Sunday, October 14, 2018

After mulling retirement, Fratangelo takes Fairfield title

Bjorn Fratangelo poses with tournament officials and his check for $14,400
after winning the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship
in Fairfield, Calif. From left to right are NorthBay Healthcare President & CEO
B. Konard Jones, Solano Community College District Superintendent-President
Celia Esposito-Noy, Fratangelo, tournament chairman Jay Shoemaker and tour-
nament director Phil Cello. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Note to readers: If you enjoy my coverage of Northern California tennis, please donate on my homepage. Even $5 of $10 will help. Here's why I need your support. Thank you.
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Bjorn Fratangelo was so discouraged over the summer that he considered retiring early like his namesake.
   Three months later, the unseeded American cradled the trophy in the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship after outplaying eighth-seeded Alex Bolt of Australia 6-4, 6-3 today at Solano Community College.
Unseeded Bjorn Fratangelo of Orlando, Fla., beat No. 8 seed Alex Bolt of
Australia 6-4, 6-3 for his first Challenger singles title in 2 1/2 years. Photo
 by Paul Bauman
   "I'm feeling a lot better than I was three months ago," Fratangelo crowed after winning his third Challenger singles title and first in 2 1/2 years. "If somebody had told me in June I'd win a Challenger, I probably would have laughed and thought you were crazy. It's really special right now. It's probably my most emotional win.
   "If I'm going to be honest, I wasn't sure in the summertime if I was going to continue to play. I had a lot of doubts and a lot of things going wrong, and I just wasn't enjoying tennis. To turn this around like I have, I'm really proud of myself and my team."
   Bjorn Borg retired at 26 in 1983 after training fanatically for 10 years and winning 11 Grand Slam singles titles. Fratangelo's future also looked promising when he won the French Open boys singles title in 2011. He climbed as high as No. 99 in June 2016 but has been in the 100s ever since.
   After struggling this summer, Fratangelo hired Andres Alarcon as his new coach and has won 14 of his last 18 matches, all on the Challenger circuit, equivalent to Triple A in baseball.
   "I started off pretty poorly in the beginning of the year," groaned Fratangelo, a Pittsburgh native now based in Orlando, Fla. "Just when things were looking up in the clay-court season, I tore my quad. Sitting at home made me a bit miserable. I had a lot of negative thoughts that were bringing me down. Then when I finally was healed, there wasn't really much excitement to get back on the court, and it showed. I think I went 0-8 or 0-9. I just wasn't myself. I wasn't tanking but wasn't competing how I normally compete.
Alex Bolt, a Clark Gable lookalike, addresses
the crowd after the final. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "There were a lot of problems that I had to address. Luckily, I had a lot of help from my family, my new coach, and (USTA coaches) Troy Hahn and Nicolas Todero to get back on track, so I owe a lot of this to them. I wouldn't be here right now without their support and help because it was a really tough time period."
   Fratangelo elaborated on his negativity and lack of motivation. 
   "You feel like your career gets stuck," he moaned. "I was around 100 for three years, you feel like you do everything you can to improve, and things aren't happening. After three, three-and-a-half years of that, I finally cracked a little bit once I got hurt and had time to sit back. It was hard. There were a lot of rough days. I wasn't the easiest person to be around for a while, but I've changed everything, and I think I'm back to normal, maybe better than ever. Hopefully I can take this form and this attitude into the rest of my career."
   Fratangelo continued playing because "ultimately, it's what I do. I'm a tennis player. I've been doing it my whole life. Just because I wasn't enjoying playing, it doesn't necessarily mean I don't enjoy the sport. I love tennis, I love to watch tennis, I love to play. Maybe at that time, I was enjoying just playing more than I was competing. But I think I got my competitiveness back. I'm very lucky to do this, but sometimes it takes a land mine to prove that to yourself."
   Both Fratangelo and the left-handed Bolt, a Clark Gable lookalike with his dark features and thin mustache, are 6-foot (1.83-meter) 25-year-olds with two-handed backhands. Even their rankings are almost identical. Fratangelo leaped 20 places to No. 138 with the title, and Bolt jumped 16 spots to a career-high No. 139.
   Bolt, a two-time Australian Open doubles quarterfinalist who qualified for Wimbledon in singles this year, was the third Australian and second Aussie left-hander to fall to Fratangelo in the NorthBay Healthcare tournament. Fratangelo eliminated John-Patrick Smith 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the first round to avenge a three-set loss to the lefty in the second round of the $100,000 Tiburon (Calif.) Challenger two weeks ago and ousted top-seeded Jordan Thompson 6-1, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.
