Men's open final pits Flannagan, Lipinski

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY -- Jim Flannagan and Jeff Lipinski are the two oldest players in the Little Caesars Men's Open Singles draw. And at least in this tournament, they are the two best.
   Flannagan and Lipinski will meet each other in today's final after they both disposed of younger opponents Saturday at the Mini-Dome. Lipinski defeated former Science Hill and Milligan College standout Jon Michael Lukianoff 7-5, 6-3, while Flannagan knocked out former Virginia Intermont player Nicholas Jones 7-6 (7-4 in tiebreak), 6-2.
   "The two oldest guys in the draw are in the finals," Flannagan said. "I'm not sure that speaks volumes for the older guys, but I'm not sure about the youngsters."
   As a matter of fact, Lipinski and Flannagan will meet each other twice today. The two players are in the finals of the Men's 45's singles.
   Both players had to earn their way into today's championship round. Lipinski had a tough time early on with Lukianoff, but saw things get easier in the second set.
   Lukianoff fell behind 3-0 in the first set, but made some great shots, including an amazing between the legs stab that passed Lipinski, to go up 5-4 in the frame.
   That was as close as Lukianoff got. Lipinski rolled off eight straight games to pretty much seal the deal.
   "It's amazing," Lipinski said. "I've got two sore legs. I went out there thinking I would get a few games and play the 45's tomorrow. But he's a good player. He's tough."
   Lipinski was a college golfer, but took up tennis right after finishing school. It was a good decision, as he was ranked highly in West Virginia and is now one the best players in Northeast Tennessee.
   Lipinski's experience showed in this match, as he thought Lukianoff became a little frustrated after losing the first set.
   "Just like the other youngster I played from Knoxville, when he lost that set he got discouraged," Lipinski said. He gave me a couple of quick games, and I had a 3-0 lead. I was going 'give me a couple more and you watch it.'"
   Lukianoff thought his errors were costly in his defeat.
   "I wasn't able to move him around," Lukianoff said. "It seemed like every time I did that, I would hit it out."
   Just like Lipinski, Flannagan breezed in his match after a tough first set.
   Flannagan thought once he had a set in hand, he could be a little more aggressive.
   "It took a lot of pressure off of me," Flannagan said. "I didn't have to worry about playing everything so cautiously, because I knew that first set was going to be a big key. I can go three, but I prefer not to go three, because I'm going to have to play Lipinski twice tomorrow. I actually wanted to get on and off as fast as I could, but Nicholas didn't want to cooperate. He played really well.
   "I felt like I relaxed a lot more after getting that first set, which is easy to do. I played a lot better, and I think he was a little bit down."
   With the matches being played on ETSU's indoor courts, that meant Flannagan had a fast, rubbery surface to deal with.
   Flannagan adapted by using a serve and volley game, something that works really well on faster surfaces.
   "If I had stayed back I would probably have lost 6-2, 6-2," Flannagan said. "You've got to do what you've got to do."
   Flannagan, a Bristol resident, suffered a heart attack on September 9, 2001. Flannagan has made a strong recovery, and is back playing competitive tennis.
   But for Flannagan, the heart attack did put tennis in perspective.
   "I feel fine, but I've still got the artery disease," Flannagan said. "You're not guaranteed a set amount of time on this Earth. You've just got to take every day one day at a time, and appreciate every day that you get.
   "I probably don't get all keyed up as I used to. It still gets a little bit annoying at times, but I just have to think back on 9/9, and then of course the national tragedy two days later. That sort of puts everything in perspective."
   Flannagan likes his chances today. He wanted to play the 45's first due to state rankings, then the open finals.
   Flannagan thinks some injuries that Lipinski has been suffering through could play into his advantage.
   "Jeff's history with me is that he finds it hard to finish a match," Flannagan said. "Here we are going to play twice. Figure it out for yourself."