Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Croatia's colorful Lisjak ousts top seed Sanchez

Ivana Lisjak of Croatia beat top seed and defending champion
Maria Sanchez 6-4, 7-5 in the second round of the Gold River
Women's Challenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- Players don't get much more colorful than Ivana Lisjak, literally and figuratively.
   The 26-year-old Croat wore a chartreuse top and visor, white shorts and bright orange shoes in her 6-4, 7-5 victory over top seed and defending champion Maria Sanchez today in the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger.
   She loudly berated herself in her native language after missing shots and vociferously complained in English about line calls during the second-round match at the Gold River Racquet Club in the Sacramento area.
   She has lived in the glitz capital of the world, Las Vegas, for the past three years and missed almost all of the past 2 1/2 years with a lower-back injury.
   She has piercing blue eyes and three tattoos in three languages.
   She was cordial, charming, candid and -- yes -- colorful in a post-match interview.
   The unranked Lisjak (pronounced LEE-zhak), who reached a career-high No. 95 in the world in 2006, received a spot in the 32-player singles draw with a protected ranking of No. 241. That's where she stood when her back forced her to leave the tour in March 2011, except for two tournaments last August.
Sanchez, a Modesto native, returns serve
against Lisjak. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "When it would (flair up), I would not be able to walk," lamented Lisjak, who began practicing a month ago and launched her comeback this week.
   Lisjak's victory set up an intriguing quarterfinal against qualifier Alisa Kleybanova of Russia on Thursday afternoon. Kleybanova, who reached No. 20 in the world in 2011, is playing her third tournament after missing two years, except for one tournament in March last year, while battling Hodgkin's lymphoma.
   The survivor of the matchup between the powerful 5-foot-11 (1.8-meter) right-handers very well could win the title on Saturday night. Lisjak said they have met once, with Kleybanova winning in the juniors six or seven years ago. 
   "She's coming back, I'm coming back," said Lisjak, who did not need surgery. "I think it will be a really good match. She's the same type of player that I am, so we're going to see who's more focused, more consistent and more confident. I'm looking forward to that match." 
   Lisjak was not today's only upset winner. Allie Will, a 22-year-old San Mateo native who turned pro after leading Florida to the 2011 and 2012 NCAA titles, ousted third-seeded Julie Coin of France 7-5, 3-6, 6-4. The afternoon match lasted 2 hours, 57 minutes in 106-degree (41 Celsius) heat. 
   Coin, 30, is best known for eliminating top-ranked Ana Ivanovic in the second round of the 2008 U.S. Open. As a qualifier ranked No. 188, Coin was the lowest-ranked player at the time to beat a No. 1.
   Will will face seventh-seeded Heidi El Tabakh, a 26-year-old Canadian who routed Mai Minokoshi of Japan 6-0, 6-2.    
   Only three of eight seeds remain, led by No. 4 Petra Rampre of Slovenia. Second-seeded Chanel Simmonds of South Africa lost on Tuesday in the first round.
   Rampre, 33, overwhelmed Allie Kiick, the 17-year-old daughter of former Miami Dolphins running back Jim Kiick, 6-2, 6-0. Rampre wears a bandana because she lost all the hair on her body six years ago. She has a rare disorder called alopecia universalis.
   Rampre will meet fifth-seeded Madison Brengle, a 23-year-old resident of Dover, Del., who has lost only three games in two matches.
   In the other quarterfinal, Alexandra Stevenson, 32, of Los Angeles will take on Mayo Hibi, 17, of Japan. Stevenson, a Wimbledon semifinalist in 1999 and the daughter of basketball legend Julius Erving, outlasted 2012 Gold River quarterfinalist Ashley Weinhold of Spicewood, Texas, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.
   Lisjak overpowered Sanchez, a 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Modesto native who lives in Los Angeles and trains under International Tennis Hall of Famer Chris Evert in Boca Raton, Fla.
   "She's a really decent player," opined Lisjak, who advanced to the third round of the 2005 U.S. Open as an 18-year-old qualifier and the third round of the 2006 French Open. "She has a lot of consistency, but I (hit the ball a little harder), so she probably doesn't like that."
