Thursday, August 31, 2017

No. 1 Pliskova survives scare from Gibbs

Nicole Gibbs, shown last year at Indian Wells, lost to top-ranked Karolina Pliskova
2-6, 6-3, 6-4 today in the second round of the U.S. Open. Photo by Mal Taam
   For one set, Nicole Gibbs was brilliant.
   The former Stanford star was scurrying around the court, even though her left thigh was wrapped, and lacing passing shots against the top-ranked player in the world.
   It didn't last, as Karolina Pliskova rallied for a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over the American qualifier today in the second round of the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   The turning point in the daytime match at Arthur Ashe Stadium came when Pliskova broke serve at love to lead 4-3 in the second set. Pliskova, a 6-foot-1 (1.86-meter) Czech, won all 17 points on her first serve in the third set.
   Gibbs, a 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter) resident of Santa Monica in the Los Angeles area, had 14 winners and only four errors in the first set but finished with 32 and 28, respectively. She had lost to Pliskova 6-0, 6-0 in their previous meeting in the second round at Sydney in 2015.
   Pliskova avoided joining the list of upset victims in the U.S. Open. Through two rounds, five of the top eight seeds have been eliminated: No. 2 Simona Halep, No. 5 and two-time runner-up Caroline Wozniacki, No. 6 and defending champion Angelique Kerber, No. 7 Johanna Konta, and No. 8 and 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
   Gibbs won three NCAA individual titles in her three years at Stanford. She had two in singles (2012 and 2013) and one in doubles (2012), and added one NCAA team championship (2013).
   Two other ex-Stanford standouts, Bob and Mike Bryan, got off to a good start as they try to end their three-year Grand Slam title drought in men's doubles. The fifth-seeded Bryan twins, 39, defeated Czechs Roman Jebavy and Jiri Vesely 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.
   The Bryans have won a record 16 Grand Slam men's doubles titles, including five in the U.S. Open. Their last major crown came in 2014 in Flushing Meadows.
(Matches involving players with Northern California connections)
Men's doubles
First round
   Rohan Bopanna, India, and Pablo Cuevas (10), Uruguay, def. Bradley Klahn (Stanford 2009-12) and Scott Lipsky (Stanford, 2000-03), United States, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Women's doubles
First round
    Raquel Atawo (born in Fresno; Cal, 2001-04; San Jose resident), United States, and Sabine Lisicki, Germany, def. Nicole Melichar, United States, and Anna Smith, Great Britain, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.
  Nadiia Kichenok, Ukraine, and Anastasia Rodionova, Australia, def. CiCi Bellis (born and raised in San Francisco Bay Area), United States, and Marketa Vondrousova, Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-4.
Mixed doubles
First round
   Raquel Atawo (born in Fresno; Cal, 2001-04; San Jose resident), United States, and Aisam-Ul-Haq Quereshi, Pakistan, def. Louisa Chirico and Bradley Klahn (Stanford 2009-12), United States, 6-4, 6-4.
   Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, Spain, and Nicholas Monroe, United States, def. Kristie Ahn (Stanford, 2011-14), and Tennys Sandgren, United States, 6-4, 6-2.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Bellis suffers stunning collapse in U.S. Open

   The U.S. Open has been the scene of some of CiCi Bellis' greatest triumphs.
   Today, it was the scene of one of her most disappointing losses.
   Bellis, who was born in San Francisco and grew up in nearby Atherton, fell to Nao Hibino of Japan 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., in a first-round match postponed by rain.
   Bellis, 18, led 5-3 in the third set but collapsed in a blaze of unforced errors, especially on the forehand side. She was clearly perturbed afterward, giving the 22-year-old Hibino a perfunctory handshake at the net.
   Bellis, the youngest player in the top 50 at No. 36, will drop to about No. 43 after the U.S. Open. She reached the third round as a qualifier last year, then turned pro.
   Three years ago, Bellis stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova in the opening round to become the youngest player to win a singles match at the U.S. Open since Anna Kournikova, also 15, in 1996. Cibulkova had advanced to the Australian Open final that year.
   Hibino, ranked No. 80, earned her first main-draw victory in a Grand Slam tournament after seven losses and topped Bellis for the first time after two defeats. Hibino won the inaugural Stockton Challenger in 2015.
   Meanwhile, Sloane Stephens, a 24-year-old Fresno product, upset No. 11 seed Cibulkova 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 in the second round. Stephens, who climbed to No. 11 in the world in 2013, returned to competition last month at Wimbledon after missing 11 months because of foot surgery. She will play Ashleigh Barty of Australia.
   Ex-Stanford star Nicole Gibbs beat Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay 6-0, 1-6, 6-1 in the completion of a first-round match suspended by rain. Gibbs, 24, will face top-ranked Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic.
   Sofia Kenin, who won last month's Stockton Challenger, topped qualifier Sachia Vickery 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (0) in a second-round matchup of Miami-area residents who often practice with each other.
   Kenin, 18, was born in Moscow and moved to the United States as a baby. She will take on her idol, wild card Maria Sharapova. If Kenin loses and remains an amateur, she will forfeit $144,000 for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open.
   On the men's side, No. 17 seed Sam Querrey, a 29-year-old San Francisco native, beat 32-year-old Dudi Sela of Israel 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 in the second round.
   Querrey, 6-foot-6 (1.98 meters) and 210 pounds (95 kilograms), is 9 inches (22.9 centimeters) taller and 66 pounds (30.0 kilograms) heavier than Sela.
   Querrey, who reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon, has not lost a set in two matches at the U.S. Open. He will meet another 5-foot-9 (1.75-meter) veteran, 27-year-old Radu Albot of Moldova, and could face Davis Cup teammate John Isner, seeded 10th, in the round of 16.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Teen stuns defending champion Kerber in U.S. Open

   Two champions of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford played today in first round of the U.S. Open.
   Only one advanced.
   No. 6 seed Angelique Kerber, the defending champion at Flushing Meadows, lost to Naomi Osaka, 19, of Japan 6-3, 6-1 during the day session at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York. Kerber won the 2015 Bank of the West.
   It was Osaka's first top-10 victory and the first time the defending champion lost in the first round of the U.S. Open since Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2005.
Madison Keys applauds the crowd at last month's
 Bank of the West Classic, which she won, at
Stanford. Photo by Mal Taam
   No. 15 seed Madison Keys, who won last month's Bank of the West Classic, opened the evening session with a 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory over Elise Mertens of Belgium at Ashe.
   Ex-Stanford star Nicole Gibbs leads Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay 6-0, 1-6, 1-0 in a match suspended by rain. The contest is scheduled to resume on Wednesday at 8 a.m. PDT. Partly cloudy weather with only a 10 percent chance of rain is forecast.
   Ashe is the only stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center with a roof.
   Cepede Royg, 25, is ranked No. 75, and Gibbs, a 24-year-old Southern Californian, is No. 127. But Gibbs won their only previous meeting, 6-3, 6-2 in the second round at Carlsbad, Calif., in 2015 on a hardcourt. Both players are undersized, Gibbs at 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters) and Cepede Royg at 5-foot-4 (1.63).
   The winner will face top-ranked Karolina Pliskova, who outclassed Magda Linette of Poland 6-2, 6-1.
   CiCi Bellis' first-round match against Nao Hibino of Japan was pushed back to Wednesday after the 8 a.m. match between No. 18 seed Gael Monfils and fellow Frenchman Jeremy Chardy on Court 17.
   Bellis, who grew up a five-minute drive from Stanford in Atherton, is 2-0 against Hibino, who won the inaugural Stockton Challenger in 2015. Bellis, 18, is the youngest player in the top 50 at No. 36. Hibino, 22, is ranked No. 80.
   In second-round matches scheduled for Wednesday:
   --No. 17 seed Sam Querrey, a 29-year-old San Francisco native, will meet diminutive Dudi Sela (5-foot-9 or 1.75 meters and 144 pounds or 65 kilograms) of Israel.
   --Sloane Stephens, a 24-year-old Fresno product, will take on No. 11 seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia.
   --Sofia Kenin, who won last month's Stockton Challenger, will play qualifier Sachia Vickery in a matchup of Miami-area residents. Kenin, 18, ousted No. 32 seed Lauren Davis of Orlando, Fla., in the first round.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Querrey dominates former top-10 player in Open

