Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stanford's Ahn stuns top seed in Redding Challenger

Qualifier Kristie Ahn, a Stanford junior, knocked off No. 1 seed
Florencia Molinero of Argentina in the first round of the $25,000
USTA Oak River Rehab Challenger in Redding, Calif. Photos by
Paul Bauman
   REDDING, Calif. -- Kristie Ahn showed Wednesday what she can do when she's healthy and relaxed.
   The 20-year-old qualifier, who's about to begin her junior year at Stanford, dismissed top-seeded Florencia Molinero of Argentina 6-2, 6-3 in the first round of the $25,000 USTA Oak River Rehab Challenger at Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness.
   The injury-prone Ahn is ranked No. 1,153 in the world and Molinero No. 191. But Ahn has flashed her potential before. At 16 years old, she qualified for the 2008 U.S. Open in women's singles before losing to Dinara Safina 6-3, 6-4 in the first round. Safina was ranked seventh at the time and reached No. 1 the following year. Ahn also has won two $10,000 tournaments in singles and a $50,000 event in doubles with Stanford teammate Nicole Gibbs.
   Ahn said "words cannot describe" the frustration over her injuries.
Molinero called Ahn "a great player."
   "I guess the toughest part was expecting so much of myself," she continued. "I was really playing well before it all went downhill. I expected to jump right back in, but the (fundamentals) you take for granted -- focusing, moving your feet, getting low -- weren't there."
  Second-seeded Veronica Cepede Royg almost joined her doubles partner, Molinero, on the sideline. Cepede Royg, a 20-year-old Paraguayan, held off Klara Fabikova, an 18-year-old Cal freshman from the Czech Republic, 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (2).
   Sixth-seeded Rebecca Marino, a Canadian formerly ranked among the top 40 in the world, outlasted Miki Miyamura of Japan 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. Marino was playing in her first match since taking a 6 1/2-month break because of fatigue and personal matters.  
   Ahn's physical problems began when she had surgery on her right (playing) wrist during her senior year of high school in Upper Saddle River, N.J. As a Stanford freshman, she was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Rookie of the Year in 2011 despite playing only one match after May 1 because of an ankle injury.
Second-seeded Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay almost
joined her doubles partner, Molinero, on the sideline.
   Ahn missed almost all of her sophomore season with a stress fracture in her left foot and shoulder soreness, then tore a quadriceps muscle earlier this summer.
   Finally feeling 100 percent physically this week, Ahn decided to take the pressure off of herself against Molinero.
   "One of the most important things was staying loose," Ahn said. "I haven't been playing much in the last year, and my last few tournaments were awful because I was so nervous. I just wanted to play a good, solid match and not freak out. I did a pretty good job of that."
   Playing the top seed actually helped Ahn.
   "It was a win-win situation," she explained. "I'm excited to go back to school. If I lose, I get to go back to school. If I win, I get to play more."
   The Farm will have to wait, thanks largely to Ahn's serve and forehand. Ahn blasted four aces, not exactly Serena Williams-like but not bad for a short player (5-foot-5) and match.
   "I think that's the most aces I've hit in my entire life," Ahn marveled.
Sixth-seeded Rebecca Marino, a Canadian
formerly ranked among the top 40 in the world,
won her first match after a long layoff.
   Ahn has beaten other top-200 players but called the victory over Molinero her biggest in the last year or two.
   "She's a great player," Molinero said. "She had a good day, and I lost. She has a great forehand and serve. For me, it was not a perfect day. I didn't play my best tennis."
   When asked why not, Molinero simply shrugged her shoulders. 
   Ahn will face Jacqueline Cako (pronounced CAY-ko), a junior from Pacific-12 Conference rival Arizona State, on Thursday in the second round after a 10 a.m. match. Ahn and Cako have never met in college.
   The 5-foot-4, 143-pound Royg and the 5-11, 190-pound Fabikova traded laser groundstrokes but struggled with their serves in a 3-hour, 7-minute battle in 95-degree heat. Royg committed 17 doubles faults and Fabikova, whose toss could draw rain, nine.
   The 10th game of the third set was a marathon within a marathon. Royg, ranked No. 188, double-faulted on match point at 5-4 and finally sprayed a backhand on Fabikova's eighth break point of the game. Royg double-faulted six times in the game and three consecutive times to lose her serve at 5-5 in the first set.
   "I was a little nervous with my serve," she said.
   Fabikova was playing her first match in six weeks because of a lower-back injury and an illness requiring antibiotics.
   "It will take a few more matches for me to play my best," she said.  
   Royg will take on Katie Le, a junior at Santa Clara from Milpitas in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the second round. Le, the West Coast Conference Player of the Year last season, defeated Vojislava Lukic of Serbia 6-4, 6-3.
   The 6-foot Marino described her comeback match as "difficult. My opponent didn't gve me much pace, and my game depends on pace. ... It's a bit of a relief to win my first match back. I was quite nervous at the beginning."
   Ahn, meanwhile, could face a dilemma Saturday, when the 25th-ranked Stanford football team hosts No. 2 USC at 4:30 p.m.
   "I really want to go to that game," she said. "If I'm still in the tournament, do I go down and come back? I don't know."
   It would be a nice problem to have.


  1. Excellent post. I remember seeing Ahn, Gibbs, Will, Mchale, Mouhamed and Brodsky at the 18s nationals in Berkeley a few years back. I thought Gibbs, Mchale and Ahn had the most potential (Will was crying Zvonoreva style in one of her matches). Even then I recall Ahn walking/limping around with an ankle brace. Here's hoping she overcomes her injuries and does not continue to be the Tommy Haas of college tennis :)

  2. Awesome post. I really like all these ladies tennis players and always support them in their matches.