Alex Bolt leaps into a backhand in the final. Photo
by Paul Bauman
   Bolt, meanwhile, outlasted countryman Thanasi Kokkinakis, who stunned Roger Federer in March, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 in the first round, edged 22-year-old wild card Collin Altamirano of Sacramento 7-6 (6), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5) in the second round in the match of the tournament and ousted second-seeded Lloyd Harris, the champion of last week's $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger, in the quarterfinals.
  A near-capacity crowd of about 250 people turned out for the final on a gorgeous 80-degree (26.7 Celsius). Fratangelo broke serve once in the first set and twice in the second, saved the only break point against him and won a phenomenal 18 of 21 points (86 percent) on his second serve.
   Bolt, who was seeking his third career Challenger singles title and second this year, took a medical timeout for an abdominal problem after the first set but showed no discomfort during the match.
   "He has a strong lefty game, so it was tricky at first returning serve," said Fratangelo, who has reached the second round of a Grand Slam tournament twice and took a set off Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells in 2016. "But once I got comfortable, I started to find my stride. Maybe he was ailing a little bit today, but I'm just happy to get the win."
   Bolt said afterward that he might be in a little pain "but I don't think that's the reason I lost. Bjorn was lights out from the get-to. Every time there was a big point, he stepped up. He played the big points better than I did. That's why he came away with a win today."
   Ironically, Fratangelo rather than Bolt complained about several line calls and chair umpire Roger Pennington. In the third game of the match, Fratangelo groused at Pennington: "I'm going to try really hard not to get upset with you today."
   After Bolt's backhand cross-court passing shot in the corner was called good on break point against him at 2-2 in the second set, Fratangelo dropped his racket in disbelief and fumed at Pennington, "This is where I get upset."
Top-seeded Sonchai Ratiwatana, left, of Thailand and Christopher
Rungkat of Indonesia won the doubles title. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Bolt saved four break points in that game before losing the fifth one on a slice approach that landed just wide. He was broken again in the final game, losing three consecutive points from 15-15. Bolt double-faulted for 15-40, then couldn't reach a cross-court backhand at the net.
   Fratangelo was still angry about the officiating after the match.
   "I wasn't happy with the calls, and I'm going to let people know about it," he grumbled.
  Fratangelo improved to 2-1 (1-1 on hardcourts) against Bolt and pocketed $14,400 for the title to give him $995,229 for his career. Bolt collected $8,480 for a total of $607,326.
   Top-seeded Sanchai Ratiwatana of Thailand and Christopher Rungkat of Indonesia won the doubles title, beating unseeded Harri Heliovaara of Finland and Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 6-0, 7-6 (9).
   Ratiwatana, 36, and the 5-foot-9 (1.75-meter), 150-pound (68-kilogram) Rungkat, 28, played in their second final in two weeks. They lost to Darian King of Barbados and Noah Rubin of Long Island, N.Y., in nearby Stockton.
   Ratiwatana normally plays with his twin Sonchat.
   "It's school back in Thailand, so he wanted to spend time with his daughter," Sonchai explained. "He has a 6-year-old girl. Before these three tournaments (Tiburon, Stockton and Fairfield), we played many, many weeks. He wanted a little bit of time at home."
   Laaksonen, 26, was born in Finland to a Finnish mother and Swiss father.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Rejuvenated Fratangelo to face Aussie in Fairfield final

Unseeded Bjorn Fratangelo routed sixth-seeded Casper Ruud, a 19-year-old
Norwegian, 6-2, 6-2 today to reach the final of the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.)
Challenger at Solano Community College. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Note to readers: If you enjoy my coverage of Northern California tennis, please donate on my homepage. Even $5 or $10 will help. Here's why I need your support. Thank you.
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Bjorn Fratangelo reached a low point after losing in the first round of a $75,000 Challenger in Winnetka, Ill., in July.
   Fratangelo had been playing well in clay-court tournaments on the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of men's tennis, in the spring when he tore a quadriceps muscle while leading by a set in the first round of qualifying in Madrid.
