Thursday, October 26, 2017

Gordon, Pham, Hill win ITA Regonal titles

   Three Northern Californians won titles in the recent ITA Regional Championships.
   All three players are from the San Francisco Bay Area, and all triumphed in singles. Michaela Gordon won the Northwest Regional, Victor Pham the Northeast Regional and Sean Hill the Mountain Regional.
   The fourth-seeded Gordon, a Stanford freshman from Saratoga, defeated teammate Emily Arbuthnott, seeded seventh, 7-5, 6-2 on their home courts in Monday's final.
   The top-seeded Pham, a Columbia junior from Saratoga, beat No. 5-8 seed David Volfson of Cornell 6-3, 6-3 at Yale on Monday.
   The unseeded Hill, a BYU sophomore from Berkeley, routed third-seeded Ricky Hernandez-Tong of New Mexico 6-2, 6-1 at BYU on Saturday.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

NorCal connections of players in WTA Finals

Garbine Muguruza reached the semifinals of the Bank of the West Classic
at Stanford in August in her first tournament after winning Wimbledon.
Photo by Mal Taam
   All eight singles players in this week's WTA Finals in Singapore have played in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford. Here's how they have fared (world rankings and seedings in parentheses):
   Simona Halep (1), Romania -- In her only appearance, lost to Sabine Lisicki of Germany 6-1, 6-2 in first round in 2011.
   Garbine Muguruza (2), Spain -- Reached quarterfinals in 2014 and semifinals this year in her only appearances. Won 2014 doubles title with compatriot Carla Suarez Navarro.
   Karolina Pliskova (3), Czech Republic -- Has made two appearances, losing in second round in 2014 to eventual champion Serena Williams and in 2015 final to Angelique Kerber.
   Elina Svitolina (4), Ukraine -- Reached 2015 semifinals, losing to Kerber, in her only appearance.
   Venus Williams (5), United States -- Has won the singles title twice (2000 and 2002) and reached six other finals in 13 appearances. Made her WTA debut at 14 in 1994 (when the tournament was played indoors in Oakland), losing to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in second round. Has played doubles once, winning the 2009 title with Serena Williams.
   Caroline Wozniacki (6), Denmark -- In her only appearance, lost to Vavrara Lepchenko in second round in 2015 as top seed after receiving first-round bye.
   Jelena Ostapenko (7), Latvia -- In her only appearance, lost to 17-year-old CiCi Bellis of neighboring Atherton in first round in 2016.
   Caroline Garcia (8), France -- Lost in first round in both appearances (2014 and 2015).

Friday, October 20, 2017

Stephens, Bellis net prestigious awards

   Two of the WTA's six annual awards went to Northern California products today.
   Sloane Stephens, who grew up in Fresno, was named the Comeback Player of the Year. CiCi Bellis, from Atherton in the San Francisco Bay Area, was selected as the Newcomer of the Year.
   Other award winners were Garbine Muguruza (Player of the Year), Martina Hingis and Chan Yung-Jan (Doubles Team of the Year), Jelena Ostapenko (Most Improved Player) and Angelique Kerber (Aces Award for exceptional promotion of women's tennis).
   International journalists voted on the awards.
   Stephens, 24, won her first Grand Slam title in the U.S. Open only nine months after undergoing foot surgery. At No. 83, she was the lowest-ranked player to win the U.S. Open in the Open Era (since 1968), aside from unranked Kim Clijsters in 2009. Stephens is now No. 15.
   In response to a congratulatory tweet from the WTA, Stephens wrote: "Thank you guys! It has been an unforgettable year."     
   Bellis, 18, jumped from No. 90 at the beginning of the year to a career-high No. 35 in August. Now No. 44, she is the youngest woman in the top 50. Bellis defeated four top-20 players during the season: No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska in Dubai, No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova in Toronto, No. 14 Petra Kvitova at Stanford and No. 18 Kiki Bertens in the French Open.
   "I am so honored to be named Newcomer of the Year by the @WTA," Bellis tweeted. "Thanks to everyone that voted for me. Can't wait for next year!"
   Both Stephens and Bellis are now based in Florida.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Federer pal McDonald wins first Challenger title

