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Ex-Cat Quigley returns to Fifth Third looking to rise in tennis rankings

Eric Quigley, who had a 172-47 record at the University of Kentucky, will be competing for the second time in the Fifth Third Bank Tennis Championships.
Eric Quigley, who had a 172-47 record at the University of Kentucky, will be competing for the second time in the Fifth Third Bank Tennis Championships.

As a high school state champion and an NCAA runner-up, Eric Quigley reached the summit of the amateur tennis mountain.

One year into his professional career, Quigley is trying to establish his footing for a new climb.

Quigley returns to Lexington this week to play in the Fifth Third Bank Tennis Championships, and fans who watched him make his professional debut here last year will have a chance to see how the former University of Kentucky All-American is progressing.

Quigley is No. 521 in this week's Association of Tennis Professionals World Tour singles rankings.

"He had a lot of confidence in college and had a lot of success and now it's kind of a new game," said Jon Thompson, Quigley's coach. "It's just a different level. I think one of the things now is as he kind of gets into (playing professionally) and plays more that confidence will get higher and that'll help him do even better."

There are three levels of professional tennis tournaments: Futures, Challenger, and ATP/Grand Slam. Futures are the lowest level and ATP/Grand Slams are the top tournaments where the world's best players like Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray compete.

A player's world ranking is based on a series of points through the ATP.

Players earn points for winning rounds, and even more points for winning tournaments. The bigger the tournament, the more points each win is worth. The more points a player earns, the higher he will be ranked and the better level of tournaments he will be qualified to enter.

Lexington's Fifth Third is a Challenger-level event. Last year, Quigley was knocked out in the second round.

Quigley, 24, is 27-30 in Futures matches and 2-8 in Challenger events. His career winnings, playing singles and doubles, total $16,563.

Quigley wants to earn a top-300 ranking by the end of the year. He said if he can reach the top 300, he'll be eligible to qualify for ATP events and Grand Slams.

Ultimately, he'd like to be ranked in the top 100, placing him in the main draw of every grand slam and giving him the chance to knock off big names in the tennis world.

Dennis Emery, who coached the five-time All-American at UK before retiring last year, called Quigley a top-100 talent and said that earning a top-300 ranking by the end of the year would put Quigley on track to get where he wants to go.

"Eric's one of my favorite players I ever coached in terms of his work ethic and his character," Emery said.

He said that Quigley should use the Fifth Third tournament to maximize his points and that it should be to Quigley's advantage that he'll be playing on a court where he's comfortable.

Quigley, a South Oldham graduate, won four state high school singles titles and blossomed into an elite-level collegiate player at the University of Kentucky's Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center, site of the Fifth Third tournament.

Quigley ended his UK career with a 172-47 record, beating the school's previous mark for wins by 27. His final collegiate match was for the 2012 NCAA singles title, a match he lost 6-4, 6-4 to undefeated Steve Johnson of Southern California.

Quigley has been working hard on his game and said that improving his serve will help him win more rounds and, in turn, more points.

"If I can make my serve become a real big weapon then I think I'll be in good shape," Quigley said. "Serving is such a mental thing. It's kind of like free throws. You've just got to take your time."

In order to improve his game, he turns to his coach.

Thompson, a former UK men's and women's tennis coach, works at Lexington's Bluegrass Tennis Club and uses the facility for practice sessions with Quigley.

Thompson used to work with Jesse Witten, another former UK star now playing professionally. (The 30-yearold Witten is ranked No. 574.) Thompson was with Witten at a tournament when he ran into Quigley. That's when Quigley and Thompson decided to work together.

Quigley, who lives in Louisville, commutes to Lexington to practice with Thompson. Quigley has played in tournaments in Canada, Mexico and Great Britain in addition to several in the United States during the past year.

When Quigley isn't playing in a tournament, he is practicing for about four hours a day. Thompson said they usually split the day into two intense training sessions with the morning consisting of drills. The afternoon is used to play tennis and work on strategy.

When Quigley is not practicing with Thompson, he's in the weight room working on strength and conditioning.

Thompson said Quigley's hard work, dedication and talent set him apart.

"I don't think he has a lot of weaknesses," Thompson said. "The only thing he really has right now is he needs a little more experience and confidence."


Fifth Third Bank Tennis Championships

When: Monday-Saturday

Where: Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex

Tickets: $10 daily or $50 for weeklong pass.

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