Sunday, September 15, 2013

Perez completes amazing run to Redding title

Adriana Perez, left, beat Robin Anderson, right, to win the Redding Challenger.
In the middle is Sun Oaks director of tennis Jeremiah Walsh. Photo by Paul Bauman
   REDDING, Calif. -- Adriana Perez pulled off the most improbable run to a title in memory this week in The Ascension Project Women's Challenger.
   The fifth-seeded Perez survived two match points in the first round. Then she escaped three match points in the second round. Then she blanked the top seed 6-0 in the third set in the quarterfinals.
   After coasting in Saturday's semifinals, Perez wore down unseeded Robin Anderson 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 today to win the $25,000 tournament at Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness.
   "I (almost) lost in the first round, and (to) win the tournament is unbelievable," the Venezuelan marveled in broken English. "All change (in) my week. I'm here talking to you, and I (almost) lost in the first round. In the second round, too. It's the first time that happened to me in my life. It's incredible."
   Anderson was coming off a nearly three-hour semifinal in 94-degree (34.4 Celsius) heat and took a medical timeout for a strained left thigh muscle after the second set of the final. She declined to use either as an excuse, though, saying Perez outplayed her.   
   Perez ended a streak of four American champions in the 11-year-old Redding Challenger. Former Stanford star Laura Granville won in 2009, Jamie Hampton in 2010, Julia Boserup in 2011 and qualifier Chelsey Gullickson last year. Hampton is now ranked No. 25 in the world.
   Anderson, from Matawan, N.J., would have made it five Americans in a row.     
   Perez earned $3,919 for her second career Challenger singles title. Already the top Venezuelan, she will jump from No. 237 in the world to a career high of about No. 208.
   Anderson, who will begin her junior year at UCLA later this month, can accept only expenses from the runner-up prize money of $2,901. She will soar from No. 624 to about No. 470 after reaching her first Challenger singles final.
   Anderson did pick up her first Challenger doubles crown, teaming with Lauren Embree to edge Jacqueline Cako and Allie Kiick 4-6, 7-5 [10-7] in a battle of unseeded American teams. Cako won last year's title with American Sanaz Marand.
   Today's singles final matched diminutive 20-year-olds on a breezy, 86-degree (30 Celsius) day, mercifully down from 105 (40.6 Celsius) earlier in the week.
   Perez, 5-foot-4 (1.63 meters), and Anderson 5-3 (1.61), showed great athleticism in their first career meeting. They pounded groundstrokes into the corners, dug out low balls, slugged high ones, ran down apparent winners and occasionally ventured to the net. In the end, Perez had a bit more firepower with her hard, flat forehand.
   "She hits a really heavy ball that I kind of struggled with," conceded Anderson, who reached the singles round of 16 and doubles final in the NCAA Championships in May. 
   After Perez lost the last four games of the first set, she raised her game in the last two sets.
   "She was ripping through her forehands and serving really well," Anderson said. "I didn't play as aggressively as I wanted to play today, and I wasn't making as many balls, either."
   Said Perez, "I just started fighting more."
   Of Perez's many assets -- including her punishing forehand, steady two-handed backhand, high-kicking serve and deft volleying -- one of the most impressive is her poise. In addition to saving the five match points in the early rounds, she had two opportunities to implode in the final but refused.
   With Perez facing set point on her serve in the first set, Anderson slugged a forehand that appeared long but was called good. Perez hit a short reply, and Anderson nailed a forehand cross-court passing shot for the set.
   Walking to her chair, Perez held her thumb and index finger half an inch apart toward the umpire to indicate how much she thought Anderson's shot was long. Perez, however, didn't utter a word.
   "You cannot do (anything) about it, so why get mad?" she said. " ... Just keep playing and try (not to dwell) on it."
   Trying to serve out the second set, Perez double-faulted twice in a row. However, she quickly regained her form and converted her fifth set point.
   Perez, who turned pro at 17, said she's always calm on the court.
   "This is a hard sport," Perez reasoned. "If you get mad one moment, one second, one minute, you probably lost the match because of that."
   Even Perez's post-match celebration was restrained. After smacking a runaround forehand winner on her first match point, she just grinned broadly and pumped her fist.
   Anderson was much more emotional during the match, though never out of control. After misses, she shrieked, slapped her thigh or bent over in dismay. Perez, meanwhile, was stoical throughout the match.
   Maybe Perez was destined to win the title of The Ascension Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of local youth and collegiate and professional athletes through a team approach. After all, Perez's initials are the same as the project's.

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