Mackenzie McDonald, right, beat a weary Bradley Klahn
6-4, 6-2 today to win the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Chal-
lenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. — Mackenzie McDonald is too reserved and modest to mention it, but all those training sessions with Roger Federer appear to be paying off.
   McDonald, a 22-year-old product of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, defeated former Stanford star Bradley Klahn 6-4, 6-2 today to win the $100,000 Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championships at Solano Community College.
   McDonald earned his first Challenger singles title after coming to Fairfield 0-7 in semifinals at the level equivalent to Triple A in baseball.
   "I'm super pumped to compete here in NorCal and win," McDonald, who's now based in Los Angeles, gushed after facing Klahn, a 27-year-old resident of Poway in the San Diego area, for the first time. "I've worked really hard, and I think it's showing."
   The sessions with Federer haven't hurt, either.
   "Mackie has trained with him quite a bit," said McDonald's childhood coach, Rosie Bareis, who rushed back home from Florida this morning to attend the final. "He was in Dubai (where the Swiss star has a home) for a few weeks last December. After Roger was eliminated from the French Open, he called Mackie again and said, 'Hey, come to Zurich and train for a week, and let's get ready for Wimbledon together.' At the U.S. Open, when Mackie was in the qualies, he had a day off. Roger called him up and said, 'Let's hit balls,' and they played a couple of sets."
   Federer and McDonald have more in common than one might suspect. Federer's mother, Lynette, is South African, as is another of McDonald's longtime coaches, Wayne Ferreira, who peaked at No. 6 in the world in singles in 1995 and No. 9 in doubles in 2001. He lived in the Bay Area for many years before moving to South Carolina. McDonald still consults Ferreira, who could not be reached for comment.
   "I remember when Mackie said (to Federer), 'Hey, do you know my other coach, Wayne Ferreira?' " said Bareis, the director of tennis at the Claremont Resort & Spa in Berkeley. "Roger said, 'I ballboyed for that guy (in the Basel Open)!'
   "I think there's a connection (between Federer and McDonald). Roger likes him. He likes a lot of the juniors."
   Ferreira helped McDonald overcome a disheartening loss in the quarterfinals of last week's $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger. McDonald held two match points in a loss to 19-year-old American Michael Mmoh.
   "Wayne told him, 'How I handled it was, there's always going to be another tournament the following week,' " Bareis said. "Look what happened."
   Bareis returned from a United States Professional Tennis Association meeting in Delray Beach, Fla. She caught a 6 a.m. flight from Orlando, Fla., flew nonstop to San Francisco, landed at 8:50 a.m., freshened up at home in Tracy and continued on to Fairfield.
   "I consider Rosie family," McDonald said. "I'm very happy she was here to see me win my first (Challenger) title."
Bradley Klahn is drenched with water in a fundraising
stunt after the singles final. Mackenzie McDonald
nailed the bucket with a shot from the baseline on
his second try. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Bareis worked with McDonald from age 3 to 10 and co-coached him with Ferreira from 10 to 14. The USTA's Mat Cloer now coaches McDonald.
   "There were a lot of people in Northern California in the beginning who thought everything I was doing was wrong," Bareis said. "We were getting up Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings and hitting balls from 6 to 8 before school. He comes back in the afternoon, goes to the junior clinic, plays in the East Bay Junior League on Friday and plays tournaments on Saturday and Sunday. Burnout, whatever ...
   "I asked the people in NorCal, 'Why don't we have 8-and-under tournaments? Why does SoCal have 8-and-unders?' At that time, it was 10-and-under, no-ad, round robin, here's a participation ribbon, yay. I was like: 'He's 7 years old. He's going to have to wait how long to win his first trophy?'
   "What I feel good about is that Mackie is one of the kids that set an opportunity for the CiCi Bellises and Vivian Ovrootskys. At least we have somebody in NorCal the kids can say, If those guys from Northern California can make it, I can make it."
   Also attending today's final were McDonald's parents (Michael and Vivian) and grandparents on his father's side, and Klahn's brother, sister and girlfriend. 
   Blue skies returned over the weekend after smoke from nearby wildfires hovered over the area. Several players, their host families and co-tournament director Phil Cello evacuated early in the week, and most of Tuesday's matches were postponed until Wednesday because of "very unhealthy" air quality, according to
   Between the singles and doubles finals, the crowd observed a moment of silence in honor of the 40 people who died in the blazes, which have destroyed about 5,700 homes and businesses and caused an estimated $3 billion in damage. After the singles final, McDonald and Klahn agreed to be drenched with water in a stunt to aid the Wildfire Relief Fund. Officials posted photos on the tournament website with donation information.
   Both players started the match slowly, losing serve in each of the first three games and five of the first seven. The difference was McDonald quickly recovered while Klahn struggled throughout the match.
   McDonald admitted he was nervous early in the match.
   "Yeah, for sure," he said. "I mean, first (Challenger) final. I felt there was a bit on the line for me, but I'm very happy with how I composed myself this week. I fee like that's always a challenge in pro tennis. I feel like I'm getting the hang of how to calm my nerves, just play tennis and focus on the important things."
   Once McDonald settled down, he pounded his serves and groundstrokes, returned well and put away volleys. For someone who's only 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) and 145 pounds (66 kilograms), he has surprising power. McDonald had four aces and four double faults, and won 26 of 33 points (79 percent) on his first serve.
   "Mackie has always been an all-court player," said Bareis, noting that McDonald swept the NCAA singles and doubles titles as a UCLA junior last year before turning pro. "He knows how to move forward and take time away."
   McDonald tried to stay away from Klahn's punishing forehand, on which he takes a big windup.
   "I wanted to pick on his backhand," said McDonald, who won last year's doubles title in Fairfield with Brian Baker of Nashville, Tenn. "I haven't seen Brad play that much lately, but I know his backhand is a little weaker. I thought he was going to try to get it high to my backhand, which I think he was, but my down-the-line backhand was working well, so I could get out of that position."
   Klahn, the 2010 NCAA singles champion, looked nothing like the player who ousted top-seeded Ernesto Escobedo in a scintillating second-round match. The 6-foot (1.83-meter) Klahn put in only 55 percent of his first serves, had one ace and four double faults, won only 8 of 21 points (38 percent) on his second serve, and committed numerous errors.
   Klahn, who underwent his second operation for a herniated disc in his back in February 2015 and ended a 21-month layoff last November, was playing in his second final in two weeks. He lost to Maximilian Marterer of Germany 7-6 (3), 7-6 (6) in a $100,000 hard-court tournament in Monterrey, Mexico, last Sunday.
   "I think the best way to describe it is 10 matches in two weeks caught up to me," Klahn, who was seeking his sixth Challenger singles title but first since 2014, said of his disappointing performance today. "Mackie did play well, and I know he was confident up here in these conditions. I couldn't quite get my nose in front, and I struggled with my serve. I was kind of fighting an uphill battle today."
   McDonald, who earned $14,400, will jump from No. 218 to a career-high No. 164 in Monday's updated rankings. Klahn, who collected $8,480, will improve from No. 313 to No. 240. He reached a career-high No. 63 in 2014.
   McDonald and Klahn are scheduled to play in next week's $50,000 Las Vegas Tennis Open, so they will go from the site of one recent tragedy to another.
(Left to right) Second-seeded David O'Hare and Luke Bambridge defeated
wild cards Bernardo Oliveira and Akram El Sallaly from the University of
the Pacific in Stockton 6-4, 6-2 for the doubles title. Photo by Paul Bauman
   In the doubles final, second-seeded Luke Bambridge of Great Britain and David O'Hare of Ireland outclassed wild cards Akram El Sallaly of Egypt and Bernardo Oliveira of Brazil 6-4, 6-2, the same score as in the singles final. El Sallaly and Oliveira are teammates at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.
   Bambridge and O'Hare, who split $6,200, almost skipped Fairfield.
   "I was due to fly back home," said O'Hare, 27. "I was trying to stick to four weeks on the road and a couple weeks at home to train. We had good success. We made the final in Columbus (after losing in the quarterfinals in Cary, N.C.) and the semifinals in Tiburon, then lost first round in Stockton.
   "It would have been easy to throw in the towel, but with the (Fairfield) tournament so close (to Stockton), I figured I'd cancel my flight, and come down here and play. You don't want to end on a bad note, and here we are today on Sunday lifting the trophy. Sometimes it works that way, and obviously I'm all too delighted that it has."
   Bambridge, meanwhile, was prepared to play doubles in a $25,000 Futures tournament in Houston this week.
   "When Dave said he was going to stay, I said, 'OK, I'll pull out of the Futures,' " said Bambridge, 22. "We had a really tough first-round (matchup against Klahn and Jackson Withrow of College Station, Texas). Some would say we were extremely unfortunate. Once we came through that, we never looked back.
   "It would have been easy to lose that match and say, Ah, tough draw, but we came through it. From then on, we didn't play our best tennis, but mentally, we were really, really good. We had three match tiebreakers and won them all. We started to jell really well together."
   Here are the complete Fairfield singles and doubles draws.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bay Area native, ex-Stanford star reach Fairfield final

   Last year's final in the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger, held at Solano Community College for the first time, featured two international players.
   This year's title match in the Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championships will have a Northern California flair.
   Mackenzie McDonald, who was born and raised in Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, will meet Bradley Klahn, a former Stanford star from Poway in the San Diego region, for the first time on Sunday after the noon doubles final at Solano.
   McDonald defeated qualifier Chris O'Connell of Australia 6-4, 7-5 to reach his first Challenger final after seven semifinal losses. Although McDonald is only 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) and 145 pounds (66 kilograms), he slugged nine aces.
   Klahn dismissed fourth-seeded Maximilian Marterer of Germany 6-1, 6-3 in a matchup of left-handers that lasted only 43 minutes. Marterer, who beat Klahn 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) last Sunday to win a $100,000 hard-court tournament in Monterrey, Mexico, had no aces and seven double faults.
   Both McDonald, 22, and Klahn, 27, are unseeded.
   McDonald turned pro last year after sweeping the NCAA singles and doubles titles as a UCLA junior. Now based in Los Angeles, he's ranked No. 218.
   Klahn seeks his sixth Challenger singles title but first since 2014. He is fighting his way back up the rankings after undergoing his second operation for a herniated disc in his back in February 2015 and missing 21 months. Ranked a career-high No. 63 in 2104, he is now No. 313.
   In last year's Fairfield final, Colombian veteran Santiago Giraldo defeated France's Quentin Halys, then 19, in three sets. The match was suspended by rain on a Sunday with Halys leading 3-1, ad-out, and completed the next day.
   Neither Giraldo, who climbed to a career-high No. 28 in 2014, nor Halys returned to Fairfield this year.
   Also Sunday, a team with strong NorCal ties will play for the doubles title. Wild cards Akram El Salally and Bernardo Oliveira, teammates at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, will meet second-seeded Luke Bambridge of Great Britain and David O'Hare of Ireland.
   El Salally, a sophomore from Egypt, and Oliveira, a senior from Brazil, edged unseeded Mikelis Libietis of Latvia and McDonald 7-6 (5), 4-6 [10-8].
   McDonald won last year's doubles crown with Brian Baker of Nashville, Tenn., and Libietis captured the 2014 NCAA doubles title with Tennessee teammate Hunter Reese.
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Sunday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Three seeds fall in 100K Fairfield quarterfinals

   Three seeds lost today in the quarterfinals of the Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championships, leaving only one in the $100,000 tourmament at Solano Community College in Fairfield, Calif.
   No. 2 Tennys Sandgren fell to Mackenzie McDonald, who grew up in nearby Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, 7-6 (3), 6-2.
   McDonald, who won the doubles title last year with compatriot Brian Baker, defeated Sandgren, ranked No. 98, for the first time in six career matches. They met for the fifth time this year.
   McDonald will play qualifier Chris O'Connell of Australia for the first time in Saturday's first semifinal at noon. O'Connell outlasted third-seeded Bjorn Fratangelo of Orlando, Fla., 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-4.
   In Saturday's second semifinal, fourth-seeded Maximilian Marterer of Germany will face former Stanford star Bradley Klahn of Poway in a matchup of left-handers. It will be a rematch of Sunday's final in a $100,000 hard-court tournament at Monterrey (Mexico), won by Marterer 7-6 (3), 7-5 (3) in his first career meeting with Klahn.  
   Klahn advanced today with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over eighth-seeded Nikola Milojevic of Serbia 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Each of Klahn's three victories in the tournament has come in three sets. He knocked off top-seeded Ernesto Escobedo, a resident of West Covina in the Los Angeles region ranked No. 91, on Thursday.
   Marterer defeated qualifier and countryman Sebastian Fanselow 6-4, 7-5.
   The tournament remained at Solano Community College as USTA on-site supervisor Keith Crossland deemed the air quality adequate for play as wildfires continue to blaze in the nearby wine country.
   Crossland will evaluate the air quality again on Saturday at 11 a.m. and decide whether to keep the matches at Solano or move them to the University of California, Davis, a 30-minute drive to the northeast.
   McDonald also reached the doubles semifinals, this time with Mikelis Libietis of Latvia. The unseeded pair surprised top-seeded Neal Skupski of Great Britain and John-Patrick Smith of Australia 7-6 (3), 7-5.
   Both McDonald (UCLA) and Libietis (Tennessee) are former NCAA doubles champions. The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) McDonald swept the singles and doubles titles last year as a junior, then turned pro.
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Saturday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Ex-Stanford star ousts top seed in $100K Fairfield

