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Tennis: Johnson aces running event

Sunday, May 19, 2002

Don Johnson, who has been running in the sport's fast lane the past several years, recently ran away from the pack in a different kind of competition.

Before the ATP Masters at Hamburg, Germany, 20 players and 15 coaches competed in a 7.5-kilometer race around the Outer Alster Lake. While a number of the competitors had trained for the race the past several months, Johnson, who attended Mt. Lebanon High School, didn't decide to enter until the night before the event.

"I was not even considered as a dark horse," said Johnson, 33, a doubles specialist who ranks among the elite players in the world. "I think almost everyone thought I was either too old or not worthy of consideration."

Johnson positioned himself alongside the pace-runner, Steffen Benecke, Hambrug's premier marathoner.

"I decided to try to stay with him," Johnson said. "We were off in a sprint, which is probably not the way you want to start a 7.5 kilometer race."

Johnson said most of the race was a blur. He just kept running and managed to keep up with Benecke.

"I don't remember much of the race because I struggled for oxygen the whole way," Johnson said.

Despite a shooting pain in his side with about half a mile to go, Johnson managed to finish first with a time of 28 minutes, 26 seconds. Robbie Koenig and Markus Hantschk finished second and third.

In addition to winning the respect of his peers, Johnson won a Mercedes-Benz mountain bike that he proudly rode back to his hotel.

"My new career of race running began and ended in one race," he said. "I'm so sore. I can't even begin to imagine running around that silly lake again."

On a more serious note, top-seeded Johnson and his partner, Jared Palmer, lost in the second round to unseeded Jiri Novak and Radek Stepanek, 6-4, 6-4.

Campus courts

Carnegie Mellon's Kayvon Fatahalian, a junior from Round Rock, Texas, will compete in singles at the NCAA Division III championships that start tomorrow at the University of California-Santa Cruz. Fatahalian won the national championship as a freshman and lost in the first round last year. He had a 21-3 record in matches this spring.

Fatahalian, a 5-foot-7, 150-pound left-hander, was unheralded as a freshman when he won all five of his matches, dropping just one set. He upset the No. 3 and 4 seeds on the way to becoming the second freshman to win the singles title.

dot.gif Marshall sophomore Jessica Johnson, a native of Sewickley who was home-schooled, teamed with Ashley Groh to capture No. 2 doubles and won the first set against Vilmarie Castellvi when the match was discontinued as soon as Tennessee clinched a 4-0 victory in the first round of the NCAA Division I championships. Marshall's Alice Sukner, a sophomore from Allderdice, lost in No. 2 doubles. Tennessee earned the doubles point by winning two of the three matches.

dot.gif Baldwin Wallace junior Andrea Miller, a graduate of Plum, had a 6-9 record playing No. 5 singles and teamed with Melissa Noe for an 8-9 record at No. 3 doubles.

Net results

Ryan Sachire, a power-hitting 6-foot-7, 250-pounder from Canfield, Ohio, picked up $1,300 by winning the singles title in the 82nd Edgewood Club Invitational. He defeated Ron Mercer (Mt. Lebanon) in the final, 6-7, (9-7), 6-4, 6-1. Mercer won $500.

In the semifinals, Sachire defeated James Kent (Huntington, W.Va.), 6-4, 6-2, and Mercer defeated John Chatlak (Wheeling, W.Va.), 6-2, 6-2.

The Mercer brothers, Ron and Tom, won the doubles with a 6-3, 6-4 victory against George Barth (Youngstown, Ohio) and Sachire. The winning team split $500.

Chatlak received the Ron Harrold Sportsmanship Award.

"The quality of the field was superb," tournament director Victor Wojciak said of the 17 singles players and nine doubles teams that included mostly teaching professionals. "I don't think you could find much better tennis around here."

What's happening

Val Wilder will face a strong field as he attempts to win his third consecutive singles title in the USTA National Men's 40 Indoor Championships at Oxford Athletic Club in Monroeville that start this weekend and run through Wednesday.

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