Kids making a racket at Taco Bell Western Slope Open

10-year-old Alex Ilic from Aspen hits a winner Monday during his boys 12 singles victory over Tommy Mahre of Grand Junction during the Taco Bell Western Slope Open at Elliott Tennis Center on the campus of Mesa State College. Ilic won the match 6-1, 6-3.

The first day of the Taco Bell Western Slope Open showcased a tennis tournament that’s still growing.

Monday at the Elliott Tennis Center at Mesa State College and Canyon View Park, more than 120 junior players, ages 18 and younger, opened the week-long tournament. The junior finals are Thursday.

“I would say we have a good 20 to 30 percent increase in numbers since last year,” said Ron Elliott, one of the tournament co-directors. “There are some kids that will have four matches in one day and play throughout the week.”

Elliott said having a bracket like the boys 14-and-under division, which has 29 entrants, is exciting for the 53-year-old tournament.

“I know of the (Mesa County Junior Tennis Association) league kids, there are about eight or 10 kids that have never played in a tournament before,” Elliott said. “To have them in (Taco Bell) is good for tennis.”

One of those first-time players is 11-year-old Tommy Mahre, who played his first tournament match Monday. Mahre lost 6-1, 6-3 to Aspen’s Alex Ilic in the first round of the boys 12 singles bracket.

Mahre has played tennis for only six months, and picked up the sport for another athletic outlet.

“My mom wanted me to do something other than soccer, because that’s what I’ve played my entire life,” Mahre said. “I tried a few other sports, but liked tennis the most.”

In Ilic, Mahre faced an experienced player. Ilic has played tennis for three years, and after attending some tennis camps this summer, was ready to jump into tournament play.

“When you are just practicing, it’s no pressure,” Ilic said. “But here there is a ton of pressure.”

Ilic is playing in his first Taco Bell tournament and has already accomplished one of his goals by moving into the quarterfinal round.

“(Monday) was really fun,” Ilic said. “My goal was to get into the second round and now it’s to get into the third round.”

Ilic plays Donovan Marshall this morning in the quarters.

Julianna Campos and Morgan Leasure were the only two entries in the girls 10-under singles. Campos defeated Leasure 6-2, 6-0 for the title.

McDonald’s Junior Tournament champion Luke Ledebur defeated Ryan Hautzinger 6-0, 6-0 in the first round of the boys 18 singles, and Gabriel Treider downed Kelson Reimer 6-3, 6-3 in the boys 16 singles.

Charlie Ruckman defeated Adam Dow 6-2, 6-0 in the first round of the crowded boys 14 singles bracket.

In the girls 18 singles, Nicky Arja defeated Bailey Hilty 6-0, 6-1 in the first round.

McKenna Griffiths defeated Brianna Ballard 6-4, 7-5 in the first round of the 16 singles.

“This is the conclusion to the summer tennis season,” Elliott said. “Right after this, everyone takes a break before getting ready for their high school season to start.”


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