Bradley Klahn lines up a backhand during his three-set
victory over top-seeded Ernesto Escobedo on Thursday.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. — Bradley Klahn wondered if his career was over at age 24.
   "It certainly crossed my mind from time to time," the former Stanford star, who underwent his second operation for a herniated disc in his back in February 2015, admitted Thursday. "But I've been healthy for well over a year now and started training (in July 2016). My body feels good, and that's behind me now. I'm just focusing on continuing to take advantage of his second opportunity I have to play tennis."
   Now 27, the 6-foot (1.83-meter) left-hander from Poway in the San Diego area took another step in his comeback by ousting top-seeded Ernesto Escobedo of West Covina in the Los Angeles region 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals of the $100,000 Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championships.
   About 15 minutes before the scheduled 10 a.m. match, USTA on-site supervisor Keith Crossland decided to keep Thursday's matches at Solano Community College rather than move them to the University of California, Davis, a 30-minute drive away, or another site.
   Wednesday afternoon's scheduled matches were wiped out because smoke from wildfires in the nearby wine country of Northern California reduced the air quality to very unhealthy. But it improved to unhealthy on Thursday, blue sky returned, and Klahn said he had no breathing problems during the match.
   Because the wildfires — which have killed 31 people, scorched 191,000 acres and destroyed thousands of buildings — continue to rage, Crossland will face the same issue this morning of where to play.
   Some players staying with host families have evacuated, but those staying at a hotel, such as Klahn, have not.
   "I'm trying to monitor (the situation) a little bit but not get too consumed by it," Klahn said. "I know from experience with the fires down in San Diego it's easy to get sucked in and watch the news 24/7, but I'm certainly thinking about all the families that have been displaced or had their homes burned down. It's a real tragedy."
   Through it all, Klahn has maintained his focus.
   "For the most part, I think I've done a pretty good job of staying relaxed throughout the delays wondering if we're going to play, if we're not going to play," he said. "I just put it behind me when I step out on the court knowing I have a job to do."
   Thursday's match, the first between Klahn and Escobedo, was an intense, hard-hitting affair. The 6-foot-1 Escobedo, 21, crushed his first serve and hammered groundstrokes into the corners. But Klahn often managed to keep the ball in play, inducing errors from Escobedo, and laced some some spectacular running cross-court passing shots. Klahn's lefty serve also was effective, including on his third match point, when he swung his first delivery out wide in the ad court for a winner.
   Klahn broke serve in the opening game of the second set, but Escobedo broke back for 3-3 on a double fault. Escobedo saved five break points in the next game to hold serve, survived a match point serving at 5-6 in the tiebreaker and converted his fourth set point.
   Klahn recorded the only break of the third set to lead 4-2. From deuce in that game, Escobedo ripped an inside-out forehand that smacked the tape and fell back, then sailed a backhand down the line long. He missed his first serve on both points.
   "The key," said Klahn, who finished with 10 aces and nine double faults, "was staying positive and upbeat about my chances even though I let the second set slip away a little bit. I hung in there and competed really well. That was the biggest thing."
   So did Escobedo. Even when he lost his serve in the third set, he escaped three break points before succumbing.
   "He played well; I played well," Escobedo, had 11 aces and five double faults, said of the match. "I was lucky to get back in the second set. I was down a break. I'm happy that I fought hard. The third set just didn't go my way. I just felt like I played a loose game and that's what cost me."
Ernesto Escobedo, ranked No. 91, laments that
he is the only Mexican-American in the top 100.
Photo by Paul Bauman 
   Escobedo reached the second round of the Australian Open as a qualifier in January and advanced to his first ATP semifinal in Houston on clay in April, upsetting second-seeded John Isner in the quarters. But Escobedo has won only two matches in his last five tournaments.
   "It's a process on tour," Escobedo reasoned. "I haven't won that many matches, unfortunately, but it is what it is. I just have to keep on working hard. There's no secrets behind it."
   Escobedo, a Los Angeles native ranked No. 91, is the only Mexican-American in the top 100. Mexico, where his grandfather taught his father to play, has no one in the top 600 in singles (Santiago Gonzalez leads the way in doubles at No. 33).
   "It's unfortunate because I believe there's a lot of talent in Mexico," said Escobedo, who was featured in the May 1 issue of Sports Illustrated after his Houston breakthrough. "It's unfortunate it's just me. Hopefully, I can inspire more kids to play tennis throughout my career."
   None of the top seeds during the three-week Challenger swing through Northern California reached the quarterfinals. Ruben Bemelmans, a 29-year-old left-hander from Belgium, lost in the first round in Tiburon and Stockton as the No. 1 seed.
   Escobedo became the third top-100 player Klahn has beaten since the latter ended a 21-month layoff last November. He topped No. 92 Renzo Olivo of Argentina 4-6, 7-5, 4-0, retired in the first round of qualifying in Houston and No. 81 Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of a $100,000 Challenger on hard courts in Monterrey Mexico, last week en route to a runner-up finish.
   "I'm starting to string together a few more wins," Klahn said. "I'm gaining confidence each week. I lost a couple of tough matches in previous weeks but was just knocking on the door. Now it's just time to continue building and developing my game."
   Klahn won the 2010 NCAA singles title as a sophomore, underwent his first back operation the following year and graduated in economics in 2012. He reached the second round of the U.S. Open in 2012 and 2013, won the Aptos (Calif.) Challenger in 2013, and climbed as high as No. 63 in 2014.
   Klahn's latest layoff changed his perspective.
   "I appreciate being on the road a little bit more," said Klahn, who dropped out of the rankings in February 2016 but has fought back to No. 313. "I always enjoyed travel, but I've tried to get out of my comfort zone and go to a few different places, enjoy the cities I'm in and just soak it all in.
   "You never know how long it's going to last. When I step out on court, there's always going to be nerves. You still want to win regardless of whether it's before the injury or after the injury, but defintely off the court and in practices, I'm trying to enjoy the whole process a little more."
   Klahn is scheduled to play eighth-seeded Nikola Milojevic of Serbia for the first time today in the late afternoon. Milojevic, 22, defeated 19-year-old phenom Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada 6-2, 6-4 on Tuesday.
   Mackenzie McDonald, a 22-year-old product of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, beat Darian King of Barbados for the second time in three weeks, 6-3, 6-1. McDonald, only 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) and 145 pounds (66 kilograms), will take on second-seeded Tennys Sandgren of Gallatin, Tenn., in the Nashville area.
   McDonald, who won last year's doubles title with Brian Baker of Nashville, is 0-5 against Sandgren. This will be their fifth meeting of the year and second in three weeks. Sandgren prevailed 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) in the Tiburon semifinals and complained of fatigue after losing to Cameron Norrie 6-2, 6-3 in the final.
   Two qualifiers, Chris O'Connell of Australia and Sebastian Fanselow of Germany, also reached the Northbay Healthcare quarterfinals. O'Connell will face third-seeded Bjorn Fratangelo of Orlando, Fla., and Fanselow will meet fourth seed and countryman Maximilian Marterer, a quarterfinalist for the second straight year.
   And yes, Fratangelo is named after Bjorn Borg.
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and today's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Smoke suspends play in 100K Fairfield Challenger