No. 17 seed Sam Querrey defeated former top-10
player Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 today in the first
round of the U.S. Open. 2014 photo by Paul Bauman
   Sam Querrey could go far in the U.S. Open.  
   With his confidence at an all-time high, the 29-year-old San Francisco native opened with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Gilles Simon, a former top-10 player from France, today at Flushing Meadows.
   The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Querrey, coming off his first Grand Slam semifinal last month at Wimbledon, fired 10 aces in the 1-hour, 52-minute match.
   "I thought I did everything pretty well," the 17th-seeded Querrey, who now lives in Santa Monica in the Los Angeles area. told reporters. "The best thing I thought I did well was not get too down on myself. I lost serve three or four times in a row at one point, which doesn't happen too often. I did a good job of battling through that. Every part of my game felt good today, so overall I was pretty happy."
   Simon, 32, ascended to a career-high No. 6 in 2009. Both Querrey, ranked No. 21, and Simon, ranked No. 39, have reached the round of 16 in the U.S. Open twice.
   Querrey will face another 32-year-old veteran, Dudi Sela of Israel, in the second round on Wednesday. Sela, only 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters) and 144 pounds (65 kilograms), dismissed U.S. wild card Christopher Eubanks 6-2, 6-4, 6-2. Querrey leads Sela 3-2 in their head-to-head series.
   Querrey could face 10th-seeeded John Isner, 6-foot-10 (2.08 meters), in an all-American showdown in the round of 16. Querrey is 4-2 against Isner.
   Earlier today, Dmitry Tursunov lost to qualifier Cameron Norrie 7-6 (7), 6-1, retired. Tursunov, a 34-year-old Russian who owns a townhouse in the Sacramento suburb of Folsom, had his right knee taped during the match.
   Norrie, a 22-year-old left-hander, was born in South Africa, grew up in New Zealand, starred at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, still lives there, and plays for Great Britain.
   On the women's side, Sloane Stephens beat 2015 U.S. Open runner-up Roberta Vinci of Italy 7-5, 6-1 for her first victory at Flushing Meadows in three years. Stephens, a 24-year-old Fresno product, won eight of the last nine games.
   Stephens missed last year's U.S. Open with a foot injury and lost in the first round in 2015. The former world No. 11 had foot surgery and missed 11 months. She returned at Wimbledon, then reached the semifinals in Toronto and Cincinnati.
   Two years ago in the U.S. Open, Vinci pulled off one of the biggest upsets in sports history when she ended Serena Williams' bid for the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf's in 1988.
   The unseeded Vinci, playing in her first major semifinal at age 32, shocked the top-ranked Williams 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
   Stephens, a semifinalist in the 2013 Australian Open (beating Williams), will face No. 11 seed Dominika Cibulkova in the second round.
    Sofia Kenin, who won the $60,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger last month, stunned No. 32 seed and fellow American Lauren Davis 7-5, 7-5 for her first Grand Slam victory. Kenin, 18, trailed 4-0 in the first set.
   “My dad and I made a deal (that) if I win my first round, I get to go to Tiffany's," Kenin, who was born in Moscow and moved to the United States as a baby, told reporters. “I'm going to take him out tonight in the city and we'll go.”
   If Kenin remains an amateur, she will forfeit $86,000 for reaching the second round and at least $144,000 if she beats qualifier Sachia Vickery on Wednesday.
   Kenin and Vickery, 22, live five minutes from each other in the Miami area and "practice (together) almost every single day," Vickery said.
   The winner could take on wild card Maria Sharapova, who ousted No. 2 seed Simona Halep 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tursunov Q&A Part III: Don't blame Russia for Trump

Dmitry Tursunov says voters, not his native Russia, put Donald
Trump in the White House. 2014 photo by Paul Bauman
   Russia has been in the news a lot lately. 
   The nation almost was banned from last summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro because of doping. In the end, 270 of its athletes were cleared and 167 dismissed.
   Former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova returned from a 15-month doping suspension in April.
   And former FBI director Robert Mueller is heading an investigation into alleged Russian interference in last year's U.S. presidential election.
   Former top-20 player Dmitry Tursunov discussed these issues — as well as Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, politics, favorite cultures and global warming — during the recent $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif.
   Tursunov, a 34-year-old Russian, moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at 12 to train and turned pro at 17. He owns a townhouse in the Sacramento suburb of Folsom but is based in his hometown of Moscow.
 Tursunov is scheduled to play British qualifier Cameron Norrie in the first round of the U.S. Open on Monday at 8 a.m. PDT on Court 14. It will be Tursunov's first appearance at Flushing Meadows since 2014, when he lost in the opening round to Alejandro Gonzalez of Colombia. Tursunov has reached the third round of the U.S. Open four times.
   Why has Russia had such a doping problem in Olympic sports?
   I think they wanted to win that way (laughs). I wouldn't be able to answer that question. There are a lot of theories. I believe that none of these high results can be achieved on Flintstones (vitamins). This is so far beyond what people can buy at the store. All the athletes are basically guinea pigs for all the stuff you end up buying at GNC later — creatine powders, protein powders. Anything you buy at GNC had to be tested somewhere, and it's tested on athletes.
   I think there are basically two entities working. One is trying to develop something that helps you perform better, and the other is trying to keep up with the first one and trying to figure out, OK, this is helping you perform better, so this is considered doping.
   I don't know why marijuana is on the forbidden list because it doesn't seem like it helps with performance. But it's OK for medicinal purposes. ... Caffeine in large amounts was considered doping — I don't know if it changed or not. If you had enough Red Bull, you would test positive. It's just gradations, I guess. ...
   I'm taking some protein shake, and I already feel nervous because anything you take, it's your responsibility. It doesn't matter where you buy it; it doesn't matter if the package doesn't say it contains something forbidden. We do get some warnings about eating in China and Mexico because steroids from the meat can get in your bloodstream.
   It's a tough situation because you can't perform eating Flintstones or One-A-Day Centrum. If you think about it, you're a race car that you're supposed to drive on street tires from Big O. You have to treat professional athletes like a race car. Don't expect it to be running on the same type of gas and using the same type of oil and tires or have anything similar to a regular car. You have to try to find advantages and improvements all over the place in order to perform better.
   What do you think of Donald Trump?
   He was always a bully. It's kind of funny because if you told anyone 10 years ago that Donald Trump was going to be president, no one would have believed it. Of course, everyone can blame Russia for it, but the fact of the matter is if another country can really influence the election of the greatest country on the planet, there's something wrong. It doesn't add up when people say America is the greatest country in the world but then they blame another country for messing with their election. They're shifting blame from themselves. Someone had to vote for him. ...
   I'm pretty far from politics, but Donald seems like not the guy you want to be friends with. He's a pretty tough, abrasive guy. I think he's fairly obnoxious. How many people would say he's a guy they would like to have a drink with or have a round of golf with? He's like the kid who would take the other kid's lunch money.
   But I also feel like he's getting so much criticism for everything. OK, he's doing some stupid s--- here and there, but even if he decides something good, people aren't going to let him do it because they're so busy criticizing him. If he's so bad, how did he end up being a candidate for president? That's puzzling to me. ... People should have been worried (about him) a long time ago, not whine and cry about it now. ... Impeach him or let him do something. ... People are fighting him tooth and nail. It's kind of sad to watch.
   Are you a dual citizen?
   No. Just Russian.
   If you could have voted in last year's U.S. presidential election, would you have, and if so, for whom?
   I don't like politics. Politicians are going to say what they need to say. Let's say I want to become mayor of a city. First, I need to identify what the citizens are most unhappy with, and then I need to sing to their tune. If they're all, hypothetically, against gay marriage, then I, as a (mayoral candidate), am going to have to say, "No gay marriages in our town." Then the citizens are going to respond to me. (I) might be for gay marriages, but to become the mayor, you need to do what the citizens want. You don't belong to yourself. You're like a windmill. If the wind blows south, you turn toward south. If it blows north, you turn around. ...
   So you don't vote in Russian elections?
   No. As much as people say voting matters, I don't think it truly does. I think most people vote without a true understanding of what they're voting for. We don't have enough information to make a qualified decision. We have to study it and analyze it. Reading media is not necessarily a good thing. Listening to a couple of (debates) ... they all have their points written out for them. They're going to point a finger and say, "Oh, yeah, but you smoked weed in college, so you wouldn't be a good president. What you got to say about that?" It's all a bunch of noise. I don't really believe in that.
   We're too consumed with looking at others instead of looking at ourselves. The world would be a much better place if each person woke up in the morning and said, How can I today be better? Instead, we say, "Donald Trump wants to build a wall. Oh my god. What a terrible president. I can't believe the damn Russians. They gave us Donald Trump for president." It's not very productive.
   What do you think of Vladimir Putin?
   I think he's doing what's best for his country, whether other people like it or not. Just like Donald Trump is going to do what's better for his country. I don't know (Putin) personally, but the public perception is he's a pretty tough guy. Some people say he's a dictator; some people say he's the best president for Russia. I don't know. I guess we'll find out in time.
   There's a lot of issues in Russia, some he's been able to fix, some he hasn't or maybe has made worse. Can we blame him for it or somebody else? ... It's not like he just waves a magic wand and corruption disappears. There has to be a lot of steps to fix it. ... Not a lot of countries are in love with him at the moment. There are sanctions and other stuff. He's sort of treated like a villain, but it's not as black and white as the media like to portray it. ...
   Honestly, I'm not the most educated person to make a qualified assessment of whether he's a good or bad president. Who am I to say Donald Trump is a bad president? A lot of people say, "He's a horrible president." OK, if you were president, would you do a better job? When I play tennis, there are 200 coaches out there saying what I should be doing different, but somehow they're not better players. It's very easy to look at it from the sideline and say, "This guy's bad, and he should be doing this and this different," but if you're so good, please be my guest. Pick up the racket and go out there.
   In tennis, I'm more or less able to say, OK, this person should do this, because I've played tennis for 30 years of my life, and I understand some things. Even then, I could be wrong. But when I have to talk about a politician or a president, it's really not my comfort zone.
   Is corruption the biggest problem in Russia?
   I live in Moscow, and Moscow is doing very well compared to most other cities. I feel the biggest problem is not corruption. It's with people. It always lies with people, within a culture. It's a collective effort. If many people are rowing in the wrong direction, the boat will go the wrong way.
   In general, the majority of people (around the world) are too consumed with greed and doing anything they can to get ahead. They don't have that much respect for anybody else. They're not considerate of others, and you can see that on the road, whether someone sits in the left lane and drives 30 miles an hour and thinks no one should pass them or whether someone is tailgating and trying to pass everybody. All these people have egos, and (when) each one thinks he's the most important person on the planet, you're going to have issues.
   I like cultures that are more respectful to others. I like cultures that cultivate pride in (one's) work and becoming a better person, a better worker, a samaritan. ... We're all too consumed with "I want this," or "I want that." Not too many people think about what's good for others, what can I do to help someone. I know it's a little like psycho-babble and that sometimes people are too busy making a living and don't want to think about helping somebody else because they can barely feed themselves. But when you always pull the blanket toward yourself, someone's going to get cold.
   What cultures do you like?
   I feel like Japanese people are more respectful. I feel like they take pride in their work. When you walk in the street, you feel like it's built for people, generations and the common good. It's not built because, "We're going to make a profit on it today," or because, "The shareholders are going to be happy."
   Even when you land in Germany, you look out the window, everything is manicured, everything is nice. They're like perfectionists. I can't say that every single German is like that. I'm sure some Germans are crazy, but I feel like they take pride in their work. I feel like when they lay tile or when they're a carpenter, it's a life trade. They wake up early, they go to work, they take pride in their work. That translates into a much more productive economy, country. In general, they're going to advance further than when they just sit on their ass, pick their nose, don't do anything and feel the world owes them. I think it's a wrong approach to life. ...
   Are you concerned or worried about global warming?
   I think people are going to mess it up way before the global warming. We're constantly having these little wars and these little sanctions on each other. We're trying to separate our little plots of land and saying, "This is mine; this is yours," "No, you keep this," "No, you give it back to me." I'm not sure if the climate is going to finish us off before we finish ourselves.
   If I have the option of trying to conserve some stuff or recycle or not use more than I need to, then I'll do it. But if someone told me that a solar or battery car is going to cost three times more than a gasoline car, of course I'm going to buy a gasoline car because I'm going to think with my (pocketbook). In the end, people always think with their (pocketbook). ...
   In general, we should not feel we're the owners of the planet. We should feel we're the guests of the planet, and as guests, we should not leave a mess behind ourselves. You make a mess, you clean it up as much as you can. We don't always have that option or have the time or energy to do it, but if guests come to stay at my house, I want them to respect my place. I think we don't do that.
   Again, we don't think about others. Generally, we just think about:"What's good for me right now, and that's what I'm going to do. The planet is going to be here for another 80 years, and I'm probably going to die in 80 years, so I might as well just turn on my car and idle for the next 20 years (laughs)."
   Did you get your philosophical outlook from reading Russian classics?
   Russian classics are generally depressing. In the U.S., all the movies sort of end on a good note. The hero struggles but prevails, and everything is great. In Russia, everyone always dies and everything is miserable, and it ends like that.
   I don't know if I got it from somewhere, but a lot of things come from analyzing it and thinking about it. In general, if you look at what you're doing and you think, OK, would you like other people to do that to you, how would you feel about it? We just have to be a little bit more considerate. When you consider something other than yourself or don't think of yourself as the middle of the universe and everything revolves around you, if you think of yourself as just part of it, then you start approaching things with a different mindset.
   It's a process and a journey. I didn't start where I am today, and I'm probably going to finish somewhere else. I'm always evolving. I think everyone has their own little journey. I'm trying to see how can I improve, and I think that's a more exciting way of approaching life. It might not be the easiest, but I think it's more rewarding when you try to improve yourself and help others than when you sit back and say everyone owes me.
   I'm not saying my way of thinking is right. It could be wrong. It's definitely not the easiest because when you're trying to be a perfectionist in a lot of things, it definitely makes life more difficult. But I can't really change myself that much.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Tursunov Q&A Part II: Many as talented as Federer

