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Professionals take to the courts in Clearwater

Opportunities to see the future stars in women's professional tennis are available through Sunday at the McMullen Tennis Complex in Clearwater.

The Sheriff Jim Coats Clearwater Women's Open is the seventh women's USTA Pro Circuit event this year and includes players with world rankings from Nos. 167-316.

The tourney came about through the efforts and principal sponsorship of honorary chairman Sheriff Jim Coats, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Suncoast, City of Clearwater, U.S. Tennis Association, Aflac and AmSouth Bank.

Without the support of those and other sponsors, along with an array of volunteers, an event of this magnitude would be unlikely, said Larry Gilhousen, director of resource development for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Suncoast, which the event will benefit.

"With this year's Pro Circuit being a $25,000 level, the competition throughout the week is going to be even more intense than last year, which was very good," Gilhousen said.

Billie Lipp, tournament supervisor with the USTA, is impressed with the quality of preparation and predicts high-level competition.

"Main-draw players start with rankings in the low 200s or better, so the overall draw is pretty strong," Lipp said. "We're definitely going to see some highly competitive tennis.

"Staging it here in Clearwater is working out very well. I was here some years ago when they had USTA Pro Circuit events. I did a site check in January when I was in Tampa at a Pro Circuit there. Everyone s doing well to make it all happen here."

Puerto Rico's Vilmarie Castellvi, a 2005 Pan American Games doubles silver medalist, is the tournament's top seed with a No. 167 world ranking.

Four Americans with Florida ties are among the 32 singles draw, including fourth-seed Jessica Kirkland of Miami, No. 6 Tiffany Dabek of Bradenton, No. 7 Sunitha Rao of Bradenton and No. 22 Ellah Nze of Tampa.

Players represent 12 different countries and include Raquel Kops-Jones, five-time All-American at the University of California Berkeley; Sarah Riske, four-time All-American at Vanderbilt; Kirkland, 2004 Orange Bowl champion and Dabek, 2005 U.S. Open qualifier.

There are 94 Pro Circuit events around the country with prize money ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. Women's Pro Circuit tournaments are the pathway to WTA Tour-level competition. Among former players at the Pro Circuit level are Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport and Justine Henin-Hardenne.

Singles competition continues through Sunday's final, as does the 16-team doubles draw. For specific playing times, call the McMullen Tennis Complex at 669-1919.

NET SHOTS: Second seed Danielle Collins advanced to the USTA National Open girls 12-and-under final in Sea Island, Ga., last month. Collins played to the girls 12 final with Frances Beacom of Jacksonville. Last weekend, Collins, 11, won the women's open competition in the SPTC Adult Championships in St. Petersburg.

+ Stefan Frisch reached the NTRP men's 3.5 final in last month's Temple Terrace Spring Championships.

+ Among the winners in last month's Treasure Island Rookie contest were Robyn Perry in the girls 10, Mariah Nero the 12, Mary Wynne the 14, Robert Perry the boys 12 and Krasen Mihahlov the 16.

+ Among the winners in last week's West Coast Super Senior Grand Prix at the St. Petersburg Tennis Center were Ralph Howe in the 65-and-over, and Bob Meyerdierks the 80. Second seed Howe upset the top seed in straight sets, and Meyerdierks defended his top seeding in a two-set win.

Doubles champions included Tom Avirett and Andy Chau in the 80, Peter Crewe and George McCabe the 75, Dick Crawford and Hernan Molina the 70 and Ed Hamilton and John Rensch the 65.

THIS WEEK: The Raymond James Super Senior Grand Prix National USTA Category II Tournament continues through Sunday at the St. Petersburg Country Club. Call 867-9105 for specific playing times.

COMING UP: The St. Petersburg Rookie begins Saturday at the St. Petersburg Tennis Center. Call 893-2225 today. The East Lake Woodlands Senior Championships are this weekend. Call 785-2212 today.

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.

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