The fashion choices of Jesse Levine at the Fifth Third Bank Championships have garnered just as much interest as his stellar play this week in Lexington.
Levine, a Canadian-American ranked No. 158 in the world, carries a bag full of identical Nike shirts with a pink and light grey pattern on the front that has been catching the eye of opposing players.
"People have said that they don't like (my shirt) and then there are people who say they love it," Levine said. "Then people say they don't like it and then come back to me the next day and say that it grew on them.
"It's working for me right now," he joked.
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The fifth-seeded Levine, naturally wearing the same shirt, advanced to the men's finals on Sunday after defeating American Alex Bogomolov Jr. 6-4, 7-6.
"I definitely put in another gear in the tiebreaker and definitely stepped it up again after having three match points in the game before ... I got a little nervous, but I got through it and that's all that matters," Levine said.
Levine hasn't dropped a set since losing his very first of the tournament against Great Britain's Jamie Baker, though he came closing after trailing Bogomolov 4-2 in the first.
In fact, Levine hasn't enjoyed this kind of success since the last time he was on a college campus. His shirt is not the only thing growing on people.
As a former University of Florida standout, Levine, who said that he is still a Gator at heart, has been winning over fans and signing autographs at the University of Kentucky's Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex.
Although Levine played for UK's Southeastern Conference rival Florida, he never had the opportunity to play on the courts at UK because he turned professional following his freshman season at Florida in 2007, in which his only loss came in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. He finished with a 24-1 record and No. 3 ranking in the NCAA.
Since turning pro, Levine has peaked at No. 94 in the rankings, and still says that decision to leave school after one year was one of the toughest decisions he's had to make, though he has no regrets.
"I wanted to give myself a shot and I felt like the time was right ... and I'm happy with (my decision)," said Levine, who received the full support of Florida Coach Andy Jackson, a UK alumnus.
The other semifinal action resulted in mixed success for Fifth Third veterans Alex Kuznetsov and Stephanie Dubois.
Australian and top-seeded Carsten Ball defeated Kuznetsov 6-3, 6-2 behind the power of his serves. Kuznetsov was the runner-up at the Fifth Third a year ago and was beaten for a second straight time by Ball, who bested Kuznetsov in three sets at the Aptos Challenger last week in California.
Following a long doubles match a day earlier, Kuznetsov's efforts were hindered by soreness.
"I woke up this morning a little stiff and I thought by the time I got into the match (my back) would loosen up a bit, but with the heat and everything, it did the opposite," Kuznetsov said.
Dubois, the 2007 Fifth Third champion, advanced to the women's singles final and will play top-seeded Kurumi Nara of Japan, who defeated Rebecca Marino 6-2, 6-7, 6-4 in the second women's semifinal to prevent an all-Canadian final on Sunday.
The No. 2 seed Dubois overcame sluggish starts in both sets to defeat third-seeded Lilia Osterloh of America 6-3, 6-4.
"I just stayed tough mentally," Dubois said of her ability to rally from a 3-0 deficit in the second set. "I knew if I would stay with her and put solid balls in the court (Osterloh) would miss after a while because my shot is more powerful."
Both the men's and women's top-seeded pairs were knocked out Friday night in the semifinals so the doubles titles were up for grabs on Saturday.
South Africans Raven Klaasen and Izak Van Der Merwe faced the second-seeded Australian duo, Kaden Hensel and Adam Hubble.
The South Africans continued that country's sporting success over the past month — following the World Cup and South African Louis Oosthuizen's win at the British Open — by upsetting Hensel and Hubble 5-7, 6-4, 10-6 in a super tiebreaker.
In the women's draw, Australian Bojana Bobusic and American Christina Fusano, the fourth-seeded duo, defeated Americans Story Tweedie-Yates and Jacqueline Cako, 6-4, 6-2 to capture the title.