Saturday, October 8, 2011

Karlovic, Blake advance to Sacramento final

   Ivo Karlovic was disappointed in his serve.
   Sam Querrey was disgusted with his.
   Within minutes of edging Querrey 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-4 Saturday in the semifinals of the $100,000 RelyAid Natomas Racquet Club Challenger in Sacramento, Karlovic was practicing his serve on a side court.
   "Today my serve didn't work at all," lamented the second-seeded Karlovic, a 6-foot-10 veteran who holds the record for the fastest serve (156 mph). "I had a really low (first-serve) percentage, but I was able to make it up with my baseline game and fighting."
   Karlovic, who converted 56 percent of his first deliveries, recorded the only service break of the third set in the last game. Querrey committed his second double fault of the match to trail 30-40, then missed a first serve. The second serve allowed Karlovic to get into the point, and he capitalized by ripping a runaround forehand passing shot down the line for the victory.
   The normally mild-mannered Querrey was incensed after the match, played before an announced capacity crowd of 650 that included Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and coach Dennis Green of the Sacramento Mountain Lions in the United Football League.
   "My second serve sucked the whole week,"  snapped the third-seeded Querrey, a 6-6 native of San Francisco who lives in Las Vegas. "Pathetic ... "
   Karlovic, whose wife gave birth to the couple's first child on Sept. 15, is playing in his first tournament since the U.S. Open one month ago. He agreed that his layoff affected the timing on his serve Saturday.
   Querrey, meanwhile, was competing in his second tournament since undergoing arthroscopic elbow surgery in June. But he didn't use that as an excuse for his serving woes.
   "I just need to go for it more," he said. "I'm too conservative on my serve and forehand."
   Karlovic will meet top-seeded James Blake of Tampa, Fla., for the title after today's 12:30 p.m. doubles final pitting American wild cards Nicholas Monroe and Jack Sock against Australians Carsten Ball and Chris Guccione.
  Blake outclassed unseeded Alex Kuznetsov of Tampa 6-2, 7-5 in the other semifinal. Kuznetsov, a Ukraine native who moved to the United States at 3, also reached the semifinals of the Sacramento Challenger five years ago at 19. The tournament was held at the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club at the time.
   At first glance, Blake and Karlovic couldn't be more different. Blake is nine inches shorter and an African-American. Karlovic is a white Croat.
   On further inspection, however, they are remarkably similar.
   Both were born in 1979 (Karlovic, 32, is exactly 10 months older). Both have reached the top 15 in the world, Blake peaking at No. 4 in 2006 and Karlovic at No. 14 in 2008.
   Both have played on Davis Cup championship teams, Karlovic helping Croatia win in 2005 for its only title and Blake helping the United States end its longest title drought (12 years).
   Both endured long injury layoffs last year, Blake for three months with knee tendinitis and Karlovic for six months after Achilles' tendon-related surgery.        
   Their current rankings? Blake is No. 75, Karlovic No. 76.  
   Karlovic leads the head-to-head series 5-3 overall and 3-2 on hardcourts. In their last meeting, Karlovic won 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-1 on a hardcourt in the quarterfinals at Delray Beach, Fla., in February 2010.
   "I didn't watch him in the last year or two, but I know he was injured like me," said Karlovic, who saved two match points in the first round of the Natomas Challenger against Martin Fischer of Austria. "He can play really well. It will be an interesting match."
   ATP Challenger Tour in Tiburon -- Kiryl Harbatsiuk, a former Sacramento State star from Belarus, lost to Blake Strode of Cary, N.C., 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in the first round of qualifying for the $100,000 First Republic Bank Tiburon Challenger.
   Strode, the Chico Futures runner-up in June, has deferred his acceptance to Harvard Law School several times to play professional tennis.
    ITF Women's Circuit in Kansas City, Mo. -- Yasmin Schnack of Elk Grove and Amanda Fink of Calabasas lost to Jamie Hampton of Auburn, Ala., and Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia 7-5, 2-6, 10-8 tiebreak in the doubles semifinals of the $50,000 Women's Tennis Classic.
   Intercollegiate Tennis Association in Pacific Palisades -- Jacqueline Cako of Arizona State knocked off  Jana Juricova, the top seed and reigning NCAA champion from Cal, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (1) in the quarterfinals of the Women's All-American Championships.
   Stanford's Stacey Tan, the NCAA runner-up, and Nicole Gibbs, an NCAA semifinalist, lost in the first round of doubles. The Cardinal's Mallory Burdette, who won the NCAA doubles title with Hilary Barte in May, and Gibbs will play Florida's Sophie Oyen and Allie Will in the finall.
   Intercollegiate Tennis Association in Tulsa, Okla. -- Cal's Nick Andrews (Folsom), Carlos Cueto and Ben McLachlan and Stanford's Ryan Thacher lost in the first round of the Men's All-American Championships.
   In doubles, fifth-seeded Andrews and Christoffer Konigsfeldt and qualifiers Cueto and McLachlan also fell n the first round.
  
RELYAID NATOMAS CHALLENGER
At Natomas Racquet Club
Singles semifinals

   Ivo Karlovic (2), Croatia, def. Sam Querrey (3), Las Vegas, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-4. James Blake (1), Tampa, Fla., def. Alex Kuznetsov, Tampa, Fla., 6-2, 7-5.
Sunday’s schedule
(Beginning at 12:30 p.m.)
Center Court

   Monroe and Sock vs. Ball and Guccione. Blake (1) vs. Karlovic (2).

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