Sunday, June 3, 2012

Modesto's Sanchez reaches Gold River final

Fourth-seeded Maria Sanchez of
Modesto demolished seventh-seeded
Valeria Solovieva to reach the final.
Photo bv Paul Bauman
  Maria Sanchez has endured a long commute this week, but it hasn't affected her game.
   Not much has lately.      
   The 22-year-old Modesto resident, seeded fourth, continued her outstanding year Saturday, demolishing seventh-seeded Valeria Solovieva of Russia 6-0, 6-1 in the semifinals of the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger at the Gold River Racquet Club.
   Solovieva, 19, had routed top-seeded Elena Bovina of Russia 6-1, 6-2 in Friday's quarterfinals.
   "It's nice being home and having my family here to support me," said Sanchez, last year's Pacific-10 Conference Women's Player of the Year as a senior at USC. "I'm staying at home and driving three hours (round-trip) each day. That part is not so nice, but it's nice to sleep in my own bed and eat home-cooked meals."
   The other semifinal featured two of the United States' top teenage prospects. Fifth-seeded Jessica Pegula, 18, won the last five games to beat unseeded 17-year-old Samantha Crawford 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.
   Either Sanchez or Pegula -- whose billionaire father, Terry, owns the NHL's Buffalo Sabres -- will win her first professional singles title in their first career meeting today at noon. Sanchez has won six doubles crowns and Pegula three.
   Sanchez will be playing in her second consecutive singles final. She lost to Grace Min of Norcross, Ga.,  6-4, 7-6 (4) in a $50,000 tournament on clay in Indian Harbour Beach, Fla., four weeks ago.
Fifth-seeded Jessica Pegula, 18,
rallied to beat unseeded Samantha
Crawford, 17. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Sanchez also reached today's doubles final with Kaitlyn Christian, an Orange resident who just finished her sophomore season at USC. The unseeded team will meet second-seeded Asia Muhammed of Henderson, Nev., and Yasmin Schnack of Elk Grove in the Sacramento area.
   Schnack usually plays doubles with Sanchez but paired with Muhammed because they will be teammates on the Sacramento Capitals during the World TeamTennis season in July.
   Sanchez has skyrocketed from No. 687 to No. 287 in singles and jumped from No. 268 to No. 150 in doubles since the end of 2011. 
   "I'm starting to get used to life as a professional tennis player, traveling a lot and finding out what works for me," she said. "I have a lot of support. My coach (Ini Ghidirmic) has been really helpful since I started working with him in the last couple of months, and I still see the USC coaches when I'm in L.A. I've been working out at the Evert Tennis Academy (in Boca Raton, Fla.), and Chrissie and the coaches there have been really helpful in my progress."
   The 5-foot-10 Sanchez played almost flawlessly Saturday, especially in the first set. She pounded her first serve, hit forehand and backhand rockets, volleyed deftly and, on one point, tormented Solovieva with a feathery drop shot followed by a winning lob.
   "I always work on all aspects of my game," Sanchez said. "I try to play an all-court game. The ability to finish points at the net is helpful. I work on strengthening everything every day."
   Solovieva, ranked No. 321, needs no convincing.
   "She was serving well and coming in a lot," Solovieva, who won the 2009 U.S. Open junior girls doubles title with Maryna Zanevska of Ukraine, said after facing Sanchez for the first time. "It's one of the best matches I've seen her play. I didn't lose the match. She won it."
   Pegula, ranked No. 294 in singles and No. 116 in doubles, and the 6-foot-2 Crawford, ranked No. 870 in singles, also met for the first time. Even though both are based in Boca Raton and close in age, they do not know each other well. Pegula is not affiliated with the USTA Training Center-Headquarters, where Crawford trains.
   "She's kind of shy," Pegula said. "I don't talk to her much."
   Both players appeared in the main draw of women's doubles at the U.S. Open last year. Pegula and Taylor Townsend -- then 17 and 15, respectively -- reached the third round. Crawford and Madison Keys, both 16 at the time, lost in the first round to sixth-seeded Sania Mirza of India and Elena Vesnina of Russia.
