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Casual interest becomes passion for woman

Tennis was the first sport Evelyn Thomas played, and it's one the Irish-born Thomas doesn't plan on quitting anytime soon.

Thomas plays doubles at least three times a week in the Hudson area and mixes leisure with league tennis.

"I've played in the Nature Coast, K-Swiss and USTA leagues," Thomas said, "and I wasn't really too interested in traveling much. I like playing around the area.

"I pretty much learned by playing and taking tips from other players. I really never had a desire to take lessons."

Tennis came on the horizon when Thomas and her family moved to Florida from Massachusetts in 1991. Then, she began taking her two sons out to hit. But it wasn't until she bumped into Gae Broffel and her husband that Thomas became a little more involved for herself.

"Gae was so nice and asked me and my husband to play with her and her husband," Thomas said. "She kind of took me under her wing. She seemed to always have time to help. When I first came here, I didn't know anyone and didn't have too much to do."

Thomas signed up for a league and relied on Broffel's guidance to get her going. A few years later, Thomas met Ellie Steffler and they began arranging matches, especially after Broffel moved to Ocala.

"What I like most is the social aspect of tennis with the friendships that are made; it's a great way to exercise and I do enjoy the competition," Thomas said.

Thomas describes her game as one where she chases down a lot of balls, often surprising her opponents when she retrieves them. Her quickness and interest in playing at the net help her keep her eye on the ball and hit it in the empty spot.

"I will play tennis as long as possible, and realize now that I don't want to do without playing," Thomas said.

Last fall, Thomas added a women's doubles league at Veterans Park to her schedule. She teamed with Judy Wells and competed weekly against teams made up of Mattie Smouse and Bonnie Wright, Nancy Philip and Sonny Schutrick and Steffler and Jane Sperry.

LEAGUE NEWS: Safety Harbor Spa improved to 4-0 in the senior 3.5 men's division with a 3-0 victory over Shipwatch Tennis Club. Winning were David Parris and Bill Schieman in No. 1, Conrad Berhorster and Harry Stauffer No. 2 and Dick Lashley and Ron Lyn in No. 3.

The Spa faces second-place East Lake Woodlands (2-1) today.

+ Westin Innisbrook Resort improved to 2-0 in the super senior 3.5 women's division after its 3-0 victory over Seminole Lake. Winning in straight sets were Anne Hammond and Marie Hanff in No. 2 and Shirl Ahrens and Joan Holland in No. 3. Josie Doucette and Sue Luidens recorded a three-set win in No. 1.

MARK THE DATES: The Sheriff Jim Coats Clearwater Women's Open, a $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit event for female professionals, is Monday-Mar. 5 at the McMullen Tennis Complex in Clearwater. Community activities are planned, including Family Tennis Day 1 to 4 p.m. Feb. 25, with an opportunity to win tickets to the Bausch & Lomb Tournament; and USTA Member Appreciation Day 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 28, with a chance to win two tickets to the Nasdaq-100 Open. A Pro-Am mixed doubles begins at 6 p.m. Feb. 28.

The event benefits the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Suncoast. For sponsor information, call (727) 546-1032, Ext. 17; for tennis questions, call (727) 669-1919.

COMING UP: A USTA National Open for the boys 14 division is Friday-Tuesday at Cheval Golf and Country Club (813-948-2282) and for the girls 14 at Bardmoor Golf and Tennis Club (727-391-2205). The NTRP Designated Spring Championships begin Saturday at the Temple Terrace Tennis Center. Call (813) 989-7178.

News for this column may be faxed to Nancy Morgan, (727) 796-5559; e-mailed to namorgan46msn.com; or sent to 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 33756. Please include phone number.

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