9-year-old reaches singles championship match in Lima city tournament

Kaylee Davis serves in a match against Bree O’Neal in the Lima City Singles Tournament on Saturday. DEAN BROWN/The Lima News

LIMA – Marina Fuduric admitted she was nervous prior to her opening match in the Lima Area Tennis Association City Singles Tournament.

It’s understandable; after all she’s 9 … as in years of age.

But any lingering butterflies have pretty much been swatted away after her three wins have put Fuduric in today’s Women’s Championship match against Kaylee Davis.

In the Men’s Tournament, John Kidd will play Jeff Brown in the finals today for the third straight year.

The championships will begin at 10 a.m. at the UNOH Tennis Courts unless rain drives them inside to the Westwood Tennis and Fitness Center, where matches were played Friday and Saturday.

Fuduric’s appearance in this year’s tournament was made possible by a LATA rule change. In past years, competitors had to be at least in eighth grade. This year, the rule was changed to allow younger players who hold a USTA ranking.

Fuduric is ranked 21st in the USTA Midwest Girls 10s and regularly competes in USTA tournaments around the Midwest while playing five days a week at Westwood.

“There was a debate on the LATA Board,” said Brown, the Westwood Head Pro, Fuduric’s coach and a member of the Board who helps put on the annual tournament. “I believe all players should have the chance to play and compete. It’s an open tournament but for safety reasons we allowed USTA-ranked players only. I don’t see a reason she can’t play. She works hard and she’s in the finals now.”

While she’s practiced with older players, prior to this weekend the oldest player she had taken on in a tournament was 12 years old. That made her hesitant to jump into a tournament full of players in high school and older.

“I didn’t want to do it at first and then I changed my mind,” said Fuduric, who wanted experience against older players. “I was scared when I came into the tournament but then I got braver when I started playing.”

Though her parents weren’t tennis players, Fuduric initially started playing two years ago at the Shawnee Country Club in some small classes with then-Pro Eddie Adkins. Adkins introduced the talented St. Charles student to Brown, who is now the pro at both Westwood and Shawnee Country Club.

“She’s the hardest-hitting 9-year-old I’ve ever seen in my life,” Brown said. “When she wants to play, she can play with anyone. And she’s out there having fun.”

Fuduric’s path to the finals started with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Katie Wright, she then beat second-seeded Makenzie Wills 6-2, 5-7, 10-7 before knocking off Kaitlin Snider 7-5, 6-4 in the semifinals.

“(Playing in the finals) means a lot to me,” Fuduric said. “I’m excited. I was happy that I won (in the semifinals). She played really well. My first match was hard, all three have been really hard and close so it took a lot of hard work and effort to win them.”

Today’s championship certainly won’t be easy. Davis, a senior at Spencerville, is a two-time district qualifier and a regular competitor in USTA summer tournaments also. She claimed runner-up in the City Singles tournament two years ago and lost in the semifinals last year to eventual champ Andrea Arango.

Around last year’s tournament, Davis fractured her wrist – an injury that lingered until the high school tournaments. Once her cast came off, she rolled her ankle at districts and then later had a shoulder injury to battle.

Now, finally, she’s healthy.

“It was a rough few months,” Davis said. “I’m finally feeling well and playing well so this has been fun. I’m a lot stronger. It’s been a great tournament so far.”

And Davis has cruised with an opening bye, a 6-0, 6-0 win over Bree O’Neal and a 6-0, 6-1 win over Madison Watt in the semifinals.

The Men’s Championship will feature Kidd vs. Brown for the third-straight year. Kidd has won the last two after Brown won the tournament three years ago.

“Kidd’s taken over,” Brown said. “It’s going to be interesting. I could make a thousand excuses for last year but I wasn’t in shape. This year, I’ve already played a couple of tournaments … my conditioning is better, my fitness level is better, I’m playing much better overall.”

While Brown recently played in a U.S. Open qualifier and a National Open qualifier, Kidd is only a few weeks removed from his junior season playing at the University of Findlay – though he has taken two weeks off with a shoulder injury.

“I just got back to it Thursday and played pretty well Friday and Saturday against good competition,” Kidd said. “I’m happy with how I’m playing.

“It’s going to be another tough match against Jeff just like it has been the past two years. I’ve been fortunate to pull them out. I’ll have to get off to a quick start.”

Kidd beat Seth Troyer 6-0, 6-0 before dropping Zach Diltz 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals. Brown earned his fourth-straight finals ticket by beating Troy Hile 6-0, 6-0 and Austen Hammett 6-2, 6-4 in the semis.

WOMEN’S 30-AND-OVER: In the round robin tournament, Mary Lou Roush leads with 24 games won. In the final pairings, Roush will take on Jill Welch while Joan Collar will play Cris Elstro.

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