Sunday, August 25, 2019

Smyczek, a consummate professional, retires at 31

Diminutive Tim Smyczek, playing in the 2016 Fairfield (Calif.)
 Challenger, reached a career-high No. 68 in 2015. He is best
known for his sportsmanship during a five-set loss to Rafael
Nadal in the Australian Open that year. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Tim Smyczek attained a career-high ranking of No. 68 in the world in 2015.
   That's nothing to scoff at, especially for someone 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters) and 160 pounds (73 kilograms).
   But in terms of class and professionalism, Smyczek was top-10 material.
   The 31-year-old Dallas resident had hoped to retire after the U.S. Open, which begins Monday. But he failed to receive a wild card, ending his 13-year career.
   "I went into this year knowing it would be my last," Smyczek (pronounced SMEE-check), who starred in Northern California tournaments, said in a podcast on Aug. 15. " ... When I got married (to Ana Pier on Nov. 21, 2015), it became a little harder for me to travel. Then when we had a daughter (Valentina, on Aug. 16, 2018), it became exponentially harder for me to travel. My wife and daughter have traveled with me a little bit, but it's a tough life for both me and them.
   "I knew it was time, and I also know I want to have a career outside of tennis. I'm 31 years old, and at some point, you're just kind of delaying the inevitable. I figured this fall was as good a time as any."
   Sick of traveling and wanting to be "intellectually challenged," Smyczek said he will begin a two-year Master of Business Administration program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He has not attended college but said an undergraduate degree is not required.
   Smyczek, who missed almost three months in the spring with an injury, has plunged to No. 310. He earned $2,059,479 in career prize money and compiled victories over 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Ivo Karlovic, 6-foot-10 (2.08-meter) John Isner and 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Sam Querrey.
   Smyczek's earnings, though significant, are deceptively high because of traveling and coaching expenses. By comparison, the U.S. Open men's and women's singles champions each will pocket $3.85 million. Each runner-up will collect $1.9 million.
   Smyczek – who grew up in frigid Milwaukee, of all places – is best remembered for his sportsmanship late in a five-set loss to Rafael Nadal in the second round of the 2015 Australian Open.
   With Nadal, suffering from nausea and dizziness, serving at 6-5, 30-0, in the fifth set, a fan yelled as the Spaniard tossed the ball on his first delivery, distracting him. The serve sailed long, but Smyczek allowed Nadal to take another first serve.
   "I'll always remember that (match)," Smyczek said on the podcast. "A couple of months later in Miami, I was a huge nerd and got ahold of a photo of us shaking hands after the match, and I asked Rafa to sign it. I'll put that up in my office someday."
   Smyczek also reached the third round of the 2013 U.S. Open as the last remaining American man, the semifinals on grass in Newport, R.I., on the ATP World Tour in 2018 and three ATP quarterfinals. One of those quarterfinal appearances came in San Jose in 2011 as a qualifier.
   In Northern California Challengers, Smyczek won the Tiburon singles title in 2015 and was the runner-up twice in singles (2013 Sacramento and 2014 Napa) and twice in doubles (2013 and 2014 Napa). Overall, he won seven singles and two doubles titles on the Challenger tour, all in the United States.
   Because of his size, Smyczek had to train extra hard. He wasn't going to blow anyone off the court with his serve, so he had to be prepared to play long points.
    Smyczek, though, wasn't always so professional.
   "In 2008, I had been on the tour for two or three years," Smyczek recalled. "Craig Boynton, who's still out there coaching, has been a bit of a mentor to me and one of my dear friends. He sat me down at a Challenger somewhere and said, 'What are your goals for tennis?' I told him, and he looked at me and said, 'Do you really think you're doing enough to get there?'
   "I was taken aback a little bit. When I was a young pro, I wasn't the most professional. I was the first one to go out and have a few beers after I lost and do that until I played the next week.
   "I just had a little bit of an 'aha' moment with him and had to come to terms with the fact that if I wanted to reach my goals, the only way I was going to have a chance was to work harder than most. Ever since that point, I can rest easy that I worked as hard as possible. That's probably what made it possible for me to have a 12-, 13-year career."
   Following up on Smyczek's goals, podcast moderator and New York Times reporter Ben Rothenberg noted that juniors invariably aspire to win Grand Slam titles.
   "Very early in my professional career, I kind of forgot about winning Slams," Smyczek replied with a laugh. "Goals are supposed to be realistic. I always wanted to be top 30. I didn't quite get there, but there were a few times when I was actually quite close. Maybe not numerically, but around those times, I might have lost five or six times in a year where I either served for the match or had match points.
   "That was one (goal). I had some monetary goals as well. Those are kind of what get you up in the morning, right? If I set a goal and said I wanted to be top 100, and I reached it and didn't set a new one, I probably would have retired shortly thereafter."
   Smyczek was all business on the court – staying composed and rarely, if ever, arguing with officials –  and thoughtful off it. He was generous with his time with reporters and wrote thank-you notes to host families on personalized stationery.
   Smyczek expressed mixed feelings about having played professional tennis.
   "I don't want to insult people who love tennis and tennis is their life, (but) it hasn't been that way for me," Smyczek said. "I've always loved competing, just kind of suffering on court and embracing the battle of tennis. The actual tennis part has always seemed less important to me.
   "That's probably a function of me being not as talented as a lot of other guys. You can tell that Roger (Federer) just loves tennis, and I would, too, if I could do what he can. ... "
   Similarly, Smyczek conceded that retirement will be bittersweet.
   "I'm sure I will end up being sad at some point," he said. "I don't know whether that will be a few weeks from now or a few months from now. I know that's coming, but right now I'm really excited to get going with school, get off the road and be around every day with my wife and daughter. I couldn't be happier."