Eighth-seeded Alex Bolt of Australia celebrates
during his victory over fifth-seeded Adrian Men-
endez-Maceiras of Spain. Photo by Paul Bauman
   After sitting out for one month, Fratangelo lost three consecutive matches on grass in Europe, fell in the second round of Wimbledon qualifying and lost early on a hardcourt in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka.
   With his motivation sagging, Fratangelo hired Andres Alarcon as his new coach. Fratangelo continued to struggle through U.S. Open qualifying but since then has gone 13-4. Unseeded, he routed sixth-seeded Casper Ruud, a 19-year-old Norwegian, 6-2, 6-2 in 65 minutes today to reach the final of the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship at Solano Community College.
   "It was a tough first, really, three-quarters of the year," said Fratangelo, a Pittsburgh native now based in Orlando, Fla. "I'm starting to find my stride now, so hopefully I can take this form into the rest of the year and on to next year.
   "I have a lot more clarity in myself and my game. (Alarcon) has really been able to help me and get through to me in a positive way and also with some tactical things on the court. We're really starting to click right now, and it's showing."
    Alarcon has helped Fratangelo primarily with his mental approach.
   "He's more confident on the court," said Alarcon, a 48-year-old U.S. citizen from Ecuador. "He's getting more excited playing; he has more motivation. That's the main thing I'm working with him on. His tennis is there. He's in a good place now."
   Alarcon added that Fratangelo, a semifinalist in the ATP grass-court tournament in Newport, R.I., last year, "put the work in. If you put the work in, it's easy to get back where you belong."
Casper Ruud reached the second round of the Australian Open
(in his Grand Slam debut) and French Open this year. Photo
by Paul Bauman
   Fratangelo, who was named after Bjorn Borg, will face eighth-seeded Alex Bolt of Australia on Sunday not before 2 p.m. in a matchup of 6-foot (1.83-meter) 25-year-olds. Bolt, a left-hander, led fifth-seeded Adrian Menendez-Maceiras of Spain 7-5, 6-6 (5-0) when the 32-year-old Menendez-Maceiras retired with a right leg injury.
   It will be Fratangelo's first final since losing to U.S. veteran Tim Smyczek in a $75,000 indoor tournament in Champaign, Ill., last November.
   Fratangelo, ranked No. 158, and Bolt, ranked a career-high No. 155, have split two career matches, both in 2015. Bolt won 6-3, 6-2 on a hardcourt, and Fratangelo prevailed 6-4, 7-6 (5) on clay.
   Fratangelo, who beat current world No. 7 Dominic Thiem to win the 2011 French Open boys singles title and climbed to a career-high No. 99 in June 2016, rifled serves and groundstrokes against Ruud and never faced a break point in their first career meeting. From 2-2 in the opening set, Fratangelo broke serve four consecutive times to lead 6-2, 4-0 as Ruud's father, former top-40 player Christian Ruud, watched from the stands.
   Fratangelo, who ousted top-seeded Jordan Thompson of Australia 6-1, 6-4 on Friday, said the 137th-ranked Casper Ruud, who reached the second round of the Australian Open (in his Grand Slam debut) and French Open this year, "is a very good counterpunching but also attacking player, more of a clay-court style. I knew from the get-go I had to be offensive and take him off his game a little bit, and, again, I think I did it to perfection."
Adrian Menendez-Maceiras retired with a leg injury
while trailing 0-5 in a second-set tiebreaker. Photo
by Paul Bauman
   Very little separated Bolt, a two-time Australian Open doubles quarterfinalist, and Menendez-Maceiras, a world-class grunter ranked No. 132, until the tiebreaker in their first career encounter. Bolt saved two consecutive break points with aces to hold for 6-5 in the first set and then recorded the only break of the match, at love, as Menendez-Maceiras appeared to lose focus after repeatedly complaining about line calls.
   After Bolt held for 2-1 in the second set, Menendez-Maceiras took a medical timeout to have his leg treated. He did not appear to hurt the leg in the match but favored it after taking the timeout.
   Bolt, who came within two points of losing to 22-year-old wild card Collin Altamirano of Sacramento in the second round, pounded 12 aces and won 39 of 43 points (91 percent) on his first serve.
   "Against a guy like Adrian, it's always going to be a tough battle," said Bolt, who won a $75,000 tournament in Zhuhai, China, in March for his second career Challenger title. "He's always going to fight until the last point. Unfortunately for him, he was battling a bit of an injury.
   "I felt my level was very high in the first set and dropped off a little bit in the second set. I feel I can keep that level high tomorrow for a long period of time."
