Friday, October 13, 2017

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.

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