Friday, August 23, 2019

Brooksby, Gibbs advance to main draw in U.S. Open

Jenson Brooksby, 18, of Carmichael in the Sacramento area qualified for
the U.S. Open after receiving a wild card last year in Flushing Meadows
as the USTA boys 18 national champion. 2018 photo by Paul Bauman
   Jenson Brooksby received a main-draw berth in last year's U.S. Open by defeating fellow juniors.
   The 18-year-old Sacramento-area resident earned a spot this year by beating the big boys.
   Brooksby, a wild card from Carmichael, topped unseeded Pedro Martinez, 22, of Spain 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 today in the final round of qualifying in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Also, 24th-seeded Nicole Gibbs (Stanford, 2011-13) lost to 33-year-old Peng Shuai of China 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 but advanced to the main draw as a lucky loser.
   Gibbs is playing in her fourth tournament since undergoing surgery for a rare cancer in the roof of her mouth on May 17 in Los Angeles. She reached the final of the $60,000 Honolulu Challenger, lost in the first round of qualifying in Toronto on the WTA tour and fell in the opening round of the $100,000 Vancouver Challenger.
   Martinez, ranked No. 152, was the second top-200 player Brooksby, ranked No. 393, has beaten in three days and third overall. Brooksby knocked off No. 134 Yuichi Sugita of Japan on Thursday and No. 163 Marc Polmans of Australia on clay in April.
   Brooksby is scheduled to face unseeded Tomas Berdych, a 33-year-old Czech who has been sidelined with a back injury for most of the past 14 months, on Monday. The 2010 Wimbledon runner-up has tumbled from a career-high No. 4 in 2015 to No. 101.
   Brooksby won the USTA Boys 18 National Championships last year in Kalamazoo, Mich., to earn an automatic wild card in the U.S. Open. He lost to John Millman of Australia 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 in the first round in sweltering weather but advanced to the boys semifinals in the last junior tournament of his career. Millman went on to stun five-time champion Roger Federer to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
   Brooksby, who plans to enroll at Baylor in January, could have entered Kalamazoo again this year but told reporters he felt he "was ready to qualify" in the U.S. Open.
   Men's qualifiers also included Dominik Koepfer of Germany and Egor Gerasimov of Belarus. They reached the final and semifinals, respectively, in the $81,240 Aptos (Calif.) Challenger two weeks ago.
   Koepfer, a 25-year-old left-hander who graduated from Tulane in New Orleans, will meet Jaume Munar of Spain. Gerasimov, 26, will play South Africa's Lloyd Harris, last year's champion in the $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger and runner-up in Aptos.
   Peng, formerly ranked No. 14 in singles and No. 1 in doubles, began cramping in both legs while leading 5-1 in the third set against Gibbs. During a semifinal loss to Caroline Wozniacki in the 2014 U.S. Open, Peng suffered full-body cramps and left the court in a wheelchair.
   Gibbs, a 26-year-old resident of Venice in the Los Angeles area, will make her eighth consecutive appearance in the main draw of the U.S. Open. She reached the third round five years ago.
   Gibbs will face fourth-seeded Simona Halep, the reigning Wimbledon champion, for the second time. Halep won 6-4, 6-1 in the first round en route to the title in Shenzhen, China, during the first week of 2018.
   Halep has lost in the first round of the U.S. Open for the past two years after having reached the quarterfinals in 2016 and semifinals in 2015.
   Here are the U.S. Open men's and women's singles draws and Monday's schedule. ESPN and ESPN2 will televise the tournament beginning Monday at 9 a.m. PDT.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Serena, Sharapova to meet in first round of U.S. Open

