Friday, July 21, 2017

Loeb beats 15-year-old phenom in Stockton quarters

   STOCKTON, Calif. -- Amanda Anisimova brought the hype, but Jamie Loeb brought the game.
   Despite giving up four inches (10.2 centimeters) to the 15-year-old phenom, the second-seeded Loeb outslugged Anisimova 6-4, 6-2 today in an all-American quarterfinal in the $60,000 University of the Pacific Stockton Challenger.
   In May, the 5-foot-10 (1.83-meter) Anisimova became the youngest player to compete in the main draw of the French Open since Alize Cornet of France in 2005. Before the tournament, USTA general manager for player development Martin Blackman called Anisimova "a very special player" in a New York Times profile of her.
   After dispatching sixth-seeded Grace Min 6-1, 6-2 in the second round on Thursday, Anisimova said her long-term goal is "to become No. 1 and win every Grand Slam." 
   But Loeb, a 22-year-old product of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York, is surprisingly powerful for someone her size.
   "You're not the first person to say that," Loeb, who turned pro after winning the 2015 NCAA singles title as a North Carolina sophomore, said with a laugh. "Some people are like, 'How do you get your power?' I'm like, 'I don't know.' I've always been pretty powerful and aggressive. I'm just trying to be more versatile on the court, but aggressiveness definitely is my strength."
   Loeb, ranked 154th, played outstanding offense and defense and repeatedly put Anisimova on the defensive with deep returns of serve. Loeb, however, put in only 43.4 percent of her first serves (23 of 53).
   "Obviously I can still improve on my serve, but I'm still pleased with how I'm playing and constructing points from the baseline," observed Loeb, a singles quarterfinalist in Stockton last year and the doubles champion in the 2015 (inaugural) tournament.
   Loeb said her game plan against Anisimova was to "keep the rally going because I knew once I got into the rally I had a good chance of winning. She has a big game and likes to go for her shots. I wanted to keep moving the ball around."
   The fast courts at the Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center should have favored the bigger Anisimova, but it didn't work out that way.
   "I didn't have enough time to prepare for them," lamented a subdued Anisimova, who was born in Freehold Township, N.J., to Russian parents.
   At the same time, Anisimova complimented Loeb.
   "She played really well," said Anisimova, ranked 257th. "I think her style of game really helps her here. She plays really quick and fast -- she prepares her return early and has a compact swing -- and moves around the court really well."
   Loeb, who has not lost more than four games in a set in three tournament matches, will play 18-year-old wild card Ashley Kratzer of Newport Beach in Southern California for the first time in Saturday's second semifinal. Kratzer, a left-hander who turned pro late last year, defeated Xu Shilin, a 19-year-old right-hander from China who uses two hands on both sides, 6-4, 6-2.
   "My expectations were to get to the quarters. I did that yesterday, so today, I said, 'Let's just play, have fun and do what you can do,' and it worked," said the 415th-ranked Kratzer, who skipped the juniors, like the Williams sisters, to work on her game and avoid injuries. "Anything from here on, I'm proud of."
   In the first semifinal at 9 a.m., fourth-seeded Sofia Kenin, 18, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., will face Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia.
   Kenin, 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters), downed Francesca Di Lorenzo, a 19-year-old left-hander from New Albany, Ohio, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-1.
   Kenin, who won last year's Sacramento Challenger, is ranked 160th. Di Lorenzo won the NCAA doubles title and lost in the first round of singles as the top seed as an Ohio State sophomore in May. She said she will decide at the end of the summer whether to turn pro.
   Tomljanovic, 5-foot-11 (1.80 meters) and lean, used her laser groundstrokes to subdue former Irina Falconi, only 5-foot-4 (1.63 meters) of Orlando, Fla., 2-6, 6-0, 6-2 in a matchup of former top-70 players rebounding from surgery. That prevented an all-U.S. semifinals.
   "I thought she played pretty good in the first set," Tomljanovic, who's based in Boca Raton, Fla., and speaks English with no accent, said after her second consecutive three-set victory in the blazing heat of the San Joaquin Valley. "I had a good start but kind of lost my concentration and let it slip away for a couple games. I just started fresh after the first set and tried to stay calm and win some more games. I got on the board 6-2 and came out and started picking up from there."
   Tomljanovic reached the Australian Open doubles quarterfinals and the fourth round of singles in the French Open in 2014. She had shoulder surgery in February 2016 and missed one year. Ranked a career-high No. 47 in February 2015, Tomljanovic has tumbled to No. 297.
   Tomljanovic is 1-0 against Kenin, having won 6-4, 6-1 in the first round of a $60,000 clay-court tournament in Charlottesville, Va., in April en route to the semifinals.
   Here are the Stockton singles and doubles draws and Saturday's schedule. Live streaming is available.

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