come, this tournament likely would look back with pride if one of these young women came through the next three days.

At least one of the three will be gone after today, since Safina and Golovin are paired in tonight's featured 7 p.m. match. Venus should have a great chance at making the semifinals when she takes on unheralded Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain, while Jankovic will be a heavy favorite over Katarina Srebotnik of Slovakia.

Jankovic could be the next Martina Hingis, only far more explosive. This 22-year-old Croatian controls the ball about as well as anyone on the tour. Not only that, she's Hingis smart. She just needs a breakthrough, and the Family Circle Cup could give it to her.

If not, a No. 9 world ranking isn't bad.

Safina may be the next Lindsay Davenport. The tall Russian has size and strength, with an overpowering serve and groundstrokes. Although not a clay-courter, the sister of former Grand Slam champion Marat Safin has yielded just 11 games in two matches.

And then there's Golovin. The only match I can come up with for this French girl is a young Graf. You know, the Graf that swept the Grand Slam in 1988 as a 19-year-old, just two years after winning her first Family Circle title.

At 5-9, 132 pounds, Golovin is capable of wearing down opponents with her strong and consistent groundstrokes and serve. She already has a huge forehand, but when she adds a signature weapon and improves her movement slightly she should have superstar status.

Her win Sunday at Amelia Island appears to have given Golovin the confidence to reach that status. Just 19, she has unlimited potential.

Thank you, stars

Maria Sharapova, Martina Hingis, Justine Henin and Amelie Mauresmo may have withdrawn from this tournament, but their presence - along with the injured Serena Williams' - is still felt in the attendance figures released each day. Thanks to these superstars, the tournament was nearly 500 tickets ahead of last year's record Charleston attendance through Thursday night.

Attendance figures are based on tickets sold, not the number of fans in the stands. So, if one of the budding superstars or Venus Williams comes through to win the 35th Family Circle Cup, the tournament will be a smash hit.

Slow down, Jelena

You're not giving fans a chance to see the brilliance of your game. Fans on the back of the complex have to literally race to the stadium court once Jankovic gets on a roll, if they want to catch her match. After a 19-minute first set Wednesday, she beat that time with an 18-minute second set against Mara Santangelo on Thursday.

Sign of the times

Just when this tournament started feeling like its usual self with Wednesday night's mild weather and a nice crowd cheering on Patty Schnyder in the stadium court, the Chinese invasion tore things up a bit when Shuai Peng outlasted the fan favorite.

Venus Williams brought things under control again Thursday by blitzing her injury-retiring sister Serena's conqueror, Yung-Jan Chan of China. With the top two doubles teams in the world (Samantha Stosur/Lisa Raymond and Cara Black/Liezel Huber) playing the last two nights, league tennis players are getting an added treat.

Several thousand fans were there until the end came at about 10:30 Thursday night for Stosur and Raymond as Peng and Tiantian Sun outlasted the top-ranked team.


(04/12/07)  Fed Cup surface not too hard for ailing Serena
Did you miss Tuesday night's quote from Serena Williams about how minor her strained groin injury might be? Well, it seems Serena is still hoping to play Fed Cup next week, because the tie against Belgium is on a hard surface.

The Serena quote after retiring from her match against Yung-Jan Chan was: "I'm just - you know, Fed Cup is on hard court, so I don't think it should affect me."

I guess that's not completely out of the question after seeing Andy Roddick retire from a match against Andy Murray in Miami with a hamstring injury, then appear to be completely healthy a week or so later in leading the U.S. Davis Cup team past Spain. Both events were on hard courts. Obviously, Davis Cup was more important to Roddick than completing a losing effort against Murray.

But Fed Cup? The Fed Cup has been something of an afterthought to Serena over the years. And Serena was only one service break down to Chan in the first set when she retired.

As for Roddick, he is perhaps this country's most devoted Davis Cup player ever. He bleeds Red, White and Blue. He doesn't miss a tie. Even John McEnroe missed a few. Of course, Stan Smith was pretty loyal, too.

Is there that big a difference between hard courts and clay courts in the amount of strain that activity places on an injury such as the groin area? I'm no expert, but it would seem to me that clay might be the easier of the two surfaces on such an injury. I know my legs and feet feel much better after playing on clay instead of hard courts.

I realize that clay probably causes more injuries than hard courts, because of the sliding, longer points and sometimes uneven court, especially on and around the lines.

Serena went on to say that the trainer indicated that the injury didn't seem like one that would affect her "a couple of weeks down the road, but it could potentially get worse if I didn't take care of it."

As of Wednesday, Venus and Serena Williams were still scheduled for the Fed Cup.

Needed: More Pratts

What women's tennis needs is more players like Nicole Pratt. Just a year ago, she was losing in the first round of the Family Circle qualifying event. If you don't recognize the name, she's no teenager.

Pratt lost in straight sets to No. 8 seed Ni La in the second match Tuesday night, the one after Serena Williams retired.

Gimpy-legged with a big brace on one knee, Pratt moved like a gazelle when the ball was in play, not like the 34-year-old she is. Then, she would limp to the other side of the court for the next point.

She obviously wasn't worried about further injuring the knee. But then she probably doesn't have that many million dollars in the bank, yet.

Easy does it

Jelena Jankovic? I like her.

She makes things look so easy. She looked like a pro versus a high schooler in her 6-1, 6-1 victory over Anastassia Rodionova on Wednesday afternoon. Jankovic repeatedly had the 24-year-old Russian so far out of position that she had virtually the entire court open.

Jankovic plays textbook tennis, side-to-side until the opponent is completely out of position. She then hits that marvelous two-handed backhand down the line.

The only bad thing is that she is in the bottom half of the draw with Venus Williams. Now, that should be a great semifinal, if it happens.

Venus keeps looking better and better. The key is her serve. If it doesn't desert her, another Grand Slam title probably isn't too far in her future.

Safina's potential

Dinara Safina probably won't win this Family Circle Cup, although her game has many of the same characteristics as 2006 champion Nadia Petrova's. The sister of former U.S. Open champion Marat Safin hits as big as many men. Still just 19 years old, she is a Grand Slam champion waiting to happen.

But Safina appears to have too much traffic in her section of the draw, mainly red-hot but solid Tatiana Golovin, probably in the quarterfinals. Safina is extremely competitive on clay, but it's not her best surface.


(04/11/07)  Vaidisova still yelling about her quick exit

I think I know how Nicole Vaidisova feels today.

I played probably the worst match of my league tennis career Monday night. I felt miserable Tuesday. I had a lot of doubts about my 3.5 level game.

But I wasn't the top seed in the Family Circle Cup. I wonder if Vaidisova was able to sleep last night. She was probably still yelling at her coach/stepfather. She must have some doubts about her game as well.

Her one and only match as the top seed of the Family Circle Cup was that bad. She spent most of the last two sets screaming at Alex Kodat, who was sitting in the front row. Michaella Krajicek seemed to be doing the same thing in the direction of her dad, Petr, the same fellow who coached Richard Krajicek. Eighteen-year-old Michaella was only seven when her brother won Wimbledon.

At 17 years old, Vaidisova is on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's list of future superstars. Right now, she has quite a bit to work on before playing Fed Cup next week for the Czechs. That backhand was really bad, and Krajicek only made it worse by picking on it.

Vaidisova was dressed for the occasion. She looked like a superstar in her orange dress trimmed in white, and orange visor and orange-tinted shoes. She made a fashion statement, even if only a small crowd in Family Circle Magazine Stadium saw her play. Too bad. Maybe next year. Maybe she'll stop screaming at her stepfather by then, but probably not unless the backhand improves.

--If you're looking for another player with knockout good looks and fashion model appeal, you might want to tune in today at 10 a.m. to see 19-year-old Ana Ivanovic. At 6-1, she's the closest thing to a dark-haired Maria Sharapova that women's tennis has. All she needs is a little more success, to move her world's 17th ranking into the top 10. Success here might do the trick. With Vaidisova out of the way in her quarter of the draw, that possibility appears to be a lot more realistic.

The mature Venus

Venus Williams has changed greatly in a decade of tennis.

Remember the days when moving smoothly across the baseline on a clay or grass court appeared to be a struggle for her. Now, she glides, almost floats like a butterfly, regardless of the surface.

Remember when she practically collided with Irina Spirlea on the changeover in the 1997 U.S. Open semifinals? Venus is cool and collected these days.

She looks like a champion, even in her post-match press conference.

That said, Venus is going to be tough to beat in this Family Circle Cup. Her path just becomes maybe a little easier now that Serena Williams has fallen to injury. With Vasilisa Bardina in her path today before a round of 16 meeting with the player who survived Serena's injury Tuesday night, Yung Chang, Venus' path to the quarterfinals appears to be pretty safe.

In a straight-set win over Samantha Stosur Tuesday, Venus looked every bit as good as she did in winning the 2004 Family Circle Cup. She dominated the athletic Stosur, the world's best doubles player, in looking far more comfortable than she did in her three-set opening victory against another Samantha (Reeves) three years ago.

Venus pounded her serve and hit deep, penetrating groundstrokes. And she kept most of them on the court.

Speculation a cinch

There almost certainly will be speculation about Serena Williams' injury retirement against Chan. To some, it will revive memories of the scheduled semifinal between Venus and Serena at Indian Wells, Calif., in 2001. Venus withdrew from that one just before the start of the match, creating a great deal of controversy.

This time, Serena's groin injury spoils an anticipated showdown between the sisters in a round of 16 headliner that probably would have been televised nationally.

--The attendance (7,294) for the session that included the Serena Williams-Chan match was the largest for a Tuesday night in the tournament's seven years in Charleston.

Defense of Mauresmo

I've really got to come to Amelie Mauresmo's defense in her withdrawal from the Family Circle Cup. An appendectomy three weeks ago was ample reason to miss this tournament.


(04/10/07)  Don't sell this year's Cup field short

My car was acting up the other day, so I took it to the shop.

The good car doctor checked it out, but couldn't find anything wrong with it. I told him the symptoms. That didn't help.

He wanted to tell me I was off my rocker, that there was nothing wrong with the car. But, of course, he didn't.

That could be the way it is with some of these tennis players.

They go to the doctor or trainer, complaining that their wrist or shoulder hurts. He certainly can't tell them they're OK, and that it's safe for them to continue playing.

It's a matter of integrity. One person can't identify the level of another person's discomfort.

But what the doctor can't say, fans and others are saying.

There's just no way, they contend, that the top five players entered in a tournament can all be injured at the same time.

Everyone wanted to see the marquee players. That's why many fans bought tickets in advance to the Family Circle Cup. They wanted to see Maria Sharapova, Martina Hingis, Serena Williams and the other superstars.

But the fact that most of the big names have called in sick doesn't mean this 35th annual Family Circle won't be a hit with the fans. The quality of play this week probably will rank with the best ever for the tournament.

Players such as Patty Schnyder and Shahar Peer wanted to be here badly. To many of these second-tier type players, this is their season. They were hoping to get a shot at the superstars on clay. They'll basically battle it out among themselves now that Sharapova, Hingis, Justine Henin and Amelie Mauresmo have pulled out.

The big stars would never admit they dislike playing on clay, but to some of them the claycourt season must be their personal nightmare. Although they realize that clay can make them look like ordinary players, they also know they can't write off the clay-court season entirely. The WTA Tour wouldn't allow it.

For a player's talent to be fully appreciated, success on clay is almost a must, specifically at the French Open. The French probably is the truest test in big-time tennis. These tournaments such as the Family Circle, even on American green clay, prepare players for the European clay- court season, with all eyes pointed to Paris.

That's why some great tennis will be played this week on Daniel Island. Clay- court tennis can be a thing of beauty, with players matching not only strokes and nerves, but perseverance and movement to a far greater extent than on hard courts. The surprising thing is that Hingis and Henin are both excellent claycourt players. Although Serena Williams hasn't won a match on clay in more than two years, she is a proven clay- court star, having won the French Open along with just about everything else. But even a player as great as Serena will have her work cut out for her on the green clay of Family Circle Magazine Stadium. Nothing will come easily for her.

The favorites

You've probably guessed by now that I like the chances of Schnyder and Peer this week.

Schnyder, you know about, after seeing her play here for the last 10 years. But Peer is one tough player, who takes the fight to every opponent.

I also like Tatiana Golovin. She was as solid as a rock at Amelia Island while letting big-hitting Nadia Petrova beat herself. Now that Golovin has a title under her belt, she should be better than ever. Not only does she have consistency, she has power. She played completely within herself in defeating Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic and Petrova last week.

Unfortunately, Schnyder and Golovin are in the same eightplayer section of the draw. That means the round of 16, probably Thursday, might be more exciting than the final, with Schnyder- Golovin and Venus-Serena confrontations possible.

I also am impressed with the way Venus Williams is playing.

She just had a bit of bad luck in drawing a possible battle with Serena so early. As for Serena, she has been awesome so far this year, but I'll wait until I see her in a competitive clay- court match before I make any more predictions


(04/08/07)  Another blow for Family Circle Cup; Hingis fifth of world's top six to withdraw
If you think it was cold outside Saturday afternoon, you should have been at the Family Circle Cup's annual draw party. Wow, was it cold ... after tournament director Robin Reynolds broke the icy news that two-time tournament champion Martina Hingis had become the latest former world's No. 1 player to withdraw from the Daniel Island event.

A day earlier, it was world's No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova pulling out. Four days before that, it was No. 2 Maria Sharapova. Two days earlier, it was top-ranked Justine Henin. It seems like ages ago - not just three weeks - that No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo underwent an appendectomy and withdrew from the Family Circle Cup.

Hingis' reason for withdrawing was a left hip injury. Much like several of the other defections, no one seemed to be aware that Hingis was a candidate for injury withdrawal. She was last seen nearly two weeks ago suffering a rare third-round loss to a little-known Agnieszka Radwanska in Miami.

The rash of withdrawals leaves 17-year-old Nicole Vaidisova as the top seed when the Family Circle main draw starts Monday morning.

From a group of six of the seven active current or former world's No. 1 players once entered, only Venus and Serena Williams are left. And they are on a collision course for a round-of-16 meeting.

Yes, bad news can come in large packages. That means only one of the Williams sisters will still be playing by the time Friday's quarterfinals arrive.

The eighth-ranked Vaidisova and No. 9 Jelena Jankovic are the only top 10 players left in a field that still includes 10 of the world's top 20 players.

The tournament will go on, and a week from today will crown another champion to replace Nadia Petrova who did not return to defend her 2006 title. Reynolds is enough of an optimist to believe this 35th annual event will be one of the best ever, because of the depth of the young talent on the WTA Tour.

"I understand that they (fans) might be disappointed in not being able to see players like Maria, Amelie and Martina this year but our field is still incredibly strong," Reynolds said. "The fortunate thing in women's tennis right now is there is so much depth and the competition is at an all time high. This week will showcase some amazing talent.

"Look at Vaidisova ... just two years ago no one knew who she was. Now she's the top seed. She has the talent, the looks, everything that will make her a star."

Reynolds is disappointed for the fans, but said, "I know they'll see fantastic tennis. I'm not worried about that. But I am disappointed for our staff ... they have worked so hard."

For ticket information, call 856-7900 or 800-677-2293 or go online at www.familycirclecup.com; or contact Ticketmaster (843-554-6060) or www.ticketmaster.com.


(04/08/07)  Cross your fingers the Williamses show
Has anyone seen Venus or Serena lately?

If you have, you might put in an emergency call to the Family Circle Cup. Those poor people must not be sleeping well - or at all - these last, frantic nights before the big tournament on Daniel Island officially starts on Monday.

Venus and Serena Williams are the two superstars left in this year's tournament. But neither of these former world No. 1 players apparently has yet arrived in Charleston. And no one seems to know exactly when they will get here.

So, keep an eye out. Surely, they will arrive soon. Until they do, sleep might be scarce for Family Circle officials. Fans probably are a little worried, too.

The other four superstars - Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin, Amelie Mauresmo and Martina Hingis - are history for this 35th annual event, along with budding star Svetlana Kuznetsova.

On this Easter Sunday, it's like a dream, a broken Easter egg ... that day two months ago when the Family Circle Cup announced that the glamorous Sharapova was headed our way. Five of top six players in the world at that time. Wow! It couldn't get much better.

Don't blame Patty

This might be the year Patty Schnyder finally wins the Family Circle Cup. The draw has certainly opened up for the two-time finalist. Patty was facilitating the draw Saturday, the one that put Venus and Serena in the same eight-player section of its bottom half. Patty is safely tucked away in the top half.

Schnyder has played in the last 10 Family Circle Cups. So, no true Family Circle fan would be unhappy if the petite Swiss woman finally takes home the top prize.

Don't blame tournament

Family Circle tournament director Robin Reynolds must have felt she was living a charmed life just a couple of weeks ago. Now, she wants fans to realize that she has no control over the players.

"Every player that we announce has officially entered the tournament through the WTA Tour, so when players are forced to withdraw with injuries, we are just as disappointed," Reynolds said. "My biggest concern is that our fans understand and realize that as a tournament we have no control over player withdrawals."

Seabrook champs

Seabrook Island's super senior men's 70 team won league tennis' Southern Sectional title last weekend in Columbus, Ga. The team includes Warren Kimball, Stephen Berque, Richard Coomer, Jerry Hanchrow, Tom Kent, Jimmy Rinehart and Kurt Wassen.

The team, captained by Warren Kimball, went undefeated in five matches.

Battle of James Island

Another Battle of James Island is scheduled for May 5 at the Country Club of Charleston, Maybank Tennis Center and the James Island Yacht Club. Play will begin at 9 a.m., followed by a covered dish social at 1 p.m. Competition will be held in men's, women's and mixed doubles at all three sites at rated levels. Contact tennis director Lee Brockman (795-0425).


