Thursday, July 19, 2018

Gibbs doing 'awesome' in battle vs. depression

No. 2 seed Nicole Gibbs beat Jovana Jaksic of Serbia 6-2, 6-4 on
Wednesday in the first round of the $60,000 Berkeley Tennis Club
Challenge. Gibbs starred at Stanford, and Jaksic lives in Sacra-
mento. Photo by Paul Bauman
   BERKELEY, Calif. -- Nicole Gibbs just wants to be average.
   Off the court, that is.
   And Gibbs, who went public in January with her battle against depression in an effort to help others, is succeeding.
    "I'm actually doing awesome," the second-seeded Gibbs said after beating Jovana Jaksic 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday in the first round of the inaugural $60,000 Berkeley Tennis Club Challenge. "I got off my meds not too long ago, and I'm feeling pretty normal, like kind of your average person, which is a good thing for me. I'm definitely turning in the right direction, I have an awesome support team around me, and I haven't had any problems lately."
   Gibbs is far from the only professional player to struggle with depression. Andre Agassi, Pat Cash, Cliff Richey, Mardy Fish, Rebecca Marino and Ashleigh Barty also have dealt with mental health issues.
   "I think people susceptible to depression are just wired a little differently," said Gibbs, who first exhibited symptoms in high school. "The same challenges that might be frustrating in a normally wired person's life become these bigger things in the life of a person susceptible to depression. That being said, there's always something you can do. For me, that's mindfulness and just being really dedicated to managing my meds."
   But pro tennis exacerbates the problem. Ranked a career-high No. 68 two years ago, Gibbs has dropped to No. 116.
   "When you're not inside the top 50, tennis is a constant identity crisis," Gibbs, a petite 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters) in an age of power, told the Telegraph of Great Britain in January. "You ask yourself questions all the time. What can I be doing to do better? Am I doing everything I can? How do I get to that next level where I really want to be? There were times when the up-and-down elements of tennis made things almost unbearable for me."
Jovana Jaksic said her biggest problem against Nicole
Gibbs was, "Me, myself and I." Photo by Paul Bauman
   Gibbs concedes that dealing with depression while playing pro tennis "is a huge challenge, but I'm also really grateful for it because it's forced me to confront this stuff earlier in life than I would have necessarily otherwise."
   Gibbs, a 25-year-old resident of Venice in the Los Angeles area, and Jaksic, a 24-year-old Serb, are both emotional players with strong Northern California ties.
   Gibbs played at Stanford, winning two NCAA titles in singles (2012 and 2013) and one in doubles (2012) before turning pro one year early. She met her fiance, Jack Brody, there.
   Jaksic moved from Las Vegas to Sacramento in December 2016. Her Serbian boyfriend, Vuja Jovic, is a real estate broker in Sacramento.
   Gibbs rallied from second-set deficits of 3-0 and 4-1 at the Berkeley Tennis Club, founded in 1906. Past members include International Tennis Hall of Famers Don Budge, Helen Wills Moody, Helen Jacobs and Hazel Wightman. Plaques honoring Budge and Willls Moody adorn the clubhouse.
   "I'm happy with the way I competed," said Gibbs, who extended then-No. 1 Karolina Pliskova to 6-4 in the third set in the second round of the U.S. Open last September. "I played a pretty solid first set, then she raised her level, and I got a little unlucky. I think I had ad points in all three of the first games of the second set and ended up down 0-3. That's always a little bit of a mental challenge when you feel like you've done all the work to be on the right side of the momentum, and then the opponent takes it away from you. I really had to battle to even things up and then take the set.
   "I view it as the perfect first round. I definitely did some good things, there are a lot of things I can do a lot better in the next round, and I got challenged."
   When the 322nd-ranked Jaksic was asked what gave her the most trouble, she cracked, "Me, myself and I. That's always the biggest opponent I have -- I mean everyone has -- being comfortable with myself on the court, which I'm clearly not. I started to a little bit in the second set, but it's still not where I want to be.
   "She's definitely a good player. I had a tough draw. It's tough to play a former top-100 player in the first round. It is what it is; I have to accept it."