Serena Williams, shown last year, is scheduled to play Maria Sharapova in the
U.S. Open for the first time. Photo by Mal Taam
   Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have met in four Grand Slam singles finals, with Williams winning three.
   Not only will the former world No. 1s and U.S. Open champions square off in the first round in Flushing Meadows, they will face each other there for the first time.
   The draw for the year's last Grand Slam tournament, Monday through Sept. 8, was held today.
   The eighth-seeded Williams, a 37-year-old part-time resident of Silicon Valley, and Sharapova, 32, are among six women to have achieved a career Grand Slam in the Open era (since 1968), joining Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf. 
   However, Williams has dropped to eighth in the world and Sharapova to 87th. Williams had her first child in September 2017, Sharapova returned from a 15-month doping ban in April 2017, and both have been hampered by physical problems. Williams retired from the Toronto final two weeks ago with an upper-back injury.
Former world No. 1s Maria Sharapova, shown in 2017, and Serena Williams
 have struggled in recent years. Photo by Mal Taam 
   Williams, who won the last of her six U.S. Open singles titles five years ago, is 19-2 against Sharapova, the 2006 champion at Flushing Meadows. Not counting Williams' injury withdrawal in the fourth round of last year's French Open, she owns an 18-match winning streak in the head-to-head series.
   Fresno product Sloane Stephens, the 11th seed and 2017 U.S. Open champion, will play a qualifier in the first round. The winner will meet either 34-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion and runner-up last week in Cincinnati, or wild card Kristie Ahn, a 27-year-old Stanford graduate.
   Katie Volynets, a 17-year-old wild card from Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area, will make her Grand Slam women's debut against 15th-seeded Bianca Andreescu, a 19-year-old who became the first Canadian woman to win the Rogers Cup in Toronto in 50 years.
   In the men's draw, San Francisco native Sam Querrey, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist in 2017, will play Argentina's Juan Ignacio Londero, who reached the fourth round of the French Open in June. The survivor likely will face top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who won his third U.S. Open singles title last year, in the second round. Querrey ousted Djokovic in the third round at Wimbledon in 2016.
   Bradley Klahn, a 28-year-old Stanford graduate who won his first Challenger title in Aptos, Calif., in 2013, will play Thiago Monteiro, 25, of Brazil in a clash of left-handers. The winner probably will face seventh-seeded Kei Nishikori, the U.S. Open runner-up five years ago, in the second round. 
   Steve Johnson, who won his second Aptos title two weeks ago, will meet 28th-seeded Nick Kyrgios of Australia. Kyrgios incurred eight fines totaling $113,000 after his second-round loss to Karen Khachanov in Cincinnati last week. Kyrgios was cited for violations including unsportsmanlike conduct, verbal abuse and audible obscenity.
   U.S. Open qualifying – Nicole Gibbs, who played with Ahn on Stanford's 2013 NCAA championship team, advanced to the last round of U.S. Open qualifying by walkover against former Pacific-12 Conference rival Robin Anderson, who starred at UCLA, in a matchup of 26-year-olds.
   Gibbs will seek her eighth consecutive berth in the main draw against 33-year-old Peng Shuai, formerly ranked as high as No. 14 in singles and No. 1 in doubles, from China. They will meet for the first time.
   Fifth-seeded Kirsten Flipkens, a 33-year-old Belgian who reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 2013, trounced Jovana Jaksic, a 25-year-old Serb living in Sacramento, 6-2, 6-0 in 58 minutes.