Dmitry Tursunov, shown in 2014, says Roger Federer "has made
a lot of sacrifices to get where he is." Photo by Paul Bauman
   Dmitry Tursunov, a 34-year-old Russian with strong Northern California ties, attained a career-high ranking of No. 20 in the world in 2006. Because of injuries, however, he has plummeted to No. 642.  
   Tursunov has not — how shall we put this? — fared well against the Big Four. He is a combined 0-15 against Roger Federer (0-5), Rafael Nadal (0-3), Andy Murray (0-6, including a walkover) and Novak Djokovic (0-1; Tursunov retired while trailing 6-2, 4-3 in 2008).
   Tursunov has won two sets against Federer, none against Nadal and one against Murray. Tursunov last played Federer in 2014, Nadal in 2010 and Murray in 2008.
   Tursunov, who moved from his native Moscow to the San Francisco Bay Area at 12 to train and owns a townhouse in the Sacramento area, is using a protected ranking to play in the U.S. Open. He is scheduled to play British qualifier Cameron Norrie on Monday in the first round. It will be Tursunov's first appearance at Flushing Meadows since 2014, when he lost in the opening round to Alejandro Gonzalez of Colombia. Tursunov has reached the third round of the U.S. Open four times.
   During the recent $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif., the outspoken Tursunov discussed the Big Four, whether champions are born or made, John McEnroe's provocative comment about Serena Williams, the Margaret Court controversy, equal prize money for men and women, and proposals to speed up tennis matches.
   What do you think of what Roger Federer is doing at his age?
   Almost the same as me, huh (laughs)? It's obviously amazing that he's able to constantly improve. I have nothing but positive comments about that. It's pretty hard to believe, but you wonder at which point he's not going to be relevant and able to produce that level of tennis. It looks like he's not planning to slow down. I remember when he wasn't doing well and the media were bashing him, like, "Roger is done," and they were asking him if it was going to be his last Slam or he was going to stop playing. I'm sure he's gloating a little bit when he wins a tournament: "Oh, I remember you. You asked me if I was going to stop (playing)."
   What was it like to play him?
   I was expecting lightning and fire. He can come up with incredible shots, but if you don't play a lot of top players like that, you expect a lot more (than against others) and get a little frightened, so you think you need to jump the gun first. It helps to play players of that level more often because you get a real sense of what you need to improve on. Watching them on TV is completely different.
   For me, it was a little surprising because not all of his shots were a YouTube moment. Obviously, he's very good at knowing when to turn it up a notch and when to conserve energy. He's very efficient in that sense. With Rafa, you feel like every shot you hit, you need to hit a little deeper, otherwise, he's going to destroy you. Roger gives you a little more leeway; he gives you a little bit more chance to play. But then, of course, break points, deuce points, tiebreaks — he knows when to run around, when to play a little bit more aggressive.
   Sometimes he looks a little lackadaisical on the court, but during the important points, he really steps it up and makes sure he doesn't miss a lot. He's very disciplined during the right moments. Rafa (who's five years younger) plays like that the entire match. Roger picks and chooses which moments he wants to step it up. I think he conserves energy that way.
   What was it like to play Murray and Djokovic?
   Andy is definitely not as spectacular a player. He kind of puts you to sleep. He looks pretty harmless. He doesn't hit these great shots, but somehow your game magically falls apart when you play him. He's pretty good at breaking your rhythm down, putting the ball where you don't like it, not giving you the same shot twice. He kind of drags you into that little swamp where you drown yourself with unforced errors.
   Rafa physically clubs you to death. Roger is able to come up with great shots to which you can't do anything. When you come off the court (against them), you feel like, I lost to a good player. With Andy, you always feel like, "S---, I gotta figure out why the hell did I lose today. He didn't do anything. He was struggling, he was moaning, he was screaming, he hated every moment out there," yet somehow he finds a way to win. He's very deceptive in that sense.
   Again, I think Djokovic allows you to play, but (I faced him) a long time ago, before he became a mainstream, household name. He doesn't serve aces, he doesn't hit winners left and right, but he defends really well. The two years he had where he was just destroying people and couldn't lose -- when I played him, he didn't seem like a player who was going to be capable of doing that, but I think he was able to maximize his potential and squeeze every ounce out of his game.
   He's obviously a great competitor, but I don't think a lot of people would have looked at him 10 years ago and said, "OK, this guy's going to be No. 1." It doesn't seem like he has a weapon that people are not going to be able to play against. But he maximized himself so much that he ended up having these results.
   Which one of the Big Four impresses you the most?
   Roger is definitely the shotmaker. Rafa is just pure brute strength and will to win. If he wasn't getting paid for playing tennis, it almost feels like he would have been paying to play.
   Andy, I would say, is the least impressive of them all. He has the game that in juniors people hate playing against because everyone feels like he doesn't deserve to win because he forces you to make a lot of unforced errors.
   Djokovic is obviously impressive in that he's able to (do) the splits and still control himself and produce power out of these extreme angles. That's not very common for a tennis player. He literally changed the game to where people do a lot more more stretching. People used to do it, but he took it to a different level. He took nutrition to a different level.
   It's hard to say. They all have their own unique abilities.
   Are champions like Federer and Serena Williams born or made?
   Made. It's obviously easier to believe that Roger is Roger because he was born that way. I'm not saying that everyone has his ability, but there's a lot of guys in the top 100 that are just as talented as him. I don't know where his love for the game or need to win comes from, but he remembers a lot of the matches from the juniors. He remembered that we played against him in doubles in the Orange Bowl. I thought I would remember something like that, but I didn't. I didn't believe him, and looked it up, and he was right.
   Obviously, he cares for the game, he loves it, he loves to improve. He surrounded himself with the right people. He's made a lot of sacrifices to get where he is. ... He's a normal human being, but he has a goal in life, he's very dedicated to it, and he was able to achieve that. It's not like he woke up and everything was given to him. He had to work hard, and he still works hard at it. There's this image of him being a perfect person. People get blinded by that. They think he sleeps on silk linen sheets and eats flowers for breakfast, but he works extremely hard to get those results.
   While promoting his new memoir, "But Seriously," John McEnroe said on National Public Radio in June that Serena Williams would be ranked "like No. 700 in the world" on the men's circuit. You were ranked No. 701 at the time and said in an interview, "I would hope that I would win against Serena." Do you agree with McEnroe's comment?
   I don't know a lot of 600, 700 players. It's hard for me to say. I'm actually curious myself how it would go. A lot of guys could get really nervous playing her because they're expected to win. She could definitely capitalize on that. When you get nervous, you start missing simple shots.
   I completely agree with (McEnroe) that even though it's the same game, it's a completely different level. It's like, who's going to win a fistfight, a girl or a guy? If they're similarly trained, a guy is always going to be stronger and faster. We can talk about it until the cows come home, but there's a reason they don't play these matches. People can refer to the Billie Jean King match, but if you know the history of the guy she played (Bobby Riggs) and what he was like in his off-the-court time, you get a lot of questions about the legitimacy of that match. ...
   From a tennis point of view, there are no questions about it — (Williams) is not going to beat a top-hundred player for sure, no chance. Seven hundred? I can see how the pressure could get to someone inexperienced, especially if you put the guy on center court at the U.S. Open. He barely plays on center court at a Challenger, then all of a sudden he's put in front of 20, 30 thousand people — of course he's going to get nervous. Things can happen there, but people who argue with (McEnroe's) statement basically question his knowledge of tennis. That's a silly thing to do. He's not a lunatic; he's not senile. He's an extremely knowledgeable person in his field. I would agree with him, with the small exception that I could see how a person could get nervous and the pressure would play a big role. It happens in Davis Cup all the time.
   But that doesn't take anything away from (Williams) as a player. She's a very good competitor. She serves sometimes faster than some of the guys do, but of course she's not able to produce it all the time, and her second serve is not anything close to ... You take Diego Schwartzman, who's half her size, and she's not going to be able to have the same kick on her serve that he does.
   I've gotten my share of flak on Twitter, believe it or not. I've gotten some interesting comments. It was pretty shocking to see how people who have no idea about tennis feel it's their human right to comment on that and say, "I can't believe you think you could get a set off her." It would be the same thing if I come to a scientist who says, "You can't add an oxygen atom to oxygen," and I would be like, "Oh, how can you say that? You have no idea what you're talking about." If I'm not knowledgeable in that field, I'm not going to run off and open my mouth. But some people feel they have the right to do that because they have access to a keyboard.
   Do you think the Kings-Riggs match was fixed?
   It's hard for me to imagine that he would lose in straight sets (6-4, 6-3, 6-3) to her.
   Even though he was 55 and she was 29?
