Tuesday, June 17, 2014

With stroke of genius, Miller wins Junior Sectionals

Alaina Miller, 15, slugs her unorthodox two-fisted forehand
during her victory over Vanessa Nommensen in the final of
the NorCal Sectionals. Photo by Paul Bauman
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- It looks more like a baseball hitter's stroke than a tennis player's.
   But, boy, is it effective.
   And it could carry Alaina Miller, a 15-year-old San Francisco Bay Area resident, all the way to the pros.
   Crushing the ball like the Giants' Buster Posey with her two-fisted forehand, the fifth-seeded Miller overcame a slow start to defeat second-seeded Vanessa Nommensen 6-4, 6-3 today for the 18-and-under title in the NorCal Girls' 18 & 16 Sectional Championships at the Arden Hills Resort Club & Spa. 
   "I haven't coached anybody who can do the things she does," said John Pierre Fruttero, Miller's 43-year-old coach and the older brother of former world top-100 doubles player John Paul Fruttero. "I coached a couple of very good (female) two-handers on both sides when I was in L.A., but not like her. ... She's fearless. Her racket speed and ball speed are as high as I've seen in junior tennis."
   When asked if Miller, ranked seventh nationally in the 16s, has pro potential, Fruttero said: "Absolutely. ... In a lot of ways, she's already knocking on the door."
   Miller will play as an amateur in her first pro tournament this summer, Fruttero added.
   "Maybe even here," he said.
   Fruttero was referring to the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger, July 5-12 at the Gold River Racquet Club in the Sacramento area. Miller needs a wild card to play in the qualifying event.
   "If she gets in, she'll be here," Fruttero said.
   Fruttero concedes that Miller's two-handed backhand isn't as big a weapon as her forehand, "but it's getting a little closer. We're going to try to continue to make it such, but her forehand is world class."
   Only a handful of male or female pros have hit with two hands on both sides. They include:
   -- International Tennis Hall of Famers Pancho Segura and Monica Seles.
   -- Marion Bartoli, who retired last summer at 28 after winning Wimbledon for her only Grand Slam title.
   -- China's Peng Shuai, who's co-ranked No. 1 in the world in women's doubles.
   -- Thailand's Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, the top-ranked junior girl in the world in 2008.
   -- Julian Knowle, a 40-year-old Austrian who reached No. 6 in the world in men's doubles in 2008 and teamed with Andre Begemann of Germany to edge Switzerland's Marco Chiudinelli and Roger Federer on Sunday for the title in Halle, Germany, on grass.
   -- Retired men's standouts Fabrice Santoro, Jan-Michael Gambill, Byron Black and Gene Mayer. The latter starred at Stanford in the mid-1970s and reached a career-high No. 4 in the world in 1980.
   "I knew Jan-Michael Gambill pretty well," Fruttero said. "My brother used to practice with him, and I used to help him a little bit. I learned something from that and from my other girls."
Miller, right, beat Nommensen in straight sets in Sacramento
for the second time in six weeks. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Miller, a home-schooled junior-to-be from Saratoga in the San Jose area, has used two hands on both sides since she began playing tennis at 5.
   "I was tiny, so I couldn't hit one-handed," said the braces-wearing Miller, who's now 5-foot-5 1/2 (1.7 meters) and 118 pounds (53.5 kilograms). "I started with two, and I was like, 'Yeah, this could work,' so I kept it.
   "I'm enjoying it. I think it's a good thing to have. It kind of confuses them in the beginning."
   Miller is working on her serve and return of serve to set up her forehand.
   "She needs to start points a little more consistently in a positive manner," Fruttero said. "Just starting points is going to determine a lot as to whether she's in control on the baseline or not. The serve and return are going to be keys for her game."
