USTA players descend on Troy

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 29, 2003

Imagine packing your bags every week and heading off to compete for cash and points in a tennis match somewhere from sea to shining sea.

Imagine that, and you will have some idea what it's like to be a player on the United States Tennis Association circuit.

About 75 "circuit riders" descended on Troy on Saturday to compete for $50,000 in prize money in the first USTA Challenger of Troy. The tournament is being held at the Lunsford Tennis Complex all this week. The finals in both singles and doubles will be on Sunday afternoon.

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The field was reduced by nearly half on Sunday and Monday as players attempted to qualify for the four play-in spots in the tournament. Main draw play will begin today.

Stephanie Hazlett was wearing a big smile after her match on Monday. She won and will live to play another day.

Hazlett is one of the newer players on the circuit but also one of the oldest players.

An Indiana native and a recent graduate of the University of Florida, Hazlett has been a member of the USTA for less than a year.

She drove down from Indiana to play in the Troy Challenger primarily to earn points in the world rankings.

"The money would be nice, but what I really want is points," she said. "I want to move up in the rankings and that's the way to do it."

Hazlett gained points when she won a USTA tournament before the homefolks in Evansville, Ind.

"That was really a thrill," she said. "I hope I can do well here."

Traveling around the country living out of a bag is great for "those who can live like that."

Already Hazlett has played in tournaments in Texas, South Carolina, Maryland and New Mexico. She will leave at the end of the week for Australia.

Traveling to tournaments can be expensive, so most players have to pick and choose.

"I can actually fly to Australia and play several big money tournaments there cheaper than I can travel and play in the United States," she said. "I'll be there about a month and I'm looking forward to it."

Petra Rampre of Slovenia is ranked 239th in the world. But, she has set her goal for this year to move up to 175.

Rampre has been traveling and playing tennis since she was 14. She has been on the USTA circuit since she was 16.

"I'm 23 so I have been playing here seven years," she said. "I train in Atlanta at the PBI Academy under Coach Ashley Hobson, so the Troy tournament was close for me. I drive to a lot to tournaments and fly when I do not have time to drive."

Rampre said she just moved naturally into tennis.

"I have always liked sports," she said. "I skied and played basketball. One day, I picked up a racket and now I play tennis."

Rampre is one of many international players on the circuit and she admits that she misses her family at times.

"I've been traveling for nine years and I am used to being away," she said. "I like being here in the United States and I'm working on my green card with hopes that I can stay forever."

Both Hazlett and Rampre are from small towns and feel quite at home in Troy.

"When I am playing a tournament, I train, not as hard as I would when I am not playing, but I train," Rampre said. "And, I read and watch TV and wait to play again."

Hazlett said the tennis complex is very nice and it plays well.

"Troy has good facilities and we have been treated well," she said. "Everyone is friendly and we're having fun."

One of the highlights so far for Rampre has been the TSU-Marshall football game Saturday night.

"I really had fun," she said. "There were a lot of people and the atmosphere was good for a football game."

Shelia Jackson, public relations director for the city of Troy, said the tournament is working smoothly and the hospitality tent has been a popular gathering place for players, coaches, referees and fans.

"Everyone seems to be having a good time and we are looking forward to a lot of great tennis this week," she said.

Jackson was having seconds doubts about playing in the Pro-Am tonight at 6:30.

"Did you see that?" she remarked as balls whizzed across the net. "They are good. I don't know if I want to get out there or not."

The public is invited to come out and support their favorite amatuer.

Jackson and Jean Laliberte are women "ams" who have signed up to play. The men who will take the courts include Mike Davis, Ken Cox, Kenny Cox, Bill Emerson, Dennis Rogers, Benny Pinckard and Sahail Agboatwala.

Eric Hayes, tournament director, said the public is encourage to come out to the courts and see some of the best women players in the world competed for the tournament championship.

"There will be some outstanding matches," he said. "This is a unique opportunity to see players of this caliber on our home courts."