Brooksby, 18, earns milestone win in Open qualifying

Jenson Brooksby, practicing in Sacramento last
year, defeated Yuichi Sugita, ranked No. 134, on
Wednesday in the second round of U.S. Open
qualifying. Photo by Paul Bauman
   After beating the highest-ranked player of his career on Wednesday, 18-year-old Jenson Brooksby needs one more victory to make his second consecutive main-draw appearance in the U.S. Open.
   Brooksby, a wild card from the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael, eliminated Yuichi Sugita, a 30-year-old Japanese seeded 27th and ranked 134th, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) in the second round of qualifying in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Brooksby, ranked No. 393, recorded his second win over a top-200 player. He beat No. 163 Marc Polmans of Australia in the second round of a $108,320 Challenger on clay in Sarasota, Fla., in April.
   Brooksby won the USTA Boys 18 National Championships last year in Kalamazoo, Mich., to earn an automatic wild card in the U.S. Open. He lost to John Millman of Australia 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 in sweltering heat and humidity in the first round but advanced to the semifinals of the boys event in the last junior tournament of his career. Millman went on to stun five-time champion Roger Federer to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
   "It would mean even more than last year," Brooksby said on usopen.org of qualifying for the U.S. Open. "Qualifying your way into the main draw here is definitely tougher than getting in through Kalamazoo."
   Brooksby is scheduled to play unseeded Pedro Martinez of Spain on Friday. Martinez, ranked No. 152, beat American Tommy Paul, seeded 10th and ranked a career-high 112th, 6-4, 6-4 in a matchup of 22-year-olds.
   Martinez qualified for the French Open this year and lost in the first round to Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland. Laaksonen, who has a Finnish mother and Swiss father, reached the doubles final in the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger last October with Harri Heliovaara of Finland.
    Brooksby has won three ITF singles titles, all this year in $25,000 tournaments. Two came in consecutive weeks this summer in Champaign, Ill., and Decatur, Ill., with the loss of only one set.
   Brooksby plans to enroll at Baylor in Waco, Texas, in January. He will play for coach Brian Boland, who guided Virginia to four NCAA team titles in five years (2013-17) before becoming the USTA's head of men's player development.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Gibbs defeats Aussie in return to Grand Slam play

Ex-Stanford star Nicole Gibbs, playing in Berkeley
last year, won today in the first round of qualifying
at the U.S. Open after undergoing cancer surgery
in May. Photo by Paul Bauman
   No. 24 seed Nicole Gibbs (Stanford, 2011-13) returned to Grand Slam competition today with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Kaylah McPhee of Australia in the first round of qualifying at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   It was Gibbs' first appearance in a major tournament since she fell in the last round of qualifying at the Australian Open in January. She underwent surgery for a rare cancer in the roof of her mouth on May 17 at UCLA.
   Gibbs has played in the main draw of the U.S. Open for the past seven years, reaching the third round in 2014.
   Gibbs is playing in her fourth tournament since the surgery. After advancing to the final of a $60,000 ITF tournament in Honolulu, Gibbs lost in the opening round of qualifying in Toronto on the WTA tour and to a qualifier in the first round of a $100,000 tournament in Vancouver.
   "I've had a tough last couple of competitive weeks, so I think that today was a tough one to get through for me in terms of my confidence," Gibbs, a resident of Venice in the Los Angeles area, said on usopen.org. "Being on the other side of it feels really good, and I think I'll have a lot to build on now."
   Gibbs, 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters), is scheduled to meet former Pacific-12 Conference rival Robin Anderson, a 5-foot-3 (1.61-meter) native of Long Branch, N.J., who starred at UCLA, in a matchup of 26-year-olds on Thursday.
   Anderson, ranked No. 165, is 2-1 against Gibbs, ranked No. 135 after climbing to a career-high No. 68 in 2016, in professional tournaments. This will be their third meeting of the year after they split matches in $100,000 U.S. clay-court tournaments in consecutive weeks last spring.
   Also today, Jovana Jaksic, a 25-year-old Serb living in Sacramento, beat Julia Grabher of Austria 6-2, 6-4.
   Jaksic has tumbled from a career-high No. 102 in 2014 to No. 244 because of injuries. She is set to play fifth-seeded Kirsten Flipkens, 33, of Belgium for the first time on Thursday. Flipkens, a Wimbledon semifinalist in 2013, eliminated Irina Bara of Romania 6-3, 6-4.
   Anisimova withdraws – Amanda Anisimova, a 17-year-old American ranked No. 24, withdrew from the U.S. Open after the death of her father and coach, Konstantin Anisimov.
   In June, Anisimova shocked defending champion Simona Halep to become the youngest American to reach the French Open semifinals since 14-year-old Jennifer Capriati in 1990.
   At 15 in 2017, Anisimova claimed her first professional title in a $60,000 tournament in Sacramento and won the U.S. Open girls singles crown.