Smoke from a nearby wildfire shrouds the hills as players leave Solano Com-
munity College after play was canceled for the day. Photo by Paul Bauman
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- For the first time in his 28-year career, USTA on-site supervisor Keith Crossland suspended play because of poor air quality.
   Three matches, one in singles and two in doubles, were completed this morning in the $100,000 Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championships before smoke from a nearby wildfire shrouded Solano Community College, the tournament site.
   No. 8 seed Nikola Milojevic, 22, of Serbia beat 19-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada 6-2, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals.
   By noon, the air quality dropped from "moderate" to "unhealthy" on, the website used by Crossland, and stayed there all afternoon. Crossland finally canceled play for the day at 3:30 p.m.
   By then, the wildfire had approached within two miles of Solano Community College and was headed that way, co-tournament director Phil Cello said, as high winds returned to Northern California.
James Harden lookalike Evan King celebrates
during a pickup basketball game with other
tennis players in the Solano Community
College gym while tournament play was
suspended because of poor air quality.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   "The forecast is for more north wind peaking at 6 p.m.," Cello said. "That's the big variable. If the wind isn't as bad, they probably can stop it, and everybody's happy. If not, it could come through here."
   Cello and his wife evacuated from neighboring Green Valley early Tuesday morning and were still awaiting word about their house.
   Officials said 22 wildfires across California have claimed 21 lives, scorched 170,000 acres and destroyed up to 3,500 homes and businesses, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
   Tournament play is scheduled to resume on Thursday at 10 a.m. (top seed Ernesto Escobedo vs. former Stanford star Bradley Klahn) at Solano but could move to the Marya Welch Tennis Center at the University of California, Davis, the Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton or the Taube Tennis Center at Stanford University for one or more days, Crossland said.
   "All indications are UC Davis can make room for us," Crossland said. "That would be the most ideal spot. It's the closest (33 miles or 53 kilometers away). Players don't have to change their housing. We can pretty much commute back and forth."
   Crossland said he will check the air quality at Solano on Thursday morning and decide between 9:30 and 10 a.m. whether the matches will stay there or move.
   Crossland has dealt with fires before.
   "There was a tournament in Calabasas (in the Los Angeles area) three or four years ago," he recalled. "It was pretty smoky (because of wildfires), and there were big globs of ash around, but we continued to play. ...
   "I remember one situation in Waco (Texas) in the old days, the Satellite Tour days, where a house literally across the street from the courts burned. I think they stopped for a while because there were fire trucks around."
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Thursday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Aussie O'Connell overcomes harrowing evacuation

Australian qualifier Chris O'Connell and his coach, David Moore, headed
straight into a wildfire near Sonoma in Northern California before quickly
turning around. They were shaken but unharmed. Photo by Chris O'Connell
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. — Chris O'Connell called it the "scariest moment of my life."
   The 23-year-old Australian, who was trying to qualify for the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship, had been evacuated with his coach and their host family on Sunday night as wildfires raged in nearby Napa.
   But as O'Connell and coach David Moore of Australia headed to Greenbrae in the San Francisco Bay Area, they encountered a wall of flames 200 yards ahead.
   "We were going down a highway through a valley with bushland on either side, and we weren't sure if we were heading straight into another fire, and we literally were," O'Connell exclaimed on Tuesday. "There was another fire near Sonoma, so we quickly turned around and went a different route to Greenbrae, but it was really scary. It was the scariest moment of my life. I got to sleep about 3 a.m. and was playing the next morning at 10, so it was a crazy 24 hours. I'm all settled now."
  Seventeen blazes in Northern California's wine country have killed least 15 people and destroyed about 1,500 buildings, including including two wineries and hundreds of homes, NPR reported.
   The fires, spread by dry conditions and high winds, have burned about 115,000 acres, authorities said. The cause has not been determined. 
   O'Connell and Moore stayed one night with the host family of fellow Aussies Matthew Barton and Greg Jones in Greenbrae, 16 miles (25.7 kilometers) north of San Francisco, before going back to the family that housed them in Tiburon two weeks ago. Tiburon is 48 miles (77.2 kilometers) southwest of Solano Community College, the site of this week's tournament.
   Moore said his and O'Connell's host family in Napa, Marty and Dave Thomas "heard third-hand that their house is OK, but they can't get in the area."   
   Other players, as well as ballkids and co-tournament director Phil Cello, also were evacuated. Some ballkids have canceled, said co-tournament director Raf Rovira.
   Cello lives in Green Valley, over the hill from Solano Community College, and is staying at a son-in-law's house in nearby Vacaville.
   "We loaded up our four dogs and two cats and all our stuff and headed out," Cello said. "We left at 4 a.m. by the time we got packed up."
   Cello said he hopes his house is OK and doesn't know when he can return, then added: "It's fine. It's precautionary. The fire is in Napa on the other side of the hill. The danger is if it comes over the top. My home is near the base of the hill. The danger is that the wind is supposed to pick up again tonight. The fire in Napa has zero percent containment. We just have to hope the wind doesn't pick up so much that it lifts the fire over the hill and into the homes below."
Chris O'Connell, left, shown with his coach and fellow Australian, David
Moore, is scheduled to play former top-70 player Tobias Kamke of Germany
today in the second round of the $100,000 Fairfield Challenger. Photo by
Paul Bauman  
   Smoke enveloped Fairfield in the morning, and USTA on-site supervisor Keith Crossland came close to postponing play. He consulted ATP senior supervisors and medical staff by telephone and e-mail and a website that listed the air quality as moderate.
   "It was certainly smoky, but the website was the thing that pushed me over to go ahead and play," Crossland said. "There is no ATP rule saying there's air quality 'X' above which you don't play and below which you can play. It's ultimately the (on-site) supervisor's decision."
   Crossland also noted: "The ATP plays events in some cities that have reputations for pretty bad air quality like Beijing, Shanghai and Mexico City. I've never been there, so I couldn't say this is worse than that, but my feeling is this is not as bad as that."
   Players seemed unaffected by the smoke on Tuesday morning, and the air was much clearer in the afternoon.
   O'Connell, who had ousted top qualifying seed Liam Broady of Great Britain in the second round, battled fatigue and the smoke in the last round on Monday morning but beat No. 5 seed Jay Clarke of Great Britain 6-3, 7-5 in straight sets.
   "Obviously, I felt pretty drained walking on the court," said O'Connell, who had slept 3 1/2 hours. "My eyes were watering, really hurting, and my throat was sore just from breathing in all the smoke. Once I got into the match, all that kind of disappeared because I'm a competitive guy. I just wanted to compete."
   O'Connell also upset American Denis Kudla, a former top-70 player, 7-5, 6-3 on Tuesday morning. The victory was especially gratifying because O'Connell missed most of the summer with pneumonia. 
   "I've really only come good in the past month and a half," said O'Connell, who has plunged from a career-high No. 219 in February to No. 375. "It's really good to start getting a couple wins and feeling good on the court."
   O'Connell was worried about the smoke before facing Kudla, unnecessarily as it turned out.
   "Surprisingly, I felt good warming up and playing the match, maybe because I was winning," he said.
   O'Connell will meet another former top-70 player, 31-year-old German Tobias Kamke, today in the second round.
Liam Broady of Great Britain wears one of
the respiratory masks handed out in the
pkayers' lounge. Photo by Paul Bauman
   One seed lost on Tuesday, and three others survived scares.
   No. 6 Stefan Kozlov, 19, fell to Mackenzie McDonald, a 22-year-old product of Piedmont in the Bay Area, 6-4, 5-7, 6-1 in a matchup of U.S. prospects.
   No. 2 Tennys Sandgren in the Nashville area edged fellow American Mitchell Krueger 6-2, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5) in a battle that ended in near-darkness at 6:43 p.m. Krueger had the match on his racket when he led 5-4 in the tiebreaker with two points on his serve coming.
   No. 3 Bjorn Fratangelo of Orlando, Fla., trailed by a set and a service break before rallying to beat lucky loser Alexander Ward of Great Britain 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 in two hours, 28 minutes.
   Also, No. 9 Michael Mmoh, 19, nipped wild card Evan King, a 25-year-old left-hander, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (5) in another all-American affair.
   Top seed Ernesto Escobedo of West Covina in the Los Angeles area and Sandgren, from Gallatin, Tenn., in the Nashville area, are the only two top-100 players in the tournament at No. 91 and No. 98, respectively.
   Mmoh received the ninth seed after No. 5 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain withdrew because of a left shoulder strain. Norrie defeated Mmoh in the semifinals of last week's $100,000 Stockton Challenger en route to his second title in two weeks. The 22-year-old left-hander also won Tiburon.
   Fourth-seeded Maximilian Marterer of Germany downed Brydan Klein of Great Britain 6-4, 7-6 (2). Marterer reached last year's Fairfield quarterfinals and won last week's $100,000 Monterey (Mexico) Challenger. Klein advanced to the Fairfield semifinals in 2016 and won the Stockton doubles title with countryman Joe Salisbury last week.
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Wednesday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Two Fairfield players evacuated because of wildfires