(04/07/07)  Kuznetsova withdraws from Cup; Event loses highest-ranked player left in field, another Grand Slam winner
One, two, three ... and five. They've all taken a walk. But this is tennis, not baseball. It is becoming increasingly obvious that there are no Cal Ripken-like iron men, or women, in tennis these days.

The Family Circle Cup is the latest victim of the frailities of the players who make up the WTA Tour. Four of the top five players in the world were headed to Daniel Island less than two weeks ago, but all four have since been sidelined by physical problems.

The last of the group fell on the eve of this weekend's qualifying tournament for the $1.34 million tournament that starts Monday. Fifth-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova withdrew Friday because of an injury to her right wrist.

Current or former No. 1 players Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova and Amelie Mauresmo had pulled out in the past two weeks. With Kuznetsova, they were four of the top five players in the world.

Meanwhile, the qualifying tournament will begin today at 10 a.m. at Family Circle Tennis Center.

Eight players from the qualifying tournament will earn berths in the main draw. Pairings for the main draw will be revealed during today's 3 p.m. draw party. Main draw matches will begin Monday morning.

Luckily for tournament organizers and fans, former world No. 1 players Martina Hingis, and Venus and Serena Williams have returned to the tour and appear to be at the top of their games. They will headline the main draw. Now ranked sixth, former two-time champion Hingis will be the Family Circle's top seed.

"This year we are lucky to have three former No. 1 players who are the top stories in women's tennis right now," Family Circle tournament director Robin Reynolds said.

"What will make this year's Family Circle Cup one of the best ever will be the matchups that will take place for these three women as they go through the draw. Our player field is full of young stars that are ready to make their mark and the Family Circle Cup is the perfect setting to launch their careers."

Serena Williams is the hottest player in women's tennis, having won titles at the tour's two biggest events so far, the Australian Open and Miami's Sony Ericsson Open. She is currently ranked 11th in the world.

But Venus Williams suffered a straight-set loss to Family Circle entry Tatiana Golovin Friday in the quarterfinals at Amelia Island, Fla. Venus also lost to Golovin in 2005 while defending her 2004 Family Circle title. Venus is currently ranked 32nd.

The Family Circle field includes 11 of the world's top 20 players. No. 8 Nicole Vaidisova and No. 9 Jelena Jankovic join Hingis as top-10 players entered.

Kuznetsova, a rising star on the WTA Tour after winning last year in Miami, was a Family Circle quarterfinalist last year. She lost in the round of 16 this year in Miami to Family Circle entry Shahar Peer.

"I am really disappointed to have to withdraw from the Family Circle Cup because of an injury to my right wrist," Kuznetsova said. "I was very much looking forward to playing this great event, and hope to be back next year. I am focused on recovering as quickly as possible so I can get back competing on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour."

--The Family Circle has awarded wild cards into the main draw to Julia Vakulenko and Michaella Krajicek, the sister of former Wimbledon men's champion Richard Krajicek.

Qualifying seeds

The top four seeds in qualifying are (in order): Yaroslava Shvedova of Russia, Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia and Anne Kremer of Luxemburg.

Anna Tatishvili of the Republic of Georgia, who played in last year's main draw, is the seventh seed in qualifying.

One notable player in qualifying is No. 16 seed Karolina Sprem of Croatia, who has played in two Family Circles and made it to the round of 16 last year before losing to Henin. Smash Junior Cup champion Nina Pantic of Lake Worth, Fla., is seeded 14th in qualifying.

--Walk-up tickets are available for today's and Sunday's qualifying rounds.


(04/04/07)  Federer under assault
Those five more Grand Slam titles are no longer a cinch for Roger Federer. Not with the coming out of Novak Djokovic. And maybe even someone else soon.

As great as he is, Federer might be lucky if he wins another Grand Slam this year. Wimbledon would appear to be his best shot, but with a streak of four straight titles at the All-England club, he's due for a slip-up.

The fact that a 19-year-old can come out of nowhere and look every bit as good and talented as Federer is amazing. This kid Djokovic is so good it's downright scary.

Djokovic's serve may be as strong and consistent as any in men's tennis right now. There may not be a quicker player, either. And, wow, what a drop shot! He really doesn't appear to have a weakness, other than maybe his youth and inexperience in big situations.

Miami was a big situation, yet not the big stage of the Grand Slams. Although Federer doesn't look quite as quick or have a serve as dangerous as Djokovic, and his forehand may not be as penetrating as the inside-out one Djokovic hits cross court, Federer has handled the big moment of Grand Slams extraordinarily well.

Not that Federer doesn't have a great forehand, but Djokovic's forehand is a little flatter, and therefore is more penetrating. Djokovic just loves to hit the inside-out one, which really places a great deal of pressure on right-handed opponents' backhands. The most impressive thing was the way he went after and conquered the left-handed Nadal's forehand with the same shot in Miami.

Federer's serve is excellent, but Djokovic's appears to be better because of its explosiveness and pinpoint placements. Djokovic appears to get his power from a quick acceleration on the downswing. His serve out wide on the ad-side is devastating.

Getting those five more Grand Slam titles to break Pete Sampras' record of 14 looked to be almost a cinch for Federer just a few weeks ago. Not anymore, even if he does own a 4-0 record against the kid from Serbia.

Not since Nadal exploded on the scene two years ago has there been a bigger splash than Djokovic made in Miami. But no one can overlook Guillermo Canas, not after his back-to-back wins over Federer.

Canas is a complete player. He appears to have a little Nadal in him, too, in that he runs down almost everything in pressure situations. Much like Serena Williams. Canas also has a huge serve and a forehand that's a weapon. He can go from offense to defense. That's how he defeated Federer in Miami. He simply made Federer hit the extra ball until Federer would wilt and commit an error.

All of that equals trouble and indecision for Federer. With Djokovic and Canas stepping up their games, Federer is under assault. Murray and Nadal aren't going anywhere soon, either.

Stevenson loses

Former Wimbledon semifinalist Alexandra Stevenson, who trains at the Players Club, suffered a first-round loss last Saturday in the qualifying tournament for the WTA Tour event at Amelia Island, Fla. Stevenson hasn't received a wild card into this weekend's Family Circle Cup qualifying, but she remains hopeful because of the trickle-down effect that the main draw withdrawals of Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin will have on qualifying.

College notes

--Bishop England graduate Sabra Rogers is off to an 11-3 start in singles for No. 2-ranked Emory. A freshman, Rogers has played Nos. 3-5 singles. She is 9-8 in doubles where she plays No. 1.

--The College of Charleston's men (13-1, 6-1) and women (15-5, 6-0) appear to be solid contenders for Southern Conference honors. Both teams will take on SoCon rival Wofford at today at Patriots Point.


(04/04/07)  Where's Petrova? Last year's champion chooses not to defend title
It's one of those sports myths: The champion always returns to defend his or her title. Actually, though, it just seems that way. The fact that 2006 champion Nadia Petrova is missing from this year's Family Circle Cup may be disappointing, but it's not unusual for a Family Circle champion to sit out the next year's tournament.

This is the 10th time it's happened in a tournament that started in 1973. That's including 2004 when Justine Henin returned to Charleston to defend her 2003 title, but didn't play a match because of sickness.

Former great Steffi Graf failed to defend three of her four Family Circle Cup titles. Even current participant Martina Hingis didn't defend either of her two titles (1997 and 1999). Martina Navratilova defended three of her four titles, and Tracy Austin defended only one of her two titles.

Chris Evert won the tournament a record eight times, but in 1979 after winning the Family Circle five times in succession, she decided to skip the next two.

But why did Petrova miss this one?

Petrova was at the height of her game last year when she won the Family Circle Cup and then Berlin for her third straight clay-court title. She became only the sixth player to complete a U.S. clay-court sweep (Amelia Island and Family Circle), and great things were being predicted for the tall Russian. But just before the French Open, she suffered a hip injury. She lost in the first round at the French, then withdrew from Wimbledon.

Petrova apparently has given no reason for not defending her Family Circle title, although her Web site listed the Daniel Island event on her schedule. Perhaps she felt that last spring's heavy schedule played a role in her injury problems.

So, Petrova decided to play only half of this U.S. clay-court season - this week at Amelia Island.


(04/04/07)  Serena is back; Australian Open championship shows Williams remains a force
Serena Williams' charge to this year's Australian Open title was almost legendary, rivaling something from the pages of Superwoman. But to many players on the WTA Tour, Serena Williams is Superwoman. It was only a few years ago that she appeared to be unbeatable as she won Grand Slam title after Grand Slam title, at one stretch in 2002-2003 taking the coveted trophy five times in the six Grand Slams in which she competed.

Just as quickly, knee problems struck down the player many rank with the best ever to play the women's game. But her will to win never disappeared.

This year's Australian Open, perhaps, demonstrated her willpower best. She was ranked 81st in the world when the tournament kicked off. She was an afterthought when favorites were discussed. Forgotten were the seven Grand Slam titles she had won previously.

But she survived, although at times it appeared to be on sheer willpower. And she got better with each match. By the time the final against Maria Sharapova arrived, Serena's serve was a lethal weapon.

Although not in her top condition, she hit enough winners to break down her top-seeded opponent and win going away. It was her sixth victory of the tournament against a seeded player.

Serena repeated the blitzing of Sharapova in the recent Sony Ericsson Open, yielding only two games in a round of 16 match to a player who once again was the tournament's top seed.

This will mark Williams' fourth appearance on Daniel Island. She was a finalist in 2003, losing to Henin. Williams lost to Conchita Martinez in the round of 16 here in 2004 when her older sister, Venus Williams, won the Family Circle Cup.


(04/04/07)  Hingis back in force; Swiss star needs little time to climb world rankings after hiatus

Martinia Hingis had won three of the four Grand Slams. She was only 22 years old and was one of the top players in the world. And she just took a walk ... right out of tennis.

It was puzzling that such a talented young woman could walk away from such a successful career when she was so early in her prime. Was it recurring foot injuries that drove her away, or the assault of a new breed of bigger players who had started taking charge of the tour by 2002 - the Williams sisters and the Russians?

These bigger, stronger players' heavy groundstrokes and serves wore smaller players into submission. Just like the pain in her feet, these new giants wouldn't go away.

By the end of 2002, after withdrawing from three straight tournaments because of foot problems, Hingis was ready to leave a game that elevated her to best in the world status at age 16, the youngest No. 1 player ever.

The situation begged for comparison with Bjorn Borg's "walk away" just after reaching the age of 25 with five Wimbledon titles and six French Open crowns. Borg didn't return to the game until nearly a decade later when he joined the senior circuit.

Hingis, though, had her own plan.

Tennis was more fortunate with the Swiss Miss. She took "only" three years off, maybe because of her World Team Tennis participation in the summer of 2005. She obviously missed the game and the discipline of its built-in schedule. Away from tennis, she had a world of time and riches. She could ride horses only so often, before she missed competition.

Three years seem like such a short time, but to a professional athlete three years can be a career.

Hingis was only 25 years old when she rejoined the tour at the start of 2006. She hit the tour in full stride, surprising even the most veteran analysts. Her court smarts and instincts weren't stale at all, but possibly had even improved.

What goes around, comes around. Suddenly, many of the big hitters couldn't handle Hingis' intelligent play and huge assortment of shots and placements. It was as if Hingis had never gone away. The crowds loved her; the favorites dreaded having to face her as she made two Grand Slam quarterfinals and ended 2006 ranked seventh in the world.

Martina Hingis is definitely back. Yet, it's doubtful that Hingis can reclaim the greatness she experienced in 1997, when she won three Grand Slam titles and reached the final of all four. Her overall winning percentage (.938) that year was the highest of any woman in the 1990s.


(04/04/07)  Always a threat to win; Regardless of ranking, Venus has ability to blitz a tournament field when healthy
Just how good is Venus Williams? Almost anyone would have to agree that Venus is one of the most talented athletes to play on the women's tour.

That's why Venus is always a threat to win any tournament she enters. Her first trip to the Family Circle Cup was a perfect example of how she strikes fear into the hearts of opposing players.

In 2004, Williams barely escaped her opening match against 92nd-ranked Samantha Reeves, but once she survived that three-setter, Venus was off and running toward a Family Circle Cup championship, despite ranking only 16th at the time.

It was much the same way in 2005 at Wimbledon. A world ranking of 16th at the time proved to be her lucky charm once again, even though Venus had barely made any noise on the WTA Tour the first half of the year. She arrived at Wimbledon just as some experts were ready to call her a former great.

But injuries soon hit again. She has spent much more time off the tour than on it since.

After losing in the third round of last year's Wimbledon, she played only two more matches the remainder of 2006. But Serena Williams' amazing championship run at this year's Australian Open appeared to revitalize Venus.

Venus rejoined the tour in late February in Memphis for the first time in nearly five months, and waltzed to another singles title. She yielded only two games to top-seeded Shahar Peer in the final.

In the recent Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Venus had the misfortune of drawing top-seeded Maria Sharapova in the third round.

Now 26 years old, Williams has spent more than seven years as a top 10 player and earned in excess of $16 million. She has compiled a 145-31 record in Grand Slam tournaments.

She also returned to Daniel Island in 2005, but suffered a round of 16 loss to Tatianna Golovin.

Venus is scheduled to join Serena the week after the Family Circle Cup on a U.S. Fed Cup team that will oppose Belgium in Delray Beach, Fla., on hard surface.


(04/03/07)  Sharapova not playing in Family Circle Cup
Two weeks ago, the Family Circle Cup had the four top women's tennis players in the world in its field. Today, the top three are missing.

Maria Sharapova withdrew Monday from the $1.34 million tournament that starts next week on Daniel Island. The defection of the most endorsed player in women's tennis follows that of top-ranked Justine Henin, who withdrew two days earlier because of respiratory problems.

Third-ranked Amelie Mauresmo canceled two weeks ago after undergoing an appendectomy.

"I am very disappointed to have to withdraw from the Family Circle Cup because of injuries to my right shoulder and left hamstring," said Sharapova, currently ranked No. 2.

Withdrawals are nothing new for the

Family Circle Cup, which has met its full player commitment from the WTA Tour only once since moving here from Hilton Head Island in 2001. The tournament received more than $60,000 from the tour last year as compensation for not meeting its player commitment to the Tier I tournament, and it appears that this year's event also will be compensated, according to Andrew Walker, WTA Tour vice president of communications.

As the top three players on the tour's Gold Exempt List, either Sharapova, Henin or Mauresmo needed to play in the Family Circle Cup for the tour to meet its commitment to the tournament.

"Money goes back to the tournament if the tour doesn't meet its commitment, even if the players are injured," Walker said Monday.

The prospect of receiving compensation from the WTA Tour didn't make Monday any brighter for Family Circle tournament director Robin Reynolds.

"Our player commitment from the WTA Tour is still in line with what we are entitled to as a top- level event," she said. "Whatever compensation the WTA Tour might offer for not making player commitment is pale in comparison to having the players here in Charleston participating in the tournament."

The rash of withdrawals leaves No. 5-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova as the highest-ranked player in the tournament, followed by No. 6 Martina Hingis, No. 8 Nicole Vaidisova and No. 9 Jelena Jankovic, along with the Williams sisters, 11th-ranked Serena and 32nd-ranked Venus. Venus and Serena are former No. 1 players, as is Hingis. The tournament still has 12 of the world's top 20 players in its field.

"Right now our player field is still incredibly strong with a combination of seasoned veterans and up-and-comers," Reynolds said. "From her recent play at the Australian Open and just two days ago in Miami, Serena Williams appears to be back and playing stronger than ever. Her sister Venus has returned to the spotlight as well."

Three years ago, the Family Circle Cup also lost its top three seeds. Henin, who was the top-ranked player in the world when she arrived in Charleston to defend her 2003 title, pulled out before playing a match because of low blood sugar. Serena Williams withdrew during the tournament because of a knee injury, and Mauresmo withdrew with back pain.

Sharapova, who lost to Serena Williams last week in a tournament in Key Biscayne, Fla., is expected to be out of competition for five or six weeks and will miss Russia's upcoming Fed Cup matches against Spain.

"It is really difficult for me to miss top events like the Family Circle Cup, but I need to make sure that I get myself healthy enough to play," said Sharapova, who played in her only Family Circle Cup in 2003, losing in the first round of the main draw.

"I'm looking forward to getting back on the court as soon as possible."


(04/01/07)  Henin pulls out of Cup
You win one. You lose one. That's about the way it went for the Family Circle Cup on Saturday. The April 7-15 tournament received a lift when Serena Williams looked like the player of old in winning her 14th straight match and the Sony Ericsson Open.

But the casualty was the player Williams beat in the final, former two-time Family Circle champion and world's No. 1 Justine Henin. The Belgian star announced her withdrawal from the Family Circle Cup for physical reasons in the post-match press conference.

"As a professional athlete your health is vitally important to your success on the playing field. If you have difficulty breathing, as Justine did in Miami, that affects everything so I understand her concerns in addressing that problem," Family Circle Cup tournament director Robin Reynolds said.

Henin brought up the withdrawal after the match when someone asked her about making the switch from Miami's hard surface to the clay courts at the Family Circle Cup.

"I'm not going to go to Charleston," the 2003 and 2005 Family Circle champion said. "I just withdrew from it. Because I better go home and see a specialist also for my breathing problems, and

everything I had this week. So I need this time off, and I'm very sad. It's a tournament I like a lot. "So I'll take the rest I need, and I'll get ready in a few weeks."


(04/01/07)  Stevenson still on the road back
Alexandra Stevenson hasn't been in the news much the last few years. You might even have forgotten about her.

She was a Wimbledon semifinalist in 1999, right out of high school and the Wimbledon qualifying tournament. That was the defining moment in a tennis career that hit a peak at No. 18 in the world rankings in 2002.

She's also the daughter of basketball great Dr. J (Julius Erving).

It might be time to remember this determined young woman. Stevenson has spent most of the last two weeks training with Fritz Nau and Ean Meyer at the Players Club in Mount Pleasant. She is on the rebound from a baseball pitcher-like shoulder injury she said she suffered four years ago and underwent surgery for in September of 2004.

