Little Caesars set to lift lidon this year's tournament

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY -- If the top two seeds on the women's side of the Little Caesars/ETSU/Tennis Collegiate Championships meet one another in the finals, it could be a great match if their games are as similar as who they pull for on the professional women's tennis tour.
   Florida State's Brooke Cordell is the top seed, while Southwest Texas State's Meryl Mekus is seeded No. 2 in the tournament that begins today at the ETSU Tennis Center.
   The two players don't know much about each other, but they are fans of the same professional tennis player.
   "Jennifer Capriati," Mekus said when asked who her favorite player is. "I cheer against the Williams sisters. I was a little disappointed when (Capriati) lost at Wimbledon, but she'll come back through. I feel that she's the only one that will be able to beat the Williams sisters."
   Said Cordell: "I don't like the Williams sisters, either. I can't stand them. I do like Capriati. She's probably my favorite on the women's side. But (Andre) Agassi is my favorite."
   Capriati, Agassi and the Williams sisters aren't playing in this tournament, but it's still a high-quality field on the women's side and on the men's side.
   Despite a strong women's draw that features 16 players, Cordell was very surprised to learn she was the top seed.
   "I wasn't sure who all was coming up here," Cordell said. "I'm kind of surprised."
   Cordell did win the event two years ago, but didn't play last year because she had summer school.
   Cordell, who played this year for the University of Tennessee, recently transferred to Florida State.
   Cordell felt the need to get out of Knoxville.
   "I kind of had a problem," Cordell said.
   Some players would probably feel the pressure of being a top seed, but Cordell is just going to go out there and do her best.
   "I feel that if I play well, I have a chance against almost anyone," Cordell said. "I figured there would be a few players that were pretty good. And looking at the draw it looks like there will be."
   Mekus will play a high school player in the first round. Unicoi County's Amber Campbell, as TSSAA state finalist this year, will be her first-round opponent.
   Mekus was also surprised when she found out her seeding.
   "Oh no I didn't," Mekus said when asked if she was anticipating being the No. 2 seed. "I saw that I was on the bottom half of the bracket, and I was surprised."
   Mekus doesn't feel any added pressure despite learning about the seeding.
   "I'm going to keep it like it was," Mekus said.
   Despite not putting pressure on herself, Mekus is out there to win it all.
   "I'm going to try and do my best," Mekus said. "Anytime I get on the tennis court it's for the love of the game, but I'm going to take it seriously and play just like I would in college matches."
   Third-seeded Caroline Bentley and fourth-seeded Emily Foster look to challenge the top seeds.
   On the men's side, North Carolina's Jonathan Janda is seeded first, with the University of Pennsylvania's Jimmy Fairbanks being the No. 2 seed.
   The men's third seed is Virginia's Steven Nolan, while Chattanooga's John Hangstaffer is the No. 4 seed.
   ETSU players participating in the event include Gemma Halim, Jessica Irey and Aimee Villanicencio on the women's side, and Alejandro Salazar and Moises Serrano on the men's side.
   Several local high school stars are participating, including Campbell, and Science Hill standouts Sheena Bharti, Tara Byrne and Lindsay Mitchell in the women's draw.
   Local high school boys players competing include Science Hill's Bryan Breese.