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Sunday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Top two seeds fall in $100K Fairfield quarterfinals

Unseeded Bjorn Fratangelo of Orlando, Fla., beat top seed
Jordan Thompson of Australia 6-1, 6-4 in the quarterfinals
of the Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Note to readers: If you enjoy my coverage of Northern California tennis, please donate on my homepage. Even $5 or $10 will help. Here's why I need your support. Thank you.
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Facing Bjorn Fratangelo after playing on Thursday night was a bad combination for Jordan Thompson.
   The unseeded Fratangelo upended the top-seeded Thompson 6-1, 6-4 this afternoon in the quarterfinals of the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship at Solano Community College.
   In tonight's late match, eighth-seeded Alex Bolt of Australia eliminated second-seeded Lloyd Harris of South Africa 6-3, 6-4.
   Fratangelo, 25, of Orlando, Fla., improved to 3-0 against Thompson, a 24-year-old Australian, after winning twice on clay. Both are 6-foot (1.83-meter) former top-100 players who have had success on the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of men's tennis.
   Even though Thompson's current and career-high rankings (No. 105 and No. 63 in February 2017, respectively) exceed Fratangelo's (No. 158 and No. 99 in June 2016, respectively), Fratangelo has more firepower with his booming serve and whipping forehand.
   "I knew I had to be really solid, so I think I did that to a T," said Fratangelo, who was named after Bjorn Borg and won the 2011 French Open boys singles title, beating current world No. 7 Dominic Thiem. "We had played a couple times, and I've always done well. I knew what I had to do and executed well."
   Whereas Fratangelo defeated Dominik Koepfer of Germany in straight sets in 75-degree (23.9 Celsius) weather on Thursday afternoon, Thompson outlasted hard-hitting Maxime Janvier of France on a bone-chilling night in a match that ended at 9:56 p.m. Thompson returned to the court 16 hours later to take on Fratangelo in 87-degree (30.6 Celsius) heat.
Jordan Thompson played in radically different conditions
from Thursday night. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Fratangelo, who reached the semifinals of an ATP grass-court tournament in Newport, R.I., last year, conceded that the scheduling might have favored him.
   "(The conditions) are probably a little bit faster than what he had last night, but he's a tremendous athlete and fit as hell, so I don't think that bothered him at all," Fratangelo said.
   Actually, it did. So did the short turnaround.
   "Last night, it was cold and very slow; today it's hot and fast -- completely different conditions," moaned Thompson, who shocked then-No. 1 Andy Murray on grass in June 2017 and underwent a tonsilectomy late last year. "You finish a late match, and you get no time to recover."   
   After Fratangelo dominated the first set, he fought back from 0-40 to hold for 2-1 in the second set. Thompson overcame a 15-40 deficit to hold for 4-4 and saved two match points while serving at 4-5. But then he slugged a cross-court backhand wide and sailed a forehand long to end the match.
   Fratangelo won 22 of 27 points (81 percent) on his first serve and 12 of 19 (63 percent) on his second delivery, and saved all three break points against him.
   "He was playing well," Thompson said. "He didn't miss any balls in the first set. I did my best to adapt and nearly got there. It wasn't to be."
Fifth-seeded Adrian Menendez-Maceiras of Spain
beat JJ Wolf, a 19-year-old wild card from Cincin-
nati, 6-0, 6-4. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Both Harris, 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters), and Bolt qualified for a Grand Slam tournament this year, losing in the first round of the main draw, and own career-high rankings of No. 113 and No. 155, respectively.
   Bolt, a 25-year-old left-hander and two-time Australian Open doubles quarterfinalist, saved all eight break points against him against the 21-year-old Harris, who was playing for the fourth consecutive week. He qualified in Chengdu, China, on the ATP tour two weeks ago and stunned 32-year-old Gael Monfils, who climbed to a career-high No. 6 in 2016, in the first round before losing to eventual champion Bernard Tomic in a third-set tiebreaker. Harris then won the $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger.
   "It was difficult," Harris said regarding fatigue against Bolt, who came within two points of losing to wild card Collin Altamirano of Sacramento in the second round, on a mercifully warmer night. "I have played a lot of matches in the last month, but he was better on the night -- what can I say?"
