Ross Nwachukwu, 26, and Kelly Brown, 21, each took a giant step toward securing the area's No. 1 tennis rankings by winning their respective divisions in the recent Muny Tennis championships.
Nwachukwu defeated former satellite tour player Dave Giovino, 6-2, 6-1, in the men's open finals. Brown was equally devastating in a 6-0, 6-3 victory over Jenny Schneider in the women's open finals.
Nwachukwu returned from the pro satellite tour about a month before the Muny championships. He met with mixed success on the tour and would have loved to continue. Unfortunately, he didn't have the money to do so.
He said, "I was very pleased with my play on the tour. I felt that I had the talent and desire to succeed. However, at that level you need two main things that I didn't have. First, you have to have a base to play against players who are as good or better than you are on a steady basis. Second, you also need a coach to travel with you and take care of all the little details in order that you can just concentrate on playing.
"I observed the other players carefully. Their talent and foot speed wasn't any better than mine," he said.
"The bottom line is that I ran out of finances. However, if an opportunity presents itself where I can get a coach and the needed finances, I would try the tour again. I'm ready to go," he said.
Some local experts thought Nwachukwu would have a problem concentrating after leaving the pro satellite tour to play locally. Nwachukwu said, "My mindset has always been to concentrate, stay focused, and play to the best of my ability. It doesn't matter whether it's the pro tour or the Muny Championships, my game won't vary much."
This was evident in his total domination of the men's event. His booming serve, penetrating ground strokes, and solid net play were a level or two above any player in the tournament.
A defining shot came in his semifinal against Jon Murchison, an Orchard Park High School graduate headed for the University of Maryland. Nwachukwu hit a backhand overhead that just missed bouncing over the fence. Now, that's power!
Murchison, 18, and Kurt Felgemacher, 17, an Amherst High senior, are two youngsters on the rise. Murchison astounded everyone with his 6-3, 6-1 pounding of Rich Rocchio, last year's co-ranked No. 2 men's player in Western New York. Felgemacher was equally impressive in a 6-3, 7-5 win over Don Schwake, who was co-ranked with Rocchio last year.
However, Nwachukwu showed the youngsters they have a long way to go to reach his level. He defeated Felgemacher, 6-2, 6-0, in the quarters and Murchison, 6-2, 6-2, in the semifinals.
In the women's final, Brown was dominating at both the net and the baseline. Like Nwachukwu, she is a level or two above the rest of the local players. The only local player who can play her close is Bridget Merrick, now on the women's pro satellite tour.
Brown is in her career-best physical condition. She had an outstanding season alternating at first and second singles for the University of Kentucky, which finished 24th in the nation and defeated Notre Dame, ranked 15th at the time, in a dual match. Kentucky also played against Top 10 teams Florida and Georgia.
Brown said, "Being in top shape really helped me this year. My ground strokes were more consistent and I ventured to the net more than ever before. My doubles partner, Massoumeh Emami, and I were ranked 18th collegiately. Doubles really helped my net game."
Al Litto is the director of the Muny tournament and did an outstanding job this year. He said, "Being affiliated with the Police Athletic League was a smart move. They helped us with the tournament and the tournament entry fees went to their association. It's a win-win situation for us, as a large amount of the PAL funds will go a long way in supporting junior tennis. We had over 400 entries and a tournament can't run successfully without a great amount of help. Kristen Powers, Joey Popielarczk, and Anne Grace did an outstanding job."
Rob Gregoire defeated highly-regarded Janne Vilhunen in the Men's Open quarterfinals in the match of the tournament by the scores of 7-5, 5-7, 7-6 (9-7). . . . Nick Cerabona won three Muny titles: Men's B Singles, B Doubles, and Mixed B Doubles. . . . Phil Celniker won his seventh straight 55 & Over Men's singles title and then teamed with Charlie Garfinkel to win their fifth straight doubles crown in the 55 & Over division. It was Garfinkel's 30th Muny title over a 30-year period, most of any active participant in the Muny Championships.
Men's Open: Ross Nwachukwu def. Dave Giovino 6-2, 6-1.
Men's A Singles: Justin Brtko def. John Belniak 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
Men's B Singles: Nick Cerabona def. Tom Speller 2-6, 6-1, 6-3.
Men's C Singles: Bob Schenk def. Lou Bystrak 6-3, 6-3.
Men's Novice Singles: Ken Clark def. Matt Roach 6-3, 6-3.
Wheelchair Singles: Rickey Grubbs def. Jason Shufstall 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.
Men's 35 Singles: Dave Todoroff def. Dave Magavem 6-2, 6-4.
Men's 45 Singles: Kosta Pozantidis def. Jon Nichols 7-5, 7-6.
Men's 55 Singles: Phil Celniker def. Charlie Garfinkel 6-2, 6-2.
Women's Open Singles: Kelly Brown def. Jenny Schneider 6-0, 6-3.
Women's B Singles: Lauren Wielkiewicz def. Sara Sargent 7-6, 6-1.
Women's C Singles: Jacqueline Beathley def. Margaret Sullivan 6-1, 6-4.
Women's 35 Singles: Mary Balling def. Margaret Sullivan 6-0, 6-0.
Women's 45 Singles: Andrea Abels def. Elizabeth Williams by default.
Men's Open Doubles: Don Schwake-Janne Vilhunen def. Onke Murdano-Jeff Roth 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Men's B Doubles: Nick Cerabona-Ron Ingalsbe def. Mark Szafnicki-Greg Mack 6-0, 6-2.
Men's C Doubles: Joe Karas-Ron Delgenio def. Josh Layton-Ron Layton 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Men's 35 Doubles: Mike Albano-Dave Todoroff def. Rich Abbott-Dave Koczak 6-3, 3-3 retired.
Men's 45 Doubles: Mike Melnik-Mike Stritchfield def. Jon Roth-Mike Wagner 2-6, 6-2, 7-6.
Men's 55 Doubles: Charlie Garfinkel-Phil Celniker def. Gary Solomon-Jay Sadkowski 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
Wheelchair Doubles: John Merritt-Steve Spitz def. Rickey Grubbs-Joe Jaroni 7-5, 6-4.
Women's Open Doubles: Julie Roth-Jenny Schneider def. Kara Armstrong-Kristen Janese 6-0, 2-6, 6-0.
Women's B Doubles: Amy Rizzuto-Laura Rizzuto def. Liz Manzella-Dassy Pawlik 5-7, 6-0, 6-4.
Women's C Doubles: Sue Tomkins-JoMarie Privitera def. Mary Perla-Ann Reville 6-1, 6-3.
Women's 35 Doubles: Fulvia Tesseyman-Val Elvin def. Mary Grace Duggan-Mary Balling 6-2, 6-3.
Open Mixed Doubles: Russ Tringali-Amy Davis def. Micky Marks-Mark Farber 7-6, 2-6, 6-4.
B Mixed Doubles: Mary Balling-Nick Cerabona def. Don Becker-Liz Manzella 6-2, 6-4.
C Mixed Doubles: Kim Goodman-Todd Macon def. Kristen McKay-Rob Joy 6-4, 6-2.
Father-Son Doubles: Jeff-Jon Roth def. Mike-Travis Melnik 6-2, 6-3.
Parent-Child Doubles: Julie-Jon Roth def. Dan-Jenny Schneider 6-1, 6-4.
Sportsmanship awards: Mary Grace Duggan, Earl Tomkins.