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MUNY CHAMPION NWACHUKWU TOPS LOCAL MEN'S RANKS

By winning his fourth Muny Open Singles championship in 10 years, Ross Nwachukwu moved into the highest echelons of Western New York tennis. In the past 50 years only the legendary Rev. Bob Hetherington, with six, has won more open titles.

Both Nwachukwu and Hetherington were ranked among Western New York's top 10 players of the past 50 years by The Buffalo News last year.

Local experts who helped compile the top 10 list of this year's male tennis players are: Russ Crispell, University at Buffalo men's tennis coach; John Brunner, head tennis pro at South Towns Tennis Center; Al Litto, Muny tennis director; Don Becker, assistant tennis pro at the Village Glen, and this writer.

The rankings:

1) Ross Nwachukwu -- He teaches at the Village Glen. This 29-year-old possesses one of the most powerful serves ever seen in this area and his impeccable ground strokes and foot speed for a man 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds is unparalleled locally.

2) Jeff Roth -- The 26-year-old Niagara Falls High School teacher was the only player to win a set against Nwachukwu in the Muny Singles, losing, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, in the semifinals. The former Xavier University star feels that he was in the best shape in the past three years. His steady ground strokes and concentration were much improved this year.

3) Fery Kasiman -- The 20-year-old junior played first singles at UB last season. He is one of four UB players in this year's top 10. An extremely quick and wily player, Kasiman was magnanimous in his praise of Nwachukwu. He said, "Ross is definitely another level above the other players in Western New York. His serve is almost impossible to break, and he constantly keeps you backpedaling with his ground strokes when you're serving."

4) Steve Dahm -- The 26-year-old head pro at the Country Club of Buffalo is one of the steadiest players and toughest competitors in this list. He lost a tough final to Nick Zieziula in the June Village Glen tourney and won two close matches against Kenny White in other tournaments. Dahm has an all-court game that is frustrating to play against. He is equally at home at the baseline and at the net.

5) Kenny White -- Predictably, White said that he didn't play well this year but that isn't true. The 39-year-old printing company owner still competes extremely well and has one of the hardest western forehands in the game. In addition to close losses to Dahm, he won the August Village Glen tournament by beating Taylor Teresi. The former two-time UB All-American is also a member of the UB Sports Hall of Fame.

6) Nick Zieziula -- The 18-year-old was All-Catholic first singles four times at St. Francis High School, where he won more than 60 matches without a loss. He started out the season on a high note by easily defeating Randy Rocchio in the semis and Dahm in a well-played final at the June Village Glen tournament. In the Buffalo City Open he lost to Dave Carlson and in the Muny to Justin Brtko. This UB freshman is playing his best tennis of the season as he is using his strong serve-and-volley game to win a starting spot.

7) Justin Brtko -- The 21-year-old UB senior has made great strides this year. Formerly known as a player who kept the ball in play, Brtko went on a training and weight program. He has changed his game from being a so-called "pusher" to an aggressive player. His new style was exhibited in his quarterfinal defeat of Zieziula and his close semifinal loss to Roth in the Muny Championships.

7) (tie) Randy Rocchio -- The 18-year-old freshman at UB completed his high school career at Williamsville East by becoming one of the few Western New Yorkers to reach the finals of the New York State High School Championships. He won the Buffalo City Open over Carlson by using his 6-4 frame to deliver a serve that has improved by leaps and bounds.

9) David Carlson -- The 38-year-old cardiologist plays with a lot of heart (no pun intended) and determination. He defeated Zieziula in the semifinals of the City Open and gave Rocchio fits in the finals. He makes very few errors and fights for every point. "I find that I'm enjoying the game more and there isn't as much pressure to win," he said. "It's fun competing against these kids."

10) Kurt Felgemacher -- The 20-year-old junior had an outstanding season at Canisius College at first singles and doubles. He was 13-1 in singles and 12-1 in doubles. His summer season wasn't quite up to his collegiate level. Although he played some close matches against some of the top players, he didn't have any outstanding wins. He is hoping to move up in the rankings with increased play next year.

Second serves

The Western New York Racquetball Association will be starting a junior program Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. at BAC Eastern Hills. Call Greg Maliken at 838-5860. . . . Mark Mogavero (Kenmore) and Bea Stephen (Pine City, N.Y.) finished fourth in badminton in the 75-79 age group at the recent National Senior Olympics in Baton Rouge, La.
e-mail: thegreatgar@cs.com

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