   He smoked Margaret Court (6-2, 6-1) a few months before that. I wouldn't be the right person to answer that question, but I have my doubts. He's pretty famous for putting money on himself to win singles, doubles and mixed (at Wimbledon in 1939), and he did. He was a gambler. Anything is possible. (The King-Riggs match) made history and a lot of headlines and made a lot of things different nowadays. I guess we'll never know — let's put it that way — but I feel something was not right in that match. (King has vehemently denied that Riggs, who died in 1995, threw the 1973 match.)
   Speaking of Margaret Court ...
   (Laughs) Hey, everyone's got an opinion. Her opinion is her opinion. It's her beliefs. Do I agree with them? Not really, but that's democracy. Everyone can speak their mind.
   Have you ever played in Margaret Court Arena at the Australian Open?
   Yeah, a couple times.
   That was before the controversy erupted about her remarks on gays, wasn't it?
   She's been going in that direction for a long time. It's not something extremely new. She just might have been a little bit more outspoken (lately).
   Should the name of the arena be changed?
   I think the arena is named for her tennis results, not necessarily about whether she believes in the rights of gay people. I'm not sure how that influences the naming of the arena, but I can see how that could happen more for political reasons just because the federation would get enough flak to where, OK, you know what, let's get rid of her name because we're going to have to answer too many media questions.
   Honestly, I don't know what's right or what's wrong. I envy people who believe they know the answer to every single problem on the planet. You really have to be taking crazy pills to believe you know the answer to everything. ... She quite possibly might end up an outcast, but I feel like a lot of times society needs a scapegoat. They need a hero and a bad guy. It's human nature. ...
   Some say she should not be making these statements, but what statements should she make? Should she now filter everything she says? You can't please everyone all the time anyway. You say you like vanilla ice cream? Someone condemns you because you don't like chocolate. You say you like chocolate, the vanilla people condemn you. You can't win. ...
   People in general are never happy, and they like to complain a lot. They like to point a finger at somebody else because then they don't have to point it at themselves. If you don't agree with Margaret Court, just turn it off. Don't listen to her, walk away, block her on social media, but it doesn't happen that way.
   Would you boycott Margaret Court Arena if the name isn't changed before the next Australian Open in January?
   I'd have to figure out what the boycott is for. Because she's against gay people? Should I boycott her because she cuts her hair short and I don't like women who cut their hair short? We can boycott people for having an opinion, but aren't we fighting for a society that welcomes people with opinions? Then we punish them if we don't agree with their opinion? It's a little hypocritical, I think. ...
   It's kind of interesting how a lot of people are willing to boycott her for that, but how many people would allow a gay man to babysit their son? Or a gay woman to babysit their daughter? How many of them are giving exactly the same opportunity to homosexuals that they would give to (heterosexuals)? It's very nice to stone her to death because the spotlight's on her, but when the spotlight turns to us, how many of us are making the right decisions, and how many of us don't have racist or (homophobic) or other thoughts that we would condemn other people for?
   I wouldn't boycott, simply because I think it's complete stupidity. If they want to take her name away from the arena, take it away. It's their choice. They named it after her, they take it away. They put her on a pedestal, they take her down. I don't think she was fighting extremely hard to put her name on a stadium, and if she did, it's her ego trip. But again, society likes to make someone into a hero, and then when they trip or fall, we like to kick 'em while they're down and point a finger at them and say, "Now you're a bad person." She hasn't changed. It's not like she was pro-homosexual before and now she's anti-homosexual. If people feel like that's the biggest problem in their life, let them deal with it, but I don't feel that's the biggest issue.
   Some people are upset because she believes marriage is only between a man and a woman.
   Yeah, but she's not the only one. The majority of the planet has the same outlook that she does. ...
   Do women deserve equal prize money even though they don't play three-out-of-five sets at Grand Slam tournaments?
   Someone decided they do deserve it. It's a tough argument. A lot of people say they don't deserve it because they look at the ticket sales. If you ask any tournament director, they would confirm that men's tennis sells more than women's tennis. Same thing with the sponsors. Same thing with the TV rights. ...
   I'm not even entirely sure in my head — do they deserve the money or do they not deserve the money? There's a couple of arguments for and a couple of arguments against. In the end, politically it's such a sensitive issue that a lot of tournaments — regardless of whether they make money on it or not — they're going to pay that money because they don't want to answer that question. You speak your opinion, then you get (ostracized) like Margaret Court. ...
   Should men continue to play three out of five sets in the Slams or go to two out of three?
   At my age, I'm happy to just spin the racket for the match (laughs). As a sport, tennis needs to adapt to the spectators. In the end, spectators and TV pay the bills. Tennis is only going to exist as long as spectators are watching it. If we want to watch a purely technical display, we can watch golf. If we want to watch a strength display, we can watch (weightlifting) in the Olympics.
   In order to make the sport more popular, we definitely need to look into that. What good is the tradition of the sport if people are falling asleep, they don't want to turn it on or they're not showing up for the match? ... Tennis will not be able to generate income if it doesn't stay relevant.
   Society tends to like things faster. And, of course, we love watching people get hurt. That's why we watch UFC, that's why we watch (boxing), that's why we watch NASCAR, that's why we watch American football. ... We love reality TV; we love watching people get rejected. We want to see people suffer because that makes us feel better. ...
   Do I believe tennis matches need to be shorter? Some matches definitely are too long, but it's not as easy as answering yes or no. You need to evaluate what do the spectators think, what does TV think? ...
   Some tournaments are experimenting with Fast4 ( first player to four games wins the set, tiebreakers at 3-3, no-ad scoring, lets are played). What do you think of it?
   I've played it. It was pretty strange. It's a little uncomfortable at first, but so was playing tiebreaks. In the end, I think players will conform to whatever rule there is. You just have to make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. You're doing it to make the sport more interesting. You have to see how people react. Do they find it more interesting? I think it probably would be a little bit more interesting because there's going to be more of these turning points.
   I definitely think from a spectator point of view, (tennis currently) is a little bit restricting, the whole experience. You can't sit, you can't sneeze, you can't stand up, you can't fart, you can't do anything. The first three games, you can't go on the court. If you missed your opportunity and the match started,  then you're standing there with a beer like an idiot waiting for 15 minutes. From a player perspective, when you're (changing sides after the first game), it would be OK to let people in. Even though it's not a changeover, even though we don't sit down, I think the ushers need to help people get a little faster to their seats. ...
   I think they're going to try some of these new things at the NextGen Finals (in November in Milan for the top 21-and-under men), and I think it would be good to test the reaction.
   I think (tennis is going) in the right direction. I think it should be fine. The players are going to complain: "The bird is flying. The plane is flying. This is wrong; this is wrong." But in the end, if it's a rule, it's a rule.
   Will tennis eventually go to two out of three sets for men at the Slams and Fast4 on the ATP World Tour?
   (The Slams) definitely would be the last ones to (change) because they want to get their money's worth. Can you imagine how much flak they're going to get from traditionalists, from purists? Even people who don't know anything about tennis will have something to say about that. They'll log on to Twitter and write "I can't believe you're doing this." They'll forget about it in three seconds, but they wrote their opinion.
   A lot of business decisions are not made for the right reasons. They're made to minimize the backlash. ... A lot of times, people just say, "It's working right now. Why change anything? Why try to make it better? If it's not broke, don't fix it."
   They're putting on roofs (at Grand Slam tournaments) because (rain) hurts their (pocketbooks). If all of a sudden their (pocketbooks) are going to get hurt by the length of matches, they're going to do something about it.
   If you could change one thing in tennis, what would it be?
   Unify the balls. The surfaces are different, and you can't change the conditions. Here (in Aptos), it's cooler, so the ball is not going to fly as fast. But when you're playing here with one type of ball, then tomorrow you're playing with another type of ball, it's an unnecessary change.
   If Wilson wins the bid to sponsor an event, fine. Stamp "Wilson" on that ball, and we're playing with Wilson. The next tournament is going to be Penn, so you use the same ball and just put a different stamp on it.
   I don't see why players need to play with a different ball every week. I played Washington (on the ATP Tour) one year and then flew to a Challenger in Binghamton (N.Y.). The balls were completely different. One was lighter and faster, and the other was heavy like a brick. In the end, you're the one who's getting injured. I really don't see a logical reason why it's done.
   Coming Sunday: Tursunov discusses Russia's doping problem in Olympic sports, its alleged interference in last year's U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, politics, favorite cultures and global warming.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Tursunov Q&A Part I: Big decision looms