   Then there's the mental aspect, especially knowing when to unleash her forehand and staying composed.
   "She's not afraid to take risks, as her game shows," Fruttero said. "It's just about taking proper risks that have a good reward balance."
   Although many of Miller's forehand missiles whizzed by Nommensen for passing shots, others sailed long or wide. Miller could have imploded, particularly after trailing 3-0 and 4-2 in the first set, but didn't.
   "Mentally, I feel I was really good," she said. "Usually, I'm not very good mentally. I usually get really frustrated. That was a big achievement for today."
   Instead, Nommensen appeared to get frustrated as Miller's rockets often left her flat-footed.
   "You can't hit a bad shot," observed Nommensen, ranked 75th nationally in the 16s. "If you hit a bad shot in the middle of the court, you're done. Every shot has to be well-placed and deep."
   Miller, though, came out sluggishly. She had dismissed Nommensen, a 16-year-old San Jose resident who will attend Tulane in New Orleans on scholarship in the fall, 6-1, 6-3 six weeks ago in Sacramento in their last meeting and had needed almost three hours to subdue top-seeded Rachel Chong of Danville in Monday's semifinals.
   "My feet were dead," Miller admitted. "I couldn't move. I felt like I was very off. Then I started getting it back, and I was, 'OK, I can roll with this.' I felt much better after that."
   From 2-4, Miller reeled off seven consecutive games.
   "My shots started getting a little bit shorter," Nommensen said, "and she was being more patient. She wasn't going for shots too early in the point." 
   Pouncing on Nommensen's second serve, Miller broke six straight times during one stretch and seven of 10 times overall.    
   Miller's second match point summarized the contest. On Nommensen's second serve, Miller ran around her backhand and, for the umpteenth time, ripped a forehand passing shot down the line.
   Posey would have been proud.
At Arden Hills Resort Club & Spa in Sacramento
   Alaina Miller (5), Saratoga, def. Vanessa Nommensen (2), San Jose, 6-4, 6-3.
   Allison Chuang, Albany, and Vanessa Nommensen (1), San Jose, def. Paige Cline, Kentfield, and Alaina Miller, Saratoga, 6-4, 2-6 [12-10].
   Jenna Friedel (9), Mill Valley, def. Carolyn Campana (2), Hillsborough, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3.
   Sarah Bahsoun, Los Gatos, and Carolyn Campana (1), Hillsborough, def. Alexa Corcoleotes, Hillsborough, and Katya Tabachnik (2), San Francisco, 6-4, 3-6 [10-8].
At Sacramento State
   JT Nishimura (2), San Jose, def. Cameron Klinger (4), Elk Grove, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1.
   William Griffith, Fresno, and JT Nishimura (1), San Jose, def. David Ball, Palo Alto, and Logan Staggs (2), Tracy, 6-2, 6-3.
   Sam Riffice (1), Roseville, def. Alexandre Rotsaert (3), Fresno, 6-1, 6-1.
   Dominic Barretto and Paul Barretto (2), Tiburon, def. Jayson Fung, San Francisco, and Sam Riffice (1), Roseville, 6-4, 6-4.
At University of the Pacific in Stockton
   Keenan Mayo (1), Roseville, def. Aditya Singh (2), Cupertino, 6-0, 6-0.
   Ryan Ali, Mill Valley, and Stevie Gould (4), Corte Madera, def. Nicholas Khamphilath, San Jose, and Issa Yoshida (5), Campbell, 4-6, 6-3 [10-5].
   Niluka Madurawe (3), Sunnyvale, def. Katie Volynets (2), Walnut Creek, 6-4, 6-2.
   Niluka Madurawe, Sunnyvale, and Jacquie Tan (1), Elk Grove, def. Jenna Schlatter, Saint Helena, and Jillian Taggart (2), Fair Oaks, walkover.
At Sunnyvale Tennis Center
   Aidan Mayo (1), Roseville, def. Sima Pesic (5), Del Rey Oaks, 6-1, 6-1.

   Zachery Lim, Fairfield, and Sima Pesic (1), Del Rey Oaks, def. Brandon Aprill, Mountain View, and Marshall Leung (3), Tiburon, 4-6, 6-2 [10-7].
   Laura Sanders (3), El Cerrito, def. Azaria Hayes (2), Pinole, 6-3, 6-2.
   Katherine Duong, Cupertino, and Molly Heber (1), Mill Valley, def. Leslie Ligier, Cupertino, and Stephanie Nguyen (2), Fremont, 6-4, 6-2.

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