The road back has been a long, especially tough one. She tried making a comeback in 2005, but had to retire twice during matches in qualifying tournaments due to severe pain in her service motion. She played in four WTA Tour main draws in 2006, but failed to win a match.

The shoulder wasn't ready then, she said. Stevenson now has given her shoulder the green light. She feels no pain when she unleashes her powerful serve.

She was hitting all-out Thursday at the Players Club. The bubbly, good-natured 26-year-old was especially happy this day, all smiles and feeling good about her game and health, and that troublesome right shoulder.

Nau, who first met Stevenson when he was a pro at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida, believes Stevenson's comeback hopes will be aided by her size, strength and athletic ability. At 6-1, 156 pounds, she is a big hitter who can pound balls without placing extra stress on her body.

Meyer has concentrated on Stevenson's movement in drills, but he was especially impressed with Stevenson's one-handed slice backhand. "She hits the slice backhand just like (Steffi) Graf. She doesn't just slice it, she knifes it," said Meyer, a former pro at Chris Evert's academy.

"My weakness a week ago was movement, but Ean has really helped me with that," Stevenson said.

As an example, she had lost badly to one of the male players in camp when she first arrived. "I got killed last week ... yesterday I beat him," she said.

Good news came for Stevenson Thursday night when the WTA Tour event at Amelia Island, Fla., awarded her a wild card into its qualifying tournament. Stevenson and her manager/coach/mother, Samantha Stevenson, left for Amelia Island on Friday.

Stevenson arrived at the Players Club after suffering a first-round loss in the qualifying tournament for the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Fla. "After Key Biscayne, I felt I needed help," she said. That's when she placed a call to her old friend, Nau.

The Stevensons, who still reside in Los Angeles, plan to make the Players Club their home base as they travel by car across the South and East to challenger tournaments, and also as their home base in the future. Stevenson hasn't given up on hopes to play in next weekend's qualifying event for the Family Circle Cup, although she has been unable to land a wild card.

She plans to show up at Family Circle Tennis Center, put her name on the list and wait. "Hopefully, someone will pull out and I'll get in."

Stevenson has played in five Family Circle Cups, reaching the round of 32 in 2001. She last played the event in 2004, losing in the first round to Nicole Pratt.

As a power hitter, clay isn't her best surface. That might be evident by her 1999 grass-court march through Wimbledon qualifying and then five main-draw matches before running into Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals.

But it's spring, and clay-court tennis is the order of the day. After the Family Circle Cup, the Stevensons will embark on a clay-court road trip for $75,000 challenger events in Dothan, Ala.; Sea Island, Ga.; Charlottesville, Va.; and the Orlando, Fla., area.

Alexandra quipped, "I'd love to play on hard courts, but there's no where to play on hard courts until the end of May. So I have to learn how to play on clay courts." That's one reason she was training at the Players Club.

Stevenson's goal is to get back in the top 100 before the end of the year. She is currently ranked No. 377 and hasn't won a main- draw match on the WTA Tour since 2004.

But there was a time when this young woman was the sensation of the tour. She had just graduated from high school with honors two weeks earlier and UCLA wanted her badly. She decided not to sign with UCLA until after going to Wimbledon. Of course, she never signed.

Stevenson didn't forsake a college degree, however. She is 12 hours away from receiving an online degree in arts and sociology from the University of Colorado. "I even made the dean's list," she boasted. "My mother wants me to go back for graduation."

After tennis, the multi-talented Stevenson wants to attend acting school and go into acting. Having been schooled in singing and dancing, she sang and danced in high school performances and has performed vocally at several events since.

"But I've still got 7-10 more years left in tennis," she emphasized.

Alexandra said she has never met her famous father and appears unaffected by questioning about Julius Erving. But when news of Erving being her father was revealed during her Wimbledon success, it was a little different. "Maybe back then, it was a distraction ... I was young," she said.

Stevenson has moved on. Now, she just wants to move back up the tennis rankings.


(03/29/07)  Pinewood Prep ready to step it up
This could be Pinewood Prep's year in boys tennis. The Panthers are a young, but seasoned team. Maybe more importantly, Porter-Gaud lost most of its 2006 SCISA Class AAA state championship team to graduation. "I never underestimate Porter-Gaud," Pinewood coach Heinz Maurer said. "On paper, they're young, but all of the guys they have are tournament players. They've got some solid players."

Pinewood suffered only two losses last spring, both to Porter-Gaud, one in the state final. And most of that 15-2 Pinewood team is back intact.

Maurer knows the Panthers are capable of taking the extra step this spring. "I'd like to do it (win the state) for Jeremiah."

Senior Jeremiah Dye of Pinopolis is the team leader and plays No. 1 singles and doubles. Maurer said Dye has been nominated for an appointment to the Naval Academy.

Dye defeated Bishop England star Alex Nista in a 10-7 third-set match tiebreaker in No. 1 singles and then teamed with freshman Josh Klingenberg in No. 1 doubles to lead the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over previously unbeaten Bishop England in the two teams' first meeting.

But the Bishops, who play in the High School League, turned the tables on Pinewood on March 20 on clay at Family Circle Tennis Center by taking a 6-0 victory as the Panthers suffered their first defeat of the season, and Alex defeated Jeremiah.

Klingenberg plays No. 2 singles for the Panthers, while senior Trey Bessent is No. 3. Sixth-grader Zac Dye holds down No. 4 singles, with eighth-grader Jacob Cumbie at No. 5 and sophomore Ladson Fishburne No. 6.

Although the season is young, the Panthers are tournament tough after going 7-0 in preseason scrimmages against public school teams Wando, Berkeley, Summerville and James Island. Pinewood's biggest SCISA tests are expected to be two matches against Porter-Gaud (away today and at home April 19).

NOTE: Pinewood Prep won the SCISA President's Cup the last two school years and is off to a good start in the 2006-07 school year with a boys basketball state title.


(03/28/07)  Williams sisters very much back
World rankings would seem to be the fairest way to establish seedings for pro tennis tournaments. But is it?

How fair is it for the No. 2 player in the world to have to face Serena Williams in the round of 16? Or Venus Williams in the third round?

Of course, it works both ways. Why should players of the Williams sisters' caliber be paired against Maria Sharapova so early in a major tournament such as the one currently being played in Miami?

The Williams sisters are in control of their own destiny in these type situations. Sharapova isn't.

Venus and Serena simply need to play more tournaments and lift their rankings to positions more representative of their ability, which is far better than Venus' current ranking of No. 39 and Serena's No. 18.

As a result, the Sony Ericsson Open is without possibly its top marquee player, Sharapova. And Venus, too. You can't blame Serena for routing Sharapova, 6-1, 6-1, on Tuesday. But with a more flexible seeding system, the Miami event might still have both Williams sisters and Sharapova.

The later-week fans would be wearing bigger smiles, but the fans who watched Sharapova defeat Venus, then Serena dismantle Sharapova aren't complaining.

The same type situation could occur at the Family Circle Cup. Venus isn't likely to be seeded, and therefore she could face Sharapova, Justine Henin or Martina Hingis as early as the second round. And unless Serena goes deeper into the Miami draw, she might face any of the three in the round of 16 in Charleston. Or Serena possibly could draw Venus in the first round.

The Nadal effect

Now that Rafael Nadal has pulled out of next week's United States-Spain Davis Cup tie in Winston-Salem, N.C., what about the more than 14,000 fans who purchased three-day tickets for the event? Americans love Andy Roddick, the Bryan brothers and James Blake, but the probability of Rafael Nadal taking on Roddick and Blake surely played a major role in ticket sales.

A free event

That's what Dunes West tennis director Jack Miller has planned for April 23-29 with the fourth annual Adult Free For All. T-shirts, beverages and awards are all free, and there is no entry fee. Players can enter two events from 2.5-4.0 singles, doubles and mixed doubles. The entry deadline is April 18. Contact Miller at dwproshop@jwhomes.com or 881-9542.

College update

--The College of Charleston men (12-1) will put their No. 74 national ranking on the line Sunday at 1 p.m. against perennial Southern Conference power Furman at the Patriots Point tennis complex. Both C of C and Furman were dealt their only SoCon loss by Elon.

--The C of C women (11-5) will visit SoCon rivals Elon, UNC Greensboro and Davidson from Friday through Sunday.

--During their trip to Charleston, Paul Scarpa's Furman men will take on The Citadel (2-14) Saturday at noon.

--Charleston Southern's men and women face tough home tests today against S.C. State at 2 p.m.


(03/25/07)  Mauresmo expresses regret over withdrawal
Hey, don't blame Amelie Mauresmo for having to pull out of the Family Circle Cup. I'm sure she would much rather play on Daniel Island than undergo an appendectomy.

Obviously, this isn't a case of a superstar taking advantage of a situation to avoid playing in a specific tournament. But the naysayers were quick to suspect that other casualties will follow.

Of course, it would be surprising if Mauresmo is the only top player who fails to stay healthy for the next two weeks. Five or six matches in Miami's heat, followed by the switch to clay at Amelia Island often, produces injuries.

Tennis fans aren't the only ones disappointed that Mauresmo will not be competing in the April 7-15 Family Circle Cup. The Wimbledon champion has expressed her own regrets about missing the WTA Tour's spring swing up the Atlantic coast.

"I am hugely disappointed to be missing the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's U.S. spring swing. It is one of my favorite times of the year," Mauresmo said. "I had greatly looked forward to competing in the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, the Bausch & Lomb Championships in Amelia Island and the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, where the atmosphere is so good at all three.

"Instead of playing under sunny skies with the best fans around, I am recovering from appendicitis. The good thing is that this is temporary and relatively simple. I will look forward to seeing you in Florida and South Carolina in '08, better and stronger than ever!"

Family Circle Cup tournament director Robin Reynolds expressed her regrets about losing Mauresmo: "We are disappointed that she won't be joining us this year; but our player field continues to be strong with six of the top 10 players in the world as well as Serena and Venus Williams. This year's event will have a Grand Slam field."

Family Circle deals

If you don't already have your Family Circle tickets for Monday through Friday day and night sessions, numerous good deals are available, especially for USTA members, seniors, military personnel, kids and females. Most of the deals are $10 off for these special groups, although tickets for kids under 12 are free for qualifying rounds and can be purchased for $10 to any of the Monday-Friday main-draw sessions. Military personnel and seniors can get $10 off any main-draw session and 50 percent off qualifying tickets.

--The Post and Courier Family Night on Wednesday is another good deal in that kids 16 and under will be admitted free while adult tickets can be purchased for $10. Also, The Post and Courier is promoting Girls Night Out on Tuesday with $10 off women's tickets.

--One of the best deals is available only through next Saturday where tickets for any Tuesday-Friday night session can be purchased for $10 each by logging onto www.familycirclecup.com and clicking on the Happy Hour Offer.

--The Family Circle ticket office (800-677-2293) is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays, but tickets are available anytime through Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.com or 843-554-6060 or any area Publix).

Local notes

--Congratulations to Mount Pleasant's Jack Schmitt, who celebrated his one-year-old double knee replacements last weekend by winning the men's 80 doubles title at Litchfield Beach's Foster McKissick Tournament with Bill Benesch, also of Mount Pleasant.

--Daniel Island's Austin Heinz took the boys' 12 singles and doubles titles in last weekend's Southern States Top 32 Junior Super Championships in Augusta.

--The annual Flowertown Mixed Doubles Tennis Tournament is scheduled for next weekend at the Azalea Park courts in Summerville. Entry forms are available at Miler Country Club, the Summerville Family YMCA and Pinewood Prep, or by calling Greg Hancox (830-5351).


(03/21/07)  TV analysts having trouble labeling Nadal
The TV analysts are beginning to doubt Rafael Nadal for the long term.

He was just a young man who peaked early? He would fall back into the among-the-top-players category? You know, the likes of Tommy Haas and David Nalbandian, capable of beating anyone on a given day, but seldom winning anything noteworthy.

Nadal isn't a teenager anymore. He'll soon be 21.

He was No. 2 in the world for nearly a 100 straight weeks, but he lost to Roger Federer the last two times the two players met. Nadal's slipping fast?

Then, he cruises through the masters event in Indian Wells as if he were on a Sunday afternoon ride through the desert, the cactus needles unable to penetrate his steel armor.

The TV guys go bananas. Now, this is the real Nadal, they suggest. He's back. And someone in the broadcast booth questions why Patrick McEnroe and Cliff Drysdale are suddenly practically bowing down to the young Spaniard.

It certainly looks like Nadal is ready for the clay-court season. All he has to do now is to put together a few good matches in Miami the next two weeks, then head for Europe's red clay.

Oh, I almost forgot. He's expected to stop off in Winston-Salem, N.C., in early April for the Davis Cup confrontation with his chief slayer, James Blake, and Andy Roddick.

But the way Nadal took Roddick apart at Indian Wells doesn't speak well for the U.S. hopes before a capacity crowd of more than 14,000 at Winston-Salem's Joel Coliseum. Even Blake, who normally attacks Nadal's high-bouncing groundstrokes, probably is worried this time, especially considering his own collapses the last few weeks.

CALTA growing

League tennis in the area isn't just about the dominant Lowcountry Tennis Association that has adult and senior leagues playing practically everywhere, day and night. There's CALTA.

The Charleston Area Ladies' Tennis Association has more than 700 players and 55 teams participating in its Tuesday morning doubles league at 22 facilities, according to CALTA president Linda von Grotthuss.

CALTA is already making plans for the 2007-08 season, which starts in August. New team applications are available online at www.caltatennis.net. The deadline for applying is June 1.

The league's Junior Recognition Program has given more than $27,000 in awards in the last five years to junior girls in the area. Application forms for next year's awards are available on the CALTA Web site and must be received by April 30, 2007.

Elon in town

Last week, it was nationally ranked women's teams who stole the local tennis spotlight as South Carolina and Clemson both came to the area. This week, the men are taking over.

Drake and Elon aren't household words in Charleston, but both have exceptional talent. Toby Simpson's Citadel team was shut out by No. 45-ranked Drake Monday, and today No. 43 Elon pays a visit to The Citadel at 2 p.m. Elon scored a 4-1 win over No. 37 South Carolina earlier this season and its only losses have been to No. 16 Duke and No. 26 Wake Forest.

Elon is fresh from avenging its only regular-season loss of 2006 by taking a 4-3 decision over previously unbeaten College of Charleston.

The Cougars will be on the road this weekend against Davidson and East Carolina.

There will be at least one big local women's match in the area this week. Charleston Southern, which is off to a solid 8-3 start under coach Mike Baker after defeating Jacksonville State Monday, will play at the College of Charleston (9-4) on Thursday at 5 p.m. The C of C women are also scheduled to play Bradley earlier Thursday (1 p.m.) at the Patriots Point tennis complex.

Charleston Southern's men, 7-6 after being unable to finish Tuesday's match against Jacksonville State, are off until next Wednesday when a strong South Carolina State team makes the trip down I-26.


(03/18/07)  Longtime coaches, long-term success

Is it because tennis is a sport for a lifetime? Or what makes this state such a haven for long-time college tennis coaches?

Paul Scarpa leads the way in his 41st season of directing Furman's men's team in a career that has produced more wins than any other active college coach. But there are at least five other Division I coaches in the state who have spent more than 20 years in their current jobs.

One of them is Arlo Elkins, who is in his 24th season as South Carolina's women's coach. When Elkins and the College of Charleston's Angelo Anastopoulo got together Thursday night at the Patriots Point tennis complex, they had a combined four decades of coaching experience at their schools.

The two men were relaxed, joking with each other and enjoying the evening as the Gamecocks completed a 6-1 victory. Anastopoulo, always cheerful, knew in advance that his team faced a tough task against a team ranked 32nd nationally.

For Elkins, it was a break from the not-so-relaxed Southeastern Conference wars where 11 of the league's 12 teams are nationally ranked. The competition is so fierce that SEC rules require host schools to provide a chair official for each court.

"It's tough in the SEC," said Elkins, speaking under a straw hat that made his demeanor appear to be even more laid-back than normal.

What has kept the 57-year-old Elkins in Columbia all of these years? In that respect, coaching isn't any different from another job. You and your family establish ties that you don't want to break. In nearly a quarter of a century in Columbia, the roots run deep for the Elkins family.

As an example, Elkins' son, Elliott, was one of the top juniors in the state. "He's 24 or 25 now, and he's the assistant pro at Forest Lake Country Club," Elkins said.

Elkins emphasized that, "I really enjoy coaching. But there's so much more paperwork now . . . NCAA rules and so many more things to document."

Continuing to coach in a program he has spent much of his adult life building makes a lot of sense. South Carolina has one of the top women's programs in the nation. Its 12 straight NCAA appearances is the 11th longest streak in women's Division I. And until last year's loss to Wake Forest, the Gamecocks had won 13 straight opening-round matches in the NCAA playoffs.

Elkins is hopeful that his team can make a deeper run into the playoffs this time. The Gamecocks' two losses were to Clemson, when USC was missing three players, and to top-ranked Georgia.

The Gamecocks are young. Their top four players include two freshmen and two sophomores.

They have five Americans and four foreigners this year. "Next year we'll have more foreign players (than Americans)," Elkins said, pointing out that his current list of players from Serbia will double to four next season.

"I'll have the whole Serbian national team," he joked.

Other veterans

Elkins' counterpart at South Carolina, men's coach Kent DeMars, is in his 23rd season. Clemson men's coach Chuck Kriese is in his 32nd year and is the sixth-winningest active coach. Another long-timer is Furman women's coach Debbie Southern, who is in her 22nd year. Cid Carvalho has been the men's and women's coach at Winthrop for 21 years.

