Friday, September 13, 2013

Veteran Harkins makes unusual career move

Macall Harkins moved from the Los Angeles
area to Redding to train under Jeremiah Walsh
and Jo Campbell. Photo by Paul Bauman
    REDDING, Calif. -- Every September for three years, Macall Harkins made the eight-hour drive up Interstate 5 from her home in the Los Angeles area to Redding for the women's Challenger.
   Even though both cities are in California, Harkins might as well have been traveling to a different planet.
   With a population of more than 13 million, sprawling Los Angeles is the second-largest metropolitan area in the United States behind New York. L.A. is known for freeways, smog, Hollywood, Disneyland, the Dodgers and the Lakers.
   Harkins, 27, grew up in the suburb of Palos Verdes and played at the Jack Kramer Club, the former home of Tracy Austin, Pete Sampras and Lindsay Davenport.
   Redding is (choose one):
   a. A city of 92,000 people.
   b. A furnace in the summer.
   c. An outdoor paradise.
   d. All of the above.
   If you chose "d," you win a brand new Mercedes-Benz, as Sacramento Capitals coach Wayne Bryan often jokes with players at his clinics.
   Harkins, though, doesn't have to make the trek anymore. She and her husband moved to Redding in March, Harkins said Thursday after losing to No. 2 seed Ksenia Pervak of Russia 6-2, 6-3 in the second round of the $25,000 The Ascension Project Women's Challenger at Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness.
   Say what? Move from a tennis mecca to remote Redding?
Ksenia Pervak reached No. 37 in the world
in 2011. Photo by Paul Bauman
   At last year's Challenger, Harkins met Jeremiah Walsh and Jo Campbell, the director of tennis and tennis coordinator at Sun Oaks, respectively.
   "I believe they can take my game to the next level (so I can) play at the WTA level," Harkins explained. "We moved here so I can get more one-on-one time with (Walsh)."
   Walsh serves as Harkins' tennis coach and Campbell as her mental coach.
   Whereas Harkins was a classic small fish in a big pond in Palos Verdes, the opposite is true in Redding. And let's face it -- the cost of housing in Redding is a fraction of that in Los Angeles.
   Harkins was accorded rock-star status during her match against Pervak. A crowd of about 100 fans -- an excellent turnout for a second-round Challenger match at 10 a.m. on a weekday -- erupted with cheers for her winners and groaned after her misses.
   Despite the one-sided score, Harkins put up a good fight, engaging Pervak in many hard-hitting rallies. Unfortunately for Harkins, Pervak won most of them.
   "Her defense was incredible," Harkins said. "She got to a lot of balls that I thought were going to be unreturnable or I would get a weak ball, but she managed to get a lot of balls back. So it made me hit more and more. That was really good on her part."
   Pervak, a 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter) left-hander, climbed to a career-high No. 37 in the world in 2011 after advancing to the fourth round at Wimbledon and winning a WTA tournament in Tashkent. Hampered by injuries this year, the 22-year-old Pervak has fallen to No. 142.
   Harkins, who played at the University of Illinois and Texas Christian University, is ranked No. 249 in doubles with nine career minor-league titles and No. 761 in singles with three career minor-league crowns. She needs to crack the top 100 to play regularly on the WTA tour, the major leagues of women's tennis.
   Like Pervak, Harkins is left-handed. Plus, she's 6 feet (1.84 meters) tall. That gives her two enormous advantages, and Walsh calls her "a tremendous ball-striker."
   So what's the problem? Basically, impatience and shot selection.
   "It's at a place of decision-making," Walsh said. "We're at a place where (she's) learning how to make choices in milliseconds and process and let go of feelings and stick to plans and return to plans.
   "You watched her match? She's not far off. That gal was 37 in the world, and you can see why. The opportunities did present themselves. It's just a matter of learning how to get deeper into a match (when) things might open up for you. Some players have a hard time with that. We're getting to the place where Macall is going to recognize opportunities even if it takes a set and half to get to them."
   Harkins, added Walsh, "has spent a career hitting hard and flat. You get to a certain level, and that doesn't get you through anymore. She's learning to recognize when to change the flight patterns and how to adjust to a difficult ball.
   "Sometimes her old instinct is, 'Oh, no, I'm in trouble; I better hit this hard,' instead of, 'I'm in trouble; I better work my way out of this spot.' It's not such a panic decision. That's what I mean by decision-making in that millisecond."
   Why doesn't hitting hard and flat work?
   "Cuz there's a net, and it's three feet high," Walsh quipped. " ... You don't just get to hit hard and flat cuz you want. If the ball is low, if the ball is difficult, you may not be able to create the right trajectory with pace."
   Harkins got a measure of revenge against Pervak later Thursday. The fourth-seeded team of Harkins and American Sanaz Marand, another left-hander, defeated Pervak and Yasmin Schnack of Elk Grove in the Sacramento area 6-4, 6-4 in the doubles quarterfinals.
   Harkins reached last year's doubles final with Chieh-Yu Hsu. They fell to Jacqueline Cako and Marand 7-6 (5), 7-5 in an All-American battle.
   The 25-year-old Schnack launched a comeback in Redding, where she won the doubles title in 2010 and 2011, after leaving the tour last fall. She is deferring her acceptance to nursing school for at least six months. The 2010 UCLA graduate reached career highs of No. 140 in doubles and No. 371 in singles last year.
   Unseeded Robin Anderson, who advanced to the NCAA doubles final as a UCLA sophomore in May, beat fourth-seeded Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 to reach the singles quarterfinals at Sun Oaks.
   Christina Makarova, a 17-year-old qualifier from San Diego, outlasted Cako 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 to gain her first Challenger quarterfinal.
   Top-seeded Olivia Rogowska of Australia and unseeded Julia Boserup, the 2011 Redding champion, each won 6-2, 6-0. In two matches, Boserup has lost only four games and Rogowska six.
   Boserup, who turned 22 on Monday, missed the first six months of the year with a bulging disc.
   Here are links to the singles and doubles draws and today's schedule:
   http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/singles_draw283.PDF
   http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/doubles_draw284.PDF
   http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/schedule284.PDF

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