   Fratangelo is scheduled to meet sixth-seeded Casper Ruud, a 19-year-old Norwegian, for the first time on Saturday not before 2 p.m. Ruud, the son of former top-40 player Christian Ruud, crushed Germany's Sebastian Fanselow, playing in the Fairfield quarterfinals as a qualifier for the second consecutive year, 6-1, 6-0 in 48 minutes.
   The 6-foot (1.83-meter) Ruud, ranked No. 137, won 23 of 26 points (88 percent) on his first serve and never faced a break point. Fanselow, a 26-year-old former Pepperdine All-American, double-faulted six times, won only three of 18 points (17 percent) on his second serve and lost all five break points against him.
   After Fratangelo and Ruud square off, Bolt will meet fifth-seeded Adrian Menendez-Maceiras of Spain for the first time. The 32-year-old Menendez-Maceiras, ranked No. 132, defeated JJ Wolf, a 19-year-old wild card from Cincinnati, 6-0, 6-4.
   Menendez-Maceiras, a quarterfinalist at the inaugural New York Open as a qualifier in February, survived all three break points against him. Wolf, a junior at Ohio State who ousted ailing third seed Noah Rubin on Thursday, converted only 46 percent of his first serves.
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Saturday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Wolf, 19, ousts No. 3 seed to reach first Challenger QF

JJ Wolf, a 19-year-old wild card, surprised third-seeded Noah Rubin 6-3, 6-2
today in the second round of the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger.
Photo by Cornelia Grimes 
   Note to readers: If you enjoy my coverage of Northern California tennis, please donate on my homepage. Even $5 or $10 will help. Here's why I need your support. Thank you.
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Dean O'Brien of South Africa had just left the trainer's room before his doubles match today when a reporter approached him.
   "Are you JJ?" the reporter asked.
   "I wish I was," quipped O'Brien, 28.
   JJ Wolf, a promising 19-year-old wild card from Cincinnati, displayed a powerful serve and forehand during his 6-3, 6-2 victory over the third seed, ailing Noah Rubin of Long Island, N.Y., in the second round of the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Pro Championship at Solano Community College.
   Wolf, a 6-foot (1.83-meter) junior at Ohio State, won a preposterous 24 of 25 points on his first serve and never faced a break point as he reached a quarterfinal on the Challenger circuit, equivalent to Triple A in baseball, for the first time.
   Playing Challengers, Wolf said, "is just a great opportunity for me. I'm just enjoying every minute out here and trying to get better and not worrying about winning or losing too much, just working on my game."
   On Monday in Tulsa, Okla., Wolf became the first Ohio State player to win the singles title in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American Championships. He flew to the San Francisco Bay Area that night.
   "I got in a couple good warmup matches for this," Wolf said. "I'm playing solid tennis trying to get my game better for the future."
   Wolf will meet fifth-seeded Adrian Menendez-Maceiras, a 32-year-old Spaniard, on Friday. Menendez-Maceiras, ranked No. 132, beat former top-40 player Thiemo de Bakker, a 30-year-old Dutchman, 6-4, 6-3.
   In the other quarterfinal in the top half of the draw, top-seeded Jordan Thompson of Australia will play unseeded Bjorn Fratangelo of Orlando, Fla.
   Thompson, ranked No. 105 after reaching a career-high No. 63 in February 2017, beat hard-hitting Maxime Janvier of France 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 in a matchup of semifinalists in last week's $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger. The 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) Janvier, 21, was breathing heavily on a cold night.
   Fratangelo, who was named after Bjorn Borg, defeated Germany's Dominik Koepfer, the runner-up in the indoor $100,000 San Francisco Challenger in February, 7-5, 6-3 to reach the Fairfield quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
   Koepfer, a former All-American at Tulane in New Orleans, argued vociferously about a line call while serving at 5-5 in the first set and appeared to be justified. He then lost the game.
   Wolf already has cracked the top 500 at No. 499 and owns a victory over a top-100 player. He knocked off No. 86 Jozef Kovalik of Slovakia in the first round of qualifying in Wolf's hometown Western & Southern Open on the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of men's tennis, in August. Wolf then lost to No. 92 Marius Copil of Romania.
   "He's a good player," Rubin, a 22-year-old product of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York, said of Wolf. "He's young, he's up and coming, hits the ball very clean, so I'm excited to see where he goes."
Noah Rubin praised JJ Wolf but complained of headaches and dizziness.
Photo by Cornelia Grimes
   The 5-foot-9 (1.75-meter) Rubin, who reached the singles quarterfinals and won the doubles title in Stockton, complained of headaches against Wolf.