Clemson women at FCTC

Clemson freshman Samantha Eppelsheimer is coming home today to Family Circle Tennis Center. The high-riding Clemson women's team will take on Troy University at 1 p.m. at Family Circle Tennis Center. Of course, Eppelsheimer spent most of her junior years at the Daniel Island complex where her father, Rob Eppelsheimer, is the director.

By the way, Nancy Harris is in her 10th year as Clemson's women's coach. The Tigers have four straight top 20 finishes, advancing to the NCAA Final Four teams in 2004 and 2005.

Henderson, Peiffer tops

The area has two top-ranked players in the 2006 Southern Sectional senior singles rankings, Chris Henderson in men's 30 and Susie Peiffer in women's 55.

Brian Burke is 10th and Jonathan Barth 11th in men's 30. Richard Weathers is 10th in men's 55; John Baird is fourth in men's 80; and Henry Smith is fourth in men's 90. Diane Fishburne is eighth in women's 45; Cynthia Babb is third in women's 55; Brenda Carter is second in women's 60; Angela Williams is fourth in women's 60; Robi Poston is fifth in women's 65; and Claire Richardson is fifth in women's 70.

No local boys or girls are ranked in the top 10 in the South in junior singles.


(03/14/07)  Heartfelt plea for Clijsters to complete Party at the Top
Come on, Kim Clijsters. Join the fun.

Don't worry. The odds are against you having to face Justine Henin. Anyway, all five of those Grand Slam tournament losses were to a player named Henin-Hardenne. You're 2-0 against Henin in Grand Slams.

Family Circle Cup tournament director Robin Reynolds surely has a wild card she could spare for another former world's No. 1. Besides, if you play in Miami in a couple of weeks, you could take a side trip to Charleston just once, then head to Europe.

You really aren't serious about not playing in the French Open, are you? This supposingly is your last time around, so why not just go for it. You're certainly talented enough to win the French Open.

And playing against a Grand Slam-quality field on clay in the Family Circle Cup wouldn't be bad strategy if you have any thoughts about going to Paris. Think about it.

A Tuesday party?

If Clijsters did happen to land on Daniel Island, wouldn't it be cool to hold a Party at the Top gala. Maybe on Tuesday night? None of these greats would need to play that night, but just show up for a special court introduction and presentation.

Then, maybe fourth-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova or No. 9 Jelena Jankovic or even fashion-conscious knockouts Ana Ivanovic or Nicole Vaidisova could take center stage in a main draw singles match. All four of these young women may have what it takes to join the party one day.

Of course, there are only seven current singles players who have experienced what it's like at the top. And six of them are entered in the 35th annual Family Circle Cup: current No. 1 Maria Sharapova, Henin, Amelie Mauresmo, Martina Hingis, and the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. Clijsters is the lone absentee for the April 7-15 tournament on Daniel Island.

USC women visit C of C

With six straight victories after an opening loss to Clemson, the College of Charleston women face an ambitious five-match homestand over the next four days, including a 5 p.m. encounter Thursday with nationally ranked South Carolina. Coach Angelo Anastopoulo's C of C team has a doubleheader scheduled today against Southern Illinois (noon) and Ball State (5 p.m.), and faces Southern Conference foe Appalachian State on Friday (1 p.m.) and Boston University on Saturday (10 a.m.).

Mixed doubles league?

Now that the weather is just getting to be enjoyable for adult league tennis competition, the Lowcountry Tennis Association bosses are ready to start signing players up for the summer mixed doubles league. That's right. Team registrations will start Thursday on the Internet (www.usta.com through TennisLink) and run until April 17, according to mixed doubles coordinator Ken Edwards.

Ball crew needed

Family Circle Cup ball crew supervisor Dan Tumbleston has announced that this week is the deadline for all returning ball crew members to submit their applications. The ball crew will meet on Saturdays at Family Circle Tennis Center from 12:30-3 p.m. until the tournament starts.

Contact Tumbleston (367-0279) or Toni Young (343-8393).

Snee Farm Grand Prix

Tennis director Christy Cherry is preparing for the spring Grand Prix Tournament at Snee Farm Country Club. The event is scheduled for April 17-22, with an entry deadline of April 13. Contact Cherry (christy.cherry@sneefarmcc.com).


(03/13/07)  Venus joins the party
The player field for next month's Family Circle Cup is exceeding almost everyone's expectations. The top four players in the world, 18 of the top 23 and ... That was last week!

Now, the party at the top, otherwise known as current or former world's

No. 1 players, has grown to six with the announcement that 2004 Family Circle champion Venus Williams will play in the April 7-15 women's tennis tournament on Daniel Island. That leaves only one other possible No. 1 entry among current singles players, Kim Clijsters.

Venus joins current No. 1 Maria Sharapova, No. 2 Justine Henin, No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo, No. 6 Martina Hingis and her younger sister, Serena Williams, as current or former top-ranked players entered in the $1.34 million Family Circle Cup. Only nine other players have achieved No. 1 status in the 34-year history of the WTA Tour's computer rankings.

Since winning the 2005 Wimbledon title, Venus has spent much more time off the tour than on. After losing in the third round of last year's Wimbledon, she played only two matches during the remainder of the 2006 season.

Although Venus has been hampered by various injuries much of the last two years, Serena's amazing championship run at this year's Australian Open apparently revitalized Venus.

Venus rejoined the tour late last month in Memphis, Tenn., for the first time in nearly five months, and waltzed to another singles title. She yielded only two games to top-seeded Shahar Peer in the final. That success lifted Venus' world ranking to 38th.

Word then spread that Venus would play in the Family Circle Cup. The official word finally came Monday from tournament director Robin Reynolds.

"As a former Family Circle Cup champion and five-time Grand Slam winner, Venus has the true mark of a champion," Reynolds said. "She joins an

unprec-unprecedented Family Circle Cup player field that now includes five former World No.1 players and the current top player in the world. Combined, these six women have won 26 Grand Slam singles titles."

Venus, now 26, has spent more than seven years as a top-10 player and earned in excess of $16 million. She has compiled a 145-31 record in Grand Slam tournaments.

After winning the Family Circle Cup in 2004 in her first try, she returned to Daniel Island in 2005, but suffered a Round-of-16 loss to Tatiana Golovin.

"The Family Circle Cup is a great event and the city of Charleston is a wonderful place to visit," Williams said. "With such a good player field, this tournament will be great preparation for the clay court season leading up to the French Open."

Venus is scheduled to join Serena the week after the Family Circle Cup on a U.S. Fed Cup team that will oppose Belgium in Delray Beach, Fla., on hard surface.

Seven of the world's top 10 players are entered in the Family Circle, including No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 9 Jelena Jankovic and No. 10 Nicole Vaidisova. Venus joins Henin and Hingis as former champions entered.


(03/11/07)  Family Circle Tennis Center welcomes beach tennis
Beach tennis? Popular?

Who are you kidding?

That was my initial reaction almost two years ago when beach tennis rolled into coastal South Carolina from Aruba. Then again, at first I didn't picture the CPTL becoming a household acronym in the Charleston tennis community, either.

But after seeing the glee in the faces of several local league tennis players Thursday when Chris Henderson and Phil Whitesell introduced beach tennis at Family Circle Tennis Center, I'm not writing the sandy sport off. Henderson was the person who also paved the way for the Charleston Pro Tennis League five years ago.

Beach tennis looks like a fun game, one that definitely could attract some attention. The fact the sport will be showcased during the Family Circle Cup is a big breakthrough.

Once a beach tennis court had been constructed at the Family Circle complex and it became official that the sport would have a presence at the Family Circle Cup, New York-based Beach Tennis USA promoter/guru John Rarrick teased me with an email: "Admit it. When this started you thought we were kidding around. Season three kicks off next week and we've got a TV deal ... your Charleston boys have had a lot to do with the growth of the sport."

Of course, he was referring to Henderson and Whitesell, the reigning world champions.

Among those having fun in the sand Thursday were members of Lisa Dojan's women's league tennis team, the Hotshots. "The Hotshots are on board if there is ever a local league formed," Dojan insisted.

Lights out again!

It happened again Thursday at the new Pinewood Prep courts in Summerville. This time, the area's top two tennis powerhouses, SCISA state title hopeful Pinewood Prep and public school member Bishop England, were tied at 3-3 when natural light faded into darkness ... and there were no lights to turn on.

"I told my headmaster we've got to do something about the lights ... but we'll be all right with Daylight Savings Time," Pinewood coach Heinz Maurer said.

Last fall, it was a SCISA girls' match between Pinewood and Ashley Hall that had to be called because of darkness. That match was never finished.

This time, Pinewood and Bishop England will complete the decisive No. 1 doubles match prior to the two teams' second meeting March 20 at Family Circle Tennis Center.

Both Pinewood and Bishop England are currently unbeaten, and probably will stay that way until March 20. SCISA Class AAA 2006 state runner-up Pinewood went 7-0 in scrimmages against public school teams Wando, Berkeley, Summerville and James Island, while the Bishops were 4-0 last weekend in winning a tournament at Northwestern High School.

St. Andrew's event

St. Andrew's Parks and Playground has scheduled its fourth annual Lucky Shot St. Patrick's Day adult NTRP-rated tournament for next weekend. Registration, which ends at noon on Monday, is available online at www.usta.com. Select TennisLink, then tournaments and use the ID number (704113508). Contact Philip Burke at fillup@standrewsparks.com.


(03/07/07)  Family Circle almost certain to boast No. 1
Maria Sharapova is assured of a 14th week as the No. 1 player in the world. That's because the Indian Wells, Calif., tournament is a two-week event.

Nevertheless, the Family Circle Cup almost certainly will include the top-ranked player when it starts on April 9. The player just may be someone other than Sharapova, maybe former two-time champion Justine Henin.

Sharapova needs to make the Indian Wells semifinals to stay ahead of the idle, but red-hot, Henin. Of course, Henin also is entered in the Family Circle Cup, as is just about every other top player.

With Kim Clijsters dropping back a notch to fifth this week, the Family Circle Cup now features the world's top four players. Indian Wells, a $2.1 million event, has only two of the top four.

Like Indian Wells, the Family Circle Cup has seven of the top 10 players and 15 of the top 20, but the local event goes one up on Indian Wells with 18 of the top 23 players.

Hot Murray

Everyone knows that Andy Murray is hot after winning San Jose for the second straight year, beating Andy Roddick along the way. Although Murray lost to Roddick the next week in the Memphis semifinals, he is headed straight up in the rankings.

If he can hold it together in the European clay-court season, Murray should go to Wimbledon in the top 10, maybe even top five. Although some experts expect Murray to struggle on clay, don't count on it.

Cougars unbeaten

The College of Charleston men accomplished a first under Phil Whitesell's coaching on Sunday by defeating Chattanooga on the Mocs' home courts.

"That's the first time I've beaten them up there. I had lost to them up there three times as a head coach and once as an assistant," the sixth-year coach said.

Whitesell credits the success to a suggestion from C of C tennis director/women's coach Angelo Anastopoulo that the Cougars take a one-day break between Southern Conference road matches at Georgia Southern last Friday and the matchup with the Mocs. Instead of driving straight to Chattanooga from Statesboro, the Cougars took Saturday off and stayed at the Atlanta home of C of C junior Justin Malina.

"It's a long drive from Georgia Southern to Chattanooga, and Coach Anastopoulo had done that (take a day off between the two matches)," Whitesell said.

With the road strategy playing a key role, the Cougars are 4-0 going into a five-match homestand in seven days, starting Friday against Hampton, followed by weekend matches against Florida A&M and Illinois State (all three at 1 p.m. at Patriots Point). The Cougars will face a tough Charleston Southern outfit next Tuesday at 2 p.m. and close out the homestand two days later against SoCon rival Appalachian State. The Cougars are led by veterans Or Dekel, Marcus DiGliodo, Malina, Omer Abramovich and Perry Allen (Nos. 1-5, respectively). Seniors Dekel and DiGliodo are two of the top players in the conference.

"I don't feel like we're the favorite in the conference," Whitesell said. "Elon has beaten South Carolina, and Furman beat (No. 33) Kentucky and almost beat Tennessee (4-3 loss). The pressure's off us."

Also in college tennis:

The College of Charleston women have won six straight matches since an opening loss to Clemson. The Cougars came away with a 6-1 victory at Chattanooga on Monday. Their next matches will be played a week from today at home against Southern Illinois and Ball State.

Toby Simpson's Citadel team (2-6) plays at Chattanooga on Sunday. Junior Daniel Dossetor has won seven straight matches at No. 1 singles.

The Charleston Southern men will play at UAB on Friday and Birmingham-Southern on Saturday before facing C of C. The CSU women also will play both Alabama teams, then return home next Tuesday against Southern Illinois.


(03/04/07)  Hawkeye not all it's cracked up to be
Is Hawkeye really the final word in line calls? It appears to be, but should it be?

I know, Patrick McEnroe and other analysts appear to be satisfied with Hawkeye as they sing its praises. But the electronic line-calling system actually may make as many errors as the line judges.

One thing's for sure: Hawkeye has taken the chair umpire out of the decision-making process. When Hawkeye is around, chair umpires don't dare make an over- rule or ask for an instant replay.

Surely, tennis' hierarchy must realize that improvements need to be made to Hawkeye as well as the way its system of challenges is handled. Just because Hawkeye indicates that the ball's trajectory should cause the ball to impact the surface at a precise location doesn't make the electronic system anywhere close to flawless.

As anyone who plays this game knows, spin can make shots virtually impossible to accurately judge where they will make impact. Ball trajectory can turn on a dime, depending on who's doing the stroking.

Hawkeye simply calculates where the ball will land from a computer-generated simulation based on multiple video camera shots. The instant replay you see on television and on the big screen in the stadium isn't a real photo of the ball. That needs to change. An actual photo of the ball on impact in relation to the line is an absolute must before electronic line-calling can be considered a success.

The only true test for Hawkeye is on clay courts where the electronic review system hasn't been officially used. During last year's French Open when TV showed instant replays, the reviews repeatedly failed to match the actual ball marks on the clay surface.

Nadal calls for test

It's no wonder Rafael Nadal is skeptical about Hawkeye after the machine played a key role in his straight-set loss to Mikhail Youzhny in the Dubai quarterfinals, played on hard courts. Nadal blamed the machine for causing him to lose a first-set tiebreaker when Youzhny got a set-ending reversal on a challenged out call with a 6-5 lead.

"We should have Hawkeye at the French Open on clay (where marks are clear), and then we will all see what is happening," Nadal insisted.

Even Youzhny and the chair umpire thought the ball was out, but you can't blame Youzhny for taking what really wasn't a gamble. It was at the end of the set and he had challenges to waste.

"It looked like it was out ... I just took the challenge because it was a very important point," Youzhny said.

McDonald honored

Wando graduate Jessica McDonald was the Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference women's tennis player of the week for the first week of the season. McDonald won three singles matches at No. 2 and three No. 1 doubles matches during the week for Anderson University where she is a junior.

Courting Kids starts

This spring's inter-city Courting Kids program begins Saturday with two sessions, at 10 a.m. at the Alan Fleming Tennis Center on John's Island and at 1 p.m. at Charleston's Jack Adams Tennis Center. The program runs for seven Saturdays. For information, call 766-7401.


(02/28/07) Pantic in no big hurry to turn pro
Nina Pantic is ranked higher than many women who claim professional tennis as their full-time jobs. But the two-time Smash Junior Cup champion isn't ready to join them.

"I'll turn pro when I start making more money than I spend . . . that's probably the top 200," Pantic insists.

She is ranked No. 538 in the world. Advancing more than 300 places on the WTA Tour's rankings might sound almost impossible, until you consider that this 17-year-old has climbed nearly 400 spots in the last year.

One big payday might change Pantic's mind. That could happen as early as the April 7-15 Family Circle Cup. She is fully capable of making a run toward the $1.3 million tournament's main draw after earning a wild-card berth in the Family Circle's qualifying event. Turning down a $3,000 or $4,000 check if she makes the Family Circle main draw might be difficult to do.

Pantic virtually waltzed through the Smash Cup field, other than a couple of mental collapses in Monday's three-set final against talented 16-year-old Nadja Gilchrist of Hilton Head Island's Smith-Stearns Academy. Pantic appears to have added power and versatility to her game in the last year. She can pound big strokes and serves, and in a split second switch to a deep, looping top-spin game that many veteran pros would love to own.

She's working on a shot that could take her to the next level. "I'm trying to turn my forehand into a weapon," she emphasizes.

Duke-bound friend

Although she's the daughter of a retired college math professor, the online-schooled Pantic isn't thinking about college. She's left that up to her best friend, top two U.S. junior Reka Zsilinszka, who came with her to Daniel Island but didn't enter the tournament.

Bound for Duke on a full scholarship, Zsilinszka plans to be in Europe for the clay-court season when the Family Circle Cup arrives. As a result, she didn't attempt to win the wild-card berth.

Slovakian-born and the daughter of a college math professor (UNC Pembroke), Zsilinszka resides in Fayetteville. Ranked No. 16 in world juniors, she reached the third round of the Junior Australian and plans to play in the junior Grand Slams at Paris, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

She plans to go pre-med at Duke, which she chose over Stanford, Harvard and Princeton. It came down to Duke and Stanford since, unlike Ivy League schools, both offer athletic scholarships, but she didn't want to go across the country to California.

Zsilinszka, who's home-schooled, is in Florida for two weeks with Pantic.

The Andy blitz

Just when it appeared that Andy Roddick had found his footing, wow! Tommy Haas yielded just five games to Roddick in winning the Memphis final.

After watching the match on a taped telecast late Monday night, I was surprised by the way Haas dominated. In nine service games, Haas yielded just seven points. Yet, Roddick was never able to impose his huge serve on Haas. I'm convinced it must have had something to do with the indoor surface. Haas has always been a solid pro. The German has been great in places like Memphis and Houston, but he usually turns off his motors on the big stage. Of course, Memphis wasn't the big stage.