Dmitry Tursunov, a 34-year-old Russian with strong Northern
California ties, reached No. 20 in the world in 2006. His career
has been marred by injuries. 2013 photo by Paul Bauman
   The most accomplished singles player — by far — in the recent $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif., was eliminated from the tournament by the first day of the main draw. Dmitry Tursunov, 34, lost in the second round of singles qualifying after receiving a walkover — ironic considering Tursunov's long history of injuries — and in the first round of main-draw doubles with fellow Russian Konstanin Kravchuk.
   But if you asked the other players in Aptos whether they'd take the powerful Tursunov's career, almost all would jump at the offer:
    —High of No. 20 in the world in singles and No. 36 in doubles.
    —Fourth round of singles at Wimbledon twice.
    —Doubles semifinalist at the French Open.
    —Seven singles and seven doubles titles on the ATP World Tour.
    —Davis Cup championship.
    —Two-time Olympian.
    —Career earnings of $5,867,025.
   Tursunov returned to competition early last month at Wimbledon after missing almost one year with injuries. Now ranked No. 642 in singles, he is pondering retirement.
   Tursunov speaks English like — or better than — an American, which he practically is. He moved alone from his native Moscow to Los Altos in the San Francisco Bay Area at age 12 to train, living with his coach and legal guardian, Vitaly Gorin. Tursunov learned English by watching cartoons on TV.
   When Gorin bought the Granite Bay Tennis Club in the Sacramento region in 2000 and converted it into a tennis academy, Tursunov followed him there. Tursunov still owns a townhouse in nearby Folsom but spends most of his time in Moscow, where he owns a flat, when he's not on the tour. If he continues playing, he might train in Spain because of the abundance of courts, sunshine and fellow pros.
   Ideally built at 6-foot-1 (1.85) and 180 pounds (82 kilograms), Tursunov looks like a Southern Californian with his curly blond hair and blue eyes. In fact, the other Russians on the tour called him "Surfer Dude" because of his California residence. Never mind that Sacramento is 90 miles (144.8 kilometers) from the Pacific Ocean.
   Tursunov is single with no children. Other than that, he defies categorization. He is part Russian, part American, part philosopher and part comedian. Tursunov generally is serious in interviews, but when he lets his guard down, he flashes the irreverent sense of humor that made him an Internet sensation as the ATP's guest blogger during his career year of 2006.
   Following a two-hour practice at the Seascape Sports Club, the site of the Nordic Naturals Challenger, Tursunov answered questions for 20 minutes in the parking lot about his latest comeback. After showering, he walked across the street for a dinner of salmon, quinoa and beets (welcome to the life of a professional tennis player) at a deli. There, the accommodating Tursunov, the runner-up in the 2003 Aptos Challenger, discussed tennis and non-tennis issues for another two hours.
   Who were you hitting with today?
   Frank Moser (a 40-year-old German who reached the 2012 Aptos doubles final with Chris Guccione of Australia). It's like two old guys trying to stay in shape. We sit down (during breaks) and talk about injuries. "I had a hip replacement (joke)." "Awesome!" "I want to get one myself ... buy one, get one free."
   Do you have a coach?
   No. What's a coach going to tell me? Run faster? Also, they want a commitment, and they don't know how long I'm going to play.
   What kept you off the tour for the last five months of 2016 and from the Australian Open to Wimbledon this year?
   After Toronto last year, I had a hip problem and the same thing this year. After Toronto, I had an injection in the left hip, but both hips are pretty messed up. It seemed like it helped a little bit, but I wasn't ready for anything. Then I did a preseason in Florida, but my (right) calf kept getting injured, so I almost didn't practice. I was just doing fitness.
   When I got to Australia a few days before the tournament, I had a physio look at it. He said a lot of the older Australian football players had the same problem (with nerves in the back that go down to the leg). I guess the discs get a little bit worn out, so there's a little bit of compression. He worked on a couple spots on the leg, and the calf (problem) went away. I think I had five days of serious tennis practice before the tournament. I was in OK shape (in a first-round loss to 38-year-old Radek Stepanek), but I wasn't able to play a lot throughout the preseason. When you're not playing a lot, everything starts to pile up and hurt, so the hip started acting up again.
   I was training in Sacramento for the clay season, and I think about two or three days into sliding on clay, my hip started hurting so bad that I couldn't really walk, so I couldn't play the French Open or clay season. When it calmed down, I started getting ready for grass, but I was hitting on hardcourts because they don't have grass anywhere other than London. Then I played Wimbledon (losing in the opening round to 28th-seeded Fabio Fognini).
   Since then, I've been more or less OK, comparatively speaking. ... I'm asking every day if I'm ready to play a full season or not. I'll try to play as many tournaments as I can and after the U.S. Open figure out if I want to continue or stop. It's going to depend a lot on how I feel physically. I can even lose the matches, but if I feel like I can play another one the next day, then that's a good indication that I can continue. If you win a match and can't walk the next day, it doesn't really matter how you're playing in that one match. You still need to win tournaments in order to go up in the rankings.
   So you've had back, hip and calf problems?
   Actually, I didn't have the back. In 2014, I had plantar fasciitis (in the right foot). That sort of started it. I went to a couple of rehab places, and nothing was working. In January 2015, I started practicing again and finally didn't have the foot problem. Then I fell down (during a pro-am in Moscow) and partially tore my MCL. That's the one that keeps your knee from going inward. That took me out for another month and a half.
   After that, I started practicing again and had that calf problem. I'd go running, and 15 minutes into my jog, it would feel like a muscle tear to where you couldn't walk. Two or three days later, it goes away. So I couldn't figure out what that was, but I had it three or four times. We (Tursunov and fellow Moscow native Andrey Rublev, then 18) won doubles in Moscow in 2015 in my first tournament back. Then I played another tournament in Italy, indoors. In 2016, I played (Stan) Wawrinka in the first round of the Australian Open and had a groin problem, so I had to pull out of that match.
   It's been more leg-oriented. The back hasn't really bothered me because it hasn't gotten that far. The legs have been breaking down first.
   But you did break two vertebrae while playing tennis in 2002 and underwent three operations — for bone spurs in your left ankle, a bone chip in that ankle, and nerve inflammation and a cyst in your left foot — in one year (2009-10). How frustrating have all the injuries been?
   (Laughs) It's obviously frustrating, but with a couple of them, I don't think I really had any choice. Some have been chronic, and I could have trained differently or done more recovery stuff. I could blame myself, even though it's not very helpful at this point. With the MCL and calf, I'm sure there's some fitness trainer or physio who sits there and says, "Oh, I told you so." But 30 people are telling you different things, and you have to figure out who's telling you the right thing. In the end, I don't really have a magic ball where we can verify, OK, this is the right way to do it. You learn from your mistakes or try every single door and see which one opens.
   What do you consider the biggest highlight and disappointment of your career?
   The highlight is probably (winning) the Davis Cup (in 2006) — just everyone talks about it. That whole year was a good year for me. The (Davis Cup match) most people remember was against (International Tennis Hall of Famer Andy) Roddick (in which Tursunov prevailed 17-15 in the fifth set in the fourth rubber on indoor clay in Moscow to clinch Russia's 3-2 semifinal victory over the United States). But I also had a very good match against (Richard) Gasquet the round before that (in which Tursunov triumphed 7-5 in the fifth set in the fourth rubber on indoor carpet in front of a hostile crowd in Pau, France, to clinch Russia's 4-1 win) and played very good doubles in the final against Argentina (in which Tursunov and Hall of Famer Marat Safin overwhelmed Augustin Calleri and David Nalbandian 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 in Russia's 3-2 victory on indoor carpet in Moscow; Safin and Nikolay Davydenko played singles for Russia).
   Disappointment ... I lost to (countryman Mikhail) Youzhny in the semifinals in St. Petersburg in a tiebreak (in 2010). I should have won that match, so that was a pretty painful loss. Basically, all I had to do was put the ball in the middle of the court because he was off the court completely, and I got so tight that I couldn't put the ball in the court. There's a lot of matches I could have won and I lost.
   The match against Roddick easily could have been a big disappointment because I was leading two sets to love and got myself into the fifth set, down a break. I played well to get out of it, then it turned into this big dramatic match. If I (had) won in three sets, which I had a very good chance of doing because I didn't seem to have any big problems in the first two sets, we wouldn't have had anything to talk about now (laughs).
   I always struggle with these things — favorite movie, favorite moment. It's kind of hard to pinpoint this one match or moment when I had this euphoria and then this one match where I wanted to jump off a bridge. I don't think it's quite black and white for me like that.
   How do you feel about Roddick (last month) and Michael Chang (2008) being inducted in the Hall of Fame with one Grand Slam title each?
   Honestly (laughs), I don't care a whole lot.
   I don't remember Michael Chang's career that well because he was playing way before me. He obviously did better than me, so he deserves that spot more than I do. That's all I can say.
   Andy was a great player. He lost a couple of (Grand Slam) finals to Roger. If it wasn't for Roger, he could have done a little bit better, so maybe he would have had more Slams.
   How do they (decide who gets in the Hall of Fame)? We don't know (laughs). Someone wakes up and believes that Andy deserves a spot, and someone wakes up and says, "No, he doesn't deserve a spot." No one asked my opinion. I'm sure there's some sort of criteria. At least that's what I'm hoping (laughs).
   Do you know what you want to do after you stop playing?
   I've been thinking about it for the last three or four years, given my results. I guess I have a few options, so that's a good thing. I can either stay in tennis or try to pursue something else.
   Right now, I have a few (tennis) consulting offers, but people are not sure if I'm (retiring). It wouldn't necessarily be coaching one particular person but overseeing some juniors in a few different countries that are looking to develop their tennis program. Someone like Ivan Lendl is going to be extremely expensive, so they want to get a good coach without spending too much money.
   Which countries have made offers to you?
   I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say, so I'd rather not. There are a couple in Asia, and one in Eastern Europe. The Russian federation is always like, "You can come work with us," but there's nothing concrete.
   Then, of course, if I looked around, I could probably find some decent players who are looking (for a coach). Whether it happens now or in two or three years, I think I'll still have that opportunity, so I'm not extremely worried. A couple years ago, I was a lot more worried about what am I going to do. Now I sort of let go of the reins a little bit, and I'm not worried about something I can't control. Hopefully I'm not going to starve (laughs).
   Next: Tursunov discusses the Big Four, whether champions are born or made, John McEnroe's provocative comment about Serena Williams, the Margaret Court controversy, equal prize money for men and women, and proposals to speed up matches.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Coming next week: Tursunov Q&A

