Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cancer survivor Kleybanova advances

Alisa Kleybanova, shown in last month's
Gold River Challenger in the Sacramento area,
played her first Grand Slam match in 2 1/2 years
on Monday. She beat Monica Puig in the first
round of the U.S. Open. Photo by Paul Bauman
   A few years ago, it would have been just another victory for Alisa Kleybanova.
   Not now.
   The 24-year-old Russian played the first Grand Slam match of her comeback from cancer, beating Monica Puig of Puerto Rico 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 Monday in the first round of the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   "I'm just taking it step by step, enjoying it every day, trying to improve as much as I can and play my best tennis," Kleybanova, whose last Grand Slam appearance came 2 1/2 years ago, told reporters.
   Kleybanova reached a career-high No. 20 in the world in February 2011 but was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma (cancer of the immune system) that May. She missed two years, except for a comeback attempt in March last year that ended after one tournament.
   Kleybanova's current ranking of No. 363 is unimpressive until you consider that she was No. 922 two months ago. She was allowed to use her protected ranking of No. 26, where she stood when she left the tour, to enter one Grand Slam tournament.   The victory over Puig was highly encouraging for two reasons.
  First, it came against a tough opponent. Puig reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon two months ago.
  Second, Kleybanova showed that her fitness is returning after her debilitating chemotherapy and radiation. She outlasted Puig, 19, in 2 hours, 36 minutes.
   "She was a top-20 for a reason," Puig said. "It's amazing to see how she has come back from (her illness) and be able to play at such a high level. Definitely, I won't be surprised to see her at the top."
   Kleybanova next will face ninth-seeded Jelena Jankovic, the runner-up in the 2008 U.S. Open to Serena Williams. Jankovic ousted 18-year-old Madison Keys, arguably the United States' top prospect, 6-3, 6-4.
   Kleybanova's fellow Moscow native, 32nd-seeded Dmitry Tursunov, wore down Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 in the opening round. It was the first U.S. Open victory in five years for Tursunov, who has battled injuries for much of that time.
   Tursunov, who trains at the Gorin Tennis Academy in the Sacramento suburb of Granite Bay, has a good chance to reach the third and even fourth round.
   If he beats wild card Guillaume Rufin of France in the second round, he likely will play eighth-seeded Richard Gasquet of France in the third round. Tursunov is 5-2 lifetime against Gasquet.
   Tursunov has career bests of the third round in the U.S. Open (2003, 2006 and 2008) and the fourth round in a Grand Slam tournament (Wimbledon in 2005 and 2006).
   Bradley Klahn, a former Stanford star who turned 23 last Tuesday, reached the second round of the U.S. Open for the second straight year. He beat fellow left-hander Kenny De Schepper, 6-foot-8 (2.03 meters) of France 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (0), 7-6 (4) to earn a matchup with yet another left-hander, 23rd-seeded Feliciano Lopez of Spain.
   British qualifier Daniel Evans, the runner-up to Klahn in this month's Aptos (Calif.) Challenger, stunned 11th-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.
   "He has no pressure," Nishikori said. "He was playing a little aggressive, and I was kind of tight."
   Collin Altamirano, a 17-year-old wild card who trains at Arden Hills in Sacramento, will meet 22nd-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany today at 8 a.m. PDT in the first round.
   At least some of the match could be shown on Tennis Channel's broadcast, which begins at the same time. Altamirano's match will be streamed live at www.usopen.org. Go to "Video and photos" at the top of the page, scroll down to "U.S. Open live" and click on "Watch now," then "Courts" and "Court 11."
    Altamirano earned an automatic berth in the U.S. Open by winning the USTA Boys 18 National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich., this month. He became the first unseeded player in the tournament's 71-year history to capture the title.      

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