Young stars shine at Fifth Third

Years from now, people might look back at this weekend's Fifth Third Bank Tennis Championships and say this was the tournament that two stars began their professional runs.

Although it might be a bit too early to jump to that conclusion, two of the game's youngest and rising stars continued their ascension in the ranks of tennis as they advanced Saturday to the Fifth Third finals to be played on Sunday.

Somdev Devvarman, the men's two-time NCAA singles champion out of the University of Virginia, advanced past Xavier Malisse — who had to retire in the first set because of back and hamstring tightness — in the semifinals at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex on UK's campus. He will face third-seeded Robert Kendrick in the finals.

On the women's side, 16-year-old Melanie Oudin continued to beat her older adversaries, as she too advanced into Sunday's finals. Oudin defeated Korea's Ye-Ra Lee 6-4, 6-2, and will face Carly Gullickson.

The finals appearance is nothing new for Devvarman. In fact, it's become a bit of a routine for the native of India. Since winning back-to-back NCAA titles, he's yet to lose a professional match.

”To me, it's just tennis. I just try to keep it simple,“ Devvarman said. ”I don't think of the transition (from college to the pros). ... I'm trying to enjoy my time on the court because I'm playing well. I know it's not going to last forever, but I'm going to try delay it as long as I can.“

Devvarman's foe in Sunday's final will be Kendrick, who came from behind Saturday to beat top-seeded former champion Dudi Sela.

Kendrick, who had to be taken to UK Hospital following the match for an IV because of exhaustion, used a dominating serve to win 5-7, 6-1, 6-4.

”I'm going to try to change that tomorrow,“ Kendrick said of Devvarman's winning streak.

While Devvarman, 23, might be the more accomplished of the two, Oudin has shown just as much promise in this weekend's tournament.

She's currently ranked the third-best junior in the world and has already advanced to a professional final since turning pro in February.

Oudin said the transition to the pros is a lot different than playing against girls her own age, but she's proving why she belongs.

”Getting to the finals (at Fort Walton Beach earlier in the year) helped me realize that I can compete with these girls in the pro tournaments, that I can be winning these matches and that I can go as far as I do in the juniors,“ Oudin said. ”I don't really think about (age) when I go out there.“

Oudin will face the 21-year-old Gullickson, who defeated seventh-seeded Chin-Wei Chan. Gullickson overcame a one-set deficit to defeat Chan 1-6, 6-3, 6-1.

”I was a little bit nervous in the first set,“ said Gullickson, daughter of former MLB pitcher Bill Gullickson. ”My nerves settled a little bit in the second. I started playing smarter. That was really the key, I played smarter and made her think instead of missing everything.“

The doubles draw concluded Saturday night following the men's and women's semifinals. Alessandro Da Col and Andrea Stoppini of Italy downed Olivier Charroin and Erik Chvojka 6-2, 2-6 (10-8) in the men's final.

Chan and Kimberly Couts defeated the unlikely duo of 16-year-old Oudin and 31-year-old Lindsay Lee-Waters 2-6, 6-2, (10-8) to capture the women's championship.