Modesto product Maria Sanchez will face Nicole Gibbs
in a showdown of former Pacific-12 Conference standouts.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   The 5-foot-11 (1.80-meter) Jaksic almost climbed into the top 100 at No. 102 in May 2014, shortly after reaching the final in Monterrey, Mexico. She lost to countrywoman and former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic in the WTA tournament.
   What has happened since then? You name it.
   "Injuries, I moved to the States, I had training problems, coaching problems ... injury problems the most because a back injury kept coming back for four years and is still present," said Jaksic, adding that she has four herniated discs because one of her former coaches had her do too much weight training. "It's always tough getting through an injury, not only physically but mentally. I lost confidence.
   Jaksic said Novak Djokovic, who won his first Grand Slam title in more than two years on Sunday at Wimbledon, is "a good friend of mine." Both were born in Belgrade (as was Ivanovic).
   "I've known him since a young age," Jaksic continued. "Our parents knew each other since before I was born. I'm really, really proud of him for winning Wimbledon. I believed in him, even though most people didn't. It really means a lot to him.
   "You could see the way he behaved ever since he was young how extremely motivated he was and how much he worked, so it was really inspiring for everyone. Players should learn from his example."
   Gibbs will face Maria Sanchez, a 28-year-old Modesto product, in a Pacific-12 Conference showdown today at about 2 p.m. Sanchez, a former USC All-American, said she has split two matches with Gibbs, winning in college and losing in the pros. The latter match occurred five years ago.
Connie Ma, a 15-year-old qualifier from Dublin
in the San Francisco Bay Area, lost to No. 8 seed
Mayo Hibi of Japan 6-0, 6-3. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Sanchez, ranked No. 271, dominated Kimberly Birrell of Australia 6-2, 6-2.
   "I felt like I served smart and served well in important moments, so I think that helps my whole game," said Sanchez, who has won two titles in singles and 20 in doubles on the ITF (minor-league) circuit and one doubles crown on the (major-league) WTA Tour. "I was pretty solid from the baseline. I really liked it when I got forward and used my volleys. I was happy with the way I competed."
   Sanchez won't be thinking about her college days when she faces Gibbs.
   "That was a little while ago. A lot has changed since then. I just consider it another tough match in the tournament," she said.
   In another matchup of former Pac-12 players, fourth-seeded Kristie Ahn, who led Stanford to the 2013 NCAA title along with Gibbs, will meet wild card Maegan Manasse from Cal at 10 a.m.
   The only seed to fall in the first round was No. 6 Grace Min, who lost to fellow American Ashley Kratzer, a 19-year-old left-hander, 6-4, 6-4.
   Min and Kratzer advanced to Challenger finals in Sacramento in 2016 and Stockton in 2017, respectively. Shortly after Stockton last July, Kratzer won the USTA girls 18 hardcourt title to earn a wild card into the U.S. Open and lost to German veteran Tatjana Maria 6-1, 6-1 in the opening round.
   In an all-Japanese clash, No. 3 seed Nao Hibino topped former top-30 player Misaki Doi 6-4, 6-4.
   Hibino won last week's $60,000 Honolulu Challenger and the inaugural 2015 Stockton Challenger.
   Doi held a match point against Angelique Kerber in the first round of the 2106 Australian Open but lost. Kerber went on to win the first of her three Grand Slam singles titles.
   No. 8 seed Mayo Hibi of Japan routed 15-year-old qualifier Connie Ma of Dublin in the San Francisco Bay Area 6-0, 6-3.
   Hibi was born in Japan but lived in Foster City in the Bay Area as a young child and grew up in Irvine in the Los Angeles area. She won the 2013 Sacramento Challenger at age 17.
   Ma, ranked seventh nationally in the 16s at only 5-foot-3 (1.60 meters) and 95 pounds (43.1 kilograms), pronounced herself happy with her performance in the tournament.
   "I was just hoping to make it past a couple rounds of qualifying, and I did that," said Ma, who reached the quarterfinals of a $25,000 hard-court tournament in Baton Rouge, La., last month as a qualifier.
   Here are the Berkeley singles and doubles draws and Thursday's schedule.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Bay Area's Ma, 15, qualifies for 60K Berkeley