   I'll post a three-part Q&A with former top-20 player Dmitry Tursunov, a 34-year-old Russian with strong Northern California ties, next week.
   Part I -- Tursunov's long history of injuries, the biggest highlight and disappointment of his career, and his plans.
   Part II -- The Big Four, whether champions are born or made, John McEnroe's provocative comment about Serena Williams, the Margaret Court controversy, equal prize money for men and women, and proposals to speed up matches.
   Part III -- Russia's doping problem in Olympic sports, its alleged interference in last year's U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and climate change.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Kratzer wins national 18s for spot in U.S. Open

Ashley Kratzer defeated Kelly Chen 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 to win the USTA
Girls 18 National Championships in San Diego. Kratzer, an 18-year-
old left-hander from Newport Beach, was the runner-up in last
month's $50,000 Stockton Challenger. Photo courtesy of USTA
   No Northern Californians won titles in last week's USTA National Championships for juniors at various sites around the country.
   But Ashley Kratzer, the runner-up in last month's $50,000 Stockton Challenger, captured the Girls 18s in San Diego to earn a wild card in the U.S. Open. The year's last Grand Slam tournament is scheduled for Aug. 28-Sept. 10.
   No. 3 seed Kratzer, an 18-year-old left-hander from Newport Beach, defeated No. 33 Kelly Chen of Cerritos 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in the final. Newport Beach and Cerritos are in the Los Angeles area.
   Kratzer eliminated No. 6 Michaela Gordon of Saratoga, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, 7-5, 7-5 in the quarterfinals. Kratzer turned pro late last year. Gordon will enroll at Stanford next month.
   No. 8 seed Whitney Osuigwe of Bradenton, Fla., defeated No. 17 Katie Volynets of Walnut Creek, Calif., 7-5, 7-6 (3) in the round of 16 in a battle of decorated 15-year-olds.
   Osuigwe won the French Open junior title in June. Volynets last December became the first girl to win the 16s in the Eddie Herr International Championships and Orange Bowl in the same year. The tournaments were held in consecutive weeks in Bradenton, Fla., on hardcourts and Plantation, Fla., on clay, respectively.
   In the Boys 18s in Kalamazoo, Mich., No. 1 seed Sam Riffice, who grew up in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville, lost to No. 5 JJ Wolf of Cincinnati 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 in the quarterfinals. Riffice, now based at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., has verbally committed to the University of Florida for next year.
   In the Girls 14s in Rome, Ga., No. 1 seed Vivian Ovrootsky of San Jose lost to No. 16 Bridget Stammel of Dallas 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in the round of 16. Ovrootsky swept the 12s singles and doubles titles at the USTA Winter Nationals in Tucson, Ariz., in January. She turned 13 on July 15.
   Other results of NorCal players who reached the later rounds:
In Kalamazoo, Mich.
Doubles quarterfinals
   Nathan Perrone, Moorestown, N.J., and Jake Van Emburgh, Belleair Beach, Fla., def. Sam Riffice and Gianni Ross (4), Orlando, Fla., 6-4, 7-5.
   Oliver Crawford, Spartanburg, S.C., and Patrick Kypson (2), Greenville, N.C., def. Austen Huang, Elk Grove, Calif., and Sean Sculley (12), Hilton Head Island, S.C., 6-4, 6-4.
Doubles semifinals
   Will Grant, Boca Raton, Fla., and Tyler Zink (3), Bradenton, Fla., def. Robert Cash, New Albany, Ohio, and Ryder Jackson (1), Nicasio, Calif., 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.
In Mobile, Ala.
Singles quarterfinals
   Andrew Chang (17), Trophy Club, Texas, def. Luke Neal, Mill Valley, 6-2, 7-6 (4).
   Ben Shelton (17), Gainesville, Fla., def. Luke Casper (10), Santa Cruz, Calif., 6-4, 6-4.
Singles semifinals
   Saud Alhogbani (4), Alexandria, Va., def. Hugo Hashimoto (17), San Jose, Calif., 6-4, 6-0.
Doubles semifinals
   Connor Krug and Jake Krug (1), Lakewood Ranch, Fla., def. Alex Han, Tulsa, Okla., and Hugo Hashimoto (6), San Jose, Calif., 7-5, 7-6 (6).
Singles quarterfinals
   Aidan Kim (1), Milford, Mich., def. Kurt Miller, Los Gatos, Calif., 7-5, 6-2.
Doubles semifinals
   Lucas Brown, Plano, Texas, and Learner Tien (1), Irvine, Calif., def. Kurt Miller, Los Gatos, Calif., and Andrew Salu (3), Sarasota, Fla., 7-5, 6-3.
In San Diego
Singles semifinals
   Angelica Blake (9), Boca Raton, Fla., def. Connie Ma, Dublin, Calif., 6-2, 6-3.
In Rome, Ga.
Doubles quarterfinals
   Hibah Shaikh, Teaneck, N.J., and Madison Sieg (2), Greenwich, Conn., def. Kimberly Hance, Torrance, Calif., and Yuu Ishikawa (5), Los Altos, Calif., 7-6 (5), 6-2.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Bublik, 20, predicted to reach top 10 – seriously