   Two players in the $100,000 Fairfield Challenger and their host families were evacuated in the middle of the night today because of wildfires in the nearby wine country of Northern California, according to USTA on-site supervisor Keith Crossland.
   Crossland did not know which two players were evacuated but thought one was Australian qualifier Christopher O'Connell.
   The wildfires, which have killed at least 10 people and destroyed 1,500 homes, did not affect the tournament schedule.
   Tobias Kamke, a 31-year-old German, ousted seventh-seeded Ramkumar Ramanathan of India 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in the opening round at Solano Community College, which is being used as an evacuation center.
   Kamke, who reached a career-high No. 64 in 2011, rebounded from an awful performance in his 6-2, 6-1 loss to third-seeded Michael Mmoh of Bradenton, Fla., in the first round of last week's $100,000 Stockton Challenger. Kamke was so distraught by his repeated errors that at one point he stomped on his racket and demolished the frame.
   Also today in Fairfield, top-seeded Ernesto Escobedo, 21, beat Alexander Sarkissian, a 27-year-old wild card, 5-7, 6-0, 6-2 in a matchup of Los Angeles-area residents.
   Escobedo, ranked No. 91, is one of two top-100 players in the tournament. Second-seeded Tennys Sandgren of Gallatin, Tenn., in the Nashville area is No. 98.
   In last year's final, Santiago Giraldo of Colombia defeated Quentin Halys of France. Neither returned this year.
   Here are the Fairfield singles qualifying draw, singles and doubles main draws and Tuesday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Norrie overcomes wind, King for second straight title

Cameron Norrie, left, defeated Darian King 6-1, 6-3 today to win
the $100,000 Stockton Challenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   STOCKTON, Calif. — When Cameron Norrie was asked Friday what his greatest strength is, he mentioned his two-handed backhand and mental toughness.
   The latter was critical today as the wind, which plagued the $100,000 Stockton Challenger early in the week, returned with a vengeance.
   Making the best of the situation, the eighth-seeded Norrie routed sixth-seeded Darian King 6-1, 6-3 in 68 minutes at the University of the Pacific's Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center for his second title in two weeks.
   "I feel like I'm a rock mentally," trumpeted Norrie, a 22-year-old left-hander from Great Britain. "I knew it would be tough in the wind, and I don't want to complain about it, so I think I used it to my advantage. It definitely does favor the person that's mentally tougher."
   Norrie, who pocketed $14,400, won his third Challenger singles title since turning pro in May after his junior year at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. He has played in three consecutive finals, winning 14 of 15 matches, since losing to eventual semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta in the second round of the U.S. Open as a qualifier.
   But Norrie, the champion in last week's $100,000 Tiburon Challenger, will not try to match Sam Querrey's 2014 feat of sweeping the three-week Northern California swing. Norrie withdrew from next week's $100,000 Fairfield Challenger at Solano Community College with a left shoulder strain.
   Today, Norrie won the first five games and the last four.
   "I think I played very smart at the start," said Norrie, who improved to 2-0 against King. "I played pretty safe, and I was winning a lot of the longer rallies. I used my drop shot pretty well today into the wind. He was standing pretty far back, so it was pretty effective for me. I'm playing great tennis."
   Norrie showed no signs of frustration during the match. King, in contrast, at various times muttered to himself, shook his head, put his hands on his hips, threw up his arms, almost slammed his racket on the court and, on a changeover, struck his racket bag with his racket. Of course, it's a lot easier to stay composed when you're winning.
   "It was my first time playing a left-hander the whole week," moianed the 25-year-old King of Barbados, a small Caribbean island nation with a population of only 292,000. "Obviously, he handled (the wind) much better. Obviously, it's tough playing a left-hander in these conditions.
   "I had better chances in the second set. He was coming to the net and made some great passing shots at the right time, and I messed up a volley or two because of the conditions. That's how tennis goes. It's mental, and you have to try to adapt to all the circumstances."
Joe Salisbury, left, and Brydan Klein won the Stockton
doubles title. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Norrie, who was born in South Africa and grew up in New Zealand, will jump 25 more places to No. 111 in Monday's updated rankings. But he's not concerned about cracking the top 100 for the first time and gaining direct entry into the Australian Open in January.
   "No, not at all," he said. "I'm just trying to get better every day. I don't really have any ranking goals. Me and my coach, Facu (Facundo Lugones), are just going to keep working every day. If I get top 100, if I get top 60, it doesn't really make a difference as long as I'm getting better."
   King, who collected $8,480, will improve from No. 207 to No. 181. He reached a career-high No. 106 last year in May and later won Tiburon.
   Norrie completed a British sweep of the Stockton titles. In the doubles final, fourth-seeded Brydan Klein and Joe Salisbury beat qualifiers Denis Kudla of Arlington, Va., and Tampa, Fla., and Mikelis Libietis of Latvia 6-2, 6-4. Klein, a 27-year-old Australia native who plays for Great Britain, and Salisbury, 25, split $6,200.
   Here are the completed Stockton singles and doubles draws.
   Here are the Fairfield singles qualifying draw, singles and doubles main draws and Monday's schedule.

With incredible turnaround, Norrie reaches final

   STOCKTON, Calif. -- It was the biggest turnaround since Donald Trump succeeded Barack Obama.
   Cameron Norrie was two points from getting bageled in the first set of his semifinal against Michael Mmoh on Saturday in the $100,000 Stockton Challenger.
   From there, Norrie won 11 consecutive games in a 7-5, 6-2 victory at the University of the Pacific's Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center.
   As if that's not amazing enough, Norrie defeated Mmoh by the same score in the quarterfinals of last week's $100,000 Tiburon (Calif.) Challenger en route to the title.
   In an effort to change that outcome, the third-seeded Mmoh was determined to play more aggressively this time. He did just that initially, throwing the eight-seeded Norrie off his game and bolting to a 5-0 lead.
   But Mmoh, for all his firepower at a chiseled 6-foot-1 (1.85 meters) and 187 pounds (85 kilograms), likes to use his tremendous athleticism to play defense. He lapsed back into that mode, which proved fatal against Norrie and his precise groundstrokes.
   It didn't help that Mmoh double-faulted on the first of his three set points at 5-3 in the first set, on break point at 5-5 in that set and on break point at 2-4 in the second set.
   "He actually played really well to start off with, hitting the ball everywhere, and I was a little off," said Norrie, a 22-year-old left-hander from Great Britain. "My racket was strung dead, but I'm not making any excuses. He was playing great tennis. I just tried to take it one point at a time, and he stopped being as aggressive. That allowed me to play my game and dictate play a little more."
   Mmoh, 19, of Bradenton, Fla., agreed with Norrie's assessment.
   "I thought I was playing pretty solid and that was part of the reason I was up 5-0," said Mmoh, the son of former journeyman pro Tony Mmoh from Nigeria. "Then everything clicked (for Norrie), and I slowed down a little bit. He found his rhythm and built off that. He played really well the rest of the match after 5-0."
   Norrie, ranked No. 136, will face sixth-seeded Darian King of Barbados today after the 11 a.m. doubles final. King, ranked No. 207, defeated Tim Smyczek of Tampa, Fla., 6-1, 6-4.
   "I was expecting a long match, but I got a couple of errors from Tim to get an early break, and I guess I rode that wave," said King, 25. "Also in the second set, he got some early breaks, and I was getting a little tight trying to win the match. I was playing someone for the first time and trying to get into my first final in a long time."
   Norrie has played King once, winning 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in the final round of qualifying for the $100,000 Dallas Challenger in February 2015. Norrie also practiced with King in Barbados while visiting a friend there the week before Tiburon last month.                    
   Norrie seeks his third Challenger title since turning pro in May after his junior year at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
   Since reaching the second round of the U.S. Open as a qualifier, Norrie has played in three consecutive Challenger finals. In the first one, he lost to unheralded American Kevin King in a $50,000 Challenger in Cary, N.C.
   "I've still got a lot of things to work on," said Norrie, who reached No. 1 nationally at TCU. "It's exciting that I'm winning and not playing my best tennis."
   King will play in his first final since beating Mmoh in last year's Tiburon Challenger.
   Here are the Stockton singles and doubles draws and today's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.
   Also, here are the singles qualifying draw, singles main draw and today's schedule for the $100,000 Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championships at Solano Community College in Fairfield, Calif.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

