Little Caesars/ETSU tourney continues to grow

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY--Little Caesars commercials always have a cartoon character saying "pizza, pizza" in them, but it will be all the "tennis, tennis" you want to see in Johnson City during the month of July.
   The Little Caesars/ETSU Tennis Tournament is now in its 13th year, and it continues to get bigger and better.
   This year's tournament will once again have three divisions. The ITA/USTA college division will run from July 10-13, the adult division will run from July 11-14, and the junior division closes out the tournament July 19-22.
   Entry fee for the adults is $40 for singles and $50 per doubles team. The junior entry fee is $30 for singles and $30 per doubles team.
   The entry deadline is July 3 for the adults, July 5 for the college and July 11 for the juniors.
   The tournament is the biggest in the area, and one of the most prestigious in the Southeast.
   The event is a fundraiser for the ETSU men's tennis program. ETSU head coach Dave Mullins thinks that the tournament is worth playing in just to support the 2002 Southern Conference champions.
   "The money is being invested in a championship program," Mullins said. "The money goes for scholarships."
   The college tournament kicks off the event. That leg of the Little Caesars is part of the ITA Collegiate summer circuit, and brings together some of the best collegiate players in the southeast.
   "60 college players from all over the southeast will come to compete," Mullins said. "There are four of these tournaments in the southeast, and it leads to the national tournament in August. The winner of that national tournament gets a wild card into the U.S. Open qualifying."
   The adult division will bring together many of the top local players, and quite a few that live away from the area.
   "We will have around 300 adults," Mullins said. "A lot of the players will be there trying to improve their southern and national ranking. We'll have players from Knoxville, Chattanooga and Atlanta competing."
   The junior tournament will finish the event off, and Mullins thanks there could be more youngsters playing this year.
   "We're looking at probably 150 juniors," Mullins said. "We're getting new junior entries from Oak Ridge, Knoxville and Chattanooga. I feel like the junior entries are going to be up."
   Juniors can overlap and play in the college tournament, as well as the adult open tournament. Last year, then rising Greeneville High School freshman Stephen Shao made the finals of the men's adult open, while Science Hill star Sheena Bharti won the adult women's open."
   The Carnegie Hotel will be the host hotel for the event, offering a discounted rate for out of town players.
   Special events for the tournament include a press conference for the college event on July 9 at the Carnegie, a player's party for the adults compliments of Firehouse Restaurant on July 13, and a cookout for the juniors on July 20.
   In addition to those events, there will be pizza parties during the tournament for each division.
   Coach Mullins is very thankful for the support of Little Caesars owner Ken Bates and marketing director Patty Pack. Pack is the co-chairman of the tournament.
   The tournament is always a well-run event and Mullins gets a lot of compliments. He especially gets nice remarks from the out of town and collegiate players.
   "They like the tournament," Mullins said. "They like the fact we feed them, and they enjoy the social events. The collegiate players always say that we do the best job."
   For more information on the tournament, call 439-5262 or e-mail Coach Mullins at mullinsc@etsu.edu.
   TENNIS NOTES:
   * The local tennis circuit is heating up, and there will be a couple of big tournaments before the Little Caesars. The Ridgefields Open will be played on the clay at the Ridgefields Country Club June 27-30. Also that weekend, the Ridges Junior open will take place at the Ridges Country Club in Jonesborough June 28-30.