Saturday, March 10, 2012

Azarenka survives choke-fest; King scores upset

   INDIAN WELLS -- Victoria Azarenka appeared on her way to beating Mona Barthel in straight sets for the third time this year.
   The top-ranked Azarenka led 6-4, 5-1 Friday in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open and held a match point at 6-4, 5-4. But Barthel, a 21-year-old German debuting in the tournament this year, pulled out the second set and twice served for the match in the third set.
   Azarenka's experience and determination ultimately proved decisive as she prevailed 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (6) in a three-hour choke-fest.
   "It was survival," admitted Azarenka, who improved to 18-0 this year. "It's a good feeling to come out from a match like this with a win. I could be beating myself up somewhere in my house or driving fast after losing, but I got through. That's a good sign. To win when you're not playing your best, it's more joyful."
   Meanwhile, American women had a good day for a change.
   Wild card Jamie Hampton, a 22-year-old native of Auburn, Ala., who won the 2010 Redding Challenger, stunned 12th-seeded Jelena Jankovic, a former world No. 1 who won the Indian Wells title two years ago, 6-4, 6-3.
   Vania King, a 23-year-old Long Beach product and Sacramento Capitals veteran in World TeamTennis, took out 13th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a former Capital from Russia, 6-4, 6-4. It was King's third straight victory over Pavlyuchenkova in the last six months. Pavlyuchenkova won their only other meeting, in the first round of the 2008 U.S. Open.
   Also, 32nd-seeded Christina McHale of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., downed Elena Vesnina, who won her second Indian Wells doubles title last year, 6-3, 7-5.
   McHale, 19, is the first American woman to be seeded at Indian Wells since No. 24 Lindsay Davenport four years ago. Venus and Serena Williams have boycotted the tournament since 2001 because of alleged racist remarks by some fans after Venus defaulted minutes before her semifinal against Serena. 
   Friday could have been an even better day for U.S. women, but wild card Sloane Stephens, who will turn 19 on March 20, blew a 6-2, 5-1 lead with two match points and lost to 18th-seeded Angelique Kerber, a German who reached the semifinals at last year's U.S. Open, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4.
   The Azarenka-Barthel battle was a prototypical, if ragged, modern women's tennis match between two tall, lean players slugging it out from the baseline. Barthel seemed to relax when she trailed and become progressively tighter the closer she got to victory. Late in the third set and in the decisive tiebreaker, Azarenka kept the ball in play, and Barthel committed errors.
   "I wouldn't say it was just nerves," the 6-foot-1 Barthel said. "I stayed really calm, I think. But she's ranked No. 1, and she kept fighting for every point. She deserved to win in the end."
   Azarenka's serve betrayed her in the match, though. The 6-footer had 12 double faults, including eight in the third set, and no aces. She double-faulted three straight times to lose her serve at love and trail 4-1 in the final set.
   Azarenka, who won the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in singles in 2010 and in doubles with Maria Kirilenko last year, had no explanation for her serving troubles.
   "I don't know. Today my game was not at the best, as well as the serve was not at the best. My return was not at the best, but in the end, everything got better," she said.
   When Azarenka was asked whether she or Barthel did something differently to turn the match around in the second set, she said: "I think it was a combination of both. She stepped it up. She had nothing to lose. I wanted to go for my shots but didn't. I hesitated too much."
   Barthel has soared from No. 356 in the world at the end of 2009 to No. 37. She is one of five Germans, all 24 or younger, ranked in the top 40. Barthel is the youngest.
   "Before (2009), I was just focusing on (high) school and didn't have the chance to practice a lot," explained Barthel, whose father was a doctor and whose mother worked as a teacher. "It was just one hour a day maybe. It's a normal process now. I am practicing more and playing more tournaments."
   Barthel won her first WTA singles title at Hobart in January, defeating four seeds as a qualifier. Azarenka beat her 6-2, 6-4 in the third round of the Australian Open later in January en route to her first Grand Slam singles title and 6-1, 6-0 three weeks ago in the second round at Doha.
   "She's improving," said Azarenka, who had never played Barthel before the Australian Open. "I never really heard much about her before this year. I have to play every tournament against her now, but she's definitely won of the players who are coming up and very dangerous."    
   Tursunov withdraws --Russian Dmitry Tursunov, a longtime Sacramento-area resident, withdrew from the BNP Paribas Open with a strained tendon in his left wrist.
   Tursunov, who's right-handed with a two-handed backhand, hurt the wrist during a tournament at Kuala Lumpur last September. He's 0-3 in singles this year and hasn't played since the Australian Open.
   Tursunov, 29, flashed his trademark sense of humor in a tweet about his latest withdrawal.
   "Pulled out of Indian Wells today," he wrote. "Will be doing some rehab at Burger King. Hopefully that will be the key to success in Miami."
   Motel update -- I mentioned two days ago that the refrigerator works in my cell -- er, room -- at the Not-So-Super 8 motel. Actually, it works too well. My drinks froze, and I see no temperature dial.    Also, there's one of those "Save our planet" signs on the bathroom counter. Guests can save water by using towels more than once before they're washed.
   So I returned to my room after being gone all day, and the maid had turned on the desk light for the second straight day. Make up your mind. Are we trying to conserve resources, or not?
   I have a suggestion for the Not-So-Super 8. Forget about the planet and give me a decent motel room.    
   New rankings -- Following are this week's world rankings of professional players with Northern California ties (change from last week in parentheses):
   Bob Bryan, 1998 NCAA doubles champion from Stanford -- No. 1 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   Mike Bryan, 1998 NCAA doubles champion from Stanford -- No. 1 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   Mardy Fish, Sacramento Capitals (2012) of World TeamTennis -- No. 8 in singles (no change), No. 104 in doubles (-1).
   John Paul Fruttero, Cal All-American in 2001 and 2002 -- Career-high No. 105 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   Kiryl Harbatsiuk, three-time Big Sky Conference MVP (2009-11) at Sacramento State -- No. 766 in singles (-1), No. 1,251 in doubles (-3).
   Mark Knowles, Capitals (2001-07, 2009-12) -- No. 61 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   Scott Lipsky, 2002 NCAA doubles runner-up from Stanford -- No. 37 in doubles (-4), unranked in singles.
   David Martin, 2002 NCAA doubles runner-up from Stanford -- No. 156 in doubles (+1), No. 757 in singles (no change).
   Conor Niland, 2006 Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year and two-time All-American at Cal -- No. 318 in singles (-8), unranked in doubles.
   Sam Querrey, San Francisco native -- No. 85 in singles (+2), No. 35 in doubles (-1).
   Dmitry Tursunov, Folsom resident -- No. 61 in singles (-1), No. 222 in doubles (-10).
   Dusan Vemic, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 867 in doubles (-217), No. 1,506 in singles (-7).
   Jimmy Wang, Folsom resident -- No. 209 in singles (+19), No. 415 in doubles (+76).
   Vania King, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 6 in doubles (no change), No. 58 in singles (no change).
   Raquel Kops-Jones, 2003 NCAA doubles champion from Cal -- Career-high No. 28 in doubles (no change), No. 714 in singles (no change).
   Maria Sanchez, Modesto resident -- Career-high No. 191 in doubles (no change), career-high No. 480 in singles (+4).
   Yasmin Schnack, Elk Grove resident, Capitals (2011-12) -- Career-high No. 169 in doubles (+1), No. 377 in singles (no change).

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