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Home-court feel for some Fifth Third tennis players

Next week's Fifth Third Tennis Championships at University of Kentucky's Boone Tennis Complex will be somewhat of a homecoming for former Garrard County tennis star Phillip Arndt.

The now University of Minnesota tennis star is returning to the courts he knew so well in high school to compete for the $50,000 winner's prize.

"I know the courts really well and I know all the people here," said Arndt, who has been living and training in Lexington this summer. "I know that when I'm on the court, a lot of people will be supporting me. It's pretty nice to have that home-court advantage."

He won't have it all to himself though. Arndt joins a men's field that includes three Wildcats.

Rising seniors Eric Quigley and Alex Musialek, along with recent graduate Brad Cox, all earned wild cards into the main draw, meaning they won't have to play in Saturday's qualifying round.

Like Arndt, most of the players in the tournament field said they're looking at next week's tournament as a possible steppingstone to their professional careers.

Arndt went as far as to say that the tournament could be a "life-changer" for him.

But for some, like former Ole Miss star Devin Britton, this tournament will help build on an already established professional career. Britton turned professional after winning the 2009 NCAA singles championship as a freshman at Ole Miss, and now he's looking to experience similar success in the professional ranks, starting first with next week's tournament.

"Obviously, it would help my ranking a ton to do well here," said Britton, who's currently ranked 690th in the world. "I haven't had much success in challenger-level tournaments, so I'm trying to take that next step."

Monica Puig, a 17-year-old from Puerto Rico who's currently ranked No. 2 in the world in juniors and No. 313 in the world professionally, said she hopes to use this tournament to boost her ranking as well.

She said her goal is to finish the year in the top 100 in the world, then next year in the top 20.

"I don't think I'm going to be so satisfied with that. I obviously want to get into the top five and maybe No. 1."

The headliner for the women's tournament is Melanie Oudin, who won the event as a 16-year-old in 2008 and climbed as high as No. 31 in the world in 2009. She made it to the quarterfinals of both the Wimbledon Championships and the U.S. Open that year.

Tournament spokesman Jim Durham said Oudin will likely be the No. 1 seed when the draws are announced Sunday, even though she's dropped to No. 100 in the world.

Two-time state champion and Lexington Catholic star Samantha Maddox will play in Sunday's qualifying round to try to earn a spot in the main draw, scheduled to start Tuesday for the women.

The men's main draw is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Monday night.