©Colette Lewis 2005~~~
It wasn't much of a surprise when Attila Bucko, the top seed at the recent Chanda Rubin ITF event at the University of Illinois, zipped through the draw of the Grade 4 tournament. Not only had he won the previous Grade 4 in Atlanta the week before, but his streak actually extends back to last spring when he finished on top at the Destin Grade 5.
In between, the lefthander from Serbia was a finalist at the USTA Clay Court Nationals, and was a quarterfinalist at the Grade 1 in Kentucky last month. This is a very impressive six months of tennis, but something I saw in Illinois spoke even louder to me. I was taking a short break between singles and doubles and wandered over near the horses pastured next to the Atkins Tennis Center. In the distance, I saw a tennis player, bag on back, walking down the narrow-laned, barely-paved road toward the courts. Eventually I recognized the player as Bucko, and caught up with him to ask where he was coming from. He told me he had just completed his match, which for some reason was scheduled at the alternate site despite his top seed. Having no parent with him and as a seventeen-year-old unable to rent a car, he depended on the shuttle, which apparently ran only from the host hotel to main site, not between the two sites. With a doubles match scheduled within the hour, and no other alternative, Bucko simply walked a little over a mile to the main site.
The image of a tennis player striding through the cornfields surrounding Urbana was nothing short of surreal, but I think it resonated with me as a simple acknowledgment of how much playing meant to Bucko. He is an excellent junior player, now closing in on the ITF top 100, and with the determination and results he's shown, will likely go much higher. Unfortunately, it doesn't look as if he's in the field at this week's big Grade 1 in Tulsa, where points come in torrents, not trickles like Grades 4 & 5. I'm not sure why he's not playing, but I'm certain he'll be back on the Chanda Rubin circuit soon.