T.O. tennis ace takes title

GLEN DAWKINS -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

Alessandro Gravina has played all over the country and all over the world. But in all of his years, he had never played at the Manitoba Open tennis championship.

But if his first visit is any indication, he may make it a regular stop.

"This is definitely one of the best tournaments I've ever been to," said the 25-year-old from Toronto, who defeated five-time defending champion Doug DeVriendt 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 in the men's singles final at the 100th annual Global Manitoba Open yesterday at the Winnipeg Winter Club.

"I came here and (the organizers) treated me like a top ATP player, which I'm not," said Gravina, who is currently ranked 13th in Canada and recently moved into the top 1,000 in the ATP rankings after a satellite tournament in Venezuela.

"I knew that (DeVriendt) was a tough competitor and he's always been," said Gravina, who played junior at the same time as DeVriendt. "I just had to buckle down."

Gravina collected $2,000 for his win with DeVriendt taking home $1,000.

Meanwhile, 2002 and 2003 champion and top seed Kyla McNicol got past fellow Winnipegger Alexa Zayac 6-4, 6-2 in the women's singles final. McNicol, who is entering her second year at the University of Central Florida, also added the mixed doubles and the women's doubles titles for a rare triple crown.

McNicol teamed up with Jon Causon to win the mixed doubles title Saturday and teamed up with Alana Miller to beat Zayac and Misa Simonova 6-4, 6-2 in the women's doubles final yesterday.

"I had to go out there and make as few unforced errors as I could (against Zayac)," said McNicol, who won $1,000 for the singles title, $450 for the women's doubles and $400 for the mixed doubles.

A holder of dual Italian and Canadian citizenship, Gravina played on the pro circuit in Italy as an 18-year-old. But nagging knee and ankle injuries made him give up competitive tennis two years ago to take a job teaching tennis at the Rexall Centre in Toronto. While there, Gravina was asked to act as hitting partner for former No. 1 player Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium for the 2003 Rogers Cup women's tournament in Toronto.

Last year, he hit with current No. 1 men's player Roger Federer of Switzerland for the 2004 Rogers Cup men's tournament. The experience convinced him to give pro tennis another shot.

Since coming back, he has won tournaments in Quebec and Ontario. He is currently an alternate for Canada's Davis Cup team.

CHANGE OF SCENE: Yesterday's finals were moved from the Kildonan Tennis Club to the indoor courts at the Winter Club due to Saturday night's violent storm. The move indoors forced many of the players to adjust their games to the faster surface and humid conditions.

"I knew it was going to be faster (indoors)," said McNicol. "I was just going to play my game."

"I was a little disappointed we had to go indoors," said DeVriendt, who was hoping that the weather would clear yesterday morning. "It suits his game a lot more than mine."

HOME COOKING: Gravina asked the Manitoba Open organizers if they could arrange for him to be billeted with a local family. They came up a family whose daughter was coming home from university to play in the tournament.

As a result, the home of Dave and Cynthia McNicol was host to two Manitoba Open singles champions. Maybe it's the cooking.

STILL ONE SHORT: If DeVriendt had won yesterday's Manitoba Open Men's Singles final, he would have tied German Cuberos (1978-81) with his fourth in a row and tied Art Foster (1952, 1954-55, 1957 and 1959-60) with his sixth overall. Foster's wife Kay was on hand to give out the trophies.

"Hopefully next year I'll get another chance to match his six titles," said DeVriendt.


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