Thursday, July 4, 2013

Lisjak edges Kleybanova in brutal heat

Ivana Lisjak reached the semifinals of the FSP
Gold River Challenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- While Alisa Kleybanova waged a widely publicized battle with cancer for two years in Italy, Ivana Lisjak quietly coached juniors in Las Vegas.
   Kleybanova, a 23-year-old Russian qualifier who ascended to a career-high No. 20 in the world in February 2011, returned to competition in May.
   Lisjak (pronounced LEE-zhak), a 26-year-old Croat ranked as high as No. 95 in 2006, launched her comeback from a lower-back injury this week in the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger.
   They met in 108-degree Fahrenheit (42-degree Celsius) heat this afternoon in a highly anticipated quarterfinal between hard-hitting 5-foot-11 (1.8-meter) right-handers. Lisjak prevailed 0-6, 6-2, 7-6 (2) as Kleybanova finally wilted in the 2-hour, 20-minute match.
   Lisjak managed to stay fresh in the third set, pounding her serves and groundstrokes, thanks to a month of training in similarly oppressive conditions at home in Las Vegas.
   "In the third set, my energy didn't drop," Lisjak said. "I'm trying to always play like that. I think I'm fit enough to play like that in the third set."
   Kleybanova was playing her sixth match in six days in extreme heat, but the previous five had been in straight sets. Tournament director Mike Burchett said she wasn't considered for a wild card into the main draw because she didn't ask for one.
   Against Lisjak, Kleybanova expended considerable physical and mental energy just to get to the third-set tiebreaker. While serving, she overcame deficits of 0-30 at 4-4 and 0-40 at 5-5.
   After reaching 2-2 in the tiebreaker, Kleybanova had nothing left. She lost the last five points, four on unforced errors.
Alisa Kleybanova, who returned to competition in May
after battling cancer for two years, struggled in the
third-set tiebreaker. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "It's very difficult to play in this extreme heat," lamented Kleybanova, who came back from Hodgkin's lymphoma. "I think the tournament could do something about it. I'm not the only player who is not happy with the scheduling."
   Kleybanova said the tournament should have scheduled more morning and evening matches, especially in the later rounds.
   Matches began at 10 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday but at noon on Wednesday and today. The Lisjak-Kleybanova slugfest, the second match on the stadium court, started at 1:25 p.m.
   Burchett said he and tournament supervisor Billie Lipp had discussed moving Wednesday's and Thursday's start to 10 a.m. "a little bit, but it wasn't going to make a ton of difference because players are still going to be playing in the heat unless you started at 8 o'clock in the morning."
   That wasn't feasible, according to Burchett.
"That's too early for everybody," he said. "You have to have time to get everything prepared and get ready to go. It's not a junior tournament. This is a pro tournament."   
   The July 4 night schedule consisted of two doubles matches involving three American teams, including top-seeded Asia Muhammad and Maria Sanchez.
   Muhammad played for the Sacramento Capitals in World TeamTennis last year, and Sanchez grew up in Modesto, a 90-minute drive south of the Sacramento suburb of Gold River. They lost to Americans Macall Harkins and Zoe Scandalis 6-4, 2-6 (10-5).
   Muhammad won the doubles title in last year's inaugural FSP Gold River Women's Challenger with Sacramento-area resident Yasmin Schnack, who retired at the end of 2012.
   The unranked Lisjak, who did not need surgery on her back, received a spot in the 32-player singles draw with a protected ranking of No. 241. That's where she stood when she left the tour in March 2011.
   Lisjak came out sluggish Thursday after eliminating Sanchez, the top singles seed at No. 114 in the world and the defending champion, in two close sets early Wednesday evening.
   "At the end of the first set, I just started fighting," said Lisjak, who has an elaborate tattoo on the back of her right forearm that says "Fighter" in English. "I just need to get pumped up. When I get my heart rate up, I feel good."
   Lisjak looms as the title favorite, unless she finally wears down in the heat, because of her breathtaking power. She will face fifth-seeded Madison Brengle of Dover, Del., in Friday's first semifinal at 7 p.m.
   The 5-foot-4 (1.63 meters) Brengle, who dispatched fourth-seeded Petra Rampre of Slovenia 6-3, 6-3, has lost only nine games in her three matches. Rampre, 33, wears a bandana because she lost all the hair on her body six years ago. She has a rare disorder called alopecia universalis.
   In Friday's second semifinal, Allie Will of Boca Raton, Fla., will take on 17-year-old amateur Mayo Hibi of Japan in a clash of unseeded players.
   Will, a 22-year-old native of San Mateo in the San Francisco Bay Area, eliminated seventh-seeded Heidi El Tabakh, an Egyptian-born Canadian, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. It was Will's third straight three-set victory.
   Hibi, only 5-foot-5 (1.65 meters) and 117 pounds (53 kilograms), routed 6-foot-1 (1.85-meter) Alexandra Stevenson 6-2, 6-1. The 32-year-old Stevenson, a Wimbledon semifinalist at 18 in 1999, was coming off a grueling three-set match on Wednesday. In contrast, Hibi had breezed.
   Hibi, a resident of Irvine in the Los Angeles area, was born in Japan but has lived in the United States since she was 2 1/2.
   Both semifinals are first-time matchups.
At Gold River Racquet Club in Gold River, Calif.
Singles quarterfinals

   Ivana Lisjak, Croatia, def. Alisa Kleybanova, Russia, 0-6, 6-2, 7-6.
   Allie Will, United States, def. Heidi El Tabakh (7), Canada, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.
   Mayo Hibi, Japan, def. Alexandra Stevenson, United States, 6-2, 6-1.
   Madison Brengle (5), United States, def. Petra Rampre (4), Slovenia, 6-3, 6-3. 
Doubles quarterfinals
   Jacqueline Cako and Natalie Pluskota (2), United States, def. Madison Brengle and Kristy Frilling, United States, 7-6 (4), 6-1.
   Robin Anderson and Lauren Embree, United States, def. Elizabeth Lumpkin, United States, and Sally Peers, Australia, 4-6, 6-2 (10-5).
   Macall Harkins and Zoe Scandalis, United States, def. Asia Muhammad and Maria Sanchez (1), United States, 6-4, 2-6 (10-5).
   Naomi Broady, Great Britain, and Storm Sanders, Australia, def. Jan Abaza and Allie Will, United States, 6-3, 7-6 (3).
Friday's schedule
(Beginning at 4 p.m.)
   Macall Harkins and Zoe Scandalis, United States, vs. Robin Anderson and Lauren Embree, United States.
   Naomi Broady, Great Britain, and Storm Sanders, Australia, vs. Jacqueline Cako and Natalie Pluskota (2), United States.
(Beginning at 7 p.m.)
   Ivana Lisjak, Croatia, vs. Madison Brengle (5), United States.
   Allie Will, United States, vs. Mayo Hibi, Japan.

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