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Novaceanu heads list of one of strongest groups ever

Andrea Novaceanu, a former tennis great for the University at Buffalo, is the unanimous choice as Western New York's No. 1 women's tennis player for 2010. She heads the list of the top 10 players who competed in at least two local tournaments last year. The top five women are arguably the strongest group in those positions to have ever been ranked by The News.

Rankings are based on head-to-head tournament results. Observations by area experts and this writer were the basis for these rankings:

1. Andrea Novaceanu: She defeated Smaranda Stan, 6-2, 6-1, in the Muny Open Women's final. In a summer tournament at Miller Tennis Center, she defeated Rachel Delpriore, 6-4, 6-2, in the semifinals and Lyndsay Shosho, 6-0, 6-0, in the finals. Her performances in both tournaments place her in the discussion of who is the greatest women's player Western New York annals. Delpriore and Shosho are also in consideration. Novaceanu is a tremendous competitor who uses her devastating left-handed forehand to control play. She is powerful and has impeccable timing on her strokes. She will be playing in some Future tournaments in the coming year.

2. Marni Venter: Remember this name! The Canadian (lives just over the border) is only 18 and will be playing at the University of Kentucky. She defeated Stan, 7-5, 6-0, in one tournament and Tina Miller, 7-6, 6-0, in a second tournament at the Miller Center during the summer. She is very quick and strong. Her forehand and backhand are well placed. She hits her outstanding serve with power and placement. Venter is mentally tough and will only get better as she will be competing against some of the top players in the country in the Southeastern Conference.

3. Smaranda Stan: She is another former UB great. She had a tremendous season, reaching the finals of the Muny tournament, and defeating highly rated Olga Khmylev, 6-4, 6-4, and Delpriore, 7-6, retired, in two Miller tournaments. Stan is a fierce competitor who won the deciding match for UB when it won the Mid-American Conference Championship in 2008. She is a great team player and this shows in her personality when she teaches and motivates her students at the Miller Tennis Center.

4. (tie) Olga Khmylev: She has had a storied career. At times she was the top-ranked player in the 14s, 16s, and 18 & Under divisions in the girls rankings in the East. She is attending Boston College on a full tennis and academic scholarship, alternating between first and second singles. Locally, she won the prestigious Orville's tournament at Miller and split two matches with Delpriore, losing, 6-3, 6-3, and winning, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. She is in tremendous physical shape from playing collegiate tennis and has an improved forehand.

4. (tie) Rachel Delpriore: It is hard to believe that Delpriore does not play a lot of tennis and still does extremely well. She is one of the most intelligent players in the area and always seems to adapt her game to every style. She is very strong and powerful and tries to play high percentage shots. She played No. 1 for the University of Virginia as a sophomore and was able to play against some of the top collegiate players in the country. She is teaching at Miller Tennis Center and plans on getting into coaching more and playing less.

6. Elise DeRose: She defeated Tina Miller, 6-4, 6-2, in the San Marcos summer tourney at Miller and lost a hard-fought match, 7-5, 6-3, to Shosho in the City Open. DeRose played first singles all four years at Colgate University. She feels that collegiate play is a great experience because you have the team behind you and there is great camradery. DeRose is known for her steady play and keeping the ball in play until she can put the ball away. She is attending law school at the University of Rhode Island.

7. Caroline Bristol: She reached the semifinals of the Muny Championships, losing to Stan, 6-2, 6-0, and the finals of a women's tournament at the Village Glen.

She is playing second singles for Mercyhurst and has improved her volleys and overheads. She credits this to playing a lot of doubles, which forces her to serve and volley. She has a wonderful court demeanor and a positive attitude.

8. Cristen Cirrito Kessler: Kessler seems to get better with age. She defeated Tina Miller, 6-4, 6-1, and lost a hard fought three-setter to DeRose, in the San Marcos tournament at Miller. Kessler is a former Muny Singles champion and still has excellent ground strokes and a winning attitude. She still holds her own against the youngsters and loves to compete. She also teaches at the Miller Tennis Center.

9. Tina Miller: She is a former three-time Erie County Interscholastic Champion. During the past two years she has been hampered by injuries. However, she is on the comeback trail and split two matches with Kristen Janese, winning, 6-3, 6-3, and losing, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4. And she played a tough first set against Marni Venter before losing in a tiebreaker. The former Williamsville East star is attending St. Francis (Pa.) on a tennis scholarship and playing first singles as a freshman.

10. (tie) Kristen Janese: Janese is one of the most powerful hitters in the top 10. However, she admits that she can't overpower the many fine youngsters that are playing today. Therefore, she purposely isn't hitting the ball as hard and feels that she is playing a lot smarter. She is steadier and a great competitor. Janese is also one of the best volleyers in the area and loves to play doubles.

10. (tie) Disha Yellai: At only 13 years old, Yellai is a worthy addition to this list. She moved here with her family from Cleveland and has dominated the local high school scene, playing for Williamsville East while attending Transit Middle School. She won the Erie County Interscholastic and Sectional Singles titles without losing a set, defeating Taylor Cole of East Aurora in both finals.

She also won a women's tournament at the Village Glen. Yellayi is intelligent both on and off the court, and is outstanding on both offense and defense. She is a player on the rise.

e-mail: thegreatgar@verizon.net

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