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City tennis numbers continue embarrassing slide

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Follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog, www.tailingthekomets.com.

Only 16 players signed up to compete in open divisions

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - 5:48 am

Fort Wayne's City Tennis Tournament is turning into a small neighborhood affair.

Only 14 men and two women signed up by Monday evening to compete for this year's tournament which starts next Tuesday. Those are record-low numbers, and that's saying something considering the men's tournament has been around for 103 years and the women's for 78.

This is also after seven-time women's champion Amy Recht called out Fort Wayne's female players for not entering last year's tournament. This will be the fourth year in a row Recht, 25, might play only one match to possibly win a title.

"I don't like it when the week before someone asks me when I'm playing, and I have to say, 'I'm in the finals,' '' Recht said. "I would almost rather lose than just play one match. It's almost not worth it. You can't say you are the city champion when you only compete against one person. You want to beat the best, and that's kind of hard to do when no one gets in it.''

At least she gets good competition as 13-year-old Kyra Foster is sure to be Fort Wayne's next great player. It's just too bad she has to play her first city tournament match in a final.

The most players for both tournaments came in 1992 when 78 men and 24 women entered. The numbers have been sliding ever since. There haven't been more than four players in the women's draw for the last 11 years.

There are lots of excuses offered.

* Junior players are too busy playing summer tournaments.

* Adult women don't want to get beat by a teenager and then have to read the scores in the paper.

* Adult women would prefer to play doubles where the draws have been magnificent.

* Many women just aren't that competitive.

* More are busy playing recreational league tennis.

There's also a big tournament at Indiana University next week drawing away some of the college women's players.

But there's no excuse for the top high school players not to compete. It's a great warm-up for the boys season and the girls could obviously use some decent competition. Plenty of high school players will show up to participate in the doubles tournament, which starts Aug. 5.

Maybe the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department could do a better job of advertising the tournament, but it's not like the date has changed in over 10 decades.

During her nine years in the city tournament, Recht has played 12 matches, winning 10. Her brother Ryan won a record 10 titles from 1999 to 2010 and always had to play at least five matches.

During her city tournament career from 1971 to 1986, when she won nine titles, Lee Ann Berning usually had to play a semifinal match and sometimes even beat a quarterfinal foe to reach one of her 12 finals. She also faced multiple city champions such as Kay Schoenefeld, Sue Weigand, Mary Colligan, Brenda Hacker and Babs Sullivan.

Recht has had to play only one former champion during her run, losing her first year in 2004 at age 15 to three-time champion Rachel Janssen in the semifinals. (Recht also lost the 2009 title match to Monica Purice.) Janssen now lives in Texas, but Recht hasn't even had to face many repeat challenges in the finals.

This has been a problem for more than 15 years. The finals have almost always featured quality opponents and matches, but it usually takes the players a set to get warmed up because it's their first match of the tournament. Except for Recht, there's rarely any continuity from year to year.

It's starting to get that way in the men's field, too. Two-time defending champion Tom Murphy is back this year, and the No. 2 seed is former Homestead star Josh Rifkin. Former South Side and DePauw star Jonathan Bateullo is the No. 3 seed, and tournament director and former South Side coach Ryan Keirns is the No. 4 seed.

The finals are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 5, but if the players don't show up for the tournament, why should anyone else? The tournament is teetering on irrelevance.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at bsebring@news-sentinel.com .