'Lefty Andy Murray' advances to Stockton semis

   STOCKTON, Calif. — If Michael Mmoh is right, Cameron Norrie has a very bright future.
   When it was suggested to Mmoh that the left-hander's game resembles his British countryman Andy Murray's, Mmoh replied: "Lefty Andy Murray is a pretty good comparison. He has a really good backhand and a pretty good forehand. He's very talented at moving you around the court and really dictating that baseline, so he'll just push you from corner to corner. He can do that all day. He has very good precision."
   That doesn't necessarily mean Norrie, who will face Mmoh today in the semifinals of the $100,000 Stockton Challenger, will ascend to No. 1 and win three Grand Slam singles titles like Murray.
   Norrie, 22, is far behind Murray at the same age. Murray won the first of his 45 ATP titles, 14th in the Open era (since 1968) and fourth among active players, in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose at 18 years old in 2006 and repeated in 2007. Norrie is ranked No. 136 and could crack the top 100 by the end of the year. That would be an impressive feat, considering he turned pro only four months ago after his junior year at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
   Norrie, seeded eighth, beat Tennys Sandgren, seeded second, 6-3, 7-6 (5) on Friday at the University of the Pacific's Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center.
   The third-seeded Mmoh, 19, of Bradenton, Fla., led 34-year-old Russian qualifier Dmitry Tursunov, a former top-20 player who has been plagued by injuries, 6-3 when Tursunov retired with a hamstring injury.
   It's the third consecutive tournament in which Tursunov, who trained in Northern California from age 12 into his 30s, has retired and the second straight because of a hamstring problem.
   In the other semifinal, sixth-seeded Darian King of Barbados will meet unseeded veteran Tim Smyczek of Tampa, Fla., for the first time.
   King, 25, defeated fourth-seeded Stefan Kozlov, 19, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., 6-4, 6-4. Smyczek, 29, eliminated Elias Ymer, a 21-year-old Swede, by the same score.
   Both King and Smyczek qualified for the U.S. Open in August and lost in the first round.   
   Sandgren, 26, of Gallatin, Tenn., in the Nashville area was the only top-100 player in the Stockton Challenger at No. 97. Top-seeded Ruben Bemelmans, a Belgian who lost to Ymer in the first round, dropped from No. 92 when the draw came out last Saturday to No. 101 in the latest rankings on Monday.
   Norrie's victory wasn't really an upset. He improved to 3-0 against Sandgren, including a 6-2, 6-3 victory in the final of the $100,000 Tiburon (Calif.) Challenger on Sunday.
   "I think I've had a little bit of luck (against Sandgren)," the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Norrie said modestly. "I've been winning the long rallies against him, and that's what he usually does well. That's paid dividends, and I've been coming forward when I've needed to and knocking off some volleys when he's on the run and slices. I've been staying positive and staying tough."
   Sandgren led 4-1 (one service break) in the second set, but Norrie broke back for 3-4 when Sandgren sailed a high backhand volley long. Both players then held serve to force the tiebreaker, in which Norrie bolted to a 5-1 lead and held on for the match.
   "He played a good game to break me (early in the second set)," said Norrie, who reached the second round of the U.S. Open as a qualifier before losing to eventual semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta. "I felt like I was playing well. I just tried to focus on the present. Then I fought back and played a very good tiebreaker and served really well. It's the best I've served the last two weeks. I'm feeling really good about the match."
   Mmoh, the son of former journeyman pro Tony Mmoh from Nigeria, skipped college and turned pro last year. He was happy that his match against Tursunov lasted only 39 minutes.
   Mmoh was coming off a 1-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory over Mackenzie McDonald, who grew up in Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, on Thursday. Mmoh saved two match points in the 2-hour, 34-minute battle.
   "I had a super-long match yesterday and was pretty sore this morning," conceded Mmoh, who was named after Michael Jordan and has much of his namesake's athleticism. "Having a 30-minute match or whatever it was is going to help me the rest of the tournament and if I decide to play Fairfield (next week) as well."
   Norrie is 2-0 against Mmoh, including a 7-5, 6-2 win last week in the Tiburon quarterfinals.
   "I need to be a little more aggressive and take my chances," said the 6-foot-1 (1.85-meter) Mmoh, ranked No. 156. "I don't think I'm going to have a lot of success just putting the ball in play and hoping he's going to miss because he can make a ton of balls. I'm going to look to use my firepower and take it upon him."
   Here are the Stockton singles and doubles draws and today's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.
   Also, here are the singles qualifying draw and today's schedule for the $100,000 Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championships at Solano Community College in Fairfield, Calif.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Mmoh wins epic rally, saves match points to advance

   STOCKTON, Calif. -- The point lasted longer than the wait at the post office.
   OK, nothing takes that long, except possibly a round of golf.
   And this wasn't just any point. It was crucial.
   Michael Mmoh and Mackenzie McDonald met for the first time on Thursday in the second round of the $100,000 Stockton Challenger. The match between two of the United States' numerous top prospects, both semifinalists in the last year's inaugural Stockton tournament, shaped up as a battle and more than lived up to expectations.
   After saving two match points to send the contest to a third-set tiebreaker, the third-seeded Mmoh led unseeded Mackenzie McDonald 2-0 at the University of the Pacific's sparkling Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center.
   After Mmoh put in a first serve, he and McDonald traded vicious groundstrokes. On and on it went. Finally, a McDonald forehand sailed long to end the epic rally, and Mmoh eked out a 1-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory in 2 hours, 34 minutes.
   "That was like a 50-ball rally," marveled Mmoh, the 19-year-old son of former journeyman pro Tony Mmoh from Nigeria. "That was a big-time momentum swing. Whoever won that rally had a very good shot to win the match."
   The length of the rally surprised Mmoh for two reasons.
   "He loves to play aggressively and take cuts, so it's tough to get those types of rallies," observed Mmoh, from Bradenton, Fla. "I just played great defense and made it tough on him on that point.
   "This was also very high intensity. It's not like we were just pushing. We were actually ripping it, so that was an extremely impressive rally."
   In truth, the match shouldn't have gone to a tiebreaker.
   On McDonald's first match point, he played with typical aggression belying his small stature. McDonald, only 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) and 145 pounds (66 kilograms), sent a forehand return of a second serve long.
   On the second match point, the 6-foot-1 (1.85-meter), 187-pound (85-kilogram) Mmoh hammered a service winner.
   "The first match point, I got a little lucky," Mmoh admitted. "He went for his second-serve return and usually makes that but hit it a little long. The second match point, I hit a pretty good serve to his body, but he usually makes those returns, too. I think he got a little tight on those two points, and I took advantage and had a very good start to the tiebreaker.
   "My mentality in the tiebreaker was just to be extremely tough and make it really tough on him. Considering he had those match points, I think I did a good job of that."
   Mmoh also survived two match points in the second round of last week's $100,000 Tiburon (Calif.) Challenger before losing to eventual champion Cameron Norrie in the quarterfinals and three match points in the first round at Tiburon last year en route to the final as a qualifier.
   "It's not because of mental toughness," Mmoh, ranked No. 156, conceded of his ability to come back from the brink of defeat. "That's been one of my weaknesses, especially last week. Today, I did a very good job of that. I think that's the reason I won, considering the start he had.
   "I would say it's my athleticism. I think that's been getting me through matches. I don't think I've been hitting the ball that clean or as well as I'd like to, but I've made it tough on guys. I've made matches extremely physical, and they know that coming in. When it happens, it's tough to react to that."
   Indeed, 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Reilly Opelka, another promising young American and a close friend of Mmoh's, told The New York Times two years ago: "Michael is one of the most athletic people you will ever see on a tennis court. There is nothing he can't do out there."
   Meanwhile, American Denis Kudla, who climbed to a career-high No. 53 last year, "guaranteed" in February that McDonald would reach the top 100. McDonald, a 22-year-old product of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, is No. 202 only 16 months after sweeping the NCAA singles and doubles titles as a UCLA junior and turning pro.
   McDonald played brilliantly in the first set against Mmoh.
   "Especially with these courts," Mmoh said. "They're a little faster than Tiburon, and he was just hitting the ball so clean, so flat, and it was just going through the court so nicely that it was tough to get a rhythm. Anytime I hit a good serve, it came right at my feet at a very flat pace, and anytime he got a look, he went for a winner. He wasn't really missing, either. When Mackie's playing like that, he can almost beat anyone, so you kind of have to weather the storm a little bit, and I think I did a good job of that."
  Also, Mmoh called for the trainer after hurting his back early in the second set.
  "In the first game of the second set, he hit a drop shot, and I kind of pushed off (the court) a little too much and tweaked my back, which was an issue last week, but I think I'm fine now," Mmoh said. "I might be a little sore tomorrow, but overall I think it's pretty good."
   In the following match on the Stadium Court on Thursday, Elias Ymer of Sweden outdid Mmoh, escaping five match points in a 3-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4 victory over Frank Dancevic, a 33-year-old Canadian who reached a career-high No. 65 in 2007. Ymer (pronounced EE-mer), 21, ousted top-seeded Ruben Bemelmans in the first round.
   Mmoh set up an intriguing quarterfinal against former top-20 player Dmitry Tursunov, a 34-year-old Russian qualifier who has plummeted to No. 574 because of injuries. It will be their first meeting.
   Tursunov, who trained in Northern California from age 12 into his 30s, defeated John-Patrick Smith, a 28-year-old Australian left-hander, 7-6 (2), 6-3.
   Tursunov is built similarly to Mmoh at 6-foot-1 (1.85 meters) and 180 pounds (82 kilograms). Tursunov, who ascended to No. 20 in 2006 and helped Russia win the Davis Cup that year, has a powerful serve and lethal forehand.
   "He's similar to Mackie," Mmoh said. "He has a big game, a big forehand. He loves to go for his shots. It'll be a tough one. He's been at the top of the game, so it's going to be a battle, that's for sure."
   Here are the Stockton singles and doubles draws and Friday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Sandgren, with quirky game, gains Stockton quarters

