Sunday, July 13, 2003

Thomas playing beyond his years

Former prep star holding his own against veteran Met competition

By Tom Groeschen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Eric Thomas has beaten all the kids. Now it's time to see how he does against the men.

In late May, Thomas won the 2003 Ohio Division I high school singles title as a Walnut Hills senior. That helped him gain a No. 8 seed in the Thomas E. Price Cincinnati Metropolitan Championship, where Thomas beat unseeded Kevin Teufel 6-3, 7-5 in his first match Saturday at Lunken Playfield.

Thomas usually is playing national junior tournaments at this time of year. But now he has moved up to the Met and is facing mostly older players such as Teufel, who will be a junior at Wright State University this fall.

"I like being the eighth seed," Thomas said. "I've beaten a couple of guys who are seeded ahead of me, but that's OK. I love being an underdog."

Thomas was rarely the 'dog at Walnut Hills. He was favored to win the state as a senior and had little trouble doing so.

"And now I have to prove myself in the adult tournaments," he said.

The rangy, long-haired Thomas got off to a good enough start Saturday, then fell behind 5-3 in the second set to Princeton High School graduate Teufel.

"For a while, I just couldn't focus," Thomas said.

Thomas said his mind was wandering, having learned that an uncle, Marty Fine, passed away Friday night after having a stroke last week.

"It started to hit me. I started thinking about my uncle," Thomas said. "But I always seem to rise when I need to, and I finally got my feet moving."

Thomas, headed to Brown University this fall, wears his hair long and disdains the traditional tennis whites. He played in a "Storm Club Baseball" light gray T-shirt and gray shorts Saturday.

KAUFFMANN DEBUTS: Cedric Kauffmann, the No. 1 men's singles seed, beat unseeded Matthew Orlett 6-0, 6-0 in his first Met match Saturday. The match lasted about 30 minutes.

Kauffmann, 27, is a native of Paris. He was an All-American at the University of Kentucky and has played in the U.S. Open (2000) and French Open (2001). He has given up his competitive pro career and now lives in Madeira.

Kauffmann, married with a 14-month-old daughter, said he hasn't played much since January because of back and ankle injuries. He tuned up for the Met by winning a tournament in Glasgow, Ky., last week. Met tournament watchers rate Kauffmann a solid favorite to win the title, but his competition includes last year's runner-up, No. 2 seed Jason Zimmermann.

"There are a couple of guys in this tournament that play good ball," Kauffmann said. "I'm not looking ahead at all."

Kauffmann next plays Brian Nester of Edgewood, Ky.

HIS HOUSE: For the past decade, the Met officially has been the Thomas E. Price Metropolitan Championship. And Price, 81, is still a regular visitor at the event.

"I'm on the tournament committee and I still help do the seedings," Price said. "It's always fun to see the players out here every year."

The Cincinnati Recreation Commission named the tournament for Price in 1992. Price was a top all-around athlete in his day, and for several years was ranked second to Bill Talbert in the Ohio Valley Tennis Association rankings. He later spent 17 years as head referee at the Met and is a member of the Cincinnati Tennis Association Hall of Fame.

CLEAN SWEEP: All 16 seeded men's singles players have advanced to the round of 32, and only one seeded player has been extended to three sets.

UP NEXT: The first women's singles matches of the 2003 Met begin at 10 a.m. today, along with more men's singles matches. Men's doubles matches will follow the singles matches.

Top men's seed Kauffmann plays at 10 a.m. today, as does No. 3 seed Josh Osswald. No. 4 seed Isaac Yarrell plays at 11 a.m. today, and No. 2 Zimmermann plays at 11:30 a.m.

There are no matches involving women's singles seeds until Tuesday.

For scheduling information call 321-1772.



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