Flannagan gets by Lipinski in double feature

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY -- It may be hard to shoot fireworks in the afternoon, but there were plenty of blasts in the two matches on Sunday at the Little Caesars/ETSU Tennis Championships between Jeff Lipinski and Jim Flannagan.
   The two heated rivals met in both the Men's Open final and the Men's 45's Singles final, with Flannagan taking both matches.
   Flannagan won a hard-fought three-set match in the Men's 45's singles by a score of 5-7, 6-2, 6-3. Then he defeated Lipinski a second time in the Open final 6-2, 6-4.
   After two rain delays and nearly nine hours of passed time between the 10:30 a.m. start of the men's 45's and the finish of the open match, Flannagan was the one that had the last laugh on what has become local tennis' best rivalry.
   Things were pretty intense in the two finals, partly due to a quote by Flannagan in a local paper saying that Lipinski had quit on him in six of the 18 matches played between the two players.
   Flannagan defended the comment after his two wins.
   "He definitely quit at Bristol," Flannagan said about a match played at the Bristol Racquet Club in May. "How else can you explain me having one set in the bag, up 5-1 40-30, and you tell me you can't be man enough to stand there and let the guy serve it past you and win the match fair and square. You tell me that."
   There was talk about possibly playing a best three-out-of-five set match for both titles, but Flannagan wanted to play both matches.
   And after the open match, Flannagan was having second thoughts about playing so much tennis.
   "I'd rather just play him about once a month," Flannagan said. "That's about all my mental strength can handle. I forgot how mentally draining it is to have to play him.
   "Physically, I invite the opportunity to play him. But mentally, everything is just so deliberate. It's like 'what am I doing out here if it's going to be this slow.' One of the code of conduct rules in tennis says play must be continuous, and there's not a whole lot that is continuous when you play a match with him. I'm just glad I got through it. It was painful, and not in the physical sense."
   Lipinski does believe that there is a rivalry between the two players.
   "It's kind of a chess match," Lipinski said. "I saw somewhere that I quit six times out of 18. The correct term should be that I retired six times out of 18. I crawled off the court or I laid there with a big knot on my leg or on my calf. I never ever quit against Jim once."
   Lipinski did give Flannagan all he wanted in the men's 45's, as he took the first after being down 3-0.
   Lipinski looked like he was making a rally in the Open match during the second set. He erased a 5-2 deficit and cut it the lead to 5-4 before Flannagan served it out to win the championship.
   Lipinski does have some leg problems, but he felt like he could have played a sixth set if needed.
   "I'm still standing," Lipinski said. "I could have played another set. I was within a couple of points of getting it back to 5-all, and then there might have been another set. I thought I was playing better. I was mixing it up, and getting some top spin on the ball with some power."
   Flannagan and Lipinski were not the only players battling for a crown on Sunday, as a well-known figure in Elizabethton was also making some noise on the court.
   Eastside Elementary principal Randy Lacy teamed up with Mike Lusby for a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Tucker Coleman and David Shreve in the Men's 3.5 Doubles championship match.
   "We played pretty well," Lacy said. "This was the 10th time we had played them, so we're pretty used to playing them. It was a 2 and 0 match, so we played pretty well this morning."
   Lacy plays in a lot of tournaments around the area, but the Little Caesars tournament is one that he really looks forward to.
   "We try to play in all of the M.E.T.A. Tournaments, but this is one of the best ones," Lacy said. "This one and Snow Volleys are the biggest tournaments, because you get to play more people that you haven't seen. I like to play different people out of the area instead of the same people every tournament. This is a good tournament, plus it supports ETSU tennis."
   Lacy, who was the assistant principal at Elizabethton High School before going to Eastside, supports EHS tennis and wants tennis promoted in Elizabethton.
   Lacy hopes tennis will become more popular in this town.
   "I was at the high school for the last five years, and my son played for a couple of years, so I enjoy watching tennis." Lacy said. "They had a good year this year. I hope tennis catches on in Elizabethton. Hopefully, younger kids will start playing."
   The Women's Open final had an international flavor to it, as Venezuela's Erica Belletini defeated Lori Hillman 6-0, 6-1 to take the title.
   The Little Caesars Tournament will finish up this weekend with the junior division.