Brooksby, 18, advances in U.S. Open qualifying

   Jenson Brooksby, an 18-year-old wild card from Carmichael in the Sacramento area, defeated Kaichi Uchida, 24, of Japan 6-3, 6-2 Monday in the first round of qualifying for the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Brooksby, ranked No. 393, did not face a break point in the 66-minute match against Uchida, ranked No. 256.
   Brooksby, who won last year's USTA Boys 18 National Championships to earn an automatic wild card in the main draw of the U.S. Open, is scheduled to meet another Japanese player, 27th-seeded Yuichi Sugita, on Wednesday. The 30-year-old Sugita, ranked No. 134, beat Marc Polmans of Australia 6-3, 6-4.
   Stefano Napolitano, a 24-year-old Italian, eliminated Sam Riffice, a 20-year-old wild card who grew up in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville, 6-2, 6-4.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Mackie pulls out of Open; Sabalenka avenges S.J. loss

Mackenzie McDonald, who grew up in Piedmont in
the San Francisco Bay Area, had right hamstring
 surgery in June. 2018 photo by Paul Bauman
   Mackenzie McDonald, a 24-year-old product of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, has withdrawn from the U.S. Open after undergoing right hamstring surgery in June.
   McDonald, now based in Orlando, Fla., has been sidelined since losing to Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan in five sets in the first round of the French Open in late May.
   The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter), 160-pound (73-kilogram) McDonald has dropped from a career-high No. 57 on April 29 to No. 97. He is 0-2 in the singles main draw of the U.S. Open.
   Among those receiving wild cards in the women's main draw of the U.S. Open, Aug. 26-Sept. 8 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., are Kristie Ahn, a 27-year-old Stanford graduate from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., and Katie Volynets, 17, of Walnut Creek in the Bay Area.
   Ahn won the U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge, and Volynets received an automatic berth for winning the USTA Girls 18 National Championships in San Diego on Sunday.
   Ahn will make her second appearance in the main draw of the U.S. Open. At 16, she qualified for the 2008 U.S. Open before losing to sixth-seeded Dinara Safina in the first round. Safina was ranked seventh at the time and ascended to No. 1 the following year.
   Wild-card recipients in men's qualifying include Sacramento-area products Jenson Brooksby, 18, and Sam Riffice, 20.
   WTA Tour – Ninth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus beat Zheng Saisai of China 6-4, 6-3 today in the second round of the Western & Southern Open in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason, Ohio.
   The powerful Sabalenka, who's coached by former longtime Northern Californian Dmitry Tursunov, avenged a 6-3, 7-6 (3) loss to the crafty Zheng in the final of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose on Aug. 4.
   ATP Challenger Tour – Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands topped second-seeded Steve Johnson, who won last week's $81,240 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif., 6-4, 6-4 in the second round of the $108,320 Odlum Brown VanOpen in Vancouver, British Columbia.
   Johnson, a 29-year-old resident of Redondo Beach in the Los Angeles area, received a first-round bye.
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