Vusa Hove, the University at Buffalo’s No. 1 male singles tennis player, won his fourth straight Muny Open singles title recently. He defeated Joe LaPenna, 6-4, 6-0, in a match that was much closer than the score indicated.
LaPenna, who had defeated highly regarded Jonah Epstein in the semifinals, 6-2, 7-6, was given little chance against Hove, who hadn’t lost a set — let alone a match — in the previous three years. When the score stood 1-4, ad out, for LaPenna, everyone was thinking, “This is going to be a major upset and LaPenna is playing unbelievably.”
“Before the match I didn’t know what to expect as I had never played him before,” Hove said. “I went into the match without having a game plan because I was playing well and knew that I was a heavy favorite.”
But within 20 minutes, the 25-year-old LaPenna was ahead by a big margin. Up to that juncture, LaPenna had put on a display of power tennis and placement that I have rarely seen in the many Muny tournaments that I had played in or observed.
What was going on in Hove’s mind at that point in the match?
“I was in a state of shock,” the 23-year-old said. “I was trying to find a way to turn the match around. However, I wasn’t having any luck because LaPenna was playing so brilliantly.”
And then it happened. With a chance to go up 5-1 in the first set, LaPenna missed an easy forehand putaway.
“If Joe had made that shot, I would never have been able to win the set,” Hove said. After that point, Hove held serve and went on to win the next eleven games and eventually the match.
LaPenna, the son of Village Glen pro Tom LaPenna, was all-WNY as a shortstop in high school at Williamsville South and played varsity baseball at Brockport State. Even as a youngster, he exhibited great skills in tennis, but never took the game seriously. Now a tennis pro at Village Glen who is applying to medical school, he has played seriously the past few years and his game has improved by leaps and bounds.
“I couldn’t play any better than I did,” LaPenna said. “Vusa’s experience, shotmaking and ability to change the game around were all instrumental in his winning the match.”
For good measure, Hove also won the Men’s Open Doubles title in the Miller $22,000 Open tournament with partner Ken White. They defeated Alexey Kalinin and Tony Miller, son of Todd and Debbie Miller, owners of Miller Tennis Center, 6-4, 6-2, in the finals. Less than an hour later, Hove and White were playing in the doubles final of the Men’s Open Doubles Finals at Delaware Park. They defeated Matt Kane and Dave Yovanoff, 7-6, 6-2, in the finals.
Hove also had an outstanding senior year at UB, being named the most outstanding player in the Mid-American Conference. His plans are to play Future tennis events and enroll in the UB chemistry masters program.
In the women’s Muny finals, 17-year-old Sacred Heart student Carlee Conway defeated Village Glen teaching pro Brittany Walters, 6-2, 6-4.
Conway is a three-time All-Catholic singles champion. She is presently ranked 35th in the East in the 18 & Under division and reached the semifinals of the Blue Grass Spring Open in Louisville, Ky. She also won a Level 1 tournament at the Village Glen recently. Her strengths are a strong serve and well-hit ground strokes. She credits her improvement to playing more tournaments and the help of her her coach, Mark Szafnicki.
Kalinin posts big win
In the Miller $22,000 tournament, Kalinin, a former UB great and a teaching pro at Miller Tennis Center, defeated Hove, the top seed, 7-6, 6-4, in the finals.
Both players played well. Kalinin, however, was a little better and mixed up his ground strokes with frequent forays to the net and used brilliant drop shots at crucial times.
Kalinin is a native of Russia and was recruited by former UB men’s tennis coach Sharif Zaher. In an earlier tournament this year at Miller, he defeated highly regarded Damien David, 6-2, 6-1, in the finals.
“I haven’t played or practiced recently as much as I would like to,” Kalinin said. “Fortunately, I played the key points well and was extremely patient, attacking at the crucial times.”
It is incredible how much power Kalinin generates on his serve and ground strokes with such a slim build. “My dad taught me how to play and how to generate great racket speed,” he said.
In the Miller women’s singles finals, UB grad and Miller teaching pro Rachel DelPriore defeated 17-year-old Luisa Fernandez of Rochester, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3.
A former high school star at Williamsville East, DelPriore played was a two-time sectional winner. She received a full tennis scholarship to the University of Virginia and played first singles for two years. Fernandez, the player she beat, is ranked 41st nationally in the Girls 18 & Under division and has been given a full tennis scholarship to Wake Forest.
“I decided to get in top shape this year and worked out harder than ever,” said the 26-year-old DelPriore. “I don’t put pressure on myself like I used to. My aggressive ground strokes and experience were instrumental in winning the match.”
For good measure, DelPriore teamed up with Olga Khymlev to defeat Miranda Podlas and Marta Stoyanova, UB players, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, in the Women’s Open Doubles final.
DelPriore is in the conversation when discussing the greatest local women’s player of all time, along with Kelly Brown and Lyndsay Shosho.