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Rachel DelPriore is the unanimous choice as WNY’s No. 1 women’s tennis player. When the Miller Tennis Center teaching pro walked on the court for the finals of Miller’s $22,000 tennis tournament in July she had one thought in mind. She wanted to badly win the finals against Lisa Fernandez, who had defeated her 6-4, 6-2 in the women’s pro stop in June.

DelPriore didn’t make any excuses for her earlier loss against Fernandez. However, anyone who saw the match will relate that the courts were extremely soft due to a heavy rain earlier in the day. This greatly hurt DelPriore’s powerful ground game.

Before the rematch DelPriore said, “I knew that defeating Fernandez wasn’t going to be easy. “She was ranked 34th in the United States in the 18 & Under division and was going to attend Wake Forest on a full tennis scholarship.”

Suffice to say, the 2½ hour match was one of the best that spectators have ever seen in WNY. The 27 year old DelPriore played superbly to win 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 for one of the greatest wins in her stories career.

Even at the age of 6, it was evident that DelPriore had great athletic skills. She started playing tennis for a short period of time and was also involved in soccer and softball. She also took up ballet, which she said greatly helped her with her footwork, balance, and fitness. When she was 10 she began to take tennis lessons from Todd Miller, WNY’s only International Master Profressional, who also would become her full-time coach. Shortly after, she started to play in local junior tournaments without high expectations. After meeting with great success she started playing more tournaments. However, she found herself in a real dilemna. She was equally as good in soccer and loved the team aspect and knew that she had to decide between the two sports. Unfortunately, she broke her wrist playing soccer and decided that when she healed she would play only tennis.

She started playing tournaments throughout New York and was ranked as high as 12th in the 14 & Under division in the East. She qualified for both nationals in the Clay and Hard Court Championships. When she was at Williamsville East she played thirde singles from seventh grade until her sophomore year, where she played second singles. She was playing behind Lyndsay Shosho and Courtney Klein, two of WNY’s finest players. DelPriore’s junior and senior year she played first singles. For the six years that she played varsity tennis Williamsville East went 72-0. She was ranked in the top 10 in the East in the 16 & Under division and then No. 2 in the 18 & Under division.

She made the tennis team as a walk-on at the University of Virginia, one of the strongest tennis teams in the country. She started at No. 5 singles and moved up to No. 3 as a freshman. Her sophomore year she alternated at first and second singles and defeated two former high school stars, JJ Larson, 6-0, 6-0 (Virginia Tech) and Michelle Mitchell (University of Pennsylvania), who were both from Buffalo and were ranked at one time in the top five in the country in various national divisions. Needless to say, DelPriore was playing at a very high level. Virginia finished in the top 25 teams in Division I that year.

And then, disaster struck. DelPriore came down with Celiac disease. which meant she had a intolerance to gluten. “I was very depressed. I was playing really good tennis and had a series of injuries,” she said. DelPriore said. “The gluten problem, back injuries, shin splints, nerve damage in my arm, and a fracture in my lower back, made it physically impossible for me to play.”

She attended UB for her junior and senior years and graduated two years later. Although she was physically much better, she hit only occasionally during those two years and didn’t play in any tournaments.

At age 23, she started playing some local singles and doubles tournaments again. “Although I was back I was putting too much pressure on myself,” she said. “I didn’t like the stress of losing versus winning.”

Still, she defeated highly regarded UB star Smaranda Stan and three-time WNY No. 1 player Caroline Schopp to win a Miller tournament in 2007.

You would have thought that her success against such two fine players would have motivated DelPriore to start playing more tournaments. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In 2008, after mixed success her old feelings of frustration returned. “I was just getting frustrated and put so much pressure on myself,” DelPriore said. For almost the next four years DelPriore didn’t play in any tournaments. She continued to teach tennis at Miller and played some doubles.

“I loved teaching and started to get the old urge to play some tournaments again this past January,” DelPriore said. She had stayed in top physical shape by working out and hitting with Anthony Nguyen, the Niagara University coach. This past January Miller Tennis Center had a tournament with some prize money. DelPriore decided to enter and beat Shosho, 6-4, 6-1 in the finals.

Having had success the past season, DelPriore reflected on her tennis career. “Everyone thinks that tennis is all talent.” she said. “But, it is more than that. You must have dedicated coaches like Todd Miller to help you. I also have to greatly thank my parents for the time and expenses they bestowed on me. I would never had the success I have achieved without their support and love.”

Upcoming Events

• The $15,000 Winter Championships at Miller Tennis Center will take place on three successive weekends. Dec. 20-22, Dec. 27-29 and Jan. 3-5.

• The Buffalo Tennis Night will be Sunday, Jan. 5 at 5 p.m. at Transit Valley Golf Club. The price is $50 per person including cocktails and dinner. The night willl feature the induction of 2014 Buffalo Tennis Hall of Fame and Muny Hall of Fame, and honoring the Buffalo Tennis Series Players of the Year.

The Buffalo Hall of Fame inductees are: Kevin Arias, earned ATP rankings in singles and doubles and also coached Bethanie Mattek-Sands who was ranked in the world’s top 40 women. …David Loder starred at Clemson University. In the late 1970s he had wins over local stars Jimmy Arias, Bobby Banck, and Rev. Bob Hetherington. … Bridget Merrick starred at the University of Richmond where she was ranked eighth nationally in the NCAAs. She was also ranked in singles. … Gene Miller played first singles at the U.S. Naval Academy and coached at Southern Methodist, Navy, Saint Joseph’s and Penn. … Ross Nwachukwu was a four time Muny Open Singles Champion, starred at Drake University, and was the head tennis coach at Kansas. … Lyndsay Shosho is a former Georgia Tech star who was NCAA Division I All American. … Kathy Twist’s women’s tennis teams had the most wins of any other teams in UB history. They also won a MAC title and played UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Team Championships.

Muny Hall of Fame Inductees Gus Franczyk and Joe Turski won many Muny Singles and Doubles tournaments. There will also be a special award for the Rev. Bob Hetherington.

For further information on both events call Miller Tennis Center at 632-8600.

email: thegreatgar@verizon.net