Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Young and restless highlight top stories of 2014

CiCi Bellis, 15, meets the press after stunning Australian Open runner-up Dominika
Cibulkova in the first round of the U.S. Open in August. Photo courtesy of USTA
   It will be remembered as the year of youth in Northern California.
   Everywhere you looked -- in the professional, college and junior ranks -- teenagers either from NorCal or playing in the region starred in 2014. And no one shone brighter than 15-year-old CiCi Bellis of Atherton.
   Bellis became an overnight sensation in the U.S. Open, overshadowing the rest of her phenomenal year.
   Naomi Osaka, 16, of Japan pulled off a major upset in the Bank of the West Classic on the elite WTA tour at Stanford.
   Stefan Kozlov, Jared Donaldson and Michaela Gordon broke through in NorCal Challengers. Kozlov, 16, and Donaldson, who turned 18 on Oct. 9, are pros from Florida and Rhode Island, respectively. Gordon is a 15-year-old amateur from Saratoga, near San Jose.
   Unseeded Lynn Chi reached the NCAA women's singles final in May as a 19-year-old Cal sophomore.
   Sacramento's Collin Altamirano gained the final of the USTA Boys 18 National Championships for the second straight year.
   Sam Riffice, 15, of Roseville achieved a rare double. His neighbor, 14-year-old Keenan Mayo, and Katie Volynets, 12, of Walnut Creek won USTA national titles.
   Marring an otherwise glorious year were the depravity of Deepal Wannakuwatte, the demise of the Sacramento Capitals in World TeamTennis and the loss of the legends tournament in Sacramento.
   Here are the czar's top 10 stories of the year, followed by honorable mentions, in NorCal tennis: 
   1. Bellis stuns Cibulkova in U.S. Open -- Bellis shocked 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 in the first round at Flushing Meadows.
   Bellis, then the second-ranked junior in the world, overcame a 3-1 deficit in the third set to become the youngest player to win a main-draw match in the U.S. Open since Anna Kournikova, also 15, in 1996.
   Cibulkova, only 5-foot-3 (1.61 meters), was the runner-up to Li Na in the Australian Open in January and won last year's Bank of the West Classic at Stanford.
   Bellis' hometown of Atherton is adjacent to Stanford, and she grew up attending the tournament.
Mike, left, and Bob Bryan of the visiting Texas Wild and their
father, Sacramento Capitals coach Wayne Bryan, watch
players warm up before a World TeamTennis match in 2013.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   2. Bryans win U.S. Open for 100th career title -- Appropriately, top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan outclassed 11th-seeded Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez of Spain 6-3, 6-4 at Flushing Meadows for their 100th men's doubles title.
   The Bryans, 36-year-old identical twins and ex-Stanford stars from Southern California, extended their record to 16 Grand Slam men's doubles crowns. Five have come in the U.S. Open, tying Richard Sears and James Dwight in the 1880s. The Bryans surpassed Bob Lutz and Stan Smith for the record in the Open era, which began in 1968.
   3. Wannakuwatte sentenced -- Wannakuwatte, the Capitals' owner, was sentenced in November to 20 years in prison for orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme. Wannakuwatte, a 64-year-old native of Sri Lanka, will be eligible for parole in 17 years.
   Wannakuwatte was arrested on Feb. 20 in Sacramento on charges of defrauding banks and individual investors in his medical supply business of more than $100 million.
   4. Bellis ends year as world's top junior -- Bellis clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking by reaching the quarterfinals of the prestigious Orange Bowl in Plantation, Fla., this month after previously top-ranked Shilin Xu of China lost in the first round.
   The second-seeded Bellis fell to 13th seed and eventual champion Sofia Kenin, 16, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., in the Orange Bowl semifinals.
   Bellis, however, won the doubles title with Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.
   5. Bellis wins USTA 18 title -- Bellis, seeded second, drubbed fifth-seeded Tornado Alicia Black, 16, of Boca Raton, Fla., 6-3, 6-1 in San Diego to become the youngest winner of the USTA Girls 18 National Championships since Lindsay Davenport, also 15, in 1991.
   Bellis, who won 12 of the last 13 games after trailing 3-0 in the first set, earned an automatic wild card in the women's main draw of the U.S. Open.
Sabine Lisicki uncorks a record 131-mph (210.8-kph)
serve in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford.
Photo courtesy of Bank of the West Classic.
   6. Lisicki blasts world's fastest women's serve -- Sabine Lisicki of Germany unleashed a 131-mph (210.8-kph) rocket in a 7-6 (2), 6-1 loss to fifth-seeded Ana Ivanovic in a first-round day match in the Bank of the West Classic.
   Venus Williams, who held the previous mark of 129 mph (207.6 kph), overpowered qualifier Paula Kania of Poland 6-3, 6-2 in the featured night match at Stanford.
   7. Serena wins BOW again -- Top-seeded Serena Williams captured her third Bank of the West title, beating third-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany 7-6 (1), 6-3.
   Williams, who overcame a 5-1 deficit in the first set and two set points at 5-2, also won the tournament in 2011 and 2012. She did not return last year.
