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“Thrilla in Camilla” Returns to Small Town Georgia

April 15, 2005 10:53 AM

The sleepy little southern town of Camilla, GA again prepared itself to host the Annual $50,000 Camilla Pro Tennis Invitational, one of the most charming and entertaining tournaments played anywhere in the country. This year it was hosted on April 15-17, 2005 at the Mitchell County Tennis Club. Widely known as “The Thrilla in Camilla,” the tournament has blossomed tremendously in recent years and is considered one of the most significant tennis weekends in the state.

Competing in this year’s 30th annual celebration were some of the top teaching professionals from around the nation:

  • Stephen Enochs – A two time Singles and Doubles All-American at the University of Georgia and a member of the 1987 NCAA Championship team. He’s currently President of Enochs Investments in Atlanta.
  • Carlos Engle – A native of Brazil, Engle reached no. 410 in the ATP singles rankings in 1992 and played for Auburn University from 1993-1996, earning a ranking of no. 29 in singles in 1995. Engle lives in Atlanta.
  • Vaughn Snyman – A South African native, Snyman played for the University of Birmingham and was ranked no. 1 in NCAA Doubles. He is currently a teaching pro at Heathrow County Club in Orlando, FL.
  • Peter Lloyd – Australian born, Lloyd is currently ranked no. 1 in his home country. He played at UGA from 1979-1982 and has competed in the US Open and Wimbledon. He is currently a Tennis Professional at the Standard Club in Atlanta.
  • Eddie Gonzalez – Born in Rome, GA, Gonzalez was a top ranked junior player in the Georgia, the South and the United States. A recipient of a four year scholarship to NC State, he was a two time MVP and team captain and ended his college tennis career with the most Singles wins in school history. Gonzalez lives in Atlanta.
  • Tomas Catar – Slovakian born, Catar won the European 14’s Doubles Championships, was a 1995 Semifinalist at the Junior French Open and was ranked no.1 in the Junior International Rankings (ITF) for three weeks. Catar has played for the Slovakian Davis Cup team. He is presently a Tennis Professional at the O’Conner Center in Montgomery.
  • Geoff Moore – A former Touring Professional from Brisbane, Australia, Moore represented the U.S. in the Gordon and Stevens Cup Competition from 1990-1993, as well as the Perry Cup and World Championship in Holland in 1999. Moore is currently a Tennis Professional in Palm Beach, FL.
  • Wayne Hearn – An All-SEC and NCAA Freshman of the Year at University of Mississippi, Hearn transferred to UNC where he was named All ACC in 1984 & 1985. He finished his collegiate career undefeated. He played on the ATP Tour from 1985 – 1988, attaining a ranking of no. 189. Perhaps his most memorable victory came on stadium court of the 1987 US Open where he defeated Jimmy Connors. Hearn is currently Head Pro at Olde Providence Club in Charlotte, NC.
  • David Buerkle – An All-Conference player for Belmont Abbey College in 1994, Buerkle was also the CIAC Conference Singles and Doubles Champion in 1995. In 2001, he was the Men’s Open Florida State Closed Doubles Champion and ranked no. 4 in the USPTA Grand Prix Circuit Men’s Open.
  • Jose Campos – Born in Liberia, West Africa, Campos attended the University of South Florida where he was ranked no. 1 singles and doubles from 1986 – 1990. Upon graduation in 1990, he took over as the school’s assistant tennis coach. Campos started touring in 1991 by competing in tournaments in Europe, Central and South America and the U.S.
  • Tobias Svantesson – Swedish born, Svantesson played for Flager College and competed on the World Tour from 1986-1993. He was ranked as high as no. 89 in Singles and no. 60 in Doubles and has doubles wins over esteemed players such as Jimmy Conners, Boris Becker, and Todd Martin. He is currently ranked no. 1 in the United States in Men's 35 Singles.
  • Armi Neely – A former All-American and Head Coach at the University of Florida, Neely is a co-founder of the World Association of Tennis Champions. He has also won the World Windmill Cup in 1995, the World Team Championship Dubler Cup in 45’s (1995), and the National Senior Team Championships in 1997.
  • David Matthews – A former Georgia Player of the Year and National 30’s Indoor Singles and Doubles Champion, Matthews remained ranked in the Top Ten for five years. Matthews is currently the Director of Tennis at Hidden Hills Country Club.
  • Matt Cozad – As a member of the Georgia Tech Men’s Tennis Team, Matt won the Region II Arthur Ashe Sportsmanship Award. He was the no. 2 Singles Flight Champion and no. 3 Doubles Flight Champion in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was selected to be a member of the All Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s Team in 1999.
  • Kip Layman – A former University of Alabama no. 1 Singles player, Layman was team captain from 1994-1996. Along with his many accomplishments while playing NCAA tennis, Layman was named Georgia Professional Tennis Association Player of the Year in 2002.
  • Lars Ranger – A native of Norway, Ranger won six Norwegian Junior Titles and played collegiate tennis for Auburn University at Montgomery, where he was National Champion in 2003. He is currently a tennis professional at Montgomery Country Club.
  • Horace Reid – Former UCLA and ATP Tour player, Reid earned a high ranking of no. 269 in Singles while on the Tour. He has a National Clay Court Singles and Doubles title, along with a Championship at the Atlanta Senior Invitational in Men’s 45 singles and doubles. He is currently the Director of Tennis at Cross Creek Country Club in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Roger Cypriano – An NCAA Division II All-American in Singles and Doubles, Cypriano went on to hold a no. 1 ranking in the USPTA Singles Men’s Open Florida Division for three years. He is currently the Director/Head Pro at Avila Golf and Country Club in Tampa, Florida.

In addition to the tournament play there were free Junior and Ladies Tennis Clinics scheduled as well as tennis socials for the players and fans alike.

Established 30 years ago by Camilla resident Eddie Williamson, The Camilla Pro Tennis Invitational annually raises money for the Mitchell Baker Service Center, a facility owned by the board of the association of retarded citizens and is devoted to the needs of the mentally handicapped in and around Camilla. Williamson created the tournament back when there wasn’t very much money involved in the tour.

According to Williamson the pros do not come to Camilla for the “winners check,” but instead come because the community’s outpouring of love and generosity makes “round-weary” players feel that Camilla is their home away from home.

“During the early years all of our pros stayed at my friend’s houses because there were no hotels or motels in the surrounding area," explained Williamson. “Local Camillians did not even play tennis before the birth of this tournament.”

Today, there are still no hotels in Camilla proper, which claims fewer than 5,000 inhabitants, so the players who compete here don’t have much of a choice. But Williamson feels that the people of Camilla wouldn’t have it any other way. Looking at the "Patrons" page in the tournament's promotional brochure it also appears as if every resident of Camilla has donated either time or money to assist with of the event.

Thirty years ago corporate Sponsors were unheard of, but today the championship has fourteen Corporate Sponsors, including Miller Brewing Company, Planters & Citizens Bank and the Bank of Camilla just to name a few.

With the upgrading of the facility also came some of the Invitational’s latest projects. These projects currently deal with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Camilla, Mitchell County and the city of Pelham; and Southwest Georgia Technical College. Collectively the facility has donated over $150,000 to both projects.




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