   Pegula also won two singles qualifying matches against players then ranked No. 119 and No. 120 to reach the main draw at Indian Wells on the elite WTA tour in March. She then lost in three sets to then-No. 83 Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia in the first round.
   Pegula is coached by Michael Joyce, who guided Maria Sharapova for seven years, and Crawford by Tom Gullikson, the USTA's lead national coach for women. Gullikson, who reached No. 4 in the world in doubles with twin brother Tim in 1983, also served as a U.S. Davis Cup captain and U.S. men's Olympic coach. Both Joyce and Gullikson came to Gold River with their proteges.
   The turning point in Saturday's match came when Crawford held serve from 0-30 to lead 4-1 in the third set. On the changeover, Pegula tossed her racket toward her bench.
   "I was really mad," she said. "I said, You know what? Just hit the ball. I loosened up and started serving better."
   French Open in Paris -- Second-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan, the 1998 NCAA doubles champions from Stanford, overwhelmed Lukas Dlouhy of the Czech Republic and Nicolas Mahut of France 6-0, 6-2 in the second round of the French Open.
   All but, ironically, Mahut have won the men's doubles title at Roland Garros. The Bryans triumphed in 2003, and Dlouhy paired with Leander Paes to prevail in 2009.
   Next for the 34-year-old Bryan twins are two more past French Open men's doubles champs, 40-year-old Mark Knowles of the Bahamas and 31-year-old Xavier Malisse of Belgium.
   Knowles, who will return for his 11th season with the Capitals, won in 2007 with former longtime partner Daniel Nestor of Canada. Malisse teamed with countryman Olivier Rochus for the 2004 crown.
   Fifteenth-seeded Scott Lipsky and Rajeev Ram, last year's doubles champions at the SAP Open in San Jose, wore down Benjamin Becker of Germany and Lukasz Kubot of Poland 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
   Lipsky, who reached the 2002 NCAA doubles final with Stanford teammate David Martin, and fellow American Ram will meet top seeds and defending champions Max Mirnyi and Nestor in the third round.      
   Mirnyi also won the 2005 and 2006 French Open crowns with now-retired Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden. Nestor also captured the title in 2010 with Nenad Zimonjic, plus 2007 with Knowles.
   Lipsky and Vladimira Uhlirova lost in the first round of mixed doubles to Virginie Razzano and Nicolas Devilder of France 3-6, 7-5, 10-6 tiebreak. Razzano stunned fifth-seeded Serena Williams in the first round of women's singles.
   Today -- Fourth round, Tennis Channel, 2-10 a.m. (live); NBC, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. (live). French Open Tonight (daily wrapup), Tennis Channel, 1-4 p.m. (premiere), 4-7 p.m. (repeat), 7-10 p.m. (repeat).
At Gold River Racquet Club
Singles semifinals
   Maria Sanchez (4), Modesto, def. Valeria Solovieva (7), Russia, 6-0, 6-1.
   Jessica Pegula (5), Boca Raton, Fla., def. Samantha Crawford, Boca Raton, Fla., 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. 
Doubles semifinals
   Kaitlyn Christian, Orange, and Maria Sanchez, Modesto, def. Lena Litvak, Bronx, N.Y., and Adriana Perez, Venezuela, 6-4, 6-4.
   Asia Muhammed, Henderson, Nev./Capitals, and Yasmin Schnack (2), Elk Grove/Capitals, 6-3, 7-6 (3). 
Today's schedule
Stadium Court
(Beginning at noon)
   Maria Sanchez (4), Modesto, vs. Jessica Pegula (5), Boca Raton, Fla.
   Kaitlyn Christian, Orange, and Maria Sanchez, Modesto, vs. Asia Muhammed, Henderson, Nev./Capitals, and Yasmin Schnack (2), Elk Grove/Capitals.
   Today -- $15,000 Tennis Town Pro Tennis at Park Terrace, Park Terrace Swim & Tennis Club, 5500 Parkfield Court, Sacramento, second-round qualifying, 10 a.m. Main draw begins Tuesday.
   June 9-10, 16-18 -- NorCal 18 Junior Sectional Championships, Sacramento State,
   June 9-17 -- $15,000 Chico Futures, Chico Racquet Club & Resort, 1629 Manzanita Ave.
   July 7-15 -- WTA, Bank of the West Classic, Stanford,
   July 9 -- World TeamTennis, Sacramento Capitals' season opener at Boston, 4 p.m.,
   July 12 -- World TeamTennis, Capitals' home opener (with Mardy Fish) vs. Kansas City, Sunrise Marketplace Stadium, Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights, 7:35 p.m.,      

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