Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Kudla, other top Americans enter NorCal Challengers

   Denis Kudla heads a strong American contingent in the upcoming Napa, Sacramento and Tiburon Challengers.
   At No. 95 in the world this week, Kudla is the fourth-ranked American and only top-100 player entered in any of the tournaments. Next are fellow Americans Tim Smyzcek (No. 104), Rajeev Ram (No. 118), Rhyne Williams (No. 125), Alex Kuznetsov (No. 128) and Bradley Klahn (No. 133).
Qualifier Tim Smyczek signs autographs after beating fifth seed
and 2010 champion Fernando Verdasco in the first round of the
SAP Open in San Jose in February.  Smyczek and Daniel Evans,
below, reached the third round of the recent U.S. Open to earn
$93,000 each. Photos by Paul Bauman
   All except Ram are scheduled to play in each of the three tournaments. Ram is entered only in Sacramento and Tiburon.
   Smyczek and Great Britain's Daniel Evans, who also is entered in all three tournaments, reached the third round of the recent U.S. Open.
   The $50,000 Napa Valley Challenger, $100,000 Sacramento Pro Circuit Challenger and $100,000 First Republic Bank Tiburon Challenger will be held in consecutive weeks beginning Monday.
   The Napa tournament, at the Napa Valley Country Club, will be staged for the first time. Sacramento has been played annually since 2005, at the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club for the first four years and the Natomas Racquet Club since then. Tiburon has been contested since 2003 with a break from 2005 through 2008.
   Last year's singles champions in Sacramento and Tiburon -- James Blake and Jack Sock, respectively -- are not scheduled to return. Blake, who reached a career-high No. 4 in 2006, retired after the recent U.S. Open. Sock, ranked No. 88, plays primarily on the elite ATP World Tour. 
   Kudla, a 21-year-old Ukraine native who moved to Fairfax, Va., on his first birthday, played in the singles main draw of three Grand Slam tournaments this year. As a qualifier, he lost in the first round of the French Open on clay and reached the second round at Wimbledon on grass. Kudla earned direct acceptance into the U.S. Open on hardcourts and advanced to the second round, facing two of the top four Czechs.
   Kudla, a 5-foot-11 (1.80-meter) right-hander, beat Jiri Vesely, a 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) left-hander, at Flushing Meadows before losing to fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych. Vesely, 20, climbed to No. 1 in the world junior rankings in January 2011.
   Kudla also reached the quarterfinals at Queen's Club, a Wimbledon tuneup tournament in London on the ATP World Tour, before losing to fourth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
   Smyczek, only 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters), was the last American left in men's singles at the U.S. Open. John Isner and Sock also reached the third round. That was worth $93,000 for each player.
Evans gained the final of the Aptos Challenger
in July, losing to former Stanford star Bradley
Klahn after holding a championship point.
   Evans, also 5-9, held a championship point before losing to Klahn in the final of the $100,000 Aptos Challenger in July. As a qualifier at Flushing Meadows, Evans stunned 11th-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan and 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinalist Bernard Tomic of Australia.
   Evans then fell to 19th-seeded Tommy Robredo of Spain. Robredo ousted five-time champion Roger Federer in the fourth round before losing to eventual winner Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals.
   Also scheduled to make the NorCal swing are 30-year-old American Robby Ginepri, a U.S. Open semifinalist in 2005, and Australian Samuel Groth, who holds the record for the world's fastest serve (163.4 mph or 263 kph).
   Ram, 29, gained the second round of the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open this year. At Flushing Meadows, he routed 16th-seeded Fabio Fognini of Italy 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in the opening round.
   Williams, 22, lost in the first round of the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open. He reached the semifinals on clay in Houston in April for his best result on the ATP Tour and won last year's doubles title in Sacramento with former University of Tennessee teammate Tennys Sandgren.
   Kuznetsov, a Sacramento semifinalist in 2011 and 2006, qualified for Wimbledon in June before losing to Igor Sijsling of the Netherlands in the opening round.               
   Klahn, the 2010 NCAA champion as a sophomore at Stanford, reached the second round of the U.S. Open for the second consecutive year. The 2012 Stanford graduate won his first Challenger title two months ago in Aptos. 
   Brian Baker, one of the greatest comeback stories of all time in any sport, is entered in Sacramento and Tiburon. The 28-year-old American missed six years while undergoing five operations, including the Tommy John (elbow ligament replacement) procedure dreaded by baseball pitchers.
   Baker returned in 2011 and, as a qualifier, advanced to the final at Nice on clay on the ATP World Tour and the round of 16 at Wimbledon last year.
   Disaster struck again in January, when Baker tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee in the second round of the Australian Open. He underwent surgery on Jan. 21 and returned the competition in Aptos. 
   Here are links to the Napa, Sacramento and Tiburon entry lists:
   Aggie Pro Am -- The Sixth Annual UC Davis Aggie Pro-Am is scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Marya Welch Tennis Center.
   Lunch, side events for prizes and T-shirts are included in a $100 donation to UC Davis women’s and men’s tennis programs. To enter or help sponsor the event, call Ashley Williams at (530) 754-2593.
   Clay Court League -- The registration deadline for the Sacramento Clay Court League at Ben Combs' house in the suburb of Orangevale is Oct. 4. The season is scheduled for Oct. 19 through Nov. 3.
   For more information, visit www.sacramentoclaycourtleague.com.

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