Winners in the St. Petersburg Flex Fall League were determined last month in five women's levels and eight men's divisions.
First-timer Philip McQuade won all of his matches to claim the A-1 title. Willie Bert and John Royeton shared the A-2 crown, and Jim Ramage captured A-3.
Patrick Sawdon was first in B-1, as was David Walker in B-2, David MaCaulay in B-3, Ron Martin in B-4 and Bill Griffith in B-5.
among the women were Janet Matthews (A-1), Janice Drinkwine (A-2), April Aldrich (B-1), Traci Pittman (B-2) and Jo Lynn Druyer (B-3).
"I started playing tennis when I was about 7 and my family was living in Toronto," said McQuade, 16. "My dad started working with me and now he trains me about four hours every day.
The former St. Petersburg High student is homeschooled, and after tennis practice he works at a Publix. "I'm saving to buy a ball machine," McQuade said.
McQuade and his family located in St. Petersburg about two years ago to have more tennis opportunities and for his father, Mark, to find better employment. McQuade is focusing on the development of his game.
"I started with a two-handed forehand, which is unusual because I had a weak elbow," he said. "Now, I seem to do fine with it, so I'm going to stick with it for a while. I have a one-handed backhand and a pretty good serve. My forehand is my best shot after my serve.
"I learned my serve by my dad tying a ball on a soccer post and just practiced and practiced the motion. I feel good about it and its effectiveness."
McQuade has competed in at least five state-sanctioned tournaments and won or advanced to the final in most of them. He was lured to the flex league by the chance to compete against older, bigger and better players.
"I won all my matches in the flex league and went three sets against Nik Sukhasam," McQuade said.
"The first time I played Greg (Hilbert), I won in three, but the next time I won in two. Since Nik had lost to Greg in the season, I didn't have to play a second time," McQuade said.
Against Sukhasam, a regular champion in the A-1 class, McQuade lost the first set before rebounding to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
"In the first set, Nik got to everything, and if I gave him a corner shot, he gave me one right back, and better," McQuade said.
"I was frustrated but finally got it together by telling myself to hang in there. Finally, I broke him down by playing the ball in the middle and hitting strong balls to his feet."
McQuade plans to play a USTA Pro Circuit event this month in Tampa. He thinks he's ready and hopes to get a couple of matches under his belt. One day, he would like to play professionally.
Matthews has been in the flex league fairly regularly since 1993 and won the A-1 title several times.
The former Lakewood High School player especially likes the flexibility of the league and has seen an increase in the quality of competition.
"We need a stronger base of players among the women in the 3.5-and-higher levels," Matthews said.
"This league has such a rich history, and the men's divisions are known for their depth," she said. "We need to develop that among the women."
The league brings out the best in your play, Matthews said, and is a great vehicle to help keep your focus.
"Because of knowing I'm going to have a good match, I'm motivated to get out there and play," Matthews said.
"We just need to get some more players at that level so if we need to take off a season, you'll know there still will be good matches for everyone. I've played pretty regularly since I came back, but sometimes you need the time off."
The winter league has started with seven men's divisions and six women's brackets.
NET SHOTS: Locals competing in this weekend's BMW Combo Doubles State Championships in Daytona Beach include the women's 7.5 East Lake Woodlands and 8.5 Royal Racquet Club squads and the men's 6.5 Countryside Country Club and 7.5 Racquet Club of St. Petersburg teams.
Competition begins Friday at Florida Tennis Center and concludes with finals Sunday.
Among the winners in last weekend's St. Petersburg Tennis Center Junior Championships were Lindsay Dvorak (girls 18-and-under), top-seeded Danielle Collins (14), No. 3 Jameel Bailey (10) and third-seeded Brett Apter (boys 18).
Finalists included No. 3 Rebecca Bodine (girls 16), top-seeded Macey Cook (12), No. 4 Alexander Saltiel (boys 12) and Tyler Berning (10).
In this month's Copper Bowl, a national junior tournament, St. Petersburg's Emily Dvorak won three rounds in the girls 12-and-under back draw.
Her older sister, Lindsay, took one main-draw match in the 14 division and two in the back draw. Anthony Barrancotta won two in the main draw in boys 12 competition.
Emily Dvorak won the girls 12 back draw in a USTA Winter Super National.
WATCH THE PROS: Clearwater's McMullen Tennis Complex is the site for a Jan. 19-30 benefit for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Suncoast.
The Sheriff Jim Coats Clearwater Women's Open is a $10,000 USTA Pro Circuit event that includes a pre-qualifier, open to local players, Jan. 19-21. The winner advances to the Jan. 25-30 main draw. The second through fourth-place pre-qualifier players receive a wild card into the Jan. 23-24 qualifier.
The Open includes the Welcome to Tennis, For Families of All Abilities, program from 1-4 p.m Jan. 22 at McMullen and the Festival de Tennis, a celebration of diversity in our community, program from 1-4 p.m. Jan. 23 at Morningside Recreation Complex.
For information, call Larry Gilhousen, 546-5563; or Mike Lockwood, 793-2320.
LEAGUE NOTES: A USA Adult League Tennis captains meeting is scheduled for 7 tonight at Feather Sound Country Club.
Tennis Link, reporting scores, rule changes and player dues are among the topics to be discussed. For information, contact Carol Levin, 797-8416; Ruth Ann Ott, 526-7966; or Clark Higgs, 724-0509.
COMING UP: Host sites for this weekend's Junior Winter Sectionals include Bardmoor Golf and Tennis Club (391-2205), for girls 14-and-under singles; Seminole Lake Tennis Center (394-1733), girls 12; Royal Racquet Club (799-3200), boys and girls 10; and McMullen Tennis Complex (669-1919), boys 12. After School Tennis resumes at Treasure Island Tennis and Yacht Club for youth 6-16. All ability levels are welcome. For information, call Scott Smith, 367-5479. The sixth annual Rotary Golf and Tennis Challenge is Jan. 29 at Treasure Bay. Call 360-6062 for information.
_ News for this column may be faxed to Nancy Morgan, 796-5559; e-mailed to namorgan46msn.com, or sent to 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 33756. Please include phone number.