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    Future pro stars are at Bardmoor

    By NANCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000


    The rising stars of women's professional tennis can be seen all this week, playing in the Bardmoor Tennis Challenger in Largo.

    Fans have an opportunity to see these aspiring pros up close and at no charge in singles and doubles action.

    "This is the best tennis you'll ever see from players you've never heard of," said Missy Malool, who with Bunny Williams is a U.S. Tennis Association Tour Supervisor directing the event.

    "Every year, the talent gets better, the girls get stronger and the play gets more competitive," Malool said.

    The USTA Challenger circuit concept is at least 10 years old, said Malool. It's designed to give American players more opportunities to develop in the U.S., rather than always having to travel abroad, although international competition and traveling are important in preparing for the professional tour.

    Challenger events include prize money of $10,000, $25,000, $50,000 and $75,000. The event at the Bardmoor Golf and Tennis Club is $50,000.

    Although the money is important, the players' primary reason for competing is to gain experience and earn computer points for a world ranking.

    Players such as Lindsay Davenport, Anna Kournikova and Jana Novotna competed in Challenger events in the early part of their careers.

    Likewise, this week's players aspire to develop their games and improve their standings to qualify for the WTA Tour.

    In fact, tournament host and Bardmoor tennis director Maria Cercone has learned that this week's winner will feed into next month's WTA Tour event in Kuala Lumur, Malaysia.

    "The Challenger circuit is a stepping stone to the big tournaments," said Malool, who played the circuit in the 1980s.

    "We don't expect the players to stay here forever but to move to the next level. We're like the bridge to the pro tour."

    The 32-player main draw includes 13 American players along with competitors from Hungary, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Czechoslovakia, Venezuela and Argentina. Americans Lori Grey, Kelly McCain and Sunitha Rao received wild cards into the draw.

    Grey is a sophomore at the University of Georgia and an All-America member of its NCAA championship team. McCain is a standout player out of Saddlebrook with 481 computer points, and Rao, 15, of Bradenton, is 586th in the world.

    "Having this tournament in the area is so good for the community," Cercone said.

    "There's so much tennis in our area it's unfortunate we don't have more opportunities to see this level of tennis, so everyone should try to take advantage of this week's play," she said.

    Cercone is doing her share of providing opportunities to view the action by playing host to a camp Saturday for individuals 10-and-under.

    Among the 20 girls and boys invited are Morgan Basil, Alexandria Cercone, Noah Silverberg and Nick Smith. USTA national coaches Richard Acuna and Martin Van Dalen will be on hand to direct the camp.

    Cercone will take over as a vice president of the USTA Florida Section at its annual meeting in Tampa this weekend.

    Today's Bardmoor Tennis Challenger matches begin at 10 a.m. and will include singles and doubles. Sunday's finals begin at 1 p.m. OFFICIALS RULE: Among the 20-plus USTA officials working this week's tournament at Bardmoor are area umpires Terry Logan, Roger White, Patrick Wheeler and Matt Fox.

    Logan, who recently received her ITF White Badge for chief umpire, is the event's chief ump.

    In last month's U.S. Open Championships, White chaired the men's 45-and-over singles final.

    RESULTS AT NATIONALS: The men's 4.5 team from the Treasure Island Recreation, Tennis and Golf Center was one match short of advancing to the final four of the USA League Tennis National Championships in Tucson, Ariz.

    The team beat Puerto Rico and Texas 3-2 but fell by the same score to USTA Northern California, which placed fourth overall.

    HEADED TO NATIONALS: Feather Sound Country Club's 3.0 men's team leaves today for its fourth trip to the USA League Tennis National Championships in Tucson.

    Under the captainship of Tom Riley, Feather Sound will face a team from USTA Middle States on Friday, then play USTA New England. Saturday's match is with USTA Northern.

    The best overall record among these squads will advance to Sunday's final four playoffs, which are followed by the title match.

    Seventeen teams representing the 17 USTA sections are challenging for the national title.

    Playing for Feather Sound are Mike Wanger, Mike Dudich, Bob Dileonardo, Chip Frey, Bob Hicks, Jess Chappell, Dan Huntington, Frank Kennedy, Kevin Cavanaugh and Dean Bartels.

    Next week, the senior men's 4.0 team from McMullen Tennis Complex travels to Tucson for its national tournament, Oct. 26-29.

    Match results with USTA squads from Southwest, Hawaii and Northern California will determine the team that advances to the final four playoffs.

    Members of the club from McMullen include captain Don Moffat, Scott Chambers, Steve Horstman, Jim McCook, Seaton Kenworthy, Eric Watson, Franz Henikl, Les Gustin, Chuck McPherson and Ed Klein.

    MEN'S NATIONALS: Competitors in last week's USTA Men's 50 National Clay Court Championships in Sarasota were area players Jerry Barna, Bill Christensen, Tom Grayson, Pierce Kelly, Johnny Angel, Anthony Ruggiero and Mike Reilly.

    Larry Turville, son of St. Petersburg's Ed Turville, successfully defended his top seed without losing a set throughout the tournament.

    Competing this week in the USTA Men's 35 National Clay Court Championships at the Racquet Club of Boca Raton are No. 3 seed Jeff Chambers and Bob Cooke.

    In the 128-player singles draw at the USTA Men's 60 National Clay Court Championships in Duluth, Ga., are No. 2 Brad Hamilton and No. 9 Dave Krebs.

    NET NOTE: Fourth-seeded Goran Dragicevic won five straight-set matches to capture this month's junior designated singles championship. In the final, Dragicevic upset No. 1 Christopher Clayton of Plantation 6-0, 6-4.

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