Kevin Ullyett does not mind playing his way into ATP tournaments because there was once a time when he couldn't even get into the qualifying draw.
Ullyett beat Scott Humphries, 6-4, 6-3, yesterday in the first round of qualifying for the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. He will play Canadian Frederic Niemeyer today at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center for a spot in the main draw. Twenty-eight players were in the qualifying draw; only seven will advance to the main draw, in which play begins Monday.
A doubles specialist and last year's doubles champion at the Legg Mason with Grant Stafford, Ullyett, 27, has had success in singles this summer and has raised his ranking to 186.
"In the past, my singles ranking wasn't high enough to allow me to get into the qualifying draws at some tournaments," said Ullyett, of Zimbabwe, who won four ATP Tour doubles titles in 1998 and finished the year ranked in the top 50. "So I just focused on doubles and tried to get my singles ranking up by playing in one or two tournaments when I could."
In June, Ullyett lost to Cedric Pioline in the finals of the Nottingham Open, his first singles final at a tour event. Two weeks ago, Ullyett advanced to the third round at the du Maurier Open in Montreal.
This year, Ullyett has a new doubles partner, Piet Norval of South Africa. He hopes to successfully defend his doubles title here, as well as qualify for and do well in the singles draw. Ullyett lost in the final round of qualifying last year.
"Now I concentrate more on singles, even though I'm still doing both," Ullyett said. "Now I know that I'm going to get into the qualifying draw in singles, so I have to focus on that."
While Ullyett is familiar with the routine of playing ATP Tour events, not everyone in the qualifying draw was.
H'cone Thompson, 18, an All-Met tennis player as a DeMatha senior last spring, received a wild-card berth into the qualifying draw and arrived at FitzGerald Tennis Center yesterday with his rackets and gear but didn't know that he had to wear a collared shirt for his match. Minutes before his match against Neville Godwin, Thompson had to run inside the players' locker room to borrow a shirt from another player, Mikael Tillstrom.
"It was kind of difficult because I usually change shirts during a match to feel fresh," Thompson said. "I ended up wearing two shirts--my own T-shirt under [Tillstrom's] shirt--because I didn't want to mess up his shirt. It didn't matter. I would've worn a pink shirt just so I could've played today."
Godwin, ranked 195th, beat Thompson, 6-1, 6-0, in 50 minutes on the stadium court. While Thompson was upset that he lost, he managed to keep the experience in perspective.
"I saw [Godwin] beat Jim Courier here like two years ago on center court," said Thompson, who will attend Lafayette College on a full scholarship. "It was a good experience for me. And I had chances against him."