Game, set, match.
I have a problem with the official motto for Lexington. Lexington: Thoroughbred Capitol of the World. Nice, I guess, but it is also a little narrow in scope. It IS better than Lexington: Home of the Hate Mongering Faux-Patriotic Rally, true, but that does not fully encompass the sports scene in our fair city. Lexington does not have any professional sports teams; we have to drive to Cincinnati for that, but we do have an abundance of teams and events that feature potential stars, the stars of tomorrow. The University of Kentucky has given us many of these stars, such as Antoine Walker of the Boston Celtics and Tim Couch of the Cleveland Browns. The fact that UK plays in the best, if not the cleanest, sports conference in America, the SEC, means we also get to see players like Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Shaquille O'Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers before they become rich and famous. Our own Lexington Legends have already sent two players to the major leagues in under two years. Shortstop Felix Escalona is batting about .260 playing for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, an actual Major League team in letter if not spirit, and pitcher Kirk Saarloos picked up his first victory for the Houston Astros last Saturday over my beloved Chicago Cubs. One more victory over the Cubs and we can classify him as a "Cub Killer", of which each Major League team is required to have three. He would join Craig Biggio and Orlando Merced as Cub Killers on the Astros if afforded this honor, although he has a long way to go before surpassing the King of the Cub Killers, Dwight Gooden. Keeneland even has The Bluegrass Stakes, which always serves as a sneak preview for Derby favorites. We have had the opportunity to witness future sports stars of all sorts here in Lexington, including the number one Men's tennis player in the world, and 2002 Wimbledon Champ, Lleyton Hewitt.
Are you kind of confused about when Lleyton Hewitt graced the Bluegrass State with his tennis presence? Although he did not win, he is an alum of the Fifth Third Tennis Championships that kick off this weekend at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center on the UK campus. This event is unique in that many of the players that come to Lexington to play stay with families in the area. What better way to experience Southern hospitality? Besides Hewitt, the world's number five player Tommy Haas, and the last American left standing in Wimbledon this year, Jeff Morrison, are both veterans of this tournament. When they were here, no one could have predicted the success that awaited them, and that is the beauty of the various minor leagues of sport.
We cannot predict the future, but the hope is that some of the players featured this weekend will go on to great things. There is a lot of buzz around some of the players competing. Justin Gimlestob is ranked number 158 and is already a veteran of this tournament. He has made quite a name for himself with his John McEnroe-esque temper if not his McEnroe-esque talent. At previous Fifth Third Championships, he has successfully manhandled rows of flowers and stared down a few ball boys and girls. He was the favorite two years ago, and maybe he has mellowed out a bit, but it will probably be more entertaining if he has not. Paul Goldstein is here to defend his 2001 title, and possibly be the first three-time winner, since he won here in 1998. The local favorite would have to be UK All-American Jesse Witten, who lost to University of Georgia's Matias Boeker in the 2002 NCAA finals. Boeker will be playing in the qualifiers, so there is a chance that Witten could face Boeker in a rematch, except this time Witten would have the home court advantage. So don't worry that you might not know someone playing, we have a built-in home crowd favorite. A bright future is also likely for France's Nicolas Mahut, who won the 2001 Junior Wimbledon. He is only ranked at 211 right now, but is expected to vault into the upper echelon of men's players.
Anyone who follows tennis knows that the real excitement surrounds the women's tour. They are attracting as much attention for their great play, such as Serena and Venus Williams, as they are for, well, just looking really hot, like Anna Kournikova. Fans of the "really hot" faction and the "talented play" faction are in luck, Ashley Harkleroad, the 2002 French Open Junior runner-up will be in Lexington and she is a little bit of both. The down side, for the "really hot" fans at least, is that she is only 17, and I cannot think of anyone my age that would hit on a 17-year-old girl. Actually, I can think of at least one person who would, but that is neither here nor there. Harkleroad seems to be the cream of the crop for American players, but returnees such as Alina Jidkove and Jessica Steck should provide more than enough competition. This brings about one of the more pleasant aspects of the tournament; the prize money of $100,000 is shared equally between the men and the women. This is unfortunately a rarity on the tennis circuit, and the organizers of this event should be given kudos for not following the status quo.
Those who complain there is nothing to do in Lexington need to check their sports calendars. Keeneland, the Wildcats, the Legends, the new hockey team, (PLEASE let them be called The Ice-Holes), and the Fifth Third Tennis Tournament mean there is hardly ever a time in Lexington when you cannot go out and enjoy quality sports at a reasonable price. Star gazing is not just a hobby for that weird kid across the street with a telescope, and by the way, yes, he is looking in your window. Stargazing is what we do in Lexington, the Home of Tomorrow's Stars. Now, doesn't that have a nice ring to it.
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