The result could raise some concern for Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe as Roddick leads the U.S. team against the Spanish on an indoor court in Winston-Salem, N.C., the first full weekend in April. In Memphis, the Roddick-Haas match almost resembled a ping-pong game, with Haas controlling most points.

Due to ticket demands for the Davis Cup tie in Winston-Salem, the USTA opened up the upper deck of Joel Coliseum, and the 14,000-seat facility is expected to be sold out.


(02/25/07)  Marriage proposal new twist at match
It's probably happened elsewhere, but apparently not in Charleston. That's the word from Lowcountry Tennis Association president Bob Peiffer.

A marriage proposal in league tennis is what we're talking about. St. Andrew's Playground pro Phil Burke reports that it happened last Tuesday night on court No. 10 at St. Andrew's. Isn't that perfect?

Melissa Fuller, the co-captain of St. Andrew's night league 3.5 team, had just finished her doubles match with partner Lucy Mahon against Charleston Tennis Center when James Kubu, tux, flowers, and ring came on the scene. Kubu got down on a bended knee and popped the question to Melissa.

"Of course, I accepted," Fuller said Saturday.

If this has the sound of a miracle, Melissa is the executive director of the Charleston Miracle League. She's a former St. Andrew's staff member. Kubu works in the shipping industry in Charleston. He doesn't play league tennis.

"Everyone clapped and cheered," Burke said. "The perfect match! We would like to congratulate them."

Heinz national finalist

The Players Club's Austin Heinz of Daniel Island experienced a memorable start to his national tournament career last weekend when he teamed with Akshay Verma of Alpharetta, Ga., to finish as runner-up in boys' 12 doubles in the U.S. National Open in Columbus, Ga. They lost to the top-seeded doubles team, which also included the singles top seed.

--In the National Open girls' 12 competition at Sea Island, Ga., Sarah McDonald of the Medical University of South Carolina tennis program upset the No. 3 seed and advanced all the way to the quarterfinals before losing, while fellow MUSC player Annie Hay defeated the No. 8 seed en route to a berth in the round of 16. Celeste Pritchard, another MUSC player, also participated in the national event.

Meanwhile in another tournament in Rock Hill, MUSC's Lillian Saul was runner-up in girls' 12.

Citadel-CSU Tuesday

--The College of Charleston women played an unusual doubleheader on President's Day that included a night match welcoming former Bishop England star Elissa Kinard back to town as a college head coach. The Cougars won both matches in impressive fashion, blanking South Carolina State in the sunshine and then blitzing Kinard's University of Albany (N.Y.) team, 6-1, in the nearly freezing night temperatures. The Cougars won their fourth straight match Friday against UNC Wilmington and will play at Coastal Carolina today.

Join the team

Are you among the elite in your age group? If so, you might be interested in participating in the Southern Senior Cup June 1-3 in Columbus, Ga.

LCTA president Bob Peiffer has confirmed that a search is being conducted for competitors for the event. As many as 40 players will be selected for the Southern Senior Cup team. There's five different age groups for men and women, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65-74 and 75-and-over.

Anyone interested in joining the fun can submit a written request to USTA/SC competition coordinator Scottie Rabb at rabb@sctennis.com. Faxes can be sent to 803-753-9255.

Peiffer also can provide insight into the Southern Senior Cup selection process and the weekend in Columbus. He can be reached at 763-5376.

Local notes

A USTA Recreational Coach Workshop will be held March 17 at Maybank Tennis Center on James Island. The 10 a.m.-5 p.m. event will be one of more than 200 such workshops taking place in the nation during 2007. To sign up for the Maybank event, contact Maggie LaCoste (906-6623 or mlacoste@bellsouth.net).

The City of Charleston Recreation Department has coordinated with the Municipal Golf Course to hold a tennis/golf day for juniors 10-18 years old on March 26 while Charleston County schools are out for a teacher work day. Participants will start the day with instructions by city pros Toni Young, Fredrik Andersson and Michael Fischbach at Maybank Tennis Center at 9 a.m. Golf instructions will start at 12:30 p.m. at the Municipal course. Registration forms are available at Maybank (406-8814) and Municipal (795-6517).

The annual Flowertown Mixed Doubles Tennis Tournament is scheduled for March 30-April 1 at the Azalea Park courts in Summerville. Entry forms are available at Miler Country Club, the Summerville Family YMCA and Pinewood Prep, or by calling Greg Hancox (830-5351).


(02/23/07)  Serena joins party; Family Circle Cup field has five current or former No. 1 players
Serena Williams has accepted an invitation to the Family Circle Cup's No. 1 party. The Australian Open champion's confirmation means that five of the seven current singles players who have owned the world's No. 1 ranking in women's tennis are scheduled to be on hand during the April 7-15 Family Circle Cup. That's pretty fast company, considering that only 15 women in tennis' open era have ascended to the top spot of the professional game.

Serena joins current No. 1 Maria Sharapova and former No. 1s Justine Henin, Amelie Mauresmo and Martina Hingis in a Family Circle field that includes six of the world's top 10 players and 10 of the top 15. Williams, who shocked the tennis world by winning last month's Australian Open when she was ranked 81st, is currently ranked 15th.

"Serena's performance at the Australian Open last month was remarkable and it showed us all how determined and focused she is on getting back to the top of her game," Family Circle tournament director Robin Reynolds said. "Serena has certainly been a crowd favorite here in Charleston over the years and we are delighted to have her back."

This will mark Williams' fourth appearance on Daniel Island. She was a finalist in 2003, losing to Henin. Williams lost to Conchita Martinez in the round of 16 here in 2004 when her older sister, Venus Williams, won the Family Circle Cup. Venus has not entered this year's event.

"I'm really looking forward to starting my clay court season at the Family Circle Cup," said Serena Williams, who has twice made financial contributions to Charleston's Courting Kids inner-city program. "Charleston is a great city to visit, and I've always enjoyed playing the tournament."

Fifth-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova and No. 9 Nicole Vaidisova are other top-10 players entered in the $1.3 million Family Circle Cup. Defending champion Nadia Petrova, currently ranked seventh, is among the players who have not yet entered.


(02/22/07)  Porter-Gaud chaplain plays double role as tennis coach
A chaplain or a tennis coach. But a chaplain and a tennis coach? Either is special. Together in one, they're an unusual blend.

Ken Weldon just thinks he's lucky to be both the chaplain and a tennis coach at Porter-Gaud School.

"This is a dream job. ... I have the greatest job in the world," Weldon said after a recent boys tennis practice at the Porter-Gaud courts. "When I was in the seminary, I said I wanted to be a school chaplain at an Episcopal school and coach the boys tennis team."

This is Weldon's third year at Porter-Gaud. He also is a priest associate at the historic St. Philip's Church on Church Street. He was a full-time priest for three years at St. Philip's before taking his current positions at Porter-Gaud.

A native of Fort Mill, Weldon "grew up the son of a coach."

His father, Eddie Weldon, retired last year from Winthrop University, where he had been the men's and women's golf coach.

Weldon played tennis for the University of the South-Sewanee, then transferred to the College of Charleston, where he earned a degree in 1991. He returned to Sewanee to attend the seminary, finishing in 2001.

In between undergraduate work and the seminary, he served as a youth minister at three different churches.

But now Weldon and veteran head coach Tom Higgins, the former head tennis coach at Eastern Kentucky University, face a major challenge. The Cyclones lost six seniors from a team that last spring won a fourth straight Class AAA S.C. Independent School Association state championship.

Among the returnees, only junior Richard Pearce and freshman Charlie Baker played regularly last season and are being counted on by Weldon and Higgins to lead the team.

The Cyclones' toughest test is expected to come from region rival and 2006 SCISA state runner-up Pinewood Prep, which returns most of its lineup.

Porter-Gaud will begin its regular season March 5 against High School League member James Island.


(02/21/07)  Tennis produces a lifetime of enjoyment
It appears to be rather common for runners, golfers and athletes in other adult participatory sports to fear that the stopping, starting and quick turns in tennis competition will tear up their knees. And it can.

So can just about anything else. I seem to do more damage to my knees getting in and out of the driver's seat of my car than by playing competitive tennis a couple of days a week.

Where's this assessment leading? Well, Tuesday morning while in my dermatologist's office at MUSC, I asked the question, "Are you a tennis player?" You know, I'm so biased toward tennis that I wonder why everyone doesn't play the game for a lifetime.

"My knees wouldn't take it," Dr. Joel Cook said. He volunteered that he has been a runner since middle school days in Eastern Tennessee, and that he runs marathons, his last one in Ireland.

Many tennis players double-train by running. The captain of my 3.5 adult team, Steven Barry, has a marathon to his credit.

But basically, I subscribe to the theory that many runners are runners because they haven't found a suitable welcoming point into tennis. Getting started in tennis is one of the most difficult things about the game. After that, tennis can be the most enjoyable, competitive and socially rewarding sport in which a person can participate.

Tennis, of course, requires at least one other person, but the ideal setup would be a team or a regular group. That's where running has a huge advantage. As Dr. Cook said, "The reason I love running is because I can run any time and any place."

I was never a great athlete. But I've tried just about every sport except wrestling and auto racing. I was a starting pulling guard in high school football, played JV basketball, was a starting infielder/catcher/pitcher on church league and battalion-level National Guard summer camp fast-pitch softball teams, and even pole-vaulted. That's while growing up on a one-horse tobacco farm with a dad who expected my presence working the fields every afternoon, except during football season. The farm didn't introduce me to tennis, but one crumbled-up leaf of cured tobacco wrapped in newspaper made me a lifetime non-smoker, which doesn't hurt my tennis game.

I've never found any other form of sport to match tennis for fun, excitement and competition. I'd recommend it for almost anyone. People in their 80s and 90s play the game regularly. I am convinced that tennis is underrated for its value as "The Game for a Lifetime."

Fishburne selected

Diane Fishburne has bounced back from knee surgery in 2006 to be selected as a member of the USTA's Maria Esther Bueno Cup women's 50 team that will battle the rest of the world in Antalya, Turkey, April 23-28. Fishburne, the world's No. 1 women's 45 player two years ago, won International Tennis Federation women's 45 singles titles in 2002 and 2004. The former College of Charleston All-American currently teaches tennis at the Country Club of Charleston.


(02/18/07)  Courting Kids still thriving as it enters 16th season

American tennis needs more Delores Jacksons.

Charleston native Arthur Anastopoulo probably put it best Saturday when he said, "If we had more people like Delores around, tennis would be zooming. We wouldn't have to worry about American tennis."

Anastopoulo was the head pro at Charleston Tennis Center in 1992 when part-time city employee Jackson put her tennis wheels in motion by starting the Courting Kids inner-city program.

Fifteen years later, Courting Kids is still going strong. More than 3,200 kids 5-17 years of age have participated in the program. Courting Kids and Jackson both have won national USTA awards and have been featured by CBS.

Courting Kids might never have existed without the help of a $12,000 grant from the Paul Newman Foundation. And it definitely wouldn't have flourished all of these years without the commitment, determination and coordination of Jackson.

"Delores has put her heart and soul into Courting Kids," said Anastopoulo, who serves as tennis director at Holley By The Sea Tennis Club in Navarre, Fla. "She has been unbelievable in keeping it going."

Jackson had just retired from the Charleston Naval Shipyard when it closed in the early 1990s. She joined the Charleston Tennis Center staff of Anastopoulo, current city tennis manager Peggy Bohne and current tennis center assistant Faye Rigsbee in a part-time capacity in 1991, and immediately saw the need to establish a program for Charleston's inner-city kids.

"Delores went to all the schools. She sent out fliers, and she wrote a zillion letters (seeking funds)," Anastopoulo recalled.

One of the letters soliciting funds went to Harris Teeter Supermarkets, which forwarded the letter to the Paul Newman Foundation. That was the starting point for Courting Kids. The grant came through in February and the program started in March.

"When we first started, it was free because we had the Paul Newman money. We had hundreds of kids," Jackson said. "That got us started."

A year later, the City of Charleston, with the support of Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., put Courting Kids in its budget. The program has been the recipient of a total of $15,000-$20,000 from the Williams sisters, first from Serena on her early visits to the Family Circle Cup and then $5,000 from Venus in 2004 when she won the Family Circle. The Lowcountry Tennis Association also has chipped in with financial support.

Why has Jackson continued to put her personal stamp of love into Courting Kids as the program prepares to start its 16th year next month?

"I love it. I love exposing the kids to something new," Jackson said.

--Courting Kids will begin March 10 and run for seven Saturdays at the downtown Jack Adams Tennis Center and Alan Fleming Tennis Center on Johns Island. For more information, contact Charleston Tennis Center (766-7401).

Kinard returns

Former Bishop England standout Elissa Kinard, now the head women's tennis coach at the University of Albany (N.Y.), will bring her team to Charleston the next two days to play matches against the College of Charleston and Charleston Southern.


(02/14/07)  Roddick is the flagship for American tennis
You've got to give Andy Roddick credit. Perhaps no other player in nearly two decades - or since John McEnroe - has carried American tennis more squarely on his shoulders than Roddick.

Mention Davis Cup, and Roddick already will have his hand up as a volunteer. If the Americans are playing, he'll be there. You don't have to worry about buying an advance ticket and the star not showing up. You can even feel safe in going to the expense of following the Americans abroad.

Roddick runs Davis Cup red, white and blue.

Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier all won more Grand Slam titles, but only Agassi among the trio had to contend with a fully mature Roger Federer.

Take Federer out of the mix, and Roddick's Grand Slam total might be as high as six. That kind of success would have put Roddick on the road to a quick entry into the Hall of Fame.

If you missed it over the weekend (I know, it can be tricky to find the Davis Cup on TV anymore), there was Roddick once again leading the Americans. He rolled to a couple of impressive victories over the Czechs. On red clay, no less. The Bryan brothers took care of the rest.

Now, it's on to an indoor quarterfinal against the Spanish in Winston-Salem, N.C., the first full weekend in April (tickets go on sale Thursday, 888-484-8782). And where was Federer while the Swiss were losing to Spain? He was playing golf, according to reports.

Of course, if Federer had played against Spain, Winston-Salem might be planning a Federer-Roddick party. You've got to wonder about Federer's motivation for not playing against Spain on home soil in Geneva. Just how often will Federer get to play before the home crowd in something as meaningful as Davis Cup while he's at the peak of his game?

Even Rafael Nadal tried to play for Spain, but a thigh injury on Friday morning sidelined the left-handed whiz. The injury shouldn't be serious enough to keep Nadal from visiting Winston-Salem.

That's good news for James Blake, who makes a living pounding high-kicking balls on hard surfaces. Blake must be licking his chops already as he looks for a get-well card for Nadal.

The possibility of Nadal playing in Winston-Salem and Blake continuing his mastery over the Spaniard could take some pressure off Roddick. Maybe Roddick and the Bryan brothers will get some help this time.

Andy coming back?

The possibility of Roddick showing up in Charleston again this spring for an exhibition match isn't out of the question. It's just that last year Roddick and the Bryans were practically begging for someone to put on an exhibition at Family Circle Tennis Center.

"Last year the players came to me," Tim Stallard of Texas-based ProLink Sports and Entertainment said Tuesday from Austin.

Stallard came to the rescue last May and promoted an exhibition that helped Roddick and the Bryans prepare for the European clay-court season. About 3,000 fans attended the mid week event on four weeks' notice.

Stallard said he has talked with Family Circle officials and also has been in contact with Roddick, the Bryans and other players.

"We would love to do another tennis event like we did last year with Andy Roddick," said Stallard, who staged an exhibition in December in Atlanta between Sampras and Robby Ginepri that drew a sellout crowd of 4,200. Stallard also promoted two exhibitions in the Dallas area in December that featured the Bryans, Blake and Mardy Fish.

U.S. Clay Courts?

There apparently isn't any definitive word yet on the possibility of the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships moving back to Charleston next spring from Houston, but USTA public relations executive Chris Widmaier said Tuesday from New York, "We'll take due diligence to explore a number of possible locations (for the Clay Courts), but I know Charleston will be on that list."


(02/13/07)  Safina, Schnyder join Family Circle field
The field for the 35th annual Family Circle Cup looks more and more like a Grand Slam draw with each passing week. Wonder who will enter next? But after Monday's announcement that No. 11 Dinara Safina and No. 13 Patty Schnyder had entered the April 7-15 tennis tournament, there can't be much excitement left - at least until the tournament starts on the green clay on Daniel Island.

The only really big guns who aren't entered are fourth-ranked Kim Clijsters and defending Family Circle champion Nadia Petrova, along with Venus and Serena Williams.

As it stands now, five of the top six players in the world (top-ranked Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin, Amelie Mauresmo, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Martina Hingis, in that ranking order), eight of the top 11 and nine of the top 13 are entered in the $1.3 million women's tennis tournament.

"Over the last two years, Dinara has emerged as one of Russia's top female tennis players," Family Circle tournament director Robin Reynolds said about the 20-year-old sister of men's star Marat Safin.

Safina was a Family Circle quarterfinalist in 2006 when she had her best year on the WTA Tour by reaching two Grand Slam tournament quarterfinals. She has more than $2 million in earnings and already has won five tour titles. The 6-foot power hitter defeated Hingis in last month's final at Gold Coast (Australia).

Perhaps, no player has endeared herself more to Charleston fans than Schnyder, the gritty little Swiss left-hander who is making her 11th straight appearance in the Family Circle Cup.

"Patty is a seasoned veteran who has always done well in Charleston and has become very popular with our fans," Reynolds said.

Schnyder has been a finalist here twice, including last year when she fell to Petrova on championship Sunday, and has made the semifinals or better of the last three Family Circles. She has posted a 25-10 record in the Family Circle Cup at Charleston and Hilton Head Island.

Now 28 years old, Schnyder has more than $5.7 million in career earnings to go with 10 tour titles. She has been ranked as high as seventh in the world.

--Family Circle Cup tickets are available by phone, online or at Ticketmaster outlets.

