Sunday, August 15, 2004

Tournament gives local players a tougher level of competition


W&S notebook

By Neil Schmidt
Enquirer staff writer

MASON - It's Tier III tennis, yes. But it's still several levels above any women's play seen here in years.

Proof was provided in the first round of Western & Southern Financial Group Women's Open qualifying. The top two local players, Kara Molony-Hussey and Tetiana Luzhanska - who split two meetings in the Thomas E. Price Metropolitan Championship finals the past two years - were beaten soundly Saturday.

Molony-Hussey, a four-time Met winner, lost 6-0, 6-1 to Delia Sescioreanu, an 18-year-old Romanian ranked No. 184 in the world. Luzhanska, the 2004 Met champion, fell 6-0, 6-3 to Salome Devidze, an 18-year-old from the country of Georgia who's ranked 370th.

Both Molony-Hussey and Luzhanska admitted to early nerves that caused them to play tightly but talked of being happy to measure themselves in this setting.

"I'd rather play better players and see how I do," Molony-Hussey said. "It's a great experience."

Molony-Hussey, a 24-year-old Notre Dame Academy and University of Cincinnati graduate, lost her first 10 games. When she finally held serve, having saved five break points in that game, she raised her hands in mock triumph.

Sescioreanu was aggressive, totaling 25 winners to two for Molony-Hussey, yet the latter played much better after a 23-minute first set.

She and sister Lyndsey Molony, who have teamed to win five Met titles, received a wild card into the doubles main draw.

"I'm so glad it's not over with," Molony-Hussey said. "I know I'll play better now that I got the rookie nerves out of the way."

She and Luzhanska have played some pro events, and each owns a ranking in the 800s. This is the biggest tournament they have played.

Luzhanska, 19, is from Ukraine but has been in the United States the past four years on a student visa.

She trains at the International Tennis Academy in Delray Beach, Fla., and lives part of the time with her mother, Vicki, in Sharonville.

Luzhanska lost the first eight games of her match Saturday and was down 4-1 in the second set. She rallied to 4-3 and totaled three break points on Devidze's serve but failed to capitalize.

"In the second set, I started playing to my game plan," Luzhanska said. "It'll bother me that on those break points I had shots I could've made."

Luzhanska, playing as an amateur, said she would have to decide soon whether to stay in the United States, perhaps to attend college.

AMERICANS STRUGGLE: American players went 2-7 in the first round of qualifying, and one of those victories was over a fellow American: Julie Ditty beat Amber Liu.

One more American, Amy Dillingham, had a first-round match with Janet Lee moved to today.

The only American to beat a non-countrywoman was Kelly McCain, who beat Varvara Lepchenko of Uzbekistan 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

SLOW GO: McCain and Ditty, ranked 132nd and 254th, respectively, are in the limbo phase of their careers - playing qualifiers and low-rung events in an effort to boost their rankings.

"You're trying to climb the ladder," said McCain, a former Duke player who once ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division I. "It's a process. (Financially), you're just trying to break even."

Said Ditty, an Ashland, Ky., native and Vanderbilt graduate: "It's a tough job - traveling every week, hoping to get into tournaments. It's what you have to do."

ESSENTIALS

What: Western & Southern Financial Group Women's Open.

Where: Lindner Family Tennis Center, Mason.

Qualifier: 10 a.m. today.

Main draw (loge/terrace prices): Monday, 11 a.m., 7 p.m. ($22/$12, kids 14 and under are $6); Tuesday-Wednesday, 11 a.m., 7 p.m. ($22/$12); Thursday, 4 p.m. ($24/$15); Friday, 4 p.m. ($26/$18); Saturday, 3 p.m. ($28/$20); Sunday, 1 p.m. ($32/$22).

Tickets/info: 513-651-0303; www.cincytennis.com.

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E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com




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