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Age matters not to tennis champ

A 16-year-old defeats highly seeded players in the 18-year-old division.

By TERRY JONES
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 24, 2002


TAMPA PALMS -- Moving up from the 16-and-under age classification to the 18s put Stacia Fonseca's older competitors at a disadvantage.

It gave Fonseca, 16, an opportunity to face her high-seeded, nationally ranked elders before they had an opportunity to make it to the championship match.

The youngster from Lutz eliminated three highly ranked competitors to win the United States Tennis Association National Open Championships Feb. 17 in Tampa Palms.

Fonseca, who was seeded sixth, defeated the No. 2 seed in the quarterfinals and the No. 3 seed in the semifinals, said her dad, Raul Fonseca.

Seeding for big amateur or even professional tournaments gives the better players with high rankings the advantage of playing against lower-ranked players in the early rounds of competition.

"Stacia was ranked No. 29 nationally for 16s and No. 56 nationally for 18s in the December USTA rankings and the new ones won't come out until April," said Raul Fonseca, who also coaches his daughter.

It turns out Fonseca, who trains at the Cheval Country Club, doesn't mind playing the big names early. She beat the No. 2 seed, Loelle Schwenk of Coconut Creek, then trounced third-seeded Lingda Yang of Coconut Creek in the semifinal.

Fonseca made quick work of fifth seed Kelly Nelson in the championship match, winning 6-4, 6-2. Nelson, of St. Petersburg, recently received a scholarship to play for the University of Notre Dame in the fall.

"Stacia is eligible to play in the 16s for the balance of 2002, but she will play up in some tournaments to get better competition," her dad said. Her next big tournament in early April is the Easter Bowl, a USTA Super National Championship, in Palm Springs.

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