Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mestach overcomes bizarre injury, gains another final

Top-seeded An-Sophie Mestach beat fourth-seeded
Nao Hibino after losing to her in last week's Stock-
ton Challenger final. Photo by Paul Bauman
   GOLD RIVER, Calif. — An-Sophie Mestach undoubtedly is the only player in tennis history to get injured from bouncing the ball before serving.
   Actually, it was from her habit of twirling the racket in her right hand while bouncing the ball about 25 times before every serve, first and second, during last week's inaugural $50,000 Stockton Challenger.
   Mestach advanced to the final, losing to Nao Hibino at the University of the Pacific.  
   "I got a wrist problem after bouncing so much," Mestach explained Saturday after beating Hibino 7-5, 6-4 in the semifinals of the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger. "I was turning my racket so much.
   "I was very nervous last week. I was trying to make the cut for U.S. Open, and that didn't really help me mentally. I fought my way through the tournament, but I didn't play well. This week I'm playing much better."
   Mestach has slashed her ball bouncing to three times before each serve. 
   "My boyfriend was making fun of me like I was a basketball player," she said. "The coaches weren't very happy with me because I had pain in my wrist because of doing that.
   "I was making it more difficult for myself. I practiced one day, and I just did every time three bounces, and now I'm doing much better in the matches."
   The top-seeded Mestach, a 21-year-old Belgian, will meet eighth-seeded Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine for the second straight week tonight at the Gold River Racquet Club in the Sacramento area. Kalinina outclassed wild card Brooke Austin of Indianapolis 7-5, 6-1 in a matchup of teenagers.
No. 8 seed Anhelina Kalinina outclassed
wild card Brooke Austin in a matchup
of teenagers. Photo by Paul Bauman
   The singles final, which will follow the 5 p.m. doubles final, will match Mestach's consistency and endurance against the 18-year-old Kalinina's firepower. Mestach beat her 7-6 (3), 6-2 in the second round at Stockton.    
   "I didn't play very aggressive," the 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter) Mestach recalled of the match. "I was playing very defensively, and she was having problems with it. She was missing a lot of shots.
   "I think it just depends on the day for her. If she has a good day, she can play very well, but she can also miss a lot of balls."
   Kalinina said "the match was very tough for me because she has unbelievable physical conditioning. She's so fit. She can run for I don't know how long.
   "I can't miss easy balls. I have to try to play a very solid game. That's the most important (thing) against her because if you miss a lot of balls, there is no chance to win. I'm not such an incredible runner like she."
   Still, Kalinina moves exceptionally well for a 5-foot-10 (1.79-meter) woman.
   As it turned out, the 104th-ranked Mestach missed the cutoff for the U.S. Open, Aug. 31 to Sept. 13 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., by three spots. Unless at least three players withdraw, she will have to win three qualifying matches to play in her second Grand Slam tournament. Mestach got straight into the main draw of the Australian Open — barely — in January and lost to 10th-seeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 6-2, 6-2 in the first round.
   Not only is there less pressure on Mestach in Sacramento, she likes the conditions better there than in Stockton.
Hibino looked nothing like the player who won
Stockton. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "I didn't like Stockton at all," groused Mestach, the world's top junior in 2011. "The balls were flying more than here. I don't know what it was; it was something weird with the courts, but it was (the same) for everyone. Who (handled it) the best (won) the matches.
   "This week (it's) much easier to play. (The ball is) flying less, and you have more control, but (it's) still bouncing. I think I just adjusted better this week than last week. I've been here a bit longer; it's my second week in the U.S., so (there's) also the time difference and everything."
   Mestach wasn't crazy about playing the fourth-seeded Hibino, though.
   "She's a tricky player on this surface," Mestach allowed. "The ball bounces high, and she has a slight loopy thing going on. It's quite annoying to play her."
   But Hibino, 20, of Japan was nothing like the player who won Stockton with pinpoint groundstrokes, a strong serve and exquisite touch.
   Serving at 5-5, 30-30 in the first set, Hibino committed two consecutive errors to lose her serve.  After netting a forehand return of a second serve in the next game to drop the set, she flung her racket on the ground in a rare display of temper from a Japanese player.
   In the second set, Hibino double-faulted three times at 2-2 to suffer the only break of the set. She did hit a perfect backhand lob in the next game for 0-40 but couldn't capitalize.
   Serving at 3-5, Hibino escaped a match point with an ace, but Mestach converted her next one.
Austin won four straight games to lead 5-4 in the first set
before Kalinina dominated. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "I made a lot of (errors wide in the match), and her defense (was) good today, so she made me (make) mistakes," Hibino, who hadn't lost a set in two career matches against Mestach, said in halting English. "Her serve (was) better than last week."
   Hibino, whose winning streak ended at eight matches, conceded that she "felt (a) little bit tired." 
   Kalinina overcame other issues in the second semifinal. She led 4-1 in the first set before Austin, 19, reeled off four straight games. Kalinina then won nine of the last 10 games. 
   "I lost my concentration (in the first set)," moaned the 192nd-ranked Kalinina, who last year in the juniors reached the U.S. Open singles final and won the Australian Open doubles title with Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia. "Then I (became) very angry (with) myself, so I just started to push myself, like, 'C'mon, just move, move, move and hit and don't miss.' That helped me a lot, and I tried to keep this focus to the end."
   Kalinina, according to Austin, "just played looser" after trailing 5-4 in the first set. "She hit a lot more winners and went for more, and they all just went in. There wasn't really much I could have done, I don't think."
   The match featured 21 double faults, 13 by Austin.
   "I just changed my serve -- literally the day before this tournament -- so I'm like all over the place," explained the 19-year-old Austin, an All-American in singles and doubles as a freshman at Florida this past season. "I'm still getting used to it."
   Austin, 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters), said she returned to a full motion instead of the half delivery that she had been using because of back trouble.
   "It's completely different. I'm actually surprised (the serve) went in as much as it did," conceded Austin, who wore Florida Gators orange and blue and plans to return to the school for at least one more season. 
   Austin and Sanaz Marand are tied for the lead in the U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge — which consists of the $50,000 Challengers in Stockton, Sacramento and Lexington, Ky., in a three-week span — with 30 points each.
   The American woman who earns the most WTA ranking points in two of the three tournaments will receive a wild card in the singles main draw of the U.S. Open.
At Gold River Racquet Club in Gold River, Calif.
Singles semifinals
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, def. Nao Hibino (4), Japan, 7-5, 6-4.
   Anhelina Kalinina (8), Ukraine, def. Brooke Austin, United States, 7-5, 6-1.
Doubles semifinals
   Ashley Weinhold and Caitlin Whoriskey, United States, def. Eri Hozumi, Japan, and An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, 6-4, 6-2.
   Nao Hibino, Japan, and Rosie Johanson, Canada, def. Robin Anderson and Maegan Manasse, United States, 7-6 (3), 6-3.   
Today's schedule
(Starting at 5 p.m.) 
   Nao Hibino, Japan, and Rosie Johanson, Canada, vs. Ashley Weinhold and Caitlin Whoriskey, United States.
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, vs. Anhelina Kalinina (8), Ukraine.

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