Sunday, October 11, 2015

U.S. teens to vie for Sacramento Challenger title

No. 7 seed Jared Donaldson, 19, "was lasering
winners left and right," said No. 1 Denis Kudla.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- An American teenager almost won last year's Sacramento Challenger.
   This year, one will.
   Two U.S. teens reached today's final in the $100,000 tournament at the Natomas Racquet Club.
   No. 7 Jared Donaldson, who turned 19 on Friday, used his devastating groundstrokes to topple No. 1 Denis Kudla 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 on Saturday. In the first semifinal, 17-year-old Taylor Fritz put on a serving clinic to defeat Matt Reid of Australia 6-3, 7-6 (4) in a matchup of wild cards.
   "I don't think I've been the older guy in too many matches in my professional life," said the 153rd-ranked Donaldson, a Providence, R.I., native who trains in Irvine, Calif., "but I think it's really good for tennis to have two young guys playing in a (final)."
   Donaldson noted that 18-year-old phenoms Borna Coric of Croatia and Alexander Zverev of Germany met in Cincinnati on the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of men's professional tennis, in August. 
   "But that was first round," Donaldson said. "For a final, albeit in a Challenger, it shows we belong to be where we are."
   Fritz, the world's No. 1 junior, will turn 18 on Oct. 28. If he beats Donaldson in their first meeting, he will not be the youngest champion ever on the minor-league USTA Pro Circuit, in which Challengers are the top level. Michael Chang holds the record of 15 years, 7 months in Las Vegas in 1987. 
   Stefan Kozlov reached the final of last year's Sacramento Challenger as a 16-year-old wild card, losing to 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) ATP veteran Sam Querrey of Las Vegas.
Kudla won seven straight games in the middle of the
match before Donaldson regained his form. Photo by
Paul Bauman
   Donaldson, who's listed at 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters) and only 160 pounds (73 kilograms), registered his fourth victory over a top-100 player this year. Kudla is ranked a career-high No. 67. Donaldson also has beaten No. 65 Nicolas Mahut of France, No. 70 Hyeon Chung of South Korea and No. 72 Tim Smyczek of Tampa, Fla. Chung is 19 years old.
   Donaldson led 2-0 in the second set Saturday, but Kudla reeled off the next seven games.
   "He started playing better, and I backed off a little bit," Donaldson said.
   Donaldson earned the only break of the third set at 2-2. Kudla fought off three break points in the game, but on the fourth one, Donaldson ripped a backhand passing shot down the line.
   "In the third set, I said I have to get back to playing offensive," Donaldson said. "That's what I did. I started dictating, and the rest is history."
   Donaldson showed no signs of nerves in the last game, serving out the match at love.
   "I said to myself, If I get nervous, I'm going to lose the match anyway," he said. "It's not worth it. I just have to go out there and play my game and enjoy the journey.
   "When I play my worst tennis, I get nervous and tentative and don't believe in myself. I start to not enjoy the journey of the match. I just had to remind myself that this is what you play for. This is where you want to be. You want to be in this situation."
   Kudla, 5-foot-11 (1.80 meters), was helpless as Donaldson regained his form in the third set.
Taylor Fritz, 17, put on a serving clinic
against Matt Reid. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "He was lasering winners left and right," marveled Kudla, a 23-year-old resident of Tampa. "I did everything I could. It's a fast court. I maybe played a little shaky service game to get broken, but overall I thought he played really, really (well).
   "He's playing a match where I don't think he feels too much pressure, so he went out there and played lights out. Too good."
   So was Fritz's serve. The 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) resident of Rancho Santa Fe in the San Diego area won 34 of 40 points (85 percent) on his first serve and 15 of 18 (83 percent) on his second serve. He pounded seven aces, committed only one double fault and faced no break points.
   "I served really solid and played all my games solid," said Fritz, who survived three match points in his scintillating 7-6 (3), 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7) victory over third-seeded Dustin Brown of Germany in the second round. "I wasn't under the pressure I was under when I played Dustin Brown or even Marcos (Giron in the quarterfinals). I was holding pretty easily. I felt in control in the tiebreaker."
   Reid, a muscular 5-foot-11 (1.80 meters), also played well. He hammered 13 aces, had three double faults and saved three of four break points. The only service break in the match gave Fritz a 4-2 lead in the first set.
   Appropriately, Fritz ended the match with a service winner and an ace.
   Fritz's mother (Kathy May), father (Guy Fritz) and uncle (Harry Fritz) all played professionally.  May climbed to No. 10 in the world and played in three Grand Slam quarterfinals. Guy is one of Taylor's coaches.
Fritz said he had no thoughts of playing in the final
when he arrived in Sacramento. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Taylor defeated then-No. 66 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain in the opening round in Nottingham, England, on grass on the ATP World Tour in June. He turned pro in August before the U.S. Open and proceeded to win the boys singles title at Flushing Meadows.
   But Fritz said he had no thoughts of playing in the final when he arrived in Sacramento.
   "Coming in here, I had never won a match in a Challenger. It was my second Challenger," noted Fritz, who lost in the first round in Aptos, Calif., in August. "I was really looking one match at a time. I wanted to get the first Challenger win under my belt. I would have been happy with that, but I kept going and competing, and now I'm here."
   The top doubles seeds also lost, as Johan Brunstrom of Sweden and Frederik Nielsen of Denmark fell to Daniel Brands of Germany and Brown 6-2, 7-6 (9).
   Brands and Brown will face Blaz Kavcic and Grega Zemlja of Slovenia in the final. Kavcic and Zemlja beat Fritz and 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) countryman Reilly Opelka 7-5, 6-3 on Saturday.
   Nielsen and Jonathan Marray of Great Britain in 2012 became the only wild cards to win the Wimbledon men's doubles title.
$100,000 SACRAMENTO CHALLENGER
At Natomas Racquet Club
Singles semifinals
   Taylor Fritz, United States, def. Matt Reid, United States, 6-3, 7-6 (4).
   Jared Donaldson (7), United States, def. Denis Kudla (1), United States, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.
Doubles semifinal
     Daniel Brands and Dustin Brown, Germany, def. Johan Brunstrom, Sweden, and Frederik Nielsen (1), Denmark, 6-2, 7-6 (9).
Today's schedule
Court 1
(Starting at noon)
   Daniel Brands and Dustin Brown, Germany, vs. Blaz Kavcic and Grega Zemlja, Slovenia.
   Jared Donaldson (7), United States, vs. Taylor Fritz, United States.

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