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St. Petersburg freshman a smash at Florida

The start of the spring college tennis season is still months away, but St. Petersburg's Erika Kuttler is on her way to earning a most unlikely spot in the Florida Gators' starting lineup. Although Kuttler brought impressive junior credentials to the Gators this fall as a freshman, she had to make the nationally recognized squad as a walk-on. Few people _ including Kuttler _ expected much out of her this season. In football terms, she was a likely redshirt player.

But Kuttler is playing above her preseason billing. In three tournaments this fall, she has reached the semifinals twice and the final once. With a record of 10-3, there has been talk about her possibly cracking the Gators' six-player lineup in the spring.

"That's what everyone is asking," Kuttler said by telephone from Gainesville. "I didn't think I'd be playing this well. I think I've improved a lot since I've been here. And everything is just going well."

There are still more tests for Kuttler to pass before she can make the lineup. She has yet to face any highly ranked players or felt the pressure of dual-match competition. She'll get those opportunities over the next several months.

Even if she doesn't make the spring lineup, Kuttler said she's not pressing herself to reach any specific goals this season.

"I don't want to put any pressure on myself to make it to any certain place," she said. "The only thing I want to do is improve."

Tampa Bay's best juniors: The City of Tampa Tennis Complex at Hillsborough Community College has been named the site of a United States Tennis Association area training center for top-rated junior players.

The area's 20 most promising junior players will converge at the HCC facility for its first session on Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Instructors Denis Quilligan, Maria Cercone and Kevin Quay will run the training program. For information, call 223-8603.

Collegiate season begins: The college tennis season begins in earnest this weekend with the Riviera All-American Championships, the first jewel of the college grand slam for women. The Pacific Palisades, Calif., event features some of the nation's top players, including defending NCAA singles champion Debbie Graham of Stanford and the Gators' Nicole Arendt and Andrea Farley.

The men's first biggie is the Volvo Tennis/Collegiate Championships Nov. 1-4 at the University of Georgia in Athens. One of the leading players at that event will be Stanford's Jared Palmer from Saddlebrook.

Speaking of college tennis: Myriam Berthe of Midland Junior College and Lawrence Becouran of Anderson College can call themselves Super Bowl champs. That's because Berthe and Becouran won the women's and men's divisions in the "Super Bowl" of small-college tennis last week.

Berthe defeated Shelley Keeler of Pomona-Pitzer College 7-5, 6-4 in the final. Becouran topped Eric Hochman of the University of West Florida 7-5, 6-3.

Segusos at Colony Beach: Tennis pros Carling Bassett-Seguso and her husband, Robert, have joined the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort as touring pros. They will be on hand to participate in tennis clinics, exhibitions matches and tournaments at the Sarasota resort.

Wolfberg tournament: The annual Pete Wolfberg Junior Invitational is Saturday, Sunday and Monday at Royal Racquet Club in Clearwater. Entries for boys and girls, ages 12-18, will be taken until Thursday. For more information, call the club at 799-3200.