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Women's pro event makes? second visit to Williamsville

Down Sheridan Drive, past Lexus and Cadillac dealers, beyond a country club, sits Miller Tennis Center, which this week will host the only women's professional tennis event in Western New York.

Now in its second year, the Sargent & Collins LLP $10,000 Women's Pro Tennis Championships will bring up-and-coming professional players from all over the world to Buffalo in both singles and doubles divisions June 24-July 1.

Last year's winner of the USTA Pro Circuit event was 17-year-old American Lauren Davis, who last month knocked off 30th-seeded Mona Barthel of Germany at the French Open (6-1, 6-1) and is now ranked 128 in the WTA world rankings.

The woman Davis beat in the final was Nicole Gibbs, who went on to become a double NCAA champion this year in singles and doubles at Stanford.

"It's kind of the feeding ground for tomorrow's stars," said Todd Miller, tournament director and owner of Miller Tennis. "You'll get to see them up close and personal."

Hosting an event like this is something Miller has wanted for some time. When he finally applied for one, officials from the USTA liked what they saw.

"It's something we got involved in because we're trying to enhance Buffalo tennis," Miller said. "I always wanted one here.

"I met with [USTA Pro Circuit Director] Brian Earley, he spent the day here and fell in love with the club and said you're definitely getting an event. I heard back about a month later … and we passed with flying colors."

The event is part of the USTA Pro Circuit's clay court series, which is designed to put younger players on slightly slower surfaces so they can better develop their skills and learn to use more of the court.

"[Our surface] is HarTru, but the USTA Pro Circuit considers it clay," Miller said. "Clay is a slower surface, the surface [Rafael] Nadal has been dominating on. It favors the patient baseliners. Points are longer. The craftier, patient player wins on this. Sometimes you get longer rallies as a result because the court is slower. The ball stays up. So it's entertaining – you see longer, more interesting points."

While Jessie Pegula (world rank 209) isn't in the field this week, the top-ranked player in the tournament has won just as much prize money this year. Fatma Al Nabhani, a 21-year-old from Oman who won a $10,000 tournament in UAE in April, leads the pack at world rank 494.

The top-ranked American is 29-year-old Alexis King (No. 531), who is one of the few mothers in the tournament. She last played in Hilton Head, S.C. at the end of May, where she was beaten by 14-year-old Tornado Alicia Black, an American player on the rise who will also compete this week.

Other players to watch for:

* Nika Kukharchuk, a 25-year-old Russian with a world rank of 725.

* Jacqueline Cako, 20, an American ranked 752nd in the world.

* Jamie Loeb, a 17-year-old American who was a quarterfinalist last year. She trains with John McEnroe and is one of the top juniors in the country.

* Quinn Gleason, an 18-year-old from Rochester who won the wild card tournament last weekend to gain entry into the main draw. Miller said she reached the quarterfinals of the state high school tournament this year – in the boy's division. She'll play for Notre Dame next fall.

Player sign-in is Saturday with the qualifier starting Sunday at 9 a.m. The main draw in singles and doubles begins Tuesday.

The action heats up at the end of the week, with singles quarterfinals at 9 a.m. Friday, followed by doubles semifinals. The singles semifinals are at 11 a.m. Saturday, with the finals for both events coming Sunday, July 1. The doubles final is first at 11, followed by the singles championship.

Former players of the Pro Circuit include Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin, Lindsay Davenport, Anna Kournikova, Caroline Wozniacki, Amelie Mauresmo and Chandra Rubin.

Admission is free to the public and Miller Tennis has eight air conditioned, indoor courts they can switch to in the event of bad weather. Match times and schedules can be found at millertenniscenter.com.

email: nveronica@buffnews.com