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White surges to top ranking

At 43, Kenny White is the oldest male player to be ranked No. 1 in the Buffalo News tennis rankings, which were started more than 20 years ago. His phenomenal play led him to victories in three of the four local tournaments he entered.

Rankings were based on results from the Muny Championships at Delaware Park, the Buffalo City Open at the Buffalo Racquet Club, two summer tournaments at Village Glen, and college, high school, and junior tournaments. Local tennis experts were also consulted.

Here is the men's top 10:

1. Kenny White: The 43-year-old wonder credits his outstanding year more to physical fitness than his actual tennis prowess.

"The main reason for my success has to do with Bob Bateson and Mark Page of Body Blocks," White said. "At least three times a week during the offseason they put me through a brutal conditioning program, never letting me relax for a minute."

As a result, White was in the best shape of his life in the past year. This was instrumental in his winning all five three-set matches he had in the four tournaments he entered.

After defeating Ari Binder in the quarters and Fred Duncan in the finals of the Muny Championships, both in three sets, White said, "These kids are already terrific and they are only going to get better and more difficult to defeat in the coming years."

2. Nick Zieziula: A two-time Muny Singles champion, Zieziula, 22, is the only player to defeat White this year (in the Buffalo City Open). However, due to personal and work commitments, it was the only local tournament he entered. He recently was named an assistant men's tennis coach at the University at Buffalo, where he won more singles and doubles matches than any player in school history.

An all-court player, he is extremely adept at finishing points as soon as he can. With more tournament play, he is the leading threat to overtake White in the rankings next year.

3. Fred Duncan: The 18-year-old was somewhat overlooked last year because he had spent a considerable time at the Saddlebrook Tennis Academy in Florida. However, that is no longer a problem.

The devastating power hitter impressed everyone with his overpowering win over highly regarded Stephen Sayoc in the Muny semifinals. He also played a great match before losing in three sets to White in the finals. Most impressive is the way he is able to mix his power game with slices and drop shots. He is on a tennis scholarship to Saint Joseph's University. He has the potential to win the Muny title in the near future.

4. (tie) Stephen Sayoc: The 36-year-old had a good season, but not quite good enough, by his standards. He lost to White three times, twice in three sets.

Although he is no youngster, he is in phenomenal shape and has a tremendous all-court game. His drop shot from any place on the court is deceiving. It is amazing that he plays as well as he does as he is a full-time tennis pro and is on the court upwards of 40 hours a week.

4. (tie) Ari Binder: The 16-year-old has improved by leaps and bounds during the past three months. He twice lost close three-setters to White and impressed everyone with his increased power and accuracy. Playing for Amherst High School for the past four years, he has been undefeated in league play since he started playing as a seventh grader. He has an excellent return of serve, is extremely quick, and is good at analyzing situations during matches. Like Duncan, he is the future of tennis in Western New York.

6. Jonathan Luce: Luce is another player who may have been ranked much higher if he had been able to play in local tournaments. Living in Mayville, near Jamestown, made it difficult to compete locally. He has won the Section VI Championships the past three years, defeating Binder in this year's finals. His record in Chautauqua County play is a 93-0 over six years, and he has one of the hardest serves in the top 10. He will be attending St. Bonaventure on a tennis scholarship in the fall.

7. Chris Post: He is another teenager (age 16) who could challenge for White's ranking if he is able to play more local tournaments next year. The Southwestern star defeated Binder in two of the three matches they played. He is ranked 16th in the East in the 16 & Under division. He has a strong forehand and serve and is very tough mentally.

8. Justin Brtko: The gritty 24-year-old recently graduated from St. Bonaventure with a masters degree in Business Administration. He is extremely competitive and relies on great coverage to frustrate his opponents. His fighting spirit has helped him win many matches when he seems hopelessly out of contention.

9. Dave Carlson: The 42-year-old won the Muny 35 & Over Singles title over a strong field. He also played competitive matches against both Sayoc and White in Open Singles. His flat forehand and slice backhand bring to mind players of the past. A tenacious competitor, he looks forward to playing the youngsters as a real challenge.

10. Mark Szafnicki: The 41-year-old attributes his strong year to practicing a great amount with White. He has a powerful serve and forehand and is one of the area's best doubles players. He teamed with White to win the Muny Open Doubles title. He reached the semifinals of two of the open tournaments.

"I really play singles to keep my game sharp to play doubles, which is my first love," he said.

> No women's rankings

There will be no women's rankings due to the lack of participants (only three) in the Muny Women's Open, the area's only Women's Open tournament this year.

To encourage more participation and competition in the Open divisions next year there is a possibility that a point system that was so popular a few years ago will be utilized.

e-mail: thegreatgar@cs.com

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