Saturday, July 29, 2017

Defending champ beats top seed in $60K Sacramento

   GOLD RIVER, Calif. — The dream quarterfinal was turning into a nightmare for Sofia Kenin.
   Top-seeded Jennifer Brady, who has a big serve and powerful whipping forehand, steamrolled the defending champion in the first set on Friday night in the $60,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger.
   But Kenin, 18, rallied to defeat her fellow Floridian 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 at the Gold River Racquet Club in the Sacramento area and extend her winning streak to eight matches.
   Kenin, who swept the singles and doubles titles in last week's $60,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger, won the last three games in her first meeting against Brady.
   "She was obviously playing really well (in the first set), and I just told myself to keep fighting because I was right there. The games were close," said Kenin, seeded eighth and ranked No. 165. "I just told myself to fight for every point."
   That's more than you can say for Brady, who didn't try for two balls late in the match, including Kenin's forehand cross-court passing shot on her first match point.
   Kenin also became more aggressive, hitting harder and taking time away from Brady, after dropping the first set.
   "I started going for my shots," she said. "I already lost the first set, so I just tried to play my best."
   Brady, 22, reached the fourth round of the Australian Open as a qualifier in January and the second round at Wimbledon early this month. At No. 77, she is the highest-ranked player Kenin has beaten.
   Kenin's only other victory over a top-100 player came last month against No. 85 Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus in the first round of qualifying on grass in Mallorca.
   Brady will head to Stanford, where she is scheduled to play wild card Maria Sharapova in the first round in next week's Bank of the West Classic.
   Kenin, meanwhile, will meet unseeded Ajla Tomljanovic (pronounced EYE-la Tom-lee-on-o-vich), a 24-year-old Croatian based in Boca Raton, Fla., in a semifinal for the second consecutive week tonight.
   Kenin won 7-6 (3), 7-5 in Stockton to even her record against the 5-foot-11 (1.80-meter) Tomljanovic at 1-1. Tomljanovic won on clay in the first round of a $60,000 tournament in Charlottesville, Va., in April en route to the semifinals.
   Tomljanovic, ranked No. 270, beat Irina Falconi of Orlando, Fla., in the quarterfinals for the second straight week in a matchup of former top-100 players rebounding from surgery. After prevailing in three sets in the $60,000 Stockton Challenger, Tomljanovic won 6-1, 7-6 (2).
   Tomljanovic advanced to the fourth round of the 2014 French Open, had shoulder surgery in February 2016 and missed the rest of the year.
   In the other Gold River semifinal, second-seeded Kristie Ahn of Orlando will face 15-year-old phenom Amanda Anisimova of Hallandale Beach, Fla., after a 4 p.m. doubles semifinal.
   Ahn outlasted seventh-seeded Danielle Collins of St. Petersburg, Fla., 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in 2 hours, 21 minutes in a match that began at noon on another scorching day in the San Joaquin Valley.
   Anisimova, the most promising American with the initials "AA" since Andre Agassi, topped qualifier Chanel Simmonds, a 24-year-old left-hander from South Africa, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 as the temperature soared to 103 degrees (39.4 Celsius) early in the second set at 5:15 p.m.
   In May, the 5-foot-10 (1.83-meter) Anisimova became the youngest player to compete in the women's main draw of the French Open since Alize Cornet, also 15, in 2005. Before the tournament, Anisimova was profiled in The New York Times.
   Ahn and Anisimova will meet for the second time. Ahn triumphed 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 on clay in the final of a $60,000 tournament in Dothan, Ala., in April. Anisimova pulled a groin muscle early in the second set. Still, Ahn was highly impressed.
   "Obviously, she's a very clean ball-striker," Ahn said. "She's young, she's raw, she's talented. I think we're going to see a lot more of her. The crazy part is she's only 15. She's really mature for her age, and it's really impressive to watch her dictate matches."
   Anisimova said last week in Stockton, where she lost to American Jamie Loeb in the quarterfinals, that her goal is to become No. 1 in the world and win all the Grand Slam tournaments. That's realistic, according to Ahn.
   "Yeah, yeah," Ahn said without hesitation. "Obviously you never know, but she is only 15. I imagine the time when Serena, Sharapova and Venus aren't playing anymore, so it's going to be interesting to see the new wave of players in 10 years when they're 25. There's a good group of Americans, especially. I think we're all pretty curious to see how they grow up."
   Anisimova is eager to avenge her loss in Dothan.
   "This time it's going to be on hardcourt, so it's going to be a little different," said Anisimova, adding that her favorite surface is clay because it gives her more time to haul off on her groundstrokes. "Last time I wasn't fully there because I pulled a muscle, but hopefully this time I'll be there 100 percent, so we'll see how it goes."
   Both Ahn, 25, and Collins, 23, are college graduates, a rarity in professional tennis. Ahn, along with Nicole Gibbs, led Stanford to the NCAA team title in 2013 and graduated the following year. Collins graduated from Virginia last year as a two-time NCAA singles champion (2014 and 2016).
   Ahn shook off a double fault on set point in the first set and Collins' rally from 1-4 (one service break) to 4-4 in the third set.
   "A lot of credit to her," said the 5-foot-5 (1.65-meter) Ahn, ranked No. 116. "She played well, she put a lot of pressure on me, and I was just trying to clear it out of my head and take each point one at a time.
   "Obviously, experience helps, but she's playing pretty well, and there were just a couple of key moments that —you're right — I was able to put out of my head at the right time."
   Collins, ranked No. 160 after only one year on the circuit full-time, crushes her serve, return of serve and groundstrokes. She blasted 11 aces, including three in a row twice.
   "She definitely took the initiative from the start — serves and returns," Ahn said with a laugh, "I think she had like eight aces or something, so definitely whenever I had a look, I tried to get into points as much as I could. "
   Anisimova trailed by a set and a service break for 0-1 in the second set when she suddenly stopped making unforced errors and started rifling passing shots. When the 5-foot-5 (1.65-meter) Simmonds pounded an ace at 0-4, 0-40, she raised her arms in mock triumph and smiled at the fans sitting behind the baseline.
   Said Anisimova: "I just didn't have a great day today. I think everyone doesn't always play great, but I got myself out of it, and I started playing my game again."
   Here are the Gold River singles and doubles draws and today's schedule. Live streaming is available.

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