Friday, October 19, 2018

Volynets, 16, ousts seed to reach semis in $25K tourney

Katie Volynets, playing in the Stockton (Calif.) Women's
$60K two weeks ago, beat sixth-seeded Sherazad Reix of
France 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in a 3-hour quarterfinal today in the
$25,000 Florence (S.C.) Open. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Katie Volynets continued her stunning run in the $25,000 McLeod for Health Florence (S.C.) Open today.
   The 16-year-old qualifier from Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area surprised sixth-seeded Sherazad Reix of France 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in a 3-hour quarterfinal in the hardcourt tournament. Reix, a 29-year-old left-hander, is ranked No. 278.
   Volynets, an 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter) amateur, shocked the Netherlands' Arianne Hartono, who won the NCAA Division I singles title as a Mississippi senior in May, in the final round of qualifying and eliminated Moscow native Anna Danilina, an NCAA quarterfinalist in 2017 and 2018 in her last two years at Florida, for her first main-draw victory in a professional tournament.
   Volynets then knocked off Emina Bektas, a 25-year-old former Michigan All-American who won an $80,000 tournament in Albuquerque, N.M., last fall.
   Volynets is scheduled to play unseeded Mari Osaka, the 22-year-old sister of reigning U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka, on Saturday after the 9 a.m. PST doubles final. Osaka topped qualifier Paula Cristina Goncalves of Brazil 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 in 2 hours, 27 minutes.
   In the other semifinal, third-seeded Bianca Andreescu, 18, of Canada will play eighth-seeded Maria Mateas, a 19-year-old Duke freshman from nearby Chapel Hill, N.C. 

Serena named Comeback Player of Year

SERENA WILLIAMS
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Serena Williams, a part-time Silicon Valley resident, was named the Comeback Player of the Year, the WTA announced today.
   Williams, 37, has skyrocketed from No. 491 in March to No. 17 after having her first child in September 2017 and suffering life-threatening complications. She reached two consecutive Grand Slam finals, losing to Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon and Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open.
   Other award winners were Simona Halep (Player of the Year), Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (Doubles Team of the Year), Kiki Bertens (Most Improved Player of the Year) and Aryna Sabalenka (Newcomer of the Year).

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Volynets, 16, reaches first quarterfinal in pro tourney

Katie Volynets, a 16-year-old qualifier from Walnut
Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area, beat Emina
Bektas, a 25-year-old former All-American at Mich-
igan, 6-2, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals of a $25,000
tournament in Florence, S.C. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Qualifier Katie Volynets, a 16-year-old amateur from Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area, knocked off her third consecutive former collegiate All-American today to reach the quarterfinals of a professional tournament for the first time.
   Volynets, 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters) and 123 pounds (55.8 kilograms), dispatched unseeded Emina Bektas, a 25-year-old American who starred at Michigan, 6-2, 6-3 on a hardcourt in the $25,000 McLeod for Health Florence (S.C.) Open.
   Bektas won an $80,000 tournament in Albuquerque, N.M., in September 2017.
   Volynets shocked the Netherlands' Arianne Hartono, the reigning NCAA Division I singles champion from Mississippi, in the final round of qualifying and eliminated Moscow native Anna Danilina, who reached the NCAA quarterfinals in 2017 and 2018 in her last two years at Florida, for her first main-draw victory in a pro tournament.
   Volynets, who's playing in her fourth pro tourney, is scheduled to face sixth-seeded Sherazad Reix, a 29-year-old left-hander from France, on Friday at 7 a.m. PST. Reix, ranked No. 278, defeated wild card Salome Devidze of Georgia 6-1, 6-4 after edging American Sophie Chang 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (5) in the first round.
   Volynets, coached by Mark Orwig, is reminiscent of CiCi Bellis. Both are petite Bay Area products. Bellis, though, stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of the 2014 U.S. Open at age 15.
   Bellis turned pro in September 2016 at 17 and climbed to a career-high No. 35 in August 2017 to earn the WTA Newcomer of the Year award. She is recovering from wrist surgery.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Volynets, 16, earns first main-draw win in pro tourney