For tickets or information, contact the Family Circle Cup (856-7900 or www.familycirclecup.com).


(02/11/07)  Weather or not, Family Circle event a success
It would have been a perfect night for a duck party. Chilly and wet.

But at Family Circle Tennis Center on Friday night, the courts were full of men's and women's tennis players. "Let It Rain" seemed to be their slogan.

At times, the rain poured. But nothing stopped the 35-40 Family Circle members and invited guests from completing their hour or so of round-robin competition.

When the tennis was over, Family Circle pro Dewey Caulder and ex-banker now volunteer chief chef John Graham had a table lined with hot wings, grilled sausage and an assortment of sandwich fixings waiting for the participants.

The social event featured samples of several of the best entries in the Family Circle Cup's Official Drink Contest. Guests were given the opportunity to vote on the drinks.

--Leslie Allen, the former WTA Tour player who now serves on the WTA Tour players' board, stopped by the party. Leslie had flown in from New York to direct this weekend's Win4Life session at MUSC. Win4Life still has sessions in the coming weeks at The Citadel and the College of Charleston. So, Leslie will be back a couple more times before wrapping up the year's Win4Life schedule during the week of April 7-15 at the Family Circle Cup, the youth program's local partner.

--Another guest was local realtor Danny Kendall, who works more than a dozen weeks a year for the WTA Tour in media relations. Danny is leaving next weekend for the Memphis stop on the WTA Tour before heading out to the desert for Palm Springs' combined men's and women's Indian Wells event.

Davis Cup lull

No one present seemed to mind missing out on the Tennis Channel's taped coverage of Andy Roddick's win and James Blake's loss in the U.S.-Czech Davis Cup tie. Of course, the Tennis Channel probably has a small audience in the area, due to its limited availability on cable. Same-day coverage of today's deciding reverse singles matches can be seen at noon on Comcast's Versus, formerly the Outdoor Life Network.

Beach tennis moves in

Beach tennis is making the big move to the area's big-time tennis venue. That's right, beach tennis is moving into the confines of Family Circle Tennis Center - at least, for one week.

Carolina Beach Tennis is the name co-founders Chris Henderson and Phil Whitesell have given their new venture. The product will be on exhibition throughout Family Circle Cup Week in the form of free instructional clinics.

You might say that medical equipment salesman Henderson and College of Charleston men's tennis coach Whitesell are the real pros of beach tennis. They have won the first two beach tennis national championships and last year's international beach tennis championship.

Local notes

--Family Circle Tennis Center has been selected as one of the top 50 Tennis Welcome Centers for 2006. The selection was made by the Tennis Industry Association and the USTA.

--The Family Circle Cup has selected the Center for Women again this year as its official charity beneficiary. The Center for Women will have a presence at the tournament in an effort to raise funds for the services the organization provides for women in the tri-county area.

--Charleston's Barbara Brewer was presented the Charlie B. Morris Service Award at last month's USTA Southern Section meeting in Atlanta. Brewer is a former president of the Southern Section.

--Remember, the College of Charleston women will open their home schedule Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. against East Tennessee State at Patriot's Point. The C of C men and women will be at home to Winthrop on Valentine's afternoon.


(02/07/07)  CPTL brings local teams back together
The Charleston Pro Tennis League is playing a minor role in bringing the area's three men's college tennis programs together again.

While The Citadel and the College of Charleston have been meeting each season as members of the Southern Conference, Big South Conference Charleston Southern has been left on the outside.

Not anymore. The schools' coaches are buddies, all having played together in the CPTL. CSU's Mike Baker and The Citadel's Toby Simpson even played doubles together one recent fall on a CPTL championship team.

"We haven't played them (CSU) since I've been here," said Simpson, in his sixth season at The Citadel and fifth as head coach.

That will change Feb. 21 when the Bucs visit The Citadel's Earle Tennis Center. The Bucs also will play at the College of Charleston on March 13.

"We wanted to get on their schedule . . . Mike's a College of Charleston alumnus," C of C coach Phil Whitesell said, noting that the Cougars hadn't met the Bucs the last two seasons.

Bulldogs go west

The Citadel will leave Thursday for Colorado Springs where the Bulldogs will take on Air Force on Friday, and Idaho State and South Dakota State on Saturday. The Bulldogs have played road matches at Atlantic Coast Conference powers N.C. State and Clemson, losing both decisively.

However, the Bulldogs' one point in the two matches was scored at No. 1 singles against Clemson when Australian junior Daniel Dossetor upset the Tigers' Clement Reix, who is ranked 46th nationally.

The Citadel also has New Zealand junior James Eason, who went unbeaten in singles in the SoCon last season. Dossetor and Eason form the nation's 20th-ranked doubles team, although they have dropped their first two doubles matches of 2007.

Cougars start strong

Whitesell is excited about the Cougars' season-opening 5-2 win over North Florida, a team C of C lost to last season. "Last year we won doubles, but lost singles," Whitesell said. "This time we lost the doubles point, but won five of six singles."

The Cougars have their top five players back, senior leaders Or Dekel and Marcus DiGliodo at the top two positions, followed by No. 3 Justin Malina, No. 4 Omer Abramovich and No. 5 Perry Allen. Freshman Steven Myers, the Indiana high school champion the last two years, has moved into the sixth slot. Charleston's next match will be at home on Feb. 14 against Winthrop.

Bucs drop pair

Charleston Southern suffered a 7-0 season-opening loss at Clemson last Saturday, then fell to South Carolina 6-1 on Saturday. The Bucs' next match will be Feb. 18 at Georgia Southern.

Baker, in his second year at CSU, has a veteran lineup that includes senior Quentin Guichard at No. 1, followed by the Dean brothers, Jonathan and Steven, at the next two positions. Sophomore Chris Peek is playing No. 4.

Women's update

--CSU's women will open their season Saturday at home against Presbyterian at 2:30 p.m.

--The College of Charleston women dropped their opener, 7-0, at Clemson. Coach Angelo Anastopoulo's C of C team will take on former Citadel coach Steve Brooks' East Tennessee State club next Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. at Patriots Point.

--Charleston's Barbara Brewer was presented the Charlie B. Morris Service Award at last month's USTA Southern Section meeting in Atlanta. Brewer is a former president of the Southern Section.

--Family Circle Tennis Center will hold a member/invited guest social on Friday from 4:30-6:30 p.m. to sample six of the best Family Circle Cup Official Drink Contest entries as well as play some social tennis. The votes from the attendees will be given special consideration by the judges in choosing the winner of the drink contest.

--The Family Circle Cup has selected the Center for Women again this year as its official charity beneficiary. The Center for Women will have a presence at the tournament in an effort to raise funds for the services the organization provides for women in the tri-county area.


(02/06/07)  Family Circle lands seventh top 10 player
Seventy percent is a pretty good percentage for just about anything in sports. That's why Family Circle Cup tournament director Robin Reynolds is wearing such a big smile these days. Not only does the April 7-15 event on Daniel Island have world's No. 1 Maria Sharapova and a host of other top stars entered, the $1.3 million women's tennis tournament has added No. 9 Nicole Vaidisova and No. 10 Jelena Jankovic. That gives the 35th annual Family Circle Cup seven of the top 10 players in the world.

"Nicole and Jelena are two players who represent the youthful and talented depth that exists at the top level of women's professional tennis today," Reynolds said. "They are the driving force behind the next generation of stars, and we're very glad to have them back in Charleston competing against the other top players in the world."

In additon to Sharapova, the entry list includes No. 2 Justine Henin, No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo, No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova and No. 6 Martina Hingis.

Among the world's top 10 players, only No. 4 Kim Clijsters, No. 7 Nadia Petrova and No. 8 Elena Dementieva are missing from the Family Circle Cup entry list. Petrova is the defending champion and Dementieva has been a Family Circle regular.

Vaidisova and Jankovic both are Family Circle veterans. The 17-year-old Vaidisova has played in the last two tournaments on Daniel Island, while Jankovic has appeared in four Family Circles, the last three in succession.

However, the hard-hitting Jankovic hasn't made it past the second round.

Jankovic, a 21-year-old from Belgrade, Serbia, had a breakthrough year in 2006, after advancing to the semifinals of the U.S. Open. She has more than $1.7 million in earnings to go with two singles titles.

The 2005 Family Circle was especially satisfying for the big-serving Vaidisova. After starting the tournament ranked 47th in the world, she defeated No. 3 seed Anastasia Myskina for her first victory over a top 10 player. She advanced all the way to the quarterfinals. The 6-0 Czech has claimed six WTA Tour singles titles and earned more than $1.5 million.

Both Vaidisova and Jankovic have Florida connections. While Vaidisova has trained at Bollettieri Academy, Jankovic resides in Bradenton, Fla.

--Family Circle Cup tickets are available from Ticketmaster 24 hours a day at www.ticketmaster.com. They also can be ordered by telephone (554-6060) or from any Publix offering Ticketmaster services.


(02/04/07)  Wide scale availability of game limited by the Tennis Channel
The cable sports network only looked like it was coming to tennis' rescue by joining with the Tennis Channel at the French Open.

By gaining control of U.S. cable TV rights for the French Open, the USTA-backed Tennis Channel appears to have thrown a sucker punch at many serious tennis fans as well as possibly curtailed tennis' popularity during the French Open.

After its most successful Australian Open coverage (the Serena Williams-Maria Sharapova Australian final was ESPN's highest-rated tennis coverage ever), ESPN announced it was joining the Tennis Channel in Paris. On the surface, that was great news for tennis fans, considering that the Tennis Channel isn't available everywhere, and it requires a premium package where it is available.

There's more. The Tennis Channel has the coveted 5 a.m.-noon live weekday slot for the French Open, while ESPN2 gets the leftover noon-6:30 p.m. time when most players already will be in the locker room. ESPN2's limited live coverage will include the women's semifinals. The Tennis Channel gets the men's semifinals. Fortunately, NBC still will telecast the finals to the masses.

The Tennis Channel isn't available in Charleston on Comcast. On Knology, the Tennis Channel is part of an add-on package that requires digital. That comes to a $20 monthly upgrade over basic cable.

Is this just the sign of the times? This suggests that the day is coming when most tennis coverage on U.S. TV sets might be relegated to the Tennis Channel. Hopefully, the USTA, with its recent investment in the Tennis Channel, has fan-friendly plans for the future.

Or is this venture by the USTA simply a means to pad its bankroll and to increase its stranglehold on the sport in this country, similarly to the way the NFL is doing with the NFL Network? Remember, USTA pro tennis boss Arlen Kantarian formerly served as the vice president of marketing for NFL Properties.

The USTA surely has long-term plans to eventually - at whatever cost - push the Tennis Channel to the masses of basic cable, to join the free golf and auto racing channels. Otherwise, tennis' growth could well be restricted in the future.

Of course, many serious tennis fans will dish out the extra monthly fees for premium cable, if the Tennis Channel is available, but other tennis people won't. And for all of those other non-tennis fans not going premium, there won't be the possiblity that while flipping channels they may stop for a few minutes to watch Maria Sharapova or Andy Roddick.

Heinz, Rogers No. 1s

Austin Heinz in boys' 10 and Shelby Rogers in girls' 16 led the Charleston area in the state junior rankings for 2006 by earning No. 1 recognitions. The area's next highest-ranked players are Adam Elliget and Anderson Scarpa, who held down the No. 2 spots in boys' 10 and 12, respectively.

Six locals were ranked in the top 20 of girls' 18: No. 3 Jessica Diamond, No. 7 Ashley Mitchell, No. 10 Brooke Mosteller, No. 15 Jamie Harrell, No. 17 Caroline Thornton and No. 20 Luann Cignavitch.

In girls' 10, Celeste Pritchard was No. 7, Corey Caulder No. 13, Kristen Marie Farmer No. 15 and Ann Hay No. 18. Girls' 12 had five top 20 players: No. 4 Patricia Kirkland, No. 13 Mi'Kola Cooper, No. 15 Taylor Perkins, No. 16 Isabel Dennis and No. 18 Ann Hay.

In girls' 14, Downing Herlocker was ranked 19th. Jamie Harrell joined Rogers in girls' 16 by taking the No. 16 ranking.

The area had two girls' doubles teams ranked in the top five in 16-and-under, No. 4 Anna Brewer/Paige Sharkey and No. 5 Carolyn Bethea/Kathryn Bethea.

In boys' 12, the area had eight top 20 players. After Scarpa, Steven Weaver was No. 4, Payne Hoy No. 6, Austin Heinz No. 10, Zac Dye No. 15, Wilson Daniel No. 18, Joel Roberts No. 19 and Bailey Kirkland No. 20.

After Heinz and Elliget in boys' 10, Seth Adam was ranked 20.

Peter Pritchard was the lone local player in the top 20 in boys' 14, taking 20th. In boys' 16, John Karle was No. 9, Donald Bruner No. 13 and Randall Heffron No. 17. Dirk Bair led the way in boys' 18 at No. 7, followed by No. 12 Bo Crouch and No. 13 Stephen Beach.

The area loaded up in boys' 12 doubles with five of the top six teams: No. 1 Daniel/Joseph Tiller, No. 2 Hoy/Mishka Scarafile, No. 3 Kirkland/Thomas Spratt, No. 5 Jonathan Edwards/Joey Shelver and No. 6 Drew Dangerfield/Thomas Kuisel. In boys' 14, the area had No. 3 Connor Clements/J.B. Robards.


(01/31/07)  Sharapova joins Family Circle field
Is Maria Sharapova bigger than women's tennis?

Some observers claim she's 6-3, although she's officially listed as one inch shorter. Thus, the Russian beauty stands above most of the top players on the WTA Tour.

Sharapova also is huge in endorsement popularity. She clearly stands tallest of all women in sports in that area. The 19-year-old blonde has millions and millions of dollars flowing into her bank account each year because of her glamorous looks, and of course because she has been able to back up her looks on the tennis court.

Just this week, she became the world's No. 1 player for the third time in her short career. And now she's returning to the Family Circle Cup as a bona fide star.

"Not only is she the world's top

female player, but Maria is also a celebrity that transcends tennis, and we are very pleased that she'll be here in April," tournament director Robin Reynolds said.

Sharapova is the fifth player among the world's top six to join the field for the April 7-15 clay-court tournament on Daniel Island. Second-ranked Justine Henin, No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo, No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova and No. 6 Martina Hingis

already had entered the $1.3 million event.

This group of players has won 15 Grand Slam titles and Kuznetsova is the lone member who hasn't tasted the No. 1 ranking.

"Maria is one of the most sought-after players on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, and her commitment to play this event takes the Family Circle Cup to a whole new level," Reynolds said.

The last time Sharapova entered the Family Circle Cup, it was the tournament's qualifying event in 2003. Only 15 years old then, she won two matches to make the main draw, lost in the first round, and hasn't been seen on Daniel Island since. A few months later, she won the Japan Open for her first WTA Tour title.

"I have very pleasant memories of my trip to Charleston four years ago, and I'm looking forward to playing in the tournament and enjoying some time in the city," Sharapova said.

Top-ranked Sharapova enters Family Circle Cup

"The Family Circle Cup has a great reputation on the tour,

especially with the players, so I'm excited to be coming back and starting my clay-court season at such a wonderful event."

Sharapova is fresh off a runner-up finish in the Australian Open. Although Sharapova won only three games against Serena Williams in Saturday's final, that was a debt Sharapova owed. Williams had been the player who yielded centerstage for Sharapova's breakthrough moment on the WTA Tour. That was the 2004 Wimbledon final when Sharapova did the unthinkable - she defeated Williams.

Sharapova has been women's tennis' cover girl ever since. And she won't go away anytime soon in endorsements. She signed a lifetime endorsement with Prince Sports last year.

She has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, has been listed by Forbes magazine as one of the richest female athletes in the world and has been featured as one of People magazine's 50 most beautiful people.

Sharapova first became the world's top-ranked player in

August of 2005, but lost the top spot after one week only to reclaim it two weeks later for another six weeks. This time, Sharapova is a whopping 607 points ahead of Henin and more than a thousand points above Mauresmo. Thus, Sharapova isn't likely to lose the No. 1 ranking for awhile.


(01/31/07)  Has Clijsters let rival keep her away?

Kim Clijsters apparently will end her professional tennis career having never played in the Family Circle Cup. That's a shame, as much on Clijsters' part as for the fans who have been unable to see this talented young woman play in person.

It may be just that rival and fellow Belgian Justine Henin claimed the Family Circle Cup for her own first. Clijsters probably wouldn't dare show up for an event that's far less significant than a Grand Slam, if Henin already has the site staked out, especially if it's a clay-court event such as the Family Circle Cup.

You can't blame Clijsters for not wanting to go against Henin. The slight one with the flowing one-handed backhand and huge competitive spirit has beaten Clijsters in eight of their last 11 meetings, five of six confrontations on clay and their last five meetings in Grand Slams. Henin holds a 12-10 edge overall.

What's really a shame is that Clijsters will be only 24 years old when she retires from the WTA Tour at the end of the year. No one other than Clijsters herself knows just how deep her commitment to the game will be for the next 10 months.

Perhaps Clijsters just wants to pad her bank account before becoming a housewife. But Henin's recent announcement that she was separating from her husband might cause Clijsters to have second thoughts about giving up a sport so early at which she was so blessed to have the talent to excel at the pro level.

The fourth-ranked Clijsters is the only player among the world's top six who isn't entered in the April 7-15 Family Circle Cup. It wouldn't be surprising if the Daniel Island event attracts other top 10 players, considering that Nos. 7-11 Nadia Petrova, Elena Dementieva, Nicole Vaidisova, Jelena Jankovic and Patty Schnyder all have played here multiple times in recent years, and Petrova is the defending champion.

Since Venus Williams has committed to playing Fed Cup in April, you can't rule out the possiblity of Venus coming to the Family Circle Cup. And if Venus comes, look for little sister Serena, who appears to be serious about her comeback after winning the Australian Open. Serena Williams is entered in smaller hard-court events in Bangalore and Dubai in February.

