Sunday, July 23, 2017

Wild card, 18, stuns No. 2 seed in Stockton semis

   STOCKTON, Calif. -- She's the mystery woman of pro tennis.
   Ashley Kratzer began playing at the late age of 7 and bounced around academies in Florida. She has never had a coach for as long as three years.
   Kratzer skipped the juniors, started playing in pro tournaments at 14 and turned pro late last year at 17. She had no interest in going to college.
   Suddenly, though, Kratzer is making a name for herself. The 18-year-old wild card from Newport Beach in Southern California stunned second-seeded Jamie Loeb 6-2, 6-4 on Saturday to reach the final of the $60,000 University of the Pacific Stockton Challenger.
   Kratzer admitted she had no thoughts of reaching the final before the tournament.
   "Not at all," she said. "I was hoping just to get to the quarters. That was my goal. It's great; it's awesome. So now I get a special exempt into next week (the $60,000 Sacramento Challenger) because I'm supposed to be in qualies. That's what I'm most excited for, as well. The thought of having to play qualies tomorrow, it was gong to be a grind."
   Kratzer had won only one main-draw match in 13 $50,000 tournaments or above, losing in qualifying in 10 of those. She fell in the first round of the main draw in last year's Stockton Challenger, also as a wild card.
   Kratzer will meet another 18-year-old American, Sofia Kenin, for the title on today at 10 a.m. Kenin, the fourth seed and last year's Sacramento champion, defeated Croatia's Ajla Tomljanovic, a former top-50 player rebounding from shoulder surgery, 7-6 (3), 7-5.
   Kenin later won the doubles title with yet another 18-year-old American, Usue Maitane Arconada. Unseeded, they edged third-seeded Tammi Patterson of Australia and Chanel Simmonds of South Africa 4-6, 6-1 [10-5].
   Kenin overwhelmed Kratzer 6-2, 6-1 in the first round of a $25,000 hardcourt tournament in Surprise, Ariz., in February in their only previous meeting.
   "She's definitely going to get balls back, and she's definitely going to stay in it and not give up," said Kratzer, who will soar from No. 415 in the world to approximately No. 292 with the title or about No. 326 with a loss in the final. "She's a great fighter."
   Kratzer said she avoided junior tournaments, as Venus and Serena Williams did, because "I didn't grow until I was 15. I was really tiny. We were more concerned about injury and me getting burned out playing so many tournaments. My parents let me grow up, be a kid, have fun on the tennis court and not have the pressure. I think it was my advantage."
   Kratzer was recruited by Ohio State, Oklahoma, LSU and TCU, but she shunned them.
   "College isn't for me," Kratzer asserted. "I always knew I wanted to go pro, and school is not my favorite thing in the world."    
   Kratzer compensates for her inexperience with two major physical advantages. She's 5-foot-11 (1.80 meters) and left-handed. Her serve and forehand are weapons.
   "Definitely my serve and forehand won the match for me today," declared Kratzer, who eliminated Anna Tatishvili, another former top-50 player, in the second round and has not lost a set in four tournament matches.
   Kratzer's return of serve helped, too. She broke the 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter) Loeb's serve all four times in the first set and the first time in the second set.
   Asked if she had ever broken serve five consecutive times in a match, Kratzer said, "I don't think ever, not against a good player."
   Loeb, who turned pro after winning the 2015 NCAA singles titles as a North Carolina sophomore, had a low first-serve percentage for the second consecutive match. She put in only 40.7 percent (24 of 59), had no aces and committed four double faults.
   Still, Kratzer said the 154th-ranked Loeb "was serving well. I just happened to be returning really well today. I had great timing."
   In contrast to Kratzer, Kenin is a highly decorated junior. She won the 2015 USTA Girls' 18s national title to earn a wild card into the U.S. Open women's singles draw, in which she lost to Mariana Duque-Marino of Colombia in the first round.
   Kenin also won the 2016 USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge to earn a wild card into the U.S. Open, losing to eventual runner-up Karolina Pliskova in the opening round.
   Kenin reached the girls singles final in the 2015 U.S. Open and climbed as high as No. 2 in the world junior rankings.
   Tomljanovic, 5-foot-11 (1.80 meters), led 4-1 in the second set. Kenin, 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters), rallied to serve for the match at 5-4 but was broken. Kenin broke right back, giving herself another chance to serve for the match.
   In the final game, Kenin overcame a 0-40 deficit, one more break point and a double fault on her first match point. Tomljanovic followed with two consecutive unforced errors to end it.
   "I was just fighting out there," said the 160th-ranked Kenin, who had lost to Tomljanovic 6-4, 6-1 in the first round of a $60,000 clay-court tournament in Charlottesville, Va., in April in their only previous meeting. "I know she's a really good player and she's really tough to play. I just came mentally and physically prepared, and I knew exactly what I needed to do. I was playing aggressive and taking more chances and trying not to get as down on myself as last time."
   Kenin won't be fazed by playing a left-hander in the final. She defeated another one, 19-year-old American Francesca Di Lorenzo, in three sets in the quarterfinals.
   As for Kratzer, "I'm finally starting to have a breakthrough and figure out who I am on the court," she said. "(I learned) that I'm able to hang with a player of (Loeb's) ranking and who she is. And just being confident and trusting myself that I can beat these players and that I'm just as good as they are."
   Here are the Stockton singles and doubles draws and today's schedule. Live streaming is available.
   Here are the qualifying draw and today's schedule for the $60,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger in the Sacramento area.

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