Saturday, October 8, 2016

Help! It's on the way for American men

Paul McCartney, performing live at left and right, and The Beatles, middle,
are shown on giant video screens during the first event at Golden 1 Center
in downtown Sacramento on Tuesday. Photo by Paul Bauman
   STOCKTON, Calif. — Former Beatle Paul McCartney christened Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento this week with two concerts.
   Forty-six miles (74 kilometers) to the south, the long-suffering United States has its own Fab Four in the semifinals of the $100,000 Stockton Challenger.
Michael Mmoh, 18, rips a leaping forehand dur-
ing his win over Darian King on Friday in the
Stockton Challenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Michael Mmoh will face Noah Rubin today at 11 a.m. at the new Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center at the University of the Pacific, followed by third-seeded Frances Tiafoe against Mackenzie McDonald, the old man of the group at 21. The matches will be streamed live.
   No American man has won a Grand Slam singles title since Andy Roddick in the 2003 U.S. Open. With the retirement of Robby Ginepri (who's in Stockton as a USTA coach) last year, no active U.S. man has even reached a Grand Slam singles semifinal.
   But there's hope. A lot of it.
   The Stockton semifinalists are among 10 Americans age 21 or younger ranked in the top 400, headed by 18-year-old Taylor Fritz at No. 58 and 19-year-old Jared Donaldson at No. 98. With a little help from their friends, they could spark a revolution.
   Fritz defeated Donaldson during this week last year to win the Sacramento Challenger, which subsequently moved to Stockton. Donaldson reached the third round of the recent U.S. Open as a qualifier, stunning David Goffin and Viktor Troicki. They were ranked No. 14 and No. 32, respectively, at the time.
   These days, players typically peak in their late 20s. It's a long and winding road in pro tennis. It takes time for everything to come together.
   Mmoh, who won the USTA boys 18 national title in August to earn an automatic berth in the U.S. Open, pronounced the future of American men's tennis "very bright. It's a very good effort that we have four up-and-comers in the semis, and last week we had seven (U.S. players) out of eight in the (Tiburon) quarters. That's a good sign, and hopefully we can keep it going."
Noah Rubin, the 2014 Wimbledon boys champion, beat Frank Dancevic
of Canada for the first time in six matches. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Mmoh, 18, beat Darian King 6-4, 6-4 Friday to avenge a 7-6 (2), 6-2 loss to the 24-year-old veteran from Barbados in Sunday's final of the $100,000 Tiburon Challenger.
   The powerful Mmoh was fresher this time, getting straight into the main draw after qualifying in Tiburon, and he learned from the loss to the steady King.
   "I'm really happy with the way I stuck to my game plan," said the 6-foot-1 (1.85-meter) Mmoh, the Saudi Arabia-born son of Nigeria native and former journeyman pro Tony Mmoh. "I wanted to play the match on my terms, really make him pay for any short balls he was giving me. Make them or miss them, that was my plan. I was just going to go out there swinging. If I lose the match doing that, it's too good, but I'm not going to lose the match how it was last time with 30-ball rallies, that kind of jazz."
   Rubin, a 20-year-old product of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York, beat Frank Dancevic, a 32-year-old Canadian, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. It was Rubin's first victory over Dancevic, who reached a career-high No. 65 in 2007, in six matches.
   Rubin, only 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) and 155 pounds (70 kilograms), won the Wimbledon boys singles title in 2014, reached the NCAA singles final as a freshman at Wake Forest before turning pro, and stunned then-No. 18 Benoit Paire of France in the first round of the Australian Open in January.
No. 3 seed Frances Tiafoe, 18, will try to avenge a loss to
Mackenzie McDonald last week. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Rubin, ranked No. 192, and Mmoh, ranked No. 264, have met once. Rubin won 7-6 (1), 2-6, 7-5 in the quarterfinals of the 2014 USTA Boys 18 National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich. Rubin was 18 and Mmoh 16 at the time, but it seems like yesterday.
   King and Rubin are similar players, according to Mmoh.
   "Both move very well — not the most aggressive players but tricky," he said.
   McDonald, a native of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, upset fifth-seeded Denis Kudla of Arlington, Va., and Tampa, Fla., 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4. The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter), 145 (66-kilogram) McDonald turned pro in June, forgoing his senior year at UCLA, after becoming the first man in 15 years to sweep the NCAA singles and doubles titles.
   McDonald outlasted Tiafoe 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5 last week in the Tiburon quarterfinals. It was their first meeting.
   "Mackie played well last week," Tiafoe, 18, said after topping sixth-seeded Alessandro Giannessi of Italy 7-6 (5), 6-3. "I definitely thought it was still my match to win. I had a lot of break points at 5-all to serve for the match, and I definitely let him get out of there."
   The 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Tiafoe was the youngest man in the main draw of this year's U.S. Open (he was born 10 days after Mmoh). He led No. 20 seed John Isner, 6-foot-10 (2.08 meters), two sets to none before falling in a fifth-set tiebreaker to the No. 1 American at the time in the first round at Flushing Meadows. Afterward, all Tiafoe could do was let it be.
   Although the 117th-ranked Tiafoe is an explosive shotmaker, McDonald is most impressed by his heart.
   "He never really gives up," said McDonald, ranked No. 371. "Even last week, I was serving for the match, and he got back into it. Luckily, I broke right back and held.
McDonald, a Piedmont native, upset fifth-seeded
Denis Kudla of Arlington, Va., and Tampa, Fla.,
3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "He's come out with a lot of fire and confidence and has pulled out a lot of big matches. I think that's what a lot of the guys talk about on tour with him."
   In tennis, all you need is love.
   In the doubles semifinals, fourth-seeded Matt Reid and John-Patrick Smith of Australia beat local wild cards Jose Chamba Gomez and Sem Verbeek 6-4, 6-3.
   Chamba Gomez, who serves right-handed and hits forehands left-handed, and Verbeek were teammates at Pacific last season. Chamba Gomez, from Ecuador, is a junior. Verbeek, from the Netherlands, completed his eligibility in June.
   Reid and Smith, who won the Tiburon doubles title, will face second-seeded Brian Baker of Nashville, Tenn., and Sam Groth of Australia in Sunday's final.
   Here are:
    —The Stockton singles and doubles draws and today's schedule.
    —The Redding singles and doubles draws and today's schedule. The $25,000 tournament is being held at Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness.

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