some really nice things about Tammy in the bottom half of article....
An Apple Blossom alternative
By Tommy Keeler Jr. (column)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — While many in the area may be excited for this week's Apple Blossom, I am not one of them.
The idea of huge crowds gathered around to party and watch a couple parades just isn't for me. For those like me that want to get away from Apple Blossom this year — there is an alternative.
There are crowds and celebrities involved and it involves the greatest game in the world. For the fifth straight year the Boyd Tinsley $50,000 USTA Women's Pro Tennis Championships are back in Charlottesville at the Boar's Head Sports Club.
The Women's Pro Circuit is like the minor leagues of tennis, except they still earn points for the WTA Tour.
Some are players that have been successful in the past, but may have been slowed down by injuries or other speedbumps that have come along in their career. Some are young players who are trying to get their feet wet on the tour and make it to the big time. Others are just players who have never been able to get over the hump and make it to the main tour. Usually for those players, winning means everything.
It's not unusual to see players throwing their rackets in disgust or fuming over their play. The intensity level is at its highest and for many winning secures a plane ticket to their next event.
During the early rounds players have to retrieve their own balls. It's a far cry from the U.S. Open which is part of what makes it interesting.
Most of the top players in the world have come through the Men's and Women's Pro Circuit, including Andy Roddick, James Blake, Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin and Amelie Mauresmo.
The tournament in Charlottesville has seen its share of stars in its five years. In the tournament's first year, Serbia's Jelena Jankovic lost in the final to American Erika de Lone. Jankovic is now ranked No. 7 in the world. In 2003, Anna Kournikova played what turned out to be her final professional match in Charlottesville.
Now there's an interesting piece of trivia.
Kournikova lost that match to Bruna Colosio. If you knew that you're an even bigger tennis junkie than me and probably should get a life.
This year's Boyd Tinsley field is the best in the event's five years. The tournament suffered a blow on Monday when American Ashley Harkleroad (No. 73 in the world) withdrew due to fatigue from playing in several tournaments in a row. Some may remember that I once wrote in a column that Harkleroad would one day crack the top 10. Much like Charles Barkley stood by his comments Sunday night that the Bay Area sucks, I am standing by mine that Harkleroad will make the Top 10 someday. However, I'm not saying the Bay Area sucks, I've never been there and I'm sure it's a great place (no hate mail please).
While the absence of Harkleroad would be a crushing blow to some Pro Circuit tournaments, that is not the case in Charlottesville. Last week they gave a wild card to American Meghann Shaughnessy (No. 55) and so she has taken Harkleroad's No. 1 seed. Shaughnessy has been ranked as high as No. 11 in the world and is trying to prepare for next month's French Open.
The Charlottesville tournament also features 16-year-old American Madison Brengle (No. 286) and former top 10 player Brenda Schultz-McCarthy. Schultz-McCarthy (No. 234), of Netherlands, once reached No. 7 in the world. The 36-year-old retired, but has returned to the tour this year.
Several players who have athletic fathers are also playing this week.
American Carly Gullickson (No. 203) is the daughter of former Major League Baseball pitcher Bill Gullickson and American Riley Banks is the daughter of former University of Texas star and NBA player Lance Banks, who is now the Assistant General Manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Another daughter of a famous celebrity, Alexandra Stevenson, tried to qualify for the tournament but came up in short in her match on Monday. Of all the players in the tournament, the most talented may be the youngest of them all — 14-year-old Belgian Tamaryn Hendler.
Remember that name and, if you get a chance, you should go watch the talented youngster play. She hits the ball as hard as anyone in the tournament and has a solid serve for being only 14. She's trying to make history this week as she attempts to qualify for her first professional tournament and earn her first ranking points.
"It feels good to be playing at such a high level," Hendler said after winning her second-round qualifying match. "It's really nice to know I can beat some of the older players."
Hendler defeated veteran Petra Rampre, of Slovakia, on Monday and with a win today she will qualify for the main draw. Hendler trains at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy and is coached by Bollettieri, who has coached many top pros in the past. Hendler is in Charlottesville with her dad, Mark, this week.
Last weekend Hendler made her professional debut on the grandest of stages. She represented Belguim in the Fed Cup against the United States in Winston Salem, N.C., where she played doubles with Caroline Maes against American's Lisa Raymond and Vania King. They lost the match 6-1, 6-2, but it was something Hendler said she won't forget.
"Now that was an experience," she said. "Everyone was rooting against me. The fans were all stomping their feet and chanting 'USA.' I got to meet Serena and Venus [Williams] and I learned a lot from them."
Hendler has a poise about her that's beyond her years and, with a strong support system, I think she will be a Top 10 player someday (I know you've heard that before, but this one you can take to the bank).
If you head out to Charlottesville this week you can see a star before they become big and also see some exciting tennis.
Who needs parades and crowded streets when you can catch several rising stars playing the world's greatest game?
* Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, May 04, 2007