   Connie Ma, a 15-year-old wild card playing only 25 miles (40 kilometers) from home, qualified for the $60,000 Berkeley Tennis Club Challenge on a day of high drama.
   Ma, from Dublin in the San Francisco Bay Area, advanced today with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Alycia Parks, 17, of the United States. Ma, serving for the match at 5-3 in the third set, trailed 15-40 but won the next four points.
   In the first two rounds of qualifying, Ma beat McCartney Kessler, an incoming freshman at Florida, and fourth-seeded Anastasia Nefedova, ranked No. 526 in the world, in straight sets.
   Parks was coming off a 6-0, 6-2 victory over 29-year-old American Ashley Weinhold, a former top-200 singles player and the Sacramento Challenger doubles champion in 2015 and 2016 with Caitlyn Whoriskey.
   Ma, ranked seventh nationally in the girls 16s, is scheduled to face eighth-seeded Mayo Hibi of Japan on Wednesday at noon on Court 4. Hibi, who was born in Japan but grew up in Irvine in the Los Angeles region, won the singles title in the 2013 Sacramento Challenger at age 17. The tournament lost its sponsor after a six-year run and moved to Berkeley this year.
   Ma is competing in her third pro tournament. She played $25,000 hard-court tourneys in Sumter, S.C., and Baton Rouge, La., in consecutive weeks in June, losing in the first round of qualifying to 29-year-old Olga Govortsova, who climbed to a career-high No. 35 10 years ago, and then reaching the quarterfinals as a qualifier.
   All four of today's final-round qualifying matches lasted three sets, and two went to third-set tiebreakers.
   No. 7 seed Lorraine Guillermo, a former Pepperdine All-American, survived a match point and edged No. 2 Sabrina Santamaria, a 2013 NCAA doubles champion from USC, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8).
   No. 8 Haruna Arakawa, 18, of Japan nipped Andreea Ghitescu of Romania 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (2).
   And Pamela Montez, a 27-year-old former UCLA All-American, topped Michaela Gordon, 18, of Saratoga in the Bay Area, 4-6, 6-3, 4-3, retired. Gordon played No. 1 singles and doubles as a freshman on Stanford's NCAA championship team in the spring.
   Here are the Berkeley singles qualifying draw, singles and doubles main draws and Wednesday's schedule.

Sharapova withdraws from San Jose; Venus joins field

Photo by Paul Bauman
   The Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic lost one future Hall of Famer but gained another today.
   Maria Sharapova, who won the last of her five Grand Slam singles titles in the 2014 French Open, withdrew from the July 30-Aug. 5 tournament at San Jose State.
   "Unfortunately, I have been forced to make some very tough decisions at this point in my career when it comes to my tournament schedule," said the 31-year-old Sharapova, who owns a career Grand Slam. "I need to take care of my body and make sure I stay healthy. I look forward to coming to play next year."
   Sharapova, the 2010 runner-up at Stanford, has battled injuries since returning from a 15-month doping ban in April 2017. After winning her first-round match at Stanford last year, the right-handed Sharapova pulled out with soreness in her left arm.
   Sharapova reached the quarterfinals of the French Open last month but lost in the first round at Wimbledon to qualifier and fellow Russian Vitalia Diatchenko. Formerly ranked No. 1, Sharapova has dropped to No. 21.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Another former world No. 1, Venus Williams, joined the San Jose field. Williams, 38, claimed the last of her seven major crowns 10 years ago at Wimbledon. She was diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome, an energy-sapping disease, in 2011.
   Williams reached the Stanford final eight times, winning in 2000 and 2002, before the tournament moved to San Jose State under a new sponsor this year. She made her pro debut indoors in Oakland at 14 in 1994.
   The San Jose field also includes former Stanford champions Serena Williams (2011, 2012 and 2014), Victoria Azarenka (2010), Madison Keys (2017) and Johanna Konta (2016) and two-time Stanford runner-up CoCo Vandeweghe (2012 and 2017).
   Tickets are available at