Katie Volynets is interviewed by Tony Acosta of the Stockton
(Calif.) Record during the Stockton Women's 60K two weeks
ago. In the background is Volynets' father Andrey. Photo by
Paul Bauman
   Katie Volynets, a 16-year-old amateur from Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area, upset another former collegiate All-American today for her first victory in the main draw of a professional tournament.
   Volynets, a 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter) qualifier playing in her fourth pro tourney, dismissed Anna Danilina, a 23-year-old Moscow native who plays for Kazakhstan, 6-2, 6-3 in the first round of the $25,000 McLeod for Health Florence (S.C.) Open on hardcourts.
   Danilina, 5-foot-10 (1.79 meters), reached the quarterfinals of the 2017 and 2018 NCAA Division I Singles Championships in her last two years at Florida.
   Volynets ousted Dutchwoman Arianne Hartono, this year's NCAA singles champion as a senior at Mississippi, on Tuesday in the final round of qualifying.
   Volynets is scheduled to play Emina Bektas, a 25-year-old wild card from Indianapolis, on Thursday. Bektas, a former Michigan All-American, eliminated top-seeded Kristie Ahn, a 26-year-old Stanford graduate, 7-5, 2-3, retired on Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

NorCal's Volynets, 16, stuns NCAA champion Hartono

Katie Volynets, playing in the Stockton (Calif.) Women's
60K two weeks ago, defeated reigning NCAA Division I
singles champion Arianne Hartono 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1 in the
final round of qualifying for a $25,000 hardcourt tourna-
ment in Florence (S.C.). Photo by Paul Bauman 
   Katie Volynets, 16, of Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area shocked 14th-seeded Arianne Hartono, the reigning NCAA Division I singles title champion, 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1 today in the final round of qualifying for the $25,000 McLeod for Health Florence (S.C.) Open.
   Hartono, from the Netherlands, won the NCAA crown as a Mississippi senior in May. She and Volynets are 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters).
   Volynets is scheduled to play Anna Danilina, a 23-year-old former Florida All-American from Moscow who plays for Kazakhstan, on Wednesday in the first round of the main draw of the hardcourt tournament.
   Volynets, an amateur, is playing in her fourth professional tournament. She has qualified in three of them, including the Stockton (Calif.) Women's 60K two weeks ago, but has yet to win a main-draw match in one.
   In Volynets' first pro tourney, at 15 in June 2017 on a hardcourt in $25,000 Sumter, S.C., she defeated Brazil's Luisa Stefani, an NCAA semifinalist in 2016 and quarterfinalist this year (losing to Hartono) for Pepperdine.
   Volynets, a junior at Clayton Valley Charter High School in Concord, said in Stockton that she has scholarship offers from all the top tennis schools in the nation, including NCAA defending champion Stanford and Cal, but hasn't decided if she will attend college.
   "I'm just testing the pro circuit right now," she said.
   Volynets won the prestigious Easter Bowl at Indian Wells in April and reached the quarterfinals of the USTA Girls 18 National Championships in San Diego in August.
   Last year, Volynets advanced to the U.S. Open girls quarterfinals in her first junior Grand Slam and won the USTA Girls 18 National Clay Court Championships in Memphis, Tenn.
   In 2016, Volynets became the first girl to win the 16s in the Eddie Herr International Championships and Orange Bowl in the same year. The tournaments were held in consecutive weeks on hard courts in Bradenton, Fla., and on clay in Plantation, Fla., respectively.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