Local notes

West Ashley tennis players shouldn't forget tonight's 6:30 public meeting at West Ashley High School to discuss the proposed new City of Charleston tennis complex at Grand Oaks off Bees Ferry Road.

--For juniors and their parents, there's the public meeting from 5-6:30 p.m. on Friday at Mount Pleasant's Players Club in which USTA Southern Section director of player development Bill Ozaki will give a presentation on the pathway for competitive tennis.

--The last coaches meeting for the Tri-county Elementary and Middle School Tennis League is scheduled for Feb. 8 at 5 p.m. at Charleston Tennis Center. The deadline for team registrations is Feb. 9. The league will start March 12. Contact city tennis manager Peggy Bohne (843) 766-7401.

--The Family Circle Cup ball crew will hold this Saturday's practice at Maybank Tennis Center from 12:30-3 p.m. Except for another session Feb. 24 at Maybank, future Saturday practices will be held at Family Circle Tennis Center. Contact Susan Honowitz (843) 686-4477.


(01/29/07)  Federer's will broke Gonzalez

The will to win, the will to stake one more claim of greatness to his legacy came through loud and clear for Roger Federer in Sunday's Australian Open final.

Much like Serena Williams had a day earlier in the women's final in dominating Maria Sharapova, Federer demonstrated an iron will against Chile's Fernando Gonzalez. The story of the men's final was written in just a few games and the tiebreaker at the end of the first set.

It was in this brief period of time that Federer imposed his will in such an enormous way that Gonzalez appeared to concede his destiny.

When Federer took a 5-0 lead in the tiebreaker, everyone in Melbourne and television viewers around the world - including middle-of-the-nighters in Charleston - were once again reminded just how great a champion Federer is.

The last two sets of Federer's seventh consecutive straight-set victory were almost an afterthought. Once he squandered two set points and then was swept away by Federer in the tiebreaker, Gonzalez's will to win appeared to melt into the court surface that had been so favorable for his game in straight-set blitzings of four of the world's best players.

This match wasn't nearly as competitive as its 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 final score might indicate. Yet, it wasn't a pretty tennis match for either side.

The spectacular thing about this match wasn't its beauty nor the poetic-like shot-making ability of its combatants, it was that Federer survived, or thrived. To play in a seventh straight Grand Slam final, and to win six of those events, is legendary in itself.

Federer has taken men's tennis for his own in such a way that only the crumbs are left for would-be challengers such as Gonzalez, Rafael Nadal, James Blake and Andy Roddick. At this point, any of these players might be able to defeat Federer, but possibly not on the big stage of the three non-clay court Grand Slam tournaments, each of which Federer has won at least three times.

Of course, Federer's dream is to also stake his claim to greatness on the clay of the French Open. Because of his total dominance since his loss to Nadal in last year's French final, the possibility of Federer winning in Paris might be more realistic than ever.

Whether it was the challenge of the occasion or of facing Federer, Gonzalez wasn't the same player who had played so flawlessly, especially in committing only three unforced errors against 42 winners in his semifinal conquest of Tommy Haas. Gonzalez didn't seem to hit out on his forehand as often this time. He appeared to arrive late for them, and thus sprayed forehands as well as backhands well off the court.

Federer's inconsistency on first serves allowed Gonzalez to serve for the first set. But the defining moment for Gonzalez in the first set, and possibly the match, came on his last set point, when he ran around his backhand only to net his signature forehand down the line.

Gonzalez appeared to play too casually the last two sets while apparently content to hold his own serve. But casual tennis wasn't good enough to match the world's best player, as Gonzalez faltered on his serve in the seventh game of each of the last two sets.

And Roger The Great couldn't have been more appreciative.


(01/28/07)  Serena has ability to dominate
Watch out, women's tennis.

No one is safe. Not current No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne. Not former No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo. And, of course, not tomorrow's No. 1, Maria Sharapova.

If Serena Williams is really back for the long haul, and not just to collect some more endorsements, women's tennis is in for a fun ride. There's never a dull moment when Serena's around. She has her own Serena Style.

But this is scary. What if Serena actually gets into shape without having to play herself into shape in a Grand Slam?

I've never seen Serena play better or smarter than she did in her 6-1, 6-2 destruction of Sharapova in the Australian Open final.

In the old days, Serena would simply blow opponents off the court. They didn't have a chance.

As it turned out, Sharapova didn't have a chance this time. But Serena didn't fly off into another world, and forget that the point stops when the ball leaves the court.

No, Serena made sure she kept her balls in play by taking a little off most of her shots. And even a Serena forehand or backhand at three-quarter speed is still faster and heavier than just about anyone's on the women's tour. They were certainly still too big for Sharapova, who looked especially slow footed and out of focus for some reason.

But what Serena took off her groundstrokes, she added to her serve. The serve was as awesome and had as much pinpoint accuracy and location as when Serena was in her prime, especially on big points. Once Sharapova fell two service breaks down in each set, her task was hopeless against Serena's serve.

Serena may not be in her prime right now, but hopefully by a few tournaments from now, say Miami in late March, Serena could be at the top of her game. And even more so by Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Playing smart tennis the way she did against Sharapova, Serena might even be a good possibility on clay at the French Open. A real Serena Slam? It's possible, if not this year, next year.

She's that much more talented than the rest of women's tennis.

I had questioned Serena's focus and fitness throughout her first six matches in Melbourne. But I've never seen her more focused than against Sharapova. Fitness? What's that? There's fitness for other players, and then fitness, Serena Style.

Four-for-four?

Wouldn't it be great if both Sharapova and Serena showed up for a rematch at the April 7-15 Family Circle Cup? Remember, the Family Circle already has three of the top four players in the world in Henin-Hardenne, Mauresmo and Svetlana Kuznetsova. New No. 1 Sharapova could make it four-for-four. With any kind of luck, Serena could be in the top 10 by then.

Public forum

A public meeting will be held Wednesday at West Ashley High School to discuss the proposed new City of Charleston tennis complex at Grand Oaks off Bees Ferry Road in West Ashley. Plans call for five or six courts in the complex.

This tennis development is critical for West Ashley, which is facing a severe shortage of tennis facilities. Courts are scattered around West Ashley subdivisions, but for league tennis there's only the courts at Charleston Tennis Center and the St. Andrew's Playgrounds.

Junior meeting

USTA Southern Section director of player development Bill Ozaki will hold a public meeting for local juniors and parents Friday at Mount Pleasant's Players Club frm 5-6:30 p.m. The program will include a presentation on the pathway for competitive tennis featuring ranking criteria and eligibility requirements from beginner to college level.


(01/27/07)  Men's Clay Court could call Daniel Island home
Charleston's spring tennis schedule might get busier, if there's any substance to a rumor floating around Down Under.

Yes, it's amazing that in a place as far away as Melbourne, Australia, some high profile tennis people are talking about the possibility of the U.S. Men's Clay Court Tennis Championships returning to Charleston, more precisely to Family Circle Tennis Center. The Clay Courts, of course, are the event that was held so successfully at Wild Dunes Racquet Club in 1988 and 1989, then moved to Kiawah Island for one year after Hurricane Hugo inflicted extensive damage on the Wild Dunes tennis complex.

The Clay Courts then left the area and eventually landed in Houston. But now Houston doesn't plan to renew its contract with the U.S. Tennis Association that expires at the end of this year's April 9-15 event. That's where Charleston might fit in mext year, according to the rumors in Melbourne.

"I have heard that same rumor. I heard it would be a combined event with their existing women's tournament (the April 7-15 Family Circle Cup)," John Tobias, vice president of the SFX Tennis Division, said this week from Australia where one of the players he manages (Mardy Fish) had lost to another player he helps manage (Andy Roddick) in the quarterfinals.

"I think all the guys would support the move to Charleston. They have played Davis Cup and (an exhibition) in Charleston and have loved the city. It would be great to keep the clay court event in the states and I don't think the guys will really care if it is on green or red clay."

Tobias also manages Mike and Bob Bryan, who like Roddick played in the 2004 Davis Cup tie and last spring's exhibition at the Family Circle complex. Fish also was part of the Davis Cup tie.

The SFX conglomerate's other tennis clients include the likes of Justine Henin-Hardenne and Andre Agassi. The tennis division is just part of SFX Sports Group, which is a management and marketing agency that represents more than 500 elite athletes around the world.

Meanwhile, Family Circle Cup tournament director Robin Reynolds said Friday, "We have not been approached ... It's too early to start discussing options when nothing is on the table."

The combined tournament rumor is a direct result of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's Roadmap 2010 strategy that is pushing for more combined men's and women's events. Putting on a combined tournament would test the 32-acre Family Circle Tennis Center, which features the world-class 10,200-seat Family Circle Magazine Stadium along with the Althea Gibson Club Court, and 11 other green clay courts and four hard courts.

"I just don't think we could hold two 64-draw tournaments at the same time," Reynolds said.

The $1.3 million Family Circle Cup is a 64-draw women's event, while the $416,000 U.S. Clay Courts is a 32-draw event. Both tournaments have doubles draws.

"If someone presented us with an opportunity to hold a combined event we would certainly consider it and look at all the factors involved to really see if it made sense for us," Nancy Weber, vice president of group marketing for Family Circle parent company Meredith Corporation, said Friday from New York.

"I have not heard anything from the Family Circle Cup regarding the possibility of a combined event with the men," Larry Scott, CEO and chairman of the WTA Tour, said.

"There are a lot of factors involved in staging combined events not just on our side but on the ATP Tour side as well. What I can say, however, is that the Family Circle Cup has been a signature event on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour for a long time, and the Charleston facility is a first class venue - both the organizers and facility would do a great job with a combined event."

Roger The Great

All right, Roger Federer fans. He's Roger The Great.

I admit that Federer is easily the best current player in men's tennis. I say that, fully realizing that Federer could lose to Fernando Gonzalez in the Australian Open final.

Federer didn't just defeat Andy Roddick in the semifinals, Federer completely broke Roddick down, crushing him into the ground-up tires that make up the Rod Laver Arena surface.


(01/24/07)  Kuznetsova commits to Family Circle Cup
Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova has become the fourth top-10 player and fourth Grand Slam tournament champion to enter the 35th annual Family Circle Cup. The talented 21-year-old, currently ranked fourth in the world, joins top-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne, No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo and No. 7 Martina Hingis in the field for the April 7-15 tournament on Daniel Island.

"Svetlana is one of the most exciting young players on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, and we are delighted to see her returning to Charleston this year," Family Circle tournament director Robin Reynolds said.

"With her entry, we now have three of the top five players in the world. Come this April, our fans will have the pleasure of seeing up close some of the greatest champions in women's professional tennis."

Although knocked out of the current Australian Open in the round of 16 by Shahar Peer, Kuznetsova is playing some of the best tennis of her career. She had an excellent 2006 by winning three WTA Tour titles, including Miami's Nasdaq 100, as well as advancing to the French Open final before losing to Henin-Hardenne.

Of course, the highlight of Kuznetsova's career came in the 2004 U.S. Open, when she became the lowest seed and lowest ranked player in the Open Era to win the New York event. Only 19 at the time, she closed out 2004 ranked fourth in the world.

But just as suddenly as Kuznetsova hit the world stage, she stumbled. She fell back to 18th in the world in 2005.

A good example of Kuznetsova's talent and versatility has been her play in doubles, where she has been ranked as high as third in the world. She owns one Grand Slam doubles title.

This will be the second straight appearance for Kuznetsova in the Family Circle Cup. The native of St. Petersburg, Russia, was a quarterfinalist in 2006.

She already has amassed more than $6 million in earnings and scored more than 200 WTA Tour victories in singles. She reached 11 semifinals in 2006.


(01/24/07)  Roddick catching up to Federer

And where has American tennis gone . . .?

Just tune in tonight to watch two "nearly former" stars. Andy Roddick and Serena Williams are very much alive among tennis' elite. Indeed, 2007 looks bright for American tennis.

Roddick might not be able to handle Roger Federer in the Australian Open semifinals. But don't count on it. Right now, Roddick is playing just as well as the world's No. 1 player. That's a pretty high level, considering that Federer also has played extremely well in the Australian Open.

Remember that exhibition victory by Roddick over Federer nearly two weeks ago? Exhibition? Right, but only on the official stats. The two men involved know otherwise.

You can count on Roddick putting up quite a struggle. He obviously believes he can beat any player in the game, even the great Federer, if for no other reason than what has happened in his recent meetings with Federer. With any kind of luck, Roddick could be on a three-match rather than a one-match winning streak against Federer.

Roddick is four months "Jimmy Connors smarter and better" than he was at the U.S. Open when he lost in four sets to Federer. Roddick also is a much-improved player even over November, when he lost to Federer in the Masters Cup after holding three match points. Roddick has put on a clinic in his last three matches at the Australian Open, especially against his good buddy Mardy Fish in the quarterfinals.

--Serena Williams probably won't win this Australian Open, not as long as Maria Sharapova or Kim Clijsters are around. But beating young, erratic and over-hitting Nicole Vaidisova in tonight's semis is a strong possibility. The key for Serena is staying focused and not getting overconfident as she appeared to do when she took control of her quarterfinal match against Shahar Peer. Serena was lucky to escape that one.

Raising eyebrows

When a national publication such as USA Today makes the assumption (Sunday's Post and Courier) that professional tennis is losing its popularity in the United States, it raises eyebrows. Obviously, someone hasn't done their homework by checking out attendance figures at the pro events held in this country or the results of tennis participation and popularity studies.

Most tournaments, led by the U.S. Open, Miami, Indian Wells (Calif.), the Family Circle Cup and the 10-tournament U.S. Open Series, are growing in popularity as evidenced by record-setting attendance figures at most of these events. The publication surely must have missed the study by the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association that listed tennis as the only traditional sport in the United States that has grown in the last five years, or the survey that indicated tennis participation is at its highest level in nearly a decade and a half.

But the newspaper report was correct in pointing to the high rate of player withdrawals on the pro tours as a serious problem. The general perception among non-tennis people is that the players aren't accountable and really don't care about the health of the sport that is their livelihood. This perception becomes obvious when someone points out that Justine Henin-Hardenne, Martina Hingis and Amelie Mauresmo all have entered the Family Circle Cup, and the reply is, "They won't show up."

Has the respect and trust in the players who play this game dropped to such low levels? And is this flaw having a critically negative impact on tennis?

This isn't a time for the ATP and WTA tours to guess the answers. The tours need to correct the player withdrawal problem immediately, taking even tougher stances than planned.

There is no immediate danger at the Grand Slam level. The players will show up for the Grand Slams.

The danger is at the lower levels, the small, less significant events. Without them, tennis suffers; even the Grand Slams start wilting.


(01/21/07)  Blake still has some hurdles left
James Blake probably doesn't care whom he might face in the Australian Open quarterfinals. He's never lost to Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray.

Of course, Blake still has to get to the quarters, and therein possibly lies a serious problem for America's top-ranked player. Although he has split six matches with Chile's Fernando Gonzalez, Blake has lost their last three meetings.

The concern goes deeper. The variety of extreme pace and change of pace that Gonzalez uses can play havoc with Blake's go-for-broke style. If Blake can survive this one, he might pull for Nadal to beat Murray. Blake is 3-0 against Nadal, whose high-kicking topspins have been smothered by Blake's one-speed groundstrokes in their previous meetings.

But in the overall scheme of things, either Nadal or Murray might have the best chance of anyone to beat Roger Federer, should two members of this trio meet in next weekend's men's final. Both Nadal, with his defensive pressure and spin, and Murray, with his smarts and change of pace, have caused problems for the silky smooth Federer.

Of course, Roger certainly will be pulling for Blake, one of his biggest admirers and a mere puppet in Federer's scheme of play. Blake is 0-6 against Federer, and managed to win only seven games while dropping three straight sets to Federer in the Masters Cup final.

ESPN hits gold

ESPN has hit gold with Darren Cahill as Brad Gilbert's replacement. While Gilbert is off coaching the young Scot, Andy Murray, these days, ESPN has found another of Andre Agassi's former coaches to serve as an analyst during the Australian Open.

I really like Cahill's style. He's insightful and knowledgeable, and he comes across that way. He's not loud or as ego-sensitive as some other analysts. And he looks perfectly at home in a dark suit and tie.

Before this, I hadn't figured out why Agassi had selected the soft-spoken, but little-known Australian when Agassi split ways with Gilbert. But Cahill probably would make a great coach for just about any of the game's top stars as he has demonstrated with both Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt.

In the booth with talkative Chris Fowler and Mr. Smooth Patrick McEnroe, Cahill provides a good alternative. Sometimes, you just want to enjoy the tennis without all of the small-talk jabbering. Cahill is a breath of fresh air.

That's also why Mary Joe Fernandez has blossomed into tennis' best female analyst. Mary Joe is knowledgeable, articulate and analytical, especially when working women's matches.

School league

The Tri-county Elementary and Middle School Tennis League will hold its first coaches meeting Monday at 5 p.m. at Charleston Tennis Center. Schools that plan to participate in the league that starts March 12 must attend this meeting or one of three others at the Farmfield Avenue complex, next Friday (4 p.m.), next Sunday (3 p.m.) or Feb. 8 (5 p.m.).

The deadline for team registrations is Feb. 9. For more information, contact city tennis manager Peggy Bohne (766-7401).

Cup ball crew

The Family Circle Cup ball crew is gearing up for another tournament. Practice started Saturday with about 40 kids showing up at Family Circle Tennis Center. There's still plenty of room on the ball crew since about 100 volunteers are needed.

Practices will continue on Saturdays from 12:30 to 3 p.m. until the April 7-15 Family Circle Cup. Other than Feb. 3 and 24 at Maybank Tennis Center, all practices will be held at the Family Circle complex. For information, contact Susan Honowitz (686-4477), Toni Young (343-8393) or Dan Tumbleston (367-0279).


