Rich Rocchio, 26, and his brother, Randy, 16, of Clarence, are the top two male tennis players in the Western New York men's tennis rankings.
Rich Rocchio said, "I have been ranked in the top 10 since I was 16 years old. This is the first time that I have achieved the No. 1 ranking and I am deeply honored. I have enjoyed playing in the WNY tournaments these past 11 years. I only wish that more players would compete in men's local tournaments. It would make for more competitive and spirited play."
This year's rankings have a new look to them. Five players from last year's top 10 aren't ranked this year. Ross Nwachukwu, last year's No. 1 player, didn't play any local tournaments and has left Buffalo to become the assistant tennis coach at the University of Kansas. Rob Gregoire and Dave Glovino have moved to Pittsburgh and Atlanta, respectively. Janni Vilhunen and Kurt Felgemacher didn't play tournaments due to teaching and work schedules.
The rankings are based on results from the Summer Challenge Series of tournaments, input from local experts and observations of this writer.
The rankings follow:
1) Rich Rocchio won two Village Glen tournaments, reached the semifinals of the Muny Open and lost in the quarterfinals of the Buffalo City Open. He clearly had the best overall record of any local player. Rocchio has an all-court game and is equally adept in doubles. He and Russ Tringali Jr. won four consecutive Muny doubles championships in the 1990s. This ranks them among the all-time top doubles teams in WNY.
2) Although Randy Rocchio is referred to as "Rich's little brother" it isn't necessarily true. Rich is 5-foot-11 and Randy is 6-3. Randy won the August Village Glen tournament. He also reached the finals and semifinals of the two other Glen tournaments he entered. In addition, he won the ECIC and Sectional high school championships, representing Williamsville East. He has a powerful forehand and covers the court exceptionally well for a player of his size.
3) Jon Murchison, an Orchard Park native, starred for the University of Maryland this year. The 19-year-old impressed everyone in the Muny Open finals with his power and shot placement in defeating Jon Bozanich, 17, of Niagara Falls, Ont. Murchison is a definite contender for the No. 1 spot. Injuries kept him from playing in most tournaments; he must increase his participation next year to achieve this.
4) Anil Gupta, 18, of East Amherst, was the odds-on favorite to emerge as the area's top high school star this year. However, his season was cut short when he severely injured his ankle while practicing with the Williamsville East team in early April. He missed all of April and May. In late June he and his family went to India for three weeks. He had only practiced three weeks when he entered the Buffalo City Open in August. He astounded everyone by defeating Rich Rocchio, Anke Murdano, and Jeff Roth, respectively, in the quarters, semifinals and finals. With the coaching of Janni Vilhunen, he showed a much improved serve-and-volley game. He is a freshman at Union College. Like Murchison, he would be a threat to the top spot with increased tournament play.
5) Anke Murdano has as much natural ability as any member of the top 10. However, he admits that this past tennis season was not a good one for him. The 23-year-old was injured most of the season and had a huge teaching load. It showed in his play. The Amherst resident said, "I will definitely move up in the rankings next year."
6) Jeff Roth of Grand Island, reached the finals of the Buffalo City Open. His ground strokes are hit with great pace and he covers the court well. "To move up next year I know that I have to increase my tournament and practice commitments," he said.
7) The 6-3, 200 pound Jon Bozanich is a dead ringer for Mark Philippoussis. He also hits the ball harder than anyone in the top 10. He also is prone to concentration lapses that greatly hurt his game. With improvement in this area he will be a threat to any of the players ranked above him.
8) Nick Zieziula, a 16-year-old St. Francis High School star, reached the semifinals of the Muny championships with wins over Dave Carlson and Justin Brtko. He also reached the quarterfinals of the City Open. The Hamburg resident is a two-time All Catholic singles champion who has an excellent court demeanor and a consistent net game.
9) Dave Carlson, a 35-year-old cardiologist, resides in Amherst. He won the Men's 35 & Over Singles in the Muny championships and reached the quarterfinals of the Men's Open Singles. He has a strong serve and makes few errors.
10) (tie) Justin Brtko, 19, plays third singles for UB. He reached the semifinals of two Village Glen tournaments. A resident of East Amherst, he has good foot speed and is very consistent off the ground.
(10) (tie) Bryan McConnell, a 21-year-old from Amherst, is a sophomore at Edinboro State (Pa.). He reached the semifinals of the City Open and the quarters of a Village Glen tournament. He has classic ground strokes and could rise in the rankings next year with increased play.
A benefit racquetball tournament will be held at Lakewood Family YMCA (near Jamestown) from Oct. 22-24 for Dave Mitchell, one of the area's finest racquetball players and a Jamestown policeman who was seriously wounded in an armed assault last week. For further information on entering, call Tom Mudd at 851-4545.