Friday, September 4, 2009

Top college players will draw a holiday crowd at Sun Valley

For Lyle Pearson Labor Day tournament

The U.S. Open at Forest Hills is attracting plenty of attention from tennis enthusiasts this Labor Day weekend—but Idaho has its own version of top-flight tennis over the holiday, too.

Tournament director David Perry expects a strong field for the Lyle Pearson Labor Day Tennis Championships presented by Sun Valley Resort Saturday through Monday, Sept. 5-7 on Sun Valley courts.

Sponsors are Lyle Pearson Motors, Sun Valley Resort, Sturtevants Mountain Outfitters and Atkinsons' Markets.

Highly regarded college players from Boise State University, the University of Idaho and Idaho State University are entered for the three-day event that begins each day at 8 a.m., with finals on Monday.

Perry said, "We have a total of 135 players in 232 events, which is quite a bit bigger than last year and also bigger than this year's Lyle Pearson Fourth of July tournament."

The college players have perked up the Open draws, so much that this weekend's total purse is expected to range from $1,250 to $1,500, according to Perry. Tournament rules stipulate that prize money is offered in Open divisions based on draws of at least 16 players.

"We have a good women's draw," said Perry. "Actually all the divisions look good. They feature many local entrants and players from all over the state. We have a lot of junior players from the Boise area and also from here in Sun Valley.

"The unique thing about the way the tournament is set up is juniors get to play with adults in the divisions."

Leading the Open women's draw are the top two seeds—#1 Pichittra Thongdach of Petchaburi, Thailand and #2 Gabriela Niculescu, 23, originally from Bucharest, Romania.

Now a senior on Boise State University's tennis team, Thongdach ended the 2009 season as the #67 college player in the country and is now ranked in the top 50, Perry said.

A 5-4 communications major, Thongdach was the top player in Thailand all the way through the 14-, 16- and 18-year-old competitions. She was 31-14 in #1 women's singles for BSU last season, 51-20 overall.

Niculescu, a recent senior transfer to the University of Idaho, was the national singles' champion of Romania in 2000 and 2003. She played Pac 10 tennis for the University of Southern California (USC) as a college sophomore and junior.

Last spring, 5-6 Niculescu and doubles partner Amanda Fink of USC were named the NCAA Division 1 "Doubles Team of the Year."

Boise State University is also a big influence in the Open Men's draw at Sun Valley this weekend, particularly in its two top-seeded players. They happen to be talented brothers from Grand Junction, Colo.

Luke Shields and his younger brother Clancy Shields, both 6-1 right-handers, made a big impact in Boise. Luke Shields was a BSU senior in 2008. He was an All-American in singles as a junior in 2008, when he was also WAC Men's Player of the Year and the #13 ranked U.S. player. Clancy Shields ended his junior career in the top five nationally and also played well for Boise State.

This weekend's tournament will hold its players' party on Sunday, Sept. 6 at 5:30 p.m. All players will be entered into a drawing to be held during the party. Grand prize is a two-night stay at Sun Valley Lodge and two ice show tickets or lift passes. All participants get a custom-made tournament hat.

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