   STOCKTON, Calif. — Tennys Sandgren is a bit of an enigma.
   Let's start with his first name. No, he was not named after tennis. He was given his great grandfather's Swedish name.
   Then there's Sandgren's game. He's a strapping American with a whipping forehand but stands far behind the baseline, loves to chase down balls and slides on hard courts as if he was playing on clay.
   "I'm 6-2 — 6-3 with shoes — but play like I'm 5-8, 155 pounds ... with a serve," the second-seeded Sandgren quipped after outslugging Liam Broady of Great Britain 7-6 (7), 6-4 today to reach the quarterfinals of the $100,000 Stockton Challenger. "I use my height and reach to play defensively."
   Sandgren is the only top-100 player in the field at No. 97. Top-seeded Ruben Bemelmans, a Belgian who lost to Elias Ymer of Sweden in the first round on Tuesday, was No. 92 when the draw came out on Saturday but fell to No. 101 in the latest rankings on Monday.
   Both Sandgren, 26, of Gallatin, Tenn., in the Nashville area and Broady, a 23-year-old left-hander, have reached recent $100,000 Challenger finals in Northern California. Sandgren lost to Cameron Norrie of Great Britain on Sunday in Tiburon in the San Francisco Bay Area. Broady fell to Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan in Aptos, a two-hour drive south of Tiburon, in August.
   On a warm, calm morning at the University of the Pacific's Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center, Broady squandered leads of 5-1 in the tiebreaker — making numerous errors, including one on set point with an open court — and 3-1 in the second set.
   "At 5-1 in the breaker, I was like, OK, I'm just gonna make as many balls as I can, at least make him beat me the next two points — I'm not gonna give him one free point," Sandgren said. "One point turned into two points, and maybe he got a little tight and gave me one. Then I'm back serving at 4-5.
   "It went back and forth, and he ended up having set point at 7-6. I was able to turn it around, thankfully, but the first set was huge because we were going back and forth against each other and whoever got that one had a lot of momentum, especially if it was him because I thought maybe he outplayed me a little bit in the first set and I was able to sneak away with it."
   Sandgren, who weighs 192 pounds (87 kilograms), hammered eight aces in the match.
   "My serve gets me out of a lot of jams," Sandgren said. "I put myself in jams, and my serve gets me out of them. I rely on my serve a lot. I've been serving well the last five matches, and it helped me out a ton (today). (Eight) aces in a match where we're scrapping for every point is a big deal."
   Sandgren played with his lower left leg taped.
   "Too many landings on the serve," Sandgren complained, "but it's better than feeling 100 percent fresh because I lost in the first round last week. I'll take that and work with that as best I can. I don't think it will affect me too much.
   "I had some plantar fasciitis in this foot at the beginning of the year, and I've been playing on it, so it hasn't really gotten better. It just moved up my leg into the shin. Something has to take the load. I've been dealing with this on and off for a couple months now."
   Sandgren will face Norrie, seeded eighth, on Friday. Norrie, a 22-year-old left-hander, outlasted Brydan Klein of Great Britain 4-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4 in 2 hours, 37 minutes this afternoon. Norrie is ranked No. 136 only four months after turning pro, forgoing his senior year at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
   "I feel like I may be the underdog in that match," Sandgren said before Norrie's battle against Klein. "He's gotten me the last two times, and he's playing well. I don't feel I have as much to lose. I feel like I can go out there and try to do some different things, try some different tactics, because what I've been doing the last couple times hasn't been the most efficient. He's been running me around and wearing me down too much.
   "I'll be excited about it for sure. I wish we were in different halves, but it is what it is. He's a great player and a good competitor. If I can rise to the occasion, it will be a good match. If I don't, he'll take me down."
   In another quarterfinal, fourth-seeded Stefan Kozlov, 19, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., will meet sixth-seeded Darian King of Barbados.
   Kozlov defeated Denis Kudla, who has tumbled from a career-high No. 53 in May last year, to No. 166 in the world, 6-4, 6-4. King eliminated Noah Rubin, the runner-up in last year's inaugural Stockton Challenger, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2. Both Kudla, 25, and Rubin, 21, are American.
   The other quarterfinal matchups will be determined Thursday. 
   Here are the Stockton singles and doubles draws and Thursday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