After mulling retirement, Fratangelo fabulous in Fairfield

Bjorn Fratangelo poses with tournament officials and his check for $14,400
after winning the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship
in Fairfield, Calif. From left to right are NorthBay Healthcare President & CEO
B. Konard Jones, Solano Community College District Superintendent-President
Celia Esposito-Noy, Fratangelo, tournament chairman Jay Shoemaker and tour-
nament director Phil Cello. Photo by Paul Bauman
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   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Bjorn Fratangelo was so discouraged over the summer that he considered retiring early like his namesake.
   Three months later, the unseeded American cradled the trophy in the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship after outplaying eighth-seeded Alex Bolt of Australia 6-4, 6-3 today at Solano Community College.
Unseeded Bjorn Fratangelo of Orlando, Fla., beat No. 8 seed Alex Bolt of
Australia 6-4, 6-3 for his first Challenger singles title in 2 1/2 years. Photo
 by Paul Bauman
   "I'm feeling a lot better than I was three months ago," Fratangelo crowed after winning his third Challenger singles title and first in 2 1/2 years. "If somebody had told me in June I'd win a Challenger, I probably would have laughed and thought you were crazy. It's really special right now. It's probably my most emotional win.
   "If I'm going to be honest, I wasn't sure in the summertime if I was going to continue to play. I had a lot of doubts and a lot of things going wrong, and I just wasn't enjoying tennis. To turn this around like I have, I'm really proud of myself and my team."
   Bjorn Borg retired at 26 in 1983 after training fanatically for 10 years and winning 11 Grand Slam singles titles. Fratangelo's future also looked promising when he won the French Open boys singles title in 2011. He climbed as high as No. 99 in June 2016 but has been in the 100s ever since.
   After struggling this summer, Fratangelo hired Andres Alarcon as his new coach and has won 14 of his last 18 matches, all on the Challenger circuit, equivalent to Triple A in baseball.
   "I started off pretty poorly in the beginning of the year," groaned Fratangelo, a Pittsburgh native now based in Orlando, Fla. "Just when things were looking up in the clay-court season, I tore my quad. Sitting at home made me a bit miserable. I had a lot of negative thoughts that were bringing me down. Then when I finally was healed, there wasn't really much excitement to get back on the court, and it showed. I think I went 0-8 or 0-9. I just wasn't myself. I wasn't tanking but wasn't competing how I normally compete.
Alex Bolt, a Clark Gable lookalike, addresses
the crowd after the final. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "There were a lot of problems that I had to address. Luckily, I had a lot of help from my family, my new coach, and (USTA coaches) Troy Hahn and Nicolas Todero to get back on track, so I owe a lot of this to them. I wouldn't be here right now without their support and help because it was a really tough time period."
   Fratangelo elaborated on his negativity and lack of motivation. 
   "You feel like your career gets stuck," he moaned. "I was around 100 for three years, you feel like you do everything you can to improve, and things aren't happening. After three, three-and-a-half years of that, I finally cracked a little bit once I got hurt and had time to sit back. It was hard. There were a lot of rough days. I wasn't the easiest person to be around for a while, but I've changed everything, and I think I'm back to normal, maybe better than ever. Hopefully I can take this form and this attitude into the rest of my career."
   Fratangelo continued playing because "ultimately, it's what I do. I'm a tennis player. I've been doing it my whole life. Just because I wasn't enjoying playing, it doesn't necessarily mean I don't enjoy the sport. I love tennis, I love to watch tennis, I love to play. Maybe at that time, I was enjoying just playing more than I was competing. But I think I got my competitiveness back. I'm very lucky to do this, but sometimes it takes a land mine to prove that to yourself."
   Both Fratangelo and the left-handed Bolt, a Clark Gable lookalike with his dark features and thin mustache, are 6-foot (1.83-meter) 25-year-olds with two-handed backhands. Even their rankings are almost identical. Fratangelo leaped 20 places to No. 138 with the title, and Bolt jumped 16 spots to a career-high No. 139.