Monday, July 16, 2018

Ex-Wimbledon semifinalist falls in Berkeley qualies

   Thirty-seven-year-old Alexandra Stevenson lost, but 15-year-old Connie Ma won today in the second round of qualifying for the inaugural $60,000 Berkeley Tennis Club Challenge.
   No. 8 seed Haruna Arakawa, 18, of Japan defeated Stevenson, the daughter of basketball legend Julius Erving, 3-6, 4-1, retired.
   In 1999, Stevenson became the first female qualifier to reach the Wimbledon semifinals. Ranked a career-high No. 18 in 2002 before shoulder surgery derailed her career, she has plunged to No. 840.
   Ma, from Dublin in the San Francisco Bay Area, shocked fourth-seeded Anastasia Nefedova, 17, of the United States, 6-3, 6-1.
   Ma is scheduled to play another 17-year-old American, Alycia Parks, on Tuesday at noon for a berth in the main draw. Parks demolished Ashley Weinhold, a 29-year-old native of Tyler, Texas, 6-0, 6-2.
   Michaela Gordon, 18, of Saratoga in the Bay Area, beat No. 6 seed Tori Kinard, a 30-year-old American, 6-4, 6-4. Gordon, who played No. 1 singles and doubles as a freshman on Stanford's NCAA championship team in the spring, will face Pamela Montez, a 27-year-old former UCLA All-American, at noon.
   No. 2 seed Sabrina Santamaria, a 2013 NCAA doubles champion from USC, eliminated Sebastiani Leon, an ex-San Jose State star from San Diego, 6-1, 6-1.
   The Berkeley Tennis Club Challenge replaced the Sacramento Challenger, which lost its primary sponsor, on the calendar.
   Here are the Berkeley qualifying draw, singles main draw, doubles main draw and Tuesday's schedule

Djokovic, Kerber head Wimbledon honor roll

Photo by Paul Bauman
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Results of all Wimbledon finals:
   Men's singles -- Novak Djokovic (12), Serbia, def. Kevin Anderson (8), South Africa, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (3).
   Women's singles -- Angelique Kerber (11), Germany, def. Serena Williams (25), United States, 6-3, 6-3.
   Men's doubles -- Mike Bryan and Jack Sock (7), United States, def. Raven Klaasen, South Africa, and Michael Venus (13), New Zealand, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-3, 5-7, 7-5.
   Women's doubles -- Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (3), Czech Republic, def. Nicole Melichar, United States, and Kveta Peschke, Czech Republic, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0.
   Mixed doubles -- Alexander Peya, Austria, and Nicole Melichar (11), United States, def. Jamie Murray, Great Britain, and Victoria Azarenka, Belarus, 7-6 (1), 6-3.
   Boys singles -- Chun Hsin Tseng, Taiwan, def. Jack Draper, Great Britain, 6-1, 6-7 (2), 6-4.
   Girls singles -- Iga Swiatek, Poland, def. Leonie Kung, Switzerland, 6-4, 6-2.
   Boys doubles -- Yanki Erel, Turkey, and Otto Virtanen, Finland, def. Nicolas Mejia, Colombia, and Ondrej Styler (6), Czech Republic.
   Girls doubles -- Xinyu Wang and Xiyu Wang (1), China, def. Caty McNally and Whitney Osuigwe (2), United States, 6-2, 6-1.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Stevenson advances in 60K Berkeley qualifying

