Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sharapova's conqueror doubtful for Gold River

   Michelle Larcher de Brito's stunning upset of Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon today probably is bad news for the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger.
   The former Sacramento Capital in World TeamTennis tentatively would be seeded second in the tournament, Monday though July 6 at the Gold River Racquet Club in the Sacramento area.
   But Larcher de Brito, a 20-year-old qualifier from Portugal, will meet unseeded Karin Knapp of Italy on Friday in the third round at Wimbledon. The winner of that match will play on Monday. No matches are scheduled on the middle Sunday.
Maria Sharapova lost to former Sacramento Capital Michelle
Larcher de Brito in the second round at Wimbledon.
2012 photo by Paul Bauman
   Even if Larcher de Brito loses on Friday, she is unlikely to fly to Sacramento to play on hardcourts in extreme heat so soon after competing on grass in cool London, according to Gold River spokesman Clint Swett.
   Five top-200 players are entered in Gold River: No. 114 Maria Sanchez, the defending champion originally from Modesto; No. 131 Larcher de Brito; No. 143 Casey Dellacqua of Australia; No. 164 Chanel Simmonds of South Africa; and No. 175 Julie Coin of France. The tournament also could lose Dellacqua, who remains alive in women's doubles and mixed doubles at Wimbledon.
   Larcher de Brito ousted Sharapova, the third seed and 2004 champion, 6-3, 6-4 on Court 2 in the second round at Wimbledon. The 5-foot-5 (1.65-meter) Larcher de Brito outslugged the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Sharapova in the one-hour, 34-minute match.
   Sharapova, 26, saved four match points in the last game on Larcher de Brito's serve before netting a forehand for her earliest loss at a Grand Slam tournament since falling to fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko in the first round of the 2010 Australian Open.
   "It's frustrating," Sharapova, a former world No. 1 who has won all four Grand Slam tournaments once, told reporters after the first match of her career against Larcher de Brito. "You don't want to lose matches, whether it's early or late in the draw, but this tournament is extremely special, so it's especially tough to lose here.
   "But I'm going to keep my head high about it because there's no other way. I'll find the positives out of what I have done today and in my career, set new goals and try to just keep moving forward."
   Larcher de Brito had beaten three top-20 players in her career but never a top-10 opponent.
   "I'm really excited," said Larcher de Brito, who speaks fluent English because she has a South African mother and trained under Nick Bollettieri in Florida. "I really can't believe it. It's a little bit of shock and excitement. I'm just really happy I got through that match. It was a really great win for me.
   "The end was really nerve-wracking. I tried to stay calm. I gave it my all. It was 5-4. If I lost that, it would have been 5-all. If it were 5-all, it would have been tough to get back up again, because she was serving, and she was serving extremely well. I thought, 'Now or never.' ... "
   Larcher de Brito already has had a long, rocky career. She turned pro in February 2007, nine days after her 14th birthday. Larcher de Brito became the seventh-youngest player to win a WTA main-draw match the following month and the youngest player in WTT history that summer, helping Sacramento win the last of its record six league titles.
   American Madison Keys surpassed Larcher de Brito for the WTT record by 19 days two years later as a 14-year-old with the Philadelphia Freedoms. The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Keys is now ranked a career-high 53rd at 18 years old.
   Wayne Bryan, who will return for the 12th year as the Capitals' coach next month, said in 2007 that Larcher de Brito had top-10 potential.
   "She has magic hands," Bryan, the father and first coach of doubles stars Bob and Mike Bryan, told The Sacramento Bee. "She has a huge forehand and backhand, and she plays close to the baseline. She takes your breath away when she hits groundstrokes. She hits the ball really hard."
   Larcher de Brito seemed to be on her way in 2009, advancing to the third round of the French Open and climbing to a career-high No. 76 at 16 years old. But she struggled from then until this week. Playing largely in tennis' minor leagues, Larcher de Brito had not won a main-draw match on the WTA tour since last July.
   "When I was 16, when I was in the top 100, everybody was comparing me to like Martina Hingis and expecting me to win a Grand Slam at that age," Larcher de Brito said. "But that doesn't happen anymore, winning Grand Slams so young. Tennis is such a competitive sport now and so hard, it's just really hard to stay there.
   "But I just tried to keep going, and now I'm here again, and I hope to keep doing well all year."
   Larcher de Brito's parents, Antonio and Caroline, gave her moral support through the hard times. Antonio is Portuguese.
   "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my parents," said Larcher de Brito, whose great grandfather was French (hence the name Larcher, which she pronounces LAR-sher and is pronounced Lar-SHAY in French). "I'm not one of those players who is going to make up excuses like I was sick or injured, none of that. I simply wasn't playing well. I had no motivation.
   "I'm just lucky I had my parents next to me, supporting me, helping me to keep going. It was really tough for me at one stage. The only people I had left were my mom, my dad, my brothers. They were supporting me through this really tough time. Now they're still here with me when I'm succeeding.
   "I'm not going to lie. I did drop off the radar a little bit. That's just why it makes the wins that much sweeter. I'm really grateful to have a wonderful family that supported me all these years."
   Knapp, Larcher de Brito's next opponent, advanced with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over 27th-seeded Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic. Until this week, the 25-year-old Knapp had never won a main-draw match at Wimbledon. She is ranked No. 104 after reaching a career-high No. 35 in 2008..
   The 5-foot-11 (1.80-meter) Knapp is 1-0 lifetime against Larcher de Brito, prevailing 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (1) in the final round of qualifying for the 2011 U.S. Open.
   The winner of the match between Larcher de Brito and Knapp could face 15th-seeded Marion Bartoli, the Wimbledon runner-up in 2007, in the fourth round.
   In the first round of women's doubles, Megan Moulton-Levy of Washington, D.C., and Shuai Zhang of China defeated Mona Barthel of Germany and Liga Dekmeijere of Latvia 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.
   The 5-foot- (1.52-meter) Moulton-Levy, 28, is scheduled to make her WTT debut for the Capitals on July 7. She and Zhang will meet 12th-seeded Ashleigh Barty, a 17-year-old Australian, and Dellacqua in the second round.
   Barty and Dellacqua, a 28-year-old left-hander, in January became the first Aussie women to reach the Australian Open final since 1977. They lost to top-seeded Italians Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.
   In the opening round of men's doubles, 14th-seeded Rohan Bopanna of India and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France topped Jarkko Nieminen of Finland and Dmitry Tursunov of Russia 7-6 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (6).
   Nieminen and Tursunov, who's based in the Sacramento suburb of Granite Bay, won the Munich title on clay last month in only their second tournament together.

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