   Bolt, a two-time Australian Open doubles quarterfinalist who qualified for Wimbledon in singles this year, was the third Australian and second Aussie left-hander to fall to Fratangelo in the NorthBay Healthcare tournament. Fratangelo eliminated John-Patrick Smith 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the first round to avenge a three-set loss to the lefty in the second round of the $100,000 Tiburon (Calif.) Challenger two weeks ago and ousted top-seeded Jordan Thompson 6-1, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.
Alex Bolt leaps into a backhand in the final. Photo
by Paul Bauman
   Bolt, meanwhile, outlasted countryman Thanasi Kokkinakis, who stunned Roger Federer in March, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 in the first round, edged 22-year-old wild card Collin Altamirano of Sacramento 7-6 (6), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5) in the second round in the match of the tournament and ousted second-seeded Lloyd Harris, the champion of last week's $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger, in the quarterfinals.
  A near-capacity crowd of about 250 people turned out for the final on a gorgeous 80-degree (26.7 Celsius). Fratangelo broke serve once in the first set and twice in the second, saved the only break point against him and won a phenomenal 18 of 21 points (86 percent) on his second serve.
   Bolt, who was seeking his third career Challenger singles title and second this year, took a medical timeout for an abdominal problem after the first set but showed no discomfort during the match.
   "He has a strong lefty game, so it was tricky at first returning serve," said Fratangelo, who has reached the second round of a Grand Slam tournament twice and took a set off Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells in 2016. "But once I got comfortable, I started to find my stride. Maybe he was ailing a little bit today, but I'm just happy to get the win."
   Bolt said afterward that he might be in a little pain "but I don't think that's the reason I lost. Bjorn was lights out from the get-to. Every time there was a big point, he stepped up. He played the big points better than I did. That's why he came away with a win today."
   Ironically, Fratangelo rather than Bolt complained about several line calls and chair umpire Roger Pennington. In the third game of the match, Fratangelo groused at Pennington: "I'm going to try really hard not to get upset with you today."
   After Bolt's backhand cross-court passing shot in the corner was called good on break point against him at 2-2 in the second set, Fratangelo dropped his racket in disbelief and fumed at Pennington, "This is where I get upset."
Top-seeded Sonchai Ratiwatana, left, of Thailand and Christopher
Rungkat of Indonesia won the doubles title. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Bolt saved four break points in that game before losing the fifth one on a slice approach that landed just wide. He was broken again in the final game, losing three consecutive points from 15-15. Bolt double-faulted for 15-40, then couldn't reach a cross-court backhand at the net.
   Fratangelo was still angry about the officiating after the match.
   "I wasn't happy with the calls, and I'm going to let people know about it," he grumbled.
  Fratangelo improved to 2-1 (1-1 on hardcourts) against Bolt and pocketed $14,400 for the title to give him $995,229 for his career. Bolt collected $8,480 for a total of $607,326.
   Top-seeded Sanchai Ratiwatana of Thailand and Christopher Rungkat of Indonesia won the doubles title, beating unseeded Harri Heliovaara of Finland and Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 6-0, 7-6 (9).
   Ratiwatana, 36, and the 5-foot-9 (1.75-meter), 150-pound (68-kilogram) Rungkat, 28, played in their second final in two weeks. They lost to Darian King of Barbados and Noah Rubin of Long Island, N.Y., in nearby Stockton.
   Ratiwatana normally plays with his twin Sonchat.
   "It's school back in Thailand, so he wanted to spend time with his daughter," Sonchai explained. "He has a 6-year-old girl. Before these three tournaments (Tiburon, Stockton and Fairfield), we played many, many weeks. He wanted a little bit of time at home."
   Laaksonen, 26, was born in Finland to a Finnish mother and Swiss father.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Rejuvenated Fratangelo to face Aussie in Fairfield final