How Swede it is: Ymer ousts top seed in Stockton

Elias Ymer serves during his 7-5, 6-3 victory over top-
seeded Ruben Bemelmans in the first round of the
$100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger. Ymer needed
seven match points. Photo by Paul Bauman
   STOCKTON, Calif. -- You think the United States has fallen on hard times in men's pro tennis?
   That's nothing compared to Sweden.
   The nation that cranked out International Tennis Hall of Famers Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg and a slew of other top players in the 1970s and '80s has no men in the top 200 in the world.
   All countries go through cycles. Also, Sweden has a population of only 9.9 million, about the same as the Chicago area, and a climate more suited to ice hockey and skiing.
   There is hope for Sweden, however, in the form of brothers Elias and Mikael Ymer. Elias, 21, is ranked No. 1 in Sweden at No. 208, down from his career high of No. 118 in May last year. Mikael, 19, is fourth at No. 385.
   Elias Ymer (pronounced EE-mer) needed seven match points today to oust top-seeded Ruben Bemelmans of Belgium 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of the $100,000 Stockton Challenger at the University of the Pacific's Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center.
   "I needed this one a lot," Ymer conceded. "I'm very happy to be through. I lost in the first round in Tiburon last week (to eighth seed and eventual champion Cameron Norrie 7-5, 3-6, 7-5) and was practicing very well. To get matches is always good (for) confidence." 
   All of the match points came with Ymer serving in the last game.
   "Ruben is a top-100 player, and it's always going to be difficult to beat those guys because they're very experienced," said Ymer, who struggled on his first serve while trying to close out the match. "That's why he's No. 90 in the world, because he fights all the time."
    Actually, Bemelmans, a 29-year-old left-hander. dropped from No. 92 to No. 101 on Monday after also losing in the first round at Tiburon as the top seed. Since reaching the third round at Wimbledon as a qualifier and the final of a $75,000 clay-court Challenger in the Netherlands in July, Bemelmans has won only one match in seven tournaments.
   Still, Bemelmans fearlessly went for his shots on the match points against Ymer.
   "That's how I should play the whole match," moaned Bemelmans, who sailed a forehand return of a second serve long on the last match point. "That's my strength, but today I wasn't solid enough to take my opportunities that I created. I must say he served well on the big points, but I should have played a bit more aggressive on (earlier) points that mattered."
   Bemelmans, who has helped Belgium reach the Davis Cup final for the second time in three years, admitted he has lost confidence.
Ruben Bemelmans lost as the top seed
in a Northern California Challenger for
the second consecutive week.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   "I haven't won too many matches, but I feel like I'm getting back slowly," he said. "My level is rising. It's just a matter of time, I think. I have to keep on working, be confident and, like I said, play my game even on the big points."
   Bemelmans became the second consecutive No. 1 seed to lose in the opening round in Stockton. Bjorn Fratangelo of Orlando, Fla., bowed out against Joris De Loore of Belgium in the inaugural tournament last year.
   Two other seeds lost today. No. 5 Ramkumar Ramanathan of India fell to Christian Harrison of Bradenton, Fla., 6-1, 6-2, and No. 7 Felix Auger-Aliassime, 17, of Canada succumbed to Dmitry Tursunov, a 34-year-old qualifier from Russia, 6-2, 6-2.
   Auger-Aliassime became the youngest player to win a match on the ATP Challenger Tour at 14 in 2015. Now 6-foot-3 (1.91 meters), he's ranked No. 161.
   "He doesn't really let you make any decisions (on the court)," said Tursunov, who trained in Northern California from age 12 into his 30s. "He either hits a winner or makes an error. There were quite a lot of mistakes coming from his end.
   "The older he gets, I think the more he's going to be able to judge when to go for his shots and when to pull off. Right now, he just has that one speed, and once he's in that drive mode, it doesn't matter if there's a turn coming up. He doesn't really have a brake pedal."
   Both Tiburon finalists, meanwhile, advanced in straight sets. No. 2 seed Tennys Sandgren of Gallatin, Tenn., topped Christopher O'Connell of Australia 7-5, 7-5, and No. 8 Norrie coasted past wild card Deiton Baughman of Carson in the Los Angeles area 6-3,
   Two Stockton semifinalists last year, Americans Michael Mmoh and Mackenzie McDonald, also moved into the second round.
   Mmoh, the 19-year-old son of former Nigerian player Tony Mmoh, met former top-70 player Tobias Kamke for the second consecutive week. After saving two match points in a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7) victory in the second round at Tiburon, Mmoh breezed past the error-prone Kamke, a 31-year-old German, 6-2, 6-1 in one hour.
   "I don't think he played too hot today, to be honest," observed Mmoh, who was named after Michael Jordan. "I don't think his game was on. Tough conditions: very fast courts and a little windy. I just took advantage. I saw he was a little uncomfortable, so I made it as tough as possible. I was serving well, hitting my shots with good margins and making sure I made him play the extra ball. Considering how poorly he was playing, I thought that was the right strategy, and I executed it pretty well."
   McDonald, a 22-year-old product of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, overcame the serve-and-volleying of wild card Andre Goransson, a former Cal star from Sweden, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2. Goransson, 23, won the Tiburon doubles title with ex-Bears teammate Florian Lakat of France.
   Anyone expecting the Ymers to have blond hair and blue eyes is in for a surprise. They are the black, Swedish-born sons of Ethiopian emigrants.
   "I love Sweden," Elias Ymer crowed. "I've lived there my whole life. ... People respect me. Sweden is a multi-cultural country now."
   In Tiburon, Ymer led by a break in the third set against Norrie but cramped in his hand and legs. A notoriously hard worker, he practiced for five hours straight the next day, according to a tournament sponsor.
   "He went through three guys," Leif Haase marveled.
   Ymer was cautious when asked about possibly helping Sweden return to prominence.
   "We'll see. I have to start by winning Challengers," said Ymer, who has won three of them, all on clay. "One step at a time."
   Here are the Stockton singles and doubles draws and Wednesday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Tursunov: 'I felt like I was playing Federer'

Dmitry Tursunov, left, and Frederik Nielsen, both 34, chat after winning their
final-round qualifying matches today in the $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Chal-
lenger. Tursunov reached No. 20 in the world in 2006, and Nielsen won the
Wimbledon men's doubles title five years ago with Jonathan Marray.
Photo by Paul Bauman 
   STOCKTON, Calif. -- Dmitry Tursunov couldn't believe how well Eric Johnson was playing.
   Johnson, 24, of San Jose reeled off the first seven games of their final-round qualifying match on a windy morning in the $100,000 Stockton Challenger.
   "I couldn't figure out anything to do against him," confessed Tursunov, a former top-20 player from Russia with strong Northern California ties. "I felt like I was playing Roger Federer when Roger is on his 'A' game."
   The 34-year-old Tursunov, however, used his experience to find a solution and prevail 0-6, 6-1, 6-3 today at the University of the Pacific's Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center.
   "I just tried to use a little bit more slice against the wind, and it seemed like it worked," said Tursunov, who's 0-5 against Federer. "Every time I tried to use heavy topspin, it seemed like it was just perfect for him. The slices didn't have a lot of pace, so he had to come up to the ball and generate pace. ...
   "In the second set, I got the break back, kept my serve and threw in like 140 slices in one game, and he kept piling up errors. The same shots that would go in in the first set, he missed them a little bit. Once he went down a break 3-1, he seemed to get a little bit more down on himself and sort of gave away the rest of the set."
Dmitry Tursunov beat Eric Johnson of San Jose 0-6, 6-1, 6-3.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Tursunov broke for 4-2 in the third set and again at 5-3 for the match. In the last game, Johnson pounded a service winner for 30-30 but then slugged two backhands long.
   "In the third set, he was playing a little better, and it turned out to be quite a battle," Tursunov said. "Honestly, the last two days haven't been about tennis (because of the wind). They've been more about intangibles. You just throw the dice and hope you get the better roll."
   Two seeds in the main draw
-- No. 4 Stefan Kozlov, 19, of  Pembroke Pines, Fla., and
No. 6 Darian King of Barbados -- played their first-round matches today. Both won in straight sets, as did 21-year-old Noah Rubin, last year's runner-up to fellow American Frances Tiafoe in the inaugural Stockton Challenger. King and Rubin will meet on Wednesday.
   Tiafoe, 19, did not return to Stockton this year. Ranked No. 74, he lost in the first round of qualifying for this week's Japan Open in Tokyo on the ATP World Tour.
   Tursunov, who has plunged to No. 574 because of injuries, warmed up for his match with 17-year-old U.S. wild card Sebastian Korda. Tursunov then hit about five serves to Korda's Czech father, Petr, who returned them.
   The elder Korda won the 1998 Australian Open to reach a career-high No. 2. Rail thin, he tested positive for doping at Wimbledon that year and was suspended for 12 months but retired shortly before the ban at age 30.
   "(Sebastian's) technique was pretty clean," Tursunov remarked. "I wouldn't say he's very explosive with his shots. I think it's almost a Czech thing. There are very few bruisers in Czech tennis. There's more, like, control of the ball. He's kind of similar to a (Tomas) Berdych.
   "It's definitely an asset to have a father who played pro tennis. I would think they're making the right decisions without guessing. It's sort of like turning on the lights and walking in a room instead of bumping your head into things. He definitely should be using that asset as much as he can."
Sebastian Korda, the 17-year-old son of former world No. 2 Petr
Korda, lost to Frederik Nielsen 7-5, 6-1. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Sebastian's Czech mother, Regina Rajchrtova, also played professionally, climbing to a career-high No. 26 in 1991. Sebastian was born in Bradenton, Fla., and still lives there with his parents.
   Korda, 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters) and only 160 pounds (73 kilograms), did not fare as well as Tursunov today, losing to 34-year-old Frederik Nielsen of Denmark 7-5, 6-1.
   In 2012, Nielsen and Jonathan Marray of Great Britain became the only wild cards in Wimbledon history to win the men's doubles title. Nielsen's grandfather, Kurt, was the Wimbledon singles runner-up in 1953 and 1955.
   Tursunov is scheduled to play seventh-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 17-year-old Canadian phenom already ranked No. 161, on Tuesday at about 4 p.m. in the first round of the main draw.
   Tursunov moved from his native Moscow to the San Francisco Bay Area at 12, speaking no English, to train and then to the Sacramento region at 18. He owns residences in Moscow and the Sacramento suburb of Folsom but spends little time in California.
   Here are the Stockton singles qualifying draw, singles and doubles main draws and Tuesday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.