   8. Kozlov reaches Challenger final -- Kozlov, a wild card, stunned No. 2 seed Tim Smyczek of Tampa, Fla., 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1) in the semifinals of the $100,000 Sacramento Pro Circuit Challenger at the Natomas Racquet Club.
   Kozlov recorded his first victory over a top-100 player -- Smyczek (pronounced SMEE-check) was No. 99 -- and reached his first Challenger final in only his third attempt.
   Top-seeded Sam Querrey ended Kozlov's amazing run in the final, 6-3, 6-4, but predicted his young countryman eventually would crack the top 10 in the world.
Serena Williams won her third Bank of the West title, beating
Angelique Kerber. Tri Nguyen/
   9. Riffice wins back-to-back major junior titles -- Riffice joined Grigor Dimitrov as the only players to sweep the boys 16 singles titles in the Eddie Herr International Championships and the Orange Bowl. The tournaments were held back-to-back this month in Bradenton, Fla., and Plantation, Fla., respectively.
   Dimitrov, a 23-year-old Bulgarian and the boyfriend of Maria Sharapova, is ranked 11th in the world after ascending to a career-high No. 8 in August.
   10. Capitals move after 28 years, then fold -- The Capitals, the longest-running and most successful WTT franchise, announced in February that they were moving to Las Vegas. However, the team disbanded five weeks later after Wannakuwatte was charged.
   The Capitals won a record six WTT titles during their 28 years in Sacramento. Kolleen McNamee, the team's general manager, cited the lack of a permanent tennis facility as the reason for the move.
   Honorable mention -- Davenport, a former Capital, was inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
   -- Northern California was omitted from the 2015 PowerShares Series schedule after a stop in Sacramento last February. Recently retired James Blake won the four-man Champions Shootout over Hall of Famers John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Jim Courier.
Stefan Kozlov, 16, falls onto his back to celebrate his victory
over No. 2 seed Tim Smyczek in the semifinals of the
$100,000 Sacramento Challenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   -- Raquel Kops-Jones, a San Jose resident and former NCAA doubles champion from Cal, reached the doubles semifinals in the Australian Open with regular partner Abigail Spears of San Diego.
   -- Osaka, a qualifier playing in her first WTA main-draw match, shocked unseeded Samantha Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 7-5 in the first round of the Bank of the West Classic. Stosur held a match point at 7-6 in the tiebreaker and led 5-3 in the third set.
   -- Maria Sanchez, who was born and raised in Modesto, won her first WTA title. Unseeded Sharon Fichman of Canada and Sanchez edged third-seeded Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic and Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands 2-6, 6-0 [10-4] in the doubles final of the $250,000 ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand.
   -- Querrey swept the singles titles of the Napa, Sacramento and Tiburon Challengers in consecutive weeks in late September and early October.
   -- Bellis won back-to-back $25,000 Challenger singles crowns in Rock Hill, S.D., and Florence, S.C., reached the girls doubles final in the French Open (with Vondrousova), helped the United States win the Junior Fed Cup in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and captured the girls 18 singles title in the prestigious Easter Bowl in Indian Wells.
   -- Donaldson reached the semifinals of the $50,000 Napa Challenger and quarterfinals of the Sacramento Challenger at 17.
Lindsay Davenport, a former Sacramento
Capital, was inducted in the International Tennis
Hall of Fame. 2012 photo by Paul Bauman
   -- Gordon advanced to the quarterfinals of the $25,000 Redding Challenger before losing to Alexandra Stevenson, a 1999 Wimbledon semifinalist and the daughter of basketball legend Julius Erving, in a third-set tiebreaker.
   -- Chi fell to Danielle Collins of Virginia 6-2, 7-5 in a matchup of unseeded sophomores in the NCAA women's singles final in Athens, Ga.
   -- Paul Goldstein, a Stanford alumnus and former pro who climbed to No. 58 in the world in singles and No. 40 in doubles, was named the Cardinal's third men's coach since 1967. Goldstein, who turned 38 in August, replaced John Whitlinger, who announced his retirement at age 60 after Stanford's second consecutive first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinal has won 17 NCAA men's team titles, second to USC's 21, but none since 2000.
   -- The injury-plagued Sacramento State women suffered their first Big Sky Conference losses in 13 years.   
   -- Jessica Willett, a junior at San Jose State, saved 11 match points in a 6-2, 0-6, 7-5 victory over Suzy Tan at No. 5 singles to clinch the Spartans' 4-2 victory over Dartmouth in San Jose.
   -- Altamirano, the fifth seed and defending champion, lost to third-seeded Noah Rubin of Rockville Centre, N.Y., 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 in the final of the USTA Boys 18 National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich. Rubin had won the Wimbledon boys singles title the previous month.
   -- Riffice, Mayo and Milpitas' Andrew Ton won boys titles in the USTA National Clay Court Championships. Riffice captured the 16 doubles in Delray Beach, Fla., Mayo the 14 singles in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Ton the 14 doubles in Fort Lauderdale.
   -- The top-seeded Volynets won the USTA Girls 12 National Championships, dominating sixth-seeded Sedona Gallagher of Henderson, Nev., 6-0, 6-3 in Alpharetta, Ga.   

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