   Sanchez double-faulted nine times (to Lisjak's eight), including three in the last game, and often sprayed groundstokes. She saved three match points before netting a backhand on the fourth.
   "It was just kind of a rough day all around," said the 23-year-old Sanchez, ranked No. 114. "It didn't feel like I got in any sort of rhythm or groove at all. She's a tough player, but I definitely struggled a little bit today."
   Ironically, given Lisjak's long layoff, the conditions in the early-evening match favored her.
   "I didn't really feel the heat because I'm practicing in Vegas, so I'm really used to that, except that here it's a little more humid," said Lisjak, who went for a run after the match. "I was practicing in the super, super hot there from 12 to 3."   
   Sanchez, meanwhile, had practiced in Los Angeles for only a few days after playing in chilly Europe for six weeks.  
   "It was tough for me to play in that (heat) today," she admitted. "I felt a little bit sluggish out there, definitely. ... It was kind of a shock to be in this hot of weather right away. But it's something I grew up with, so I should be OK with it."   
   Except that Sanchez, who turned pro in 2011 after graduating from USC in real estate, had never played the European swing before. 
   Will also played in Europe recently but trained at home in sultry Boca Raton, Fla., for five days before flying to Sacramento.
   "I definitely think that made a difference," said Will, the runner-up in the $25,000 Redding Challenger last September.
   As did training in Las Vegas for Lisjak. So what about those tattoos, Ivana?
   The most prominent one, on the back of her right forearm, says in big English script, "Fighter."
   "It's my personality: Never give up," Lisjak explained.
   Another one, on the inside of Lisjack's left wrist, says in Croatian braille, "Love is blind."
   "I just like quotes. That's me," she offered.
   And one on the back of her neck says in Chinese, "Love, faith, hope."
   Got any others, Ivana?
   "No ... but I'm planning to get more," she said.
   Somehow, that's not too surprising.
At Gold River Racquet Club in Gold River, Calif.
Second-round singles
   Petra Rampre (4), Slovenia, def. Allie Kiick, United States, 6-2, 6-0.
   Alexandra Stevenson, United States, def. Ashley Weinhold, United States, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.
   Madison Brengle (5), United States, def. So-Ra Lee, 6-0, 6-2.
   Mayo Hibi, Japan, def. Jessica Lawrence, United States, 6-3, 6-0.
   Allie Will, United States, def. Julie Coin (3), France, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4.
   Heidi El Tabakh (7), Canada, def. Mai Minokoshi, Japan, 6-0, 6-2.
   Ivana Lisjak, Croatia, def. Maria Sanchez (1), United States, 6-4, 7-5.
   Alisa Kleybanova, Russia, def. Mary Weatherhold, United States, 6-1, x-x.
First-round doubles
   Madison Brengle and Kristy Frilling, United States, def. Brooke Austin and Nicole Robinson, United States, 6-2, 1-6 (10-5).
   Asia Muhammad and Maria Sanchez (1), United States, vs. Sanaz Marand and Ashley Weinhold, United States, late.
Thursday's schedule
(Beginning at noon)
   Petra Rampre (4), Slovenia, vs. Madison Brengle (4), United States.
   Ivana Lisjak, Croatia, vs. Alisa Kleybanova, Russia.
   Madison Brengle and Kristy Frilling, United States, vs. Jacqueline Cako and Natalie Pluskota (2), United States.
(Beginning at 7 p.m.)
   Asia Muhammad and Maria Sanchez (1), United States, vs. Macall Harkins and Zoe Scandalis, United States.
   Naomi Broady, Great Britain, and Storm Sanders, Australia, vs. Jan Abaza and Allie Will, United States.
Court 3
(Beginning at noon)
   Mayo Hibi, Japan, vs. Alexandra Stevenson, United States.
   Heidi El Tabakh (7), Canada, vs. Allie Will, United States.
   Robin Anderson and Lauren Embree, United States, vs. Elizabeth Lumpkin, United States, and Sally Peers, Australia.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the match reports. Good read.