Alexander Bublik, left, overpowered Liam Broady, right, 6-2, 6-3 today to win
the $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif. Photo by Paul Bauman
   APTOS, Calif. — The term "wacky" generally is not associated with professional tennis players.
   "Serious," sure. "Dedicated," yes. "Resilient," check.
   But wacky? Not when only 100 men and 100 women on a planet of 7.5 billion people can make a comfortable living in the sport.
   Then there's Alexander Bublik.
   The 20-year-old Russia native confessed at Wimbledon this year that watching Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal can bore him.
   "It's interesting to see the highlights, how they're finishing (points), but when they're rallying for, like, 45 shots, you're sitting there thinking, Can I quit tennis please?"
   Playing Futures tournaments last year, the right-hander sometimes amused himself by hitting only trick shots or drop shots or, with a big lead, playing left-handed.
   At Indian Wells in March, Bublik interviewed Roger Federer and Andy Murray, among others, as part of a promotion for the inaugural Next Gen Finals, featuring the world's top 21-and-under men, in Milan in November.
   Some highlights:
   Bublik to Federer: "How can your hair be so perfect every time?"
   Federer: "It's not so perfect. It's a battle every day. Grow it out a little bit, and you'll see."
   Bublik to Murray: "What kind of advice can you give me to be as good as you are?"
   Murray: "A lot of training ... "
   Bublik: "Is that useful, training?"
   Having graduated to Challengers and some ATP and Grand Slam tournaments this year, Bublik is becoming more serious. It showed today as he overpowered qualifier Liam Broady of Great Britain 6-2, 6-3 in 62 minutes to win the $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger at the Seascape Sports Club.
   The Challenger, the oldest on the men's circuit in the United States, celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. Past competitors include International Tennis Hall of Famers Patrick Rafter and Michael Chang and future Hall of Famers Murray, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan.
   The unseeded Bublik had lost in the quarterfinals and second round of U.S. Challengers in the previous two weeks.
   "I just decided, OK, let's try to be serious," a bubbly Bublik, who switched his allegiance to Kazakhstan because it offered financial support, said after celebrating his title with a dip in the pool. "I need to find a balance between my jokes and serious tennis, so this week I was quite calm. I didn't mess around that much, so that's why I won the tournament."
   Broady predicts stardom for Bublik, who stands 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters) and weighs only 165 pounds (75.0 kilograms).
   "I think he has the potential to go all the way," the affable Broady, a 23-year-old left-hander, said after facing Bublik for the first time. "There's a reason he's ranked (125) already. He's very (flashy), and I'm sure he'll refine his talents as he gets older and gets more experience. He's going to be a scary prospect.
   " ... You see the way he's built. He's still not fully grown into his frame yet. He's got six, eight years before he reaches his peak. I don't see why he can't be top 10."
   Bublik improved to No. 104 in the world with the title, putting him on the verge of direct entry into the U.S. Open, and pocketed $14,400 for his second Challenger singles title.
   Bublik, who lost to world No. 1 and defending champion Murray 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in the first round at Wimbledon early last month as a lucky loser, is happy with his progress.
   "I feel great," he crowed. "It's my first year on tour. Last year I was playing Futures and I started, like, 900 (in the world), so it's been great. I had a rough clay-court season this year, but I'm getting back my rhythm after Wimbledon. The (match) I played with Andy gave me a lot of confidence. I improved a lot after that."
   There were glimpses of the old Bublik during the week in Aptos.
   While Dennis Novikov of Milpitas in the San Francisco Bay Area took a medical timeout in Friday's quarterfinals, Bublik entertained himself and the crowd by repeatedly bouncing a ball on the edge of his racket and off both feet.
   In the final, Bublik frequently hit drop shots and then became whimsical in the last game. Hitting his second serve as hard as his first, he double-faulted three consecutive times to give Broady a break point.
   "I just said, 'OK, everything or nothing,' " Bublik admitted.
   Bublik got back to deuce with a service winner, earned his third match point with a backhand volley winner and closed out the match with an ace down the middle.
   Bublik, who finished with six aces, still likes to have fun on the court.
   "That's my way of playing," he said. "It's a game. Of course, it's a great sport and you need to work hard, but you need to enjoy every moment of it. Tennis careers are not that (long)."
   Off the court, Bublik enjoys rap music. He has two Eminem quotes tattooed on his arms: "You won't break me; you just make me stronger than I was," and "Always be a leader and not a follower."
   Bublik already has beaten two top-20 players, No. 13 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain and No. 16 Lucas Pouille of France, and it's easy see why. Power.
   Bublik crushed his serve and groundstrokes against Broady. After the 6-foot (1.83-meter) Broady held for 2-2 in the first set, Bublik reeled off the next seven games to lead 3-0 in the second set. 
   Broady took the next two games, breaking serve for the only time in the match, but Bublik broke right back with a perfect lob. In the next-to-last game, Bublik unleashed a cross-court forehand passing shot so hard that Broady could only flail helplessly at it.
    "Sasha played really good today," said Broady, who had lost in the first round in Aptos in each of the past two years. "He's obviously got a fantastic serve, which in finals and big moments really helps. I don't think I served as well today as I have during the week. I was a little bit nervous, but that doesn't usually stop me from playing well. It was more Sasha's fault today that I didn't play very well. I'll learn from it and come back stronger."
   Broady played his seventh match in nine days.
   "I said to my coach in the quarterfinals I started to feel little bit fatigued," he conceded. "By then, it was my fifth match, so it was like I was making the finals of a tournament. Then the semifinals ... I was a little bit sluggish (today), just one or two percent.
   "I'd have loved to come out here and been fresh as a daisy, but I think in the finals, no one is ever going to be completely fresh. I gave it the best I could with the situation, and he was too good on the day anyway."
   Broady became the third British singles finalist, and second to emerge from qualifying, in Aptos in the past two years. Dan Evans beat qualifier Cameron Norrie, who was born in South Africa to British parents and grew up in New Zealand, last year. Also, Scotland's Murray won the Aptos title in 2005 at age 18.
   Evans, 27, faces a suspension of up to four years after testing positive for cocaine in April.
   Broady, who fell to 0-2 in Challenger finals, jumped from No. 336 to No. 256 and collected $8,480. He's fighting his way back after climbing to a career-high No. 158 two years ago at age 21.
   "I was saying this to a friend the other day: I didn't really know why I got to (158)," mused Broady, whose older sister, 6-foot-2 (1.89-meter) Naomi, is ranked No. 127 after reaching a career-high No. 76 last year in March. "I was quite young, just playing tennis and playing well. I was on a wave of confidence, and before I knew it, the results stopped coming a little bit, and I didn't really know how to get them back.
   "I split from my coach (David Sammel) and didn't have one for about nine months. I just did what any young guy would do. I enjoyed myself and went out with my friends. I played tennis to the best of my ability, but I had no direction.
   "As I'm sure anyone can relate in any walk of life, it's very difficult to do things when you have no direction, but I called my coach at the end of November last year and said, 'Look, I want to sort things out. I'm hungry; I want to play tennis again.' I hope we're going to start seeing dividends for the last eight months of hard work."  
Neal Skupski, left, and Jonathan Erlich won the doubles title in their first
tournament together. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Broady's countryman, Neal Skupski, teamed with Jonathan Erlich of Israel to win the doubles title in their first tournament together. Seeded third, they edged fourth-seeded Alex Bolt and Jordan Thompson of Australia 6-3, 2-6 [10-8].
   On the last point, Bolt and Thompson had a sitter in the middle of the court at the service line but let the ball go between them for a winner.
   Both Erlich, 40, and Skupski, 27, said they had never had a match end that way.
   "We don't mind," Skupski cracked. "We're happy with the result."
   Erlich and Skupski, who split $6,200, saved five match points combined in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
   Erlich also paired with countryman Andy Ram to win the Aptos Challenger in 2013 and the Australian Open in 2008.
   Here are the complete Nordic Naturals Challenger singles and doubles draws.    