Unseeded Bjorn Fratangelo routed sixth-seeded Casper Ruud, a 19-year-old
Norwegian, 6-2, 6-2 today to reach the final of the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.)
Challenger at Solano Community College. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Note to readers: If you enjoy my coverage of Northern California tennis, please donate on my homepage. Even $5 or $10 will help. Here's why I need your support. Thank you.
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Bjorn Fratangelo reached a low point after losing in the first round of a $75,000 Challenger in Winnetka, Ill., in July.
   Fratangelo had been playing well in clay-court tournaments on the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of men's tennis, in the spring when he tore a quadriceps muscle while leading by a set in the first round of qualifying in Madrid.
Eighth-seeded Alex Bolt of Australia celebrates
during his victory over fifth-seeded Adrian Men-
endez-Maceiras of Spain. Photo by Paul Bauman
   After sitting out for one month, Fratangelo lost three consecutive matches on grass in Europe, fell in the second round of Wimbledon qualifying and lost early on a hardcourt in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka.
   With his motivation sagging, Fratangelo hired Andres Alarcon as his new coach. Fratangelo continued to struggle through U.S. Open qualifying but since then has gone 13-4. Unseeded, he routed sixth-seeded Casper Ruud, a 19-year-old Norwegian, 6-2, 6-2 in 65 minutes today to reach the final of the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship at Solano Community College.
   "It was a tough first, really, three-quarters of the year," said Fratangelo, a Pittsburgh native now based in Orlando, Fla. "I'm starting to find my stride now, so hopefully I can take this form into the rest of the year and on to next year.
   "I have a lot more clarity in myself and my game. (Alarcon) has really been able to help me and get through to me in a positive way and also with some tactical things on the court. We're really starting to click right now, and it's showing."
    Alarcon has helped Fratangelo primarily with his mental approach.
   "He's more confident on the court," said Alarcon, a 48-year-old U.S. citizen from Ecuador. "He's getting more excited playing; he has more motivation. That's the main thing I'm working with him on. His tennis is there. He's in a good place now."
   Alarcon added that Fratangelo, a semifinalist in the ATP grass-court tournament in Newport, R.I., last year, "put the work in. If you put the work in, it's easy to get back where you belong."
Casper Ruud reached the second round of the Australian Open
(in his Grand Slam debut) and French Open this year. Photo
by Paul Bauman
   Fratangelo, who was named after Bjorn Borg, will face eighth-seeded Alex Bolt of Australia on Sunday not before 2 p.m. in a matchup of 6-foot (1.83-meter) 25-year-olds. Bolt, a left-hander, led fifth-seeded Adrian Menendez-Maceiras of Spain 7-5, 6-6 (5-0) when the 32-year-old Menendez-Maceiras retired with a right leg injury.
   It will be Fratangelo's first final since losing to U.S. veteran Tim Smyczek in a $75,000 indoor tournament in Champaign, Ill., last November.
   Fratangelo, ranked No. 158, and Bolt, ranked a career-high No. 155, have split two career matches, both in 2015. Bolt won 6-3, 6-2 on a hardcourt, and Fratangelo prevailed 6-4, 7-6 (5) on clay.
   Fratangelo, who beat current world No. 7 Dominic Thiem to win the 2011 French Open boys singles title and climbed to a career-high No. 99 in June 2016, rifled serves and groundstrokes against Ruud and never faced a break point in their first career meeting. From 2-2 in the opening set, Fratangelo broke serve four consecutive times to lead 6-2, 4-0 as Ruud's father, former top-40 player Christian Ruud, watched from the stands.
   Fratangelo, who ousted top-seeded Jordan Thompson of Australia 6-1, 6-4 on Friday, said the 137th-ranked Casper Ruud, who reached the second round of the Australian Open (in his Grand Slam debut) and French Open this year, "is a very good counterpunching but also attacking player, more of a clay-court style. I knew from the get-go I had to be offensive and take him off his game a little bit, and, again, I think I did it to perfection."
Adrian Menendez-Maceiras retired with a leg injury
while trailing 0-5 in a second-set tiebreaker. Photo
by Paul Bauman
   Very little separated Bolt, a two-time Australian Open doubles quarterfinalist, and Menendez-Maceiras, a world-class grunter ranked No. 132, until the tiebreaker in their first career encounter. Bolt saved two consecutive break points with aces to hold for 6-5 in the first set and then recorded the only break of the match, at love, as Menendez-Maceiras appeared to lose focus after repeatedly complaining about line calls.
   After Bolt held for 2-1 in the second set, Menendez-Maceiras took a medical timeout to have his leg treated. He did not appear to hurt the leg in the match but favored it after taking the timeout.
   Bolt, who came within two points of losing to 22-year-old wild card Collin Altamirano of Sacramento in the second round, pounded 12 aces and won 39 of 43 points (91 percent) on his first serve.
   "Against a guy like Adrian, it's always going to be a tough battle," said Bolt, who won a $75,000 tournament in Zhuhai, China, in March for his second career Challenger title. "He's always going to fight until the last point. Unfortunately for him, he was battling a bit of an injury.
   "I felt my level was very high in the first set and dropped off a little bit in the second set. I feel I can keep that level high tomorrow for a long period of time."
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Sunday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.
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