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VCO fans headed for a 'love' match

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Charleston tennis enthusiasts are just over two months away from falling in love with a certain player on the WTA Tour. Simona Halep is coming to town.

It's somewhat surprising that Halep has never played in the Volvo Car Open, considering the place the big Daniel Island tournament holds in the women's game. But she's committed this time.

The 5-6 Romanian is a powerhouse, not brutally speaking but in the finesse, power, heart and willpower she employs on a tennis court to overcome most obstacles. She's petite, charming and glamorous, and she's also a great athlete.

Halep does more than move around the court with grace. She glides, practically flying like a Mary Poppins as she dances into her shots, often while airborne.

Yes, local tennis fans are in for a real treat at April's VCO.

"We believe our fans will love Simona," VCO tournament director Bob Moran said. "(She's) an amazing player with a great personality. (We're) really excited to have Simona come to Charleston. She's always been high on our list. So, schedule has to work out and (we) continue to let her know that she would be important to us."

If Halep is coming, then there's a good chance that Darren Cahill will be on site to tutor his protege. Of course, Cahill may be the most respected TV analyst in the game.

That would be a double treat for VCO fans.

And everyone wants to see Cori "Coco" Gauff back at an LTP Tennis facility. She already has played at one of the LTP Tennis events, the 2019 $100K ITF tournament at the Mount Pleasant site.

Gauff continues to be the rage of women's tennis Down Under with victories over Venus Williams and two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open. Local fans, this writer included, were lucky to be able to watch Coco and her game up close in last spring's LTP $100K.

As Gauff told me then in a one-on-one interview, "A lot of practice" gave her such a bright future. "I started tennis at 6, but my parents put me in everything. I like tennis. You get to think for yourself. It's an individual sport and you are in charge of everything."

When I asked Moran on Saturday about the possibility of Coco coming to the VCO, he said, "We hope so."

Which Coco? "Trust me, I know who you meant."

The other Coco, Vandeweghe, has slipped to No. 226 in the world.

"(It's a) different year with Olympics and the competition to make the U.S. team. We have roughly 10 U.S. players in or near the top 50, so qualifying for the U.S. team will be intense," Moran said. "(That) definitely went into our thinking in pushing our entry deadline from six weeks to two weeks."

The current group of VCO American entries includes the likes of defending VCO champion Madison Keys (No. 11), bright young star Sofia Kenin (15), rising star Amanda Anisimova (24) and former VCO champ Sloane Stephens (27).

SOUTHERN CHAMPS

Local juniors put on quite a show in the recent Southern Winter Championships at Mobile, Ala. (14s and 16s), Macon, Ga. (12s) and Hilton Head Island (18s).

Clemson-bound Max Smith won the boys 18 singles and doubles, while little brother Jake Smith captured the boys 14 singles crown and second in doubles, and Carson Baker came out on top in boys 16 doubles. Of course, all three of these juniors play for the Philip Simmons High School tennis team, along with Tennessee-headed Coy Simon.

Other locals experiencing success included Michael Ross, boys 18 singles finalist; Emma Charney, girls 18 singles third place; Alice Otis, girls 16 singles finalist and third place in doubles; Porter-Gaud standout Lucas Acevedo, boys 14 doubles finalist; Piper Charney, third place in girls 16 singles and doubles; Carter Pate, fifth in boys 14 singles; Whitley Pate, fifth in girls 18 singles and third in doubles; and Ashe Ray, fifth in boys 18 singles and third in doubles.

All of these juniors train at the Randy Pate Academy, which had a total of 41 players entered in the Southern Winter Championships in four age groups. These 41 players notched 141 wins in singles and 72 wins in doubles. Thus, many of the losses came against academy teammates.

"Extraordinary," said LTP director Patrick Hieber.

GIGI TO VISIT PINE FOREST

Tennis hall of famer Gigi Fernandez is scheduled to put on a clinic at Summerville's Pine Forest Country Club on April 16. Fernandez is a former Clemson star who won 17 Grand Slam doubles titles as well as a pair of Olympic doubles titles.

Naturally, the clinic is headlined by "The Gigi Method Doubles Program."

Pine Forest's Barry Quinn is excited. "Spots are filling up fast," Quinn said. Contact Quinn at Barry@pineforestcountryclub.com

Reach James Beck at jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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