This month's Tournament of Champions, the Suncoast Tennis Foundation's annual fundraiser contest, attracted its largest contingency of players in its six years of existence.
While more than 180 players battled for bragging rights in women's, men's and mixed doubles, the STF earned about $9,500 for its grass roots tennis projects.
"The money raised assists us in helping disadvantaged children and adults who cannot afford lessons and equipment to play tennis," said Judy Foster, executive director of the STF. "Over the past three years, the STF has facilitated the distribution of 400 free, refurbished tennis rackets and thousands of used balls to elementary, middle and high school programs, as well as to inner city groups.
"The proceeds from the Tournament of Champions allows the Suncoast Tennis Foundation to continue to provide financial assistance through schools so children can participate in a wide variety of tennis programs. We provide transportation for 350 kids to our annual Elementary Fun Day for fifth-graders, and we have partnerships with groups such as the Police Athletic League and the Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast, as well as other charity tennis tournaments."
The Suncoast Tennis Foundation is a nonprofit USTA organizational member that strives to provide tennis opportunities throughout Pinellas County with special focus on youths. The fundraising tournament is an effort to involve the tennis playing community with the STF's mission of providing those tennis opportunities.
In order to compete in the tournament, players had to qualify by finishing as a winner, finalist, semifinalist or consolation winner in specified charity events throughout the year.
Among the winners wasKelly Wilhite, who collected the women's 3.5 title with Kirsten Willis and the mixed 3.5 with Justin LaRue.
"I like the concept of the Tournament of Champions, and especially the fact that you have to qualify to play in it," Wilhite said. "Both finals went three sets and the competition was definitely great. Kirsten and I started playing together about three years ago and complement one another's game, plus we're friends on and off the court. We have fun playing, just like when I play with Justin."
Karen Randazzo also collected two titles, pairing with Liz Leigh to win the women's round robin and with Craig Hajdich in the mixed 4.5.
"Liz and I have similar styles in that we play aggressively and know where each is on the court," Randazzo said. "Craig is just a great partner. I think the tournament concept is great and it's nice to know you had to qualify to play in it. The foundation is providing a lot of tennis in Pinellas, and that's good."
Ken Emery, who won the 4.0 mixed title with Lea Avery and the men's 4.0 with Harry Johnson, compares the competition at the Tournament of Champions with trips to Daytona Beach for sectional events because of the high level of competition.
"Every match in this tournament was a tough match, just like you find when you go to Daytona Beach," Emery said. "In some of the charity tournaments the matches get tougher toward the end, but this was different because you had the top finishers from other tournaments competing. I like the concept."
Other winners included Jane Dizona and June Williams in the women's 3.0, Kim Damico and Mary Gordon 4.0, Matt Holsopple and Sean Kepinski men's open, Steve Baccich and Mike Hooper 4.5, Tom Johnson and Terry Midden 3.5 and Kim and Dan Murphy 3.0 mixed.
Consolation winners were Lisa Durkin and Mari Workman (women's 4.0), Jennifer Ramella and Lynn Spies (3.5), Bill Radford and Randolph Gibson (men's 4.5), Nick Bourg and Rob Tenney (4.0), Maz AlAbed and Stuart Nussbaum (3.5), Leigh and David Scott (mixed 4.5), Janet Matthews and John Green (4.0) and Barbara Emery and Craig Emery (3.5).
Winners, finalists, semifinalists and consolation winners qualify for the 2009 Tournament of Champions.
NET SHOTS: Top seed Kristen Willis led a group of local players to singles titles in last weekend's Clearwater Adult NTRP Kickoff at the McMullen Tennis Complex. Willis claimed the women's 3.5 crown, as did Zana Lukosiuniene the 3.0, Brian McGonagill the men's 4.0 and Juan Yannuzzi the 5.0.
Finishing second in the state-sanctioned contest were Sharon Mucci in the women's 3.0, Matthew Fox men's 4.5, Jim Schroeder 3.5 and Jeff Walters 3.0. Collecting consolation wins were Marilyn McCurdy in the women's 4.0, Gillian Irving 3.5, Kathryn Robbins 3.0, Mark Marconi men's 4.0 and Mason Hubsher 3.5.
-Mark Wagner defended his top seeding in the Tom McKinley Memorial Tournament, an adult designated contest, in Naples to win the men's 45-and-over division. No. 5 Michael Erbe reached the 45 quarterfinal round, as did No. 2 Jason Horwitz in the 35. Marvin Wilhite won the 45 consolation draw.
- In a Super Seniors Grand Prix contest Fort Myers, Marc Mazo teamed with Alex Deeb to win the 55 doubles title.
MARK THE DATE: The Sheriff Jim Coats Fourth Annual Clearwater Women's Open, a $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit Tournament, is Feb. 17-24 at the McMullen Tennis Complex. Contact tournament director Theresa Victory, 515-8375.
COMING UP: Eastlake Woodlands hosts its Adult Winter NTRP this weekend. Call 785-2212. ... The Ultimate Tennis Spring League begins Feb. 16. Register at www.ultimatetennis.com.
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