   Alexandra Stevenson, who in 1999 became the first female qualifier to reach the Wimbledon semifinals, beat Dominique Schaefer of Peru 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 today in the first round of qualifying for the $60,000 Berkeley Tennis Club Challenge.
   Stevenson, the daughter of basketball legend Julius Erving, reached a career-high No. 18 in 2002 before shoulder surgery derailed her career. 
   Now ranked No. 849, the 37-year-old native of La Jolla in the San Diego area is scheduled to face eighth-seeded Haruna Arakawa of Japan on Monday at noon. Arakawa dismissed wild card Mylene Mukhar, a former University of San Francisco standout, 6-2, 6-1.
   Connie Ma, 15, of Dublin in the San Francisco Bay Area surprised McCartney Kessler, a rising freshman at Florida, 6-4, 6-2. Ma will play fourth-seeded Anastasia Nefedova, a 17-year-old American who outclassed Salome Devidze of Georgia 6-2, 6-3. 
   Michaela Gordon, 18, of Saratoga in the San Francisco Bay Area, defeated Amy Zhu, a 23-year-old American, 6-3, 6-1. Gordon, who played No. 1 singles and doubles as a freshman on Stanford's NCAA championship team in the spring, will take on 30-year-old Tori Kinard, the sixth seed who topped Monica Robinson 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 in an all-American battle.   
   Sebastiani Leon, a former San Jose State star, held off wild card Olivia Hauger, a rising Cal senior, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4. Leon will meet second seed Sabrina Santamaria, who won the 2013 NCAA doubles title with USC teammate Kaitlyn Christian. Santamaria beat Makenna Thiel, a rising high school sophomore from nearby Piedmont, 6-3, 6-2.
   Pamela Montez, a 27-year-old former UCLA All-American, ousted top-seeded Hanna Chang 7-6 (1), 6-3 in an all-American matchup.
   Here are the Berkeley qualifying draw and Monday's schedule. Main-draw play will begin Tuesday at noon.