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Qualifier Broady to face Bublik, 20, in Aptos final

   Qualifier Liam Broady of Great Britain upset wild card Taylor Fritz, a top U.S. prospect, 7-6 (3), 6-3 today to reach the final of the $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif.
   Throughout the match at the Seascape Sports Club near the Pacific Ocean, the 23-year-old Broady served his way out of trouble and outsteadied the 19-year-old Fritz from the backcourt.
   Broady, a 6-foot (1.83-meter) left-hander, won 84 percent of the points on his first serve (41 of 49) and saved all six break points against him.
   Fritz is ranked No. 131, down from a career-high No. 53 one year ago. Broady is No. 336 after climbing as high as No. 158 two years ago.
   Broady is the third British finalist, and second to emerge from qualifying, in Aptos in the past two years. Dan Evans defeated qualifier Cameron Norrie, a South Africa native, last year. Also, current world No. 1 Andy Murray of Scotland won the Aptos title in 2005 at age 18.
   Evans, 27, faces a suspension of up to four years after testing positive for cocaine in April.
   Broady's older sister, 6-foot-2 (1.89-meter) Naomi, is ranked No. 127 after reaching a career-high No. 76 in March last year.
   Liam Broady will face Alexander Bublik, who was born in Russia but changed his allegiance to Kazakhstan after being offered financial support, for the first time on Sunday after the 1 p.m. doubles final. The matches will be streamed live.
   Bublik, 20, defeated Sam Groth, a 29-year-old Australian with a booming serve, 7-6 (2), 6-3. The 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter), 165-pound (75-kilogram) Bublik won 82 percent of the points on his first serve (31 of 38).
   Groth set an unofficial record with a 163.7-mph (263.4-kph) serve in the 2012 Busan (South Korea) Challenger.
   Bublik already has beaten two top-20 players in his career: No. 13 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain to reach the quarterfinals in Moscow on the ATP World Tour last October and No. 16 Lucas Pouille of France in the first round of the Australian Open in January as a qualifier.
   Both Bublik, ranked No. 125, and Broady will play in their second Challenger singles final. Bublik won a $50,000 hardcourt tournament in Morelos, Mexico, in February. Broady was the runner-up in Charlottesville, Va., also a $50,000 hardcourt tourney, in 2014.
   The Aptos Challenger, the oldest on the men's circuit in the United States, is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Past competitors include International Tennis Hall of Famers Patrick Rafter and Michael Chang, as well as future Hall of Famers Murray, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan.
   Here are the Nordic Naturals singles and doubles draws and Sunday's schedule.

Friday, August 11, 2017

U.S. sensation Fritz reaches semis at 100K Aptos

After practicing, Taylor Fritz glances at a match
on Center Court in Aptos, Calif., on Wednesday.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Wild card Taylor Fritz, one of the United States' top prospects, defeated sixth-seeded Tennys Sandgren of Gallatin, Tenn., 6-5, 7-6 (1) today in the quarterfinals of the $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger at the Seascape Sports Club in Aptos, Calif.
   Fritz, 19, of Palos Verdes in the Los Angeles area, saved three sets points while serving at 5-6 in the second set.
   Fritz made his Challenger debut two years ago in Aptos, losing to veteran Mischa Zverev, now ranked 26th, in the first round. Two months later, Fritz won the Sacramento and Fairfield Challengers, also in Northern California, back to-back at 17.
   He became the second-fastest American man to reach an ATP World Tour final last year at Memphis and stunned then-No. 7 Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, at Indian Wells in March.
   Ranked a career-high No. 53 one year ago, Fritz has tumbled to No. 131 because of knee problems.
   Fritz's mother (Kathy May), father (Guy Fritz) and uncle (Harry Fritz) all played professionally.  May peaked at No. 10 in the world in 1977 and played in three career Grand Slam quarterfinals.
   Taylor Fritz will meet qualifier Liam Broady of Great Britain in today's second semifinal. Broady, a 23-year-old left-hander, beat Raymond Sarmiento of Los Angeles 6-4, 6-4. Sarmiento, a 25-year-old former USC All-American, played in the Aptos quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
    In the first semifinal, which will follow an 11 a.m. doubles semi, Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan will face Sam Groth of Australia.
   Bublik, a 20-year-old Russia native, eliminated wild card Dennis Novikov of Milpitas in the San Francisco Bay Area 6-1, 6-4 in 64 minutes. Milpitas is a one-hour drive north of Aptos.
   Bublik, 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters) and only 165 pounds (75 kilograms), qualified for the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year. He shocked France's Lucas Pouille, then ranked 16th, in the first round in Melbourne before losing to Malek Jaziri of Tunisia. Bublik fell to top-ranked Andy Murray 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in the opening round at Wimbledon.
   Groth held off countryman Akira Santillan, a 20-year-old Tokyo native, 7-5, 7-6 (4). Groth pounded 17 aces, and Santillan had 15.
   Groth, 29, set an unofficial record with a 163.7-mph (263.4-kph) serve in the 2012 Busan (South Korea) Challenger and climbed to a career-high No. 53 in 2015.
    Both semifinals will be first-time meetings.
    The Aptos tournament, the oldest men's Challenger in the United States, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Past competitors include International Tennis Hall of Famers Patrick Rafter and Michael Chang, as well as future Hall of Famers Andy Murray, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

NorCal's Novikov upsets seed, gains Aptos quarters

   Dennis Novikov, playing near home, upset fifth-seeded Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3), 6-3 in 2 hours, 40 minutes today to reach the quarterfinals of the $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif.
   Novikov, a 23-year-old wild card from Milpitas in the San Francisco Bay Area, converted only 42 percent of his first serves but saved 12 of 13 break points against him at the Seascape Sports Club.
   Milpitas is a one-hour drive north of Aptos.
   Novikov, who reached his first ATP World Tour quarterfinal last month on grass in Newport, R.I., will play another Kazakh, Alexander Bublik, on Friday at 11 a.m. It will be the first match between Bublik, ranked No. 125, and Novikov, ranked No. 216.
   Bublik, 20, routed third-seeded Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 6-1, 6-1 in 45 minutes.
   Both Bublik and Kukushkin were born in Russia.
   Bublik, 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters) and only 165 pounds (75 kilograms), qualified for the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year. He stunned France's Lucas Pouille, then ranked 16th, in the first round in Melbourne before losing to Malek Jaziri of Tunisia. Bublik fell to top-ranked Andy Murray 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in the opening round at Wimbledon.
   Only one seed reached the Aptos quarterfinals. No. 6 Tennys Sandgren will face wild card Taylor Fritz for the first time in an all-American showdown not before 6 p.m.
   Sandgren, 26, played in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in May. He lost to Kukushkin in the first round of the French Open.
   Fritz, 19, shocked Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, at Indian Wells in March. Cilic was ranked seventh at the time.
   In Friday's other quarterfinals, Raymond Sarmiento of Los Angeles will play qualifier Liam Broady of Great Britain not before 1:30 p.m., and Sam Groth will take on fellow Australian Akira Santillan not before 4 p.m.
   Sarmiento, a 25-year-old former USC All-American and a quarterfinalist in Aptos last year, will try to reach a Challenger semifinal for the second consecutive week. He lost to eventual champion Michael Mmoh, a 19-year-old American, in three sets in Lexington, Ky., last week.
   Groth, 29, set an unofficial record with a 163.7-mph (263.4-kph) serve in the 2012 Busan (South Korea) Challenger and climbed to a career-high No. 53 in 2015. Santillan, a 20-year-old Tokyo native, won his first Challenger title last month in Winnetka, Ill.
    The Aptos tournament, the oldest men's Challenger in the United States, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Past competitors include International Tennis Hall of Famers Patrick Rafter and Michael Chang, as well as future Hall of Famer Andy Murray, Tommy Haas, James Blake, John Isner, Milos Raonic, Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson, Jack Sock, Bob and Mike Bryan, Mardy Fish, Marcos Baghdatis and Radek Stepanek.
   Here are the Nordic Naturals Challenger singles and doubles draws and Friday's schedule. Live streaming is available.