(01/17/07)  Roddick's exhibition triumph meaningful
Officially, it was only an exhibition. But in the minds of the two people who counted most, it probably was the real thing.

Although Melbourne's Kooyong exhibition tournament is held at the former site of the Australian Open, it will never be confused with the Grand Slam event held in that city. Just the same, Andy Roddick and Roger Federer probably won't forget anytime soon what happened there over the weekend.

Roddick actually defeated Federer this time. The American didn't waste a bunch of match points as he had in the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai.

The results of this three-set final doesn't count on either player's record, except the one they keep in their heads. Officially, Federer still owns a 12-1 record against Roddick. But both players are well aware of what has happened the last three times they squared off, dating back to the U.S. Open final in which Federer survived in four sets.

This latest result will count most the next time the two players face each other. It could be that Roddick is pulling a Rafael Nadal these days, getting into Federer's head. Or is it Jimmy Connors that's really on Federer's mind when he faces Roddick?

Of course, Connors wasn't with Roddick this time, due to the death of Connors' mother back in the United States.

Roddick's only "official" victory over Federer came in 2003 in Canada.

Nadal in his element?

This may sound silly since Nadal's element obviously is clay where he appears to be practically unbeatable, but there might be more to this theory. Who possibly might be tennis' best conditioned player? And is any Grand Slam event held at a warmer site than the Australian Open?

Put those two intangibles together, and Nadal might be more of a factor in the Australian than most people think. Nadal was as sharp in his opening-round straight-set win over big-serving American Robert Kendrick as he has been in a long time. Remember, Kendrick nearly upset Nadal at Wimbledon.

Although the roof was closed in Melbourne, it was still more than 100 degrees inside. But Nadal played superb tennis. He appeared to be serving bigger and stronger while hitting a little flatter. Perhaps, he is taking this event as seriously as he did last year's Wimbledon and has prepared his game accordingly.

Family Circle tickets

The Family Circle Cup has teamed up with Ticketmaster to put individual session tickets to the April 7-15 women's tournament on sale to the public Saturday at 10 a.m. Tickets will be available 24 hours a day at www.ticketmaster.com. They also can be ordered by telephone (554-6060) or from any Publix offering Ticketmaster services.

BULLET Who else, but a student in Priscilla Bundrick's commercial design class as Lexington Technology Center would win the Family Circle Cup's fourth annual T-shirt design contest? Amy Buzhardt, a 17-year-old, is the fourth student from the class to win the Family Circle competition.

Her design will appear on hundreds of Family Circle T-shirts.

C of C's new camp

College of Charleston men's tennis coach Phil Whitesell has announced that he has teamed up with Nike Tennis Camps to put together the area's only overnight junior tennis camp for this summer. The camp for ages 10-18 will be held the weeks of July 13 and July 20 at the College of Charleston tennis complex at Patriots Point.


(01/16/07)  Three top players commit to play at Family Circle Cup
Only 15 players have held women's tennis' No. 1 world ranking in the history of the WTA Tour's computer rankings. Three of them have entered this year's Family Circle Cup. The world No. 1 Justine Henin-Har-denne, No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo and No. 7 Martina Hingis all committed to play the April 7-15 event on Daniel Island, tournament officials announced Monday.

It's no wonder Family Circle Cup tournament director Robin Reynolds expects this year's field to be one of the 35-year-old tournament's best ever.

The three players have won 12 Grand Slams and four Family Circle titles among them, Henin-Hardenne and Hingis each winning five Grand Slam events and two Family Circles.

While Henin-Hardenne has been a Charleston regular in recent years, this will be Hingis' first appearance since 2001 - the tournament's first year here - and Mauresmo's first since 2002. Hingis won both of her titles while the tournament was played at Hilton Head Island. Henin-Hardenne has won twice on Daniel Island.

"We are extremely proud to have three of the game's best coming to Charleston this year," Reynolds said. "Over the last couple of years, these three young woman have played such an instrumental role in leading their sport.

"The Family Circle Cup has always been about highlighting the top women tennis players in the world, and with our announcement today we are pleased to continue that tradition."

Henin-Hardenne, who suffered a semifinal loss to Patty Schnyder last April to snap a streak of 13 straight victories on Daniel Island, won her first U.S. and Family Circle titles in 2003 by pulling a shocking upset of the then virtually unbeatable Serena Williams.

Henin-Hardenne went on to win the first of her three French Open titles that year.

The determined 24-year-old Belgian, with the flowing one-handed backhand, was a finalist in each of last year's Grand Slam tournaments, winning the French.

Coming off possibly the best year of her career, Henin-Hardenne has surpassed

$13.5 million in earnings and has 29 career titles. She took the year-end No. 1 spot from Mauresmo by winning the season-ending WTA Tour Championships. Henin-Hardenne won 60 matches last year. She has held the No. 1 ranking for a combined 46 weeks.

Mauresmo held the No. 1 ranking for 39 consecutive weeks last year, before surrendering it on Nov. 6. The 27-year-old French woman won both the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006, and has 23 career titles. She was a Family Circle semifinalist in 2001.

Despite the success of Henin-Hardenne and Mauresmo last year, the comeback of the "Swiss Miss" Hingis was the top story in women's tennis. Expected by most experts to challenge only for a top 20 berth in her first year back on the tour after a two-year layoff, Hingis became a player to be reckoned with from the start of the year.

Now 26 years old, Hingis captured two titles in 2006 and charged all the way from No. 349 into the top 10. She has a 15-2 Family Circle record, losing three-setters to Jennifer Capriati in the 2001 final and to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the round of 16 in 1996 at Hilton Head Island.

Hingis has been the world's top-ranked singles player for a total of 209 weeks. She also has been ranked No. 1 in doubles. She has nearly $20 million in earnings to go with her 42 career singles titles.


(01/14/07)  How will shorter WTA season affect Family Circle Cup?

The WTA Tour has a new roadmap with a shorter path to travel.

Roadmap 2010 calls for the women's professional season to end in October, nearly two weeks earlier than the current schedule. Obviously, that means fewer tournaments.

The tour appears to be a little uncertain of how to get there. Fifty-seven tournaments have turned in applications for 48 available spots on the 2009 tour, and 25 have applied for the 14 top-tier berths.

Those applications don't even include a few other significant stops on the current WTA Tour, most notably the Family Circle Cup. That doesn't mean the Family Circle Cup isn't taking the tour's newest initiative seriously or that the tournament doesn't have long-term plans. Charleston's tournament stop is just holding out until the WTA Tour makes the picture a little clearer, according to Family Circle Cup tournament director Robin Reynolds.

"This tournament is an extremely important asset to Meredith Corporation and we take the Roadmap 2010 application process very seriously," Reynolds said earlier this week after news broke that the Family Circle Cup was one of at least three tournaments that had not completed an application for a slot on the 2009 calendar.

"The discussions and negotiations are ongoing and we have made great strides. The applications due last Friday (Jan. 5) were completely non-binding and this process is still in the very early stages.

"There are too many key elements of the plan that are not clearly defined. From a business perspective, in order to continue the process it is important that we clarify those issues."

Foremost, Reynolds stressed that the Family Circle Cup has no intention of going away. The seventh edition of the Tier I Family Circle Cup on Daniel Island is scheduled for April 7-15. The tournament has had the same sponsor, Family Circle Magazine, for all of its 35 years of existence. Meredith Corporation owns the event and Family Circle Magazine.

"Charleston is our home and we have every intention of continuing to showcase the Family Circle Cup in this community for many years to come. We are very confident that we can work these details out which will ensure that the Family Circle Cup continues as one of the sport's most popular events. We have and will continue to have open dialogue with the WTA Tour on finalizing those key elements of the Roadmap."

The tournaments in Carson, Calif., and New Haven, Conn., also have not completed their applications. Operated by the U.S. Tennis Association, the two U.S. Open Series events appear to have strong disagreements with Roadmap 2010.

The USTA owns the New Haven tournament and has a 25 percent stake in the Carson event. According to the Los Angeles Times, USTA executive Chris Widmaier considers the WTA Roadmap a threat to its U.S. Open Series and mentions the possibility of the USTA beginning its own circuit.

"Our belief is that the Roadmap is detrimental to tennis in the United States. We're going to keep all of our options open," Widmaier was quoted.

The Southern California area already has surrendered one of its summer women's events. The Acura Classic at San Diego's La Costa Resort & Spa is in its final year, having been sold back to the WTA Tour.

Roadmap 2010 was initiated by the WTA Tour to enhance its calendar in hopes of increasing the participation of the tour's top players by minimizing the wear and tear of tournament play.

The WTA Tour is expected to make a final decision at its board meeting in March as to which tournaments will compose each level of the 2009 calendar.


(01/10/07)  Ryan Young is going pro ... in tennis

Now as a Clemson senior, he's bigger, stronger, smarter. He has the total respect of veteran head coach Chuck Kriese and his teammates. Young is the team's captain.

The immediate step for the 6-0, 175-pound left-hander is the upcoming season that will start next week in Houston. After Young hits his final shot for the Tigers this spring, he plans to join tennis' satellite pro circuit.

This is not a six-month or one-year trial period for Young, Kriese emphasized last week during the Tigers' preseason training camp at Maybank Tennis Center. You don't turn pro that way. Pro tennis becomes your full-time job, your livelihood. You either make it or you don't.

Ryan Young just might make it. He's as crafty and smart as some of the best in the game. Now that he's added muscle with the 45 pounds he's gained since high school, it's reflected in his strokes and serve. And don't forget that he already has a small advantage as a left-hander.

He could be another John McEnroe, a master of smarts, spin and mental toughness. Plus, he's an excellent volleyer, the finer points of which most of today's pros never really learned because they missed out on college tennis.

"I want to play pro tennis, because that's what I have been doing all of my life," said Young, who practically grew up on the tennis courts of Charleston.

First, Young's goal is to lead the Tigers to the final four of college tennis. Kriese expects Young to play one of the top three positions in singles.

After a standout sophomore year when Young made All-Atlantic Coast Conference and formed half of the ACC's top doubles team, the 2006 season was something of a disappointment for Young and the Tigers. Clemson lost in the second round of the NCAA playoffs to fellow ACC member North Carolina.

"It was a difficult time last year. We got up to No. 5 (in the nation), then we fizzled a little. I don't know what happened. We lost three or four really tough matches," Young said about the Tigers' 23-10 season.

Young went 21-8 in singles at No. 3 and 4 in dual matches. He played No. 1 or 2 doubles.

The year became more difficult when Ryan's dad, Jeff Young, suffered a massive stroke last summer and remained hospitalized as Ryan returned to Clemson for his senior year.

"I tried to not let it affect me. At first, it was really hard and I struggled. I felt I needed to be at home. I felt I was wasting my time up there (at Clemson), because I wasn't giving it my all."

Young plans to travel to Europe to play pro tennis this summer, then return to Clemson in the fall to complete work on his degree in sports management. He expects to graduate in December.

League deadline Friday

The spring adult and senior league tennis seasons aren't expected to start until February, but Friday is the deadline for teams to have the minimum number of players registered (five for 2.5 and 5.0 adult teams, eight for other adult league teams and six for senior leagues). Players can register on the Internet at the www.usta.com TennisLink site.

Junior team play starts

Junior Team Tennis' season will start Sunday, as registrations are still being accepted for the six-week league for beginners to advanced players from 8-18 years of age. Contact program coordinator Joyce Arrington (442-4871) or go to www.lowcountryjuniortennis.com on the Internet.


(01/07/06)  Distinctive flavor to Family Circle Cup

Putting on a world-class tennis tournament requires a great deal of ingenuity. Tournament officials are continuously trying to come up with a new scheme that will separate their tournament from all the others.

Of course, the Family Circle Cup is already a unique event. It's the longest-running women's tennis tournament sponsored by the same company. Thirty-five years is a long time in today's world of sports franchises.

What's new for the 2007 event that's slated for April 7-15 on Daniel Island? The tournament is initiating the Family Circle Cup Official Drink Contest.

"The goal of the contest is to submit a drink that truly reflects the taste and style of the Lowcountry and the Family Circle Cup," according to a news release. The contest will last until the end of the month for anyone 21 and over. The official rules and entry form are available at www.familycirclecup.com.

The winning drink will be available for purchase at the Family Circle Cup. Its creator will receive $100 in cash and tickets to the semifinals and finals of the Family Circle Cup.

"Charleston is a city which has embraced the Family Circle Cup and has a qualified knowledge of fine beverages, so who better to recommend a fantastic drink specialty," said tournament director Robin Reynolds.

Barth family honored

Roy and Colleen Barth traveled the globe when Roy was one of the world's top 50 players. Their sons, Jonathan and Sandon, played college tennis. Jonathan is on Roy's pro staff at Kiawah Island, where one of the resort's tennis centers is now named the Roy Barth Tennis Center.

Roy and Jonathan have been among the best father/son teams in the USTA, while Jonathan and Meredith Barth are among the USTA's best husband/wife teams.

And now, the Roy and Colleen Barth family has been named the USTA Southern Section family of the year. Roy already is a member of the Southern tennis hall of fame.

Free Clemson clinic today

Juniors, get your rackets out. There's no registration or phone call needed. Just show up at Maybank Tennis Center from 3-5 p.m. today for the Clemson men's tennis team's free junior clinic.

It's an annual event for coach Chuck Kriese and his team that has been training at the James Island complex since last Tuesday. The only limitation Kriese puts on the clinic is that it is for beginner to intermediate players.

Clemson team captain Ryan Young is the son of Maybank pro Toni Young. After Monday's session, Young and the rest of the Tigers will leave for Clemson to get ready for what will be Young's senior season.

Toni Young will conduct three adult/senior league team clinics at Maybank this coming week, each session from 6:30-9 p.m.: Tuesday (2.5-3.0 women), Wednesday (2.5-3.0 men) and Thursday (3.5-4.0 women). Contact Young (343-8393) for more information.

League deadline

Friday is the deadline for registering the minimum number of players to form a spring adult or senior league tennis team (five for 2.5 and 5.0 teams, eight for other adult league teams and six for senior leagues).

The annual captain's meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Charleston County Main Library on Calhoun Street. Teams can register for the spring season at www.usta.com TennisLink.

Junior signups

Junior Team Tennis' six-week season will start next Sunday. Registrations are now being conducted for the league for beginners to advanced players from 8-18 years of age. Contact program coordinator Joyce Arrington (442-4871) or visit www.lowcountryjuniortennis.com.

Tri-County League

The Tri-county Elementary and Middle School Tennis League will hold its first coaches meeting on Jan. 22 at 5 p.m. at Charleston Tennis Center. Schools which plan to participate in the league that starts March 12, must attend this meeting or one of three others at the Farmfield Avenue complex, Jan. 26 (4 p.m.), Jan. 28 (3 p.m.) or Feb. 8 (5 p.m.).

The deadline for team registrations is Feb. 9. For more information, contact city tennis manager Peggy Bohne (766-7401).

Family Circle ball crew

The Family Circle Cup is gearing up for another ball crew recruitment season. An informational meeting will be held before the ball crew's first practice on Jan. 20 at 12:30 p.m. at Family Circle Tennis Center. Practice will be held each Saturday after that (12:30-3 p.m.) until the start of the pro tournament.

For information, contact Susan Honowitz (686-4477), Toni Young (343-8393) or Dan Tumbleston (367-0279).


(01/03/07)  Time to revamp ratings system?

The current levels of ratings used in league tennis are separated by such a fine line that the system may need to be revamped. The different levels of competition are so narrow that they are almost impossible to manage fairly.

It is often difficult to distinguish a strong player at one level from an average player at the next level of league tennis. Correcting this might be as simple as making the levels broader. Instead of the current 2.5, 3.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, etc. levels, a different rating scheme could merge 2.5 and 3.0 into a 3.0 class, and 3.5 and 4.0 into 4.0, etc.

Returning league tennis to a more evenly balanced and competitive state would be good for the long-term participatory health of the game, especially at the median-range 3.0, 3.5 and 4.0 adult league levels where most league players compete.

I suggested last week that excessive "playing up" quite possibly has watered down the entire league. Playing up is when a player of one level, such as 3.5, plays on a team of a higher level.

Even with more players playing up than the rules allow, there also has been an abundance of defaults where teams fail to field the minimum number of players for a complete match. Some defaults actually might be linked to the excessive number of players playing up. Having the choice of playing in league matches at two different levels in the same week, some players might be opting out of one of the matches, possibly forcing one of the teams into a default situation.

The fact that first-time participants are allowed to rate themselves doesn't help the situation. This has been building for some time now since the discontinuation of official rating clinics for new league players.

The practice of playing up appears to have increased dramatically in recent years, quite possibly the result of the summer's popular combo league that puts players from different levels on the same team by combining the rating of doubles partners. But singles isn't a good fit for combo tennis.

Using whole numbers only for league rating levels would reduce the number of leagues and probably make each level more competitive. Watered-down teams from clubs that don't have enough available players at a current level to form a competitive team might be able to field strong teams under a broader scheme.

While the overall number of teams as well as the league matches some players play each week might be reduced, league participation shouldn't be affected. The number of league tennis participants might actually increase. And that would be good for the game.

With tennis complexes having more free courts on week nights, teams could schedule a second practice session each week. For some of the players currently participating in two adult night leagues, an extra practice session might be easier to handle than possibly having to travel to two away matches in the same week.

While on the subject of change, league tennis also should consider combining the fall and spring leagues into one season that determines league champions. Currently, the spring is the official league tennis season, while matches played in the fall are meaningless.

A split season would allow for fairer scheduling in that teams would play each other on a home-and-home basis each season. Therefore, if a hard-court team played at a clay-court team in the fall's first half of the season, the spring match would be played on hard courts.

Rather than the usually late September starts, the fall session should begin as close to Labor Day as possible, with August being used as a practice month.