Djokovic defeats Anderson for fourth Wimbledon title

Novak Djokovic poses with the Serbian flag after winning the 2015
BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Fittingly, the sun shone during the men's singles final today at Wimbledon.
   After a dark two years, bright days have returned for Novak Djokovic.
   Gone are the elbow problems and resulting doubts, loss of confidence and frustration.
   Back are the burning desire, phenomenal movement, incredible balance, lightning-fast reflexes on his return of serve, and punishing groundstrokes.
   Djokovic downed Kevin Anderson 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (3) today for his fourth Wimbledon singles crown and first major title since completing a career Grand Slam in the 2016 French Open. He improved to 4-1 in Wimbledon finals, losing in 2013 when Andy Murray became the first British champion in 77 years.
   "It's sacred," Djokovic, who saved four set points in the third set, told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi of his latest title. "The Centre Court, this trophy, is truly special. I've had the honor and privilege to compete in the Wimbledon final today for the fifth time. Every time I get to compete, it's truly special and different.
   "Today, obviously, my son (3-year-old Stefan) was in the stands together with my wife, and that was a very special moment. He wasn't a part of the match because we have to respect the rules here -- he's under 5 years old. But he was there to witness the trophy ceremony. I didn't want to talk about it, but that was definitely one of the biggest motivations I had the last couple of months.  I still can't wait for him to actually be there for one match. I think it might happen in U.S. Open."
   With his 13th Grand Slam singles title, the 31-year-old Djokovic broke a tie with Roy Emerson and moved within one of his idol, Pete Sampras, in third place. Roger Federer has won 20 and Rafael Nadal 17.
   The 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) Anderson, meanwhile, fell to 0-2 in major finals, losing all six sets. Of course, he has had the misfortune of facing Nadal in last year's U.S. Open and Djokovic.
   Anderson has played several times in Northern California, but Djokovic never has. Anderson won the 2006 NCAA doubles title at Stanford and reached the singles final of a $15,000 Futures tournament in the Sacramento suburb of Loomis in 2007. In 2012, he advanced to the singles quarterfinals of the SAP Open in San Jose and played part-time for the Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis. The SAP Open and Capitals folded after the 2013 season.
   Djokovic failed to reach a Grand Slam semifinal last year after advancing to three major finals in 2016 (also winning the Australian Open). He fired his longtime coach (Marian Vajda), fitness specialist and physiotherapist in April 2017, and rumors swirled that he was having marital troubles. Djokovic and his wife Jelena, who were high school sweethearts in Serbia, also have a 1-year-old daughter, Tara.
   ESPN analyst John McEnroe last year went so far as to compare Djokovic to Tiger Woods. Replied Djokovic: "He has the right to say the things he wants to say. I don't necessarily need to agree with that."
   At Wimbledon in 2017, Djokovic retired from his quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych with an elbow injury that he said had been bothering him for a year and a half. Djokovic sat out the rest of the season and returned for the Australian Open in January. After losing to South Korea's Hyeon Chung, then 21, in three close sets in the fourth round at Melbourne, Djokovic underwent surgery and missed six more weeks.
   Djokovic changed his service motion to reduce stress on his elbow, switched rackets and brought back Vajda. Djokovic failed to win a match at Indian Wells and Miami in his first two tournaments back but reached the semifinals of the Italian Open, losing to Nadal, and quarterfinals of the French Open, falling to unheralded Italian Marco Cecchinato.
   After the loss in Paris, a distraught Djokovic said he didn't know if he would play the grass-court season. But he took a wild card at Queen's Club in London and held a match point against Marin Cilic in the final before losing. 
   "After everything I've been through the last couple of years -- the injury; the moments of doubt and disappointment and frustration; not playing at (my accustomed) level; getting out of top 20; and having surgery -- I must admit there were several times when I thought I might not be able to get back to (this) level," Djokovic, who rose from No. 21 to No. 10 with the title, told Rinaldi. "I changed the racket and several different things -- I had to (revamp) the entire game -- and here I am today.
   "It's easy to talk now, but I'm truly grateful to God and to all the people that have been close to me -- my family, my friends, my team. It's been a roller coaster ride the last two years, but there's no better place to make a comeback."
   Djokovic's resurgence isn't surprising. After enduring Grand Slam title droughts, Federer and Nadal combined to win six straight majors until Djokovic ended the streak today.
   Both the 12th-seeded Djokovic and the eighth-seeded Anderson survived grueling semifinals. But Anderson's took a bigger toll, even though -- unlike Djokovic -- he had Saturday to rest.
   Anderson needed 6 hours, 36 minutes to vanquish 6-foot-10 (2.08-meter) John Isner 26-24 in the fifth set on Friday in the fourth-longest match in tennis history. That followed Anderson's 2-6, 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-4, 13-11 win over Federer, the top seed and defending champion, that lasted a mere 4 hours, 14 minutes on Wednesday. Anderson saved a match point in the third set.
   Djokovic's 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9), 3-6, 10-8 semifinal victory over Nadal in 5 hours, 15 minutes was suspended by curfew after three sets on Friday because of the length of the Anderson-Isner battle.
   In all, Anderson spent 21 hours on the court in six matches before the final.
   "I'm definitely not feeling as fresh now as I was coming into the week, but it's such an amazing tournament for all of us players," the 32-year-old South African, who committed 32 errors in the final to Djokovic's 13, told the BBC. "We dedicate our whole lives to trying to fight for a spot on this court. Over the last while, it's only been a few individuals who have made it out here, so that's what it took for me to get here. I would have given another 21 hours to have the opportunity to play out here. It really meant a lot to me."
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