   "I don't really get headaches too often," said Rubin, who had no aces and five double faults after the match played in 70-degree (21.1 Celsius) weather. "I think exhaustion took place. My coach (Carlos Benatzky) didn't really want me to play this tournament. I wanted to because it was just an hour away (from Stockton).
   "In the second or third game, I was just like, 'I'm not really moving to the left.' I was kind of seeing a few balls (at once). There was just a lot of dizziness going on. It's just one of those things that takes place. I just need a week without a racket and see what I can do at the end of the year."
   In steamy Washington on the ATP tour over the summer, Rubin toppled 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) John Isner for his first top-10 win before losing to 20-year-old Russian phenom Andrey Rublev in the third round.
   "This is the first (year) I've been healthy," said Rubin, ranked a career-high No. 125. "I've never really experienced a full year before and don't know what it really encompasses mentally and physically. That being said, it's fortunate I had a successful summer. Most tournaments, I was playing three matches minimum. It's taken a lot out of me.
   "Today was just a mixture of being mentally exhausted and (getting) headaches. I was doing my best, but it felt like his serve was coming at me 180 (mph). I couldn't see anything. It was just one of those things."
   Rubin wore a Minnesota Wild (NHL) sweatshirt as he spoke after the match.
   "My girlfriend goes to vet school in Minnesota," he explained. "I'm a huge hockey fan. It's probably the only sport I really follow, and (the Wild) is a great team. The (New York) Islanders aren't doing so well, and it's fun to watch a really exciting team."
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Friday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Aussie Bolt edges NorCal's Altamirano in thriller

Eighth-seeded Alex Bolt of Australia edged wild card
Collin Altamirano of Sacramento 7-6 (6), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5)
today in the second round of the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.)
Challenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Note to readers: If you enjoy my coverage of Northern California tennis, please donate on my homepage. Even $5 or $10 will help. Here's why I need your support. Thank you.
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Some players want it more than others.
   Alex Bolt and Collin Altamirano belong in the first group.
   Bolt, a 25-year-old Australian left-hander, and Altamirano, a 22-year-old Sacramentan, battled fiercely for 2 hours, 50 minutes today in the second round of the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship.
   Ultimately, the eighth-seeded Bolt prevailed 7-6 (6), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5), as a breezy afternoon turned into a frigid evening at Solano Community College, to reach the quarterfinals.
   With the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Altamirano serving at 5-5 in the decisive tiebreaker, he sailed a backhand long. Then the 6-foot (1.83-meter) Bolt, a two-time Australian Open doubles quarterfinalist who finished with 15 aces, pounded a service winner to end the marathon.
   "He's a good competitor," said Altamirano, a wild card ranked No. 306 in his first full year as a professional. "He won that match for that reason. Credit to him. That's why he won (Monday); that's why he is where he is."
   Bolt, ranked a career-high No. 155, beat childhood friend Thanasi Kokkinakis 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 in 2 hours, 16 minutes in the first round. Kokkinakis stunned Roger Federer in the second round in Miami in March and won the $100,000 Aptos (Calif.) Challenger in August. Aptos is a two-hour drive south of Fairfield.
   Bolt will play second-seeded Lloyd Harris of South Africa on Friday. Harris outlasted American qualifier Tommy Paul 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 in tonight's late match before a handful of hardy souls, breaking serve in the final game with a brilliant backhand cross-court passing shot.
   Harris, who won last week's $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger, also beat former top-40 player Donald Young 7-5 in the third set on Tuesday.
Collin Altamirano expressed frustration between points
but showed great mental toughness during them. Photo
by Paul Bauman
   Both Bolt and Altamirano qualified for Grand Slam tournaments this year, losing in the first round at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, respectively.
   But whereas Bolt is businesslike on the court, Altamirano -- boyish-looking with a mop of dark hair -- is very emotional. Altamirano frequently yelled in frustration during today's match, made wisecracks to himself, gestured to his coach, Joseph Gilbert, in the stands and directed a running commentary at Gilbert. Yet when the points started, Altamirano showed great mental toughness.
   "Yeah, that's Collin," Gilbert, the founder and owner of the JMG Tennis Academy at the Arden Hills Club & Spa in Sacramento, said with a laugh. "Well, he's so competitive. Once he lets the emotion out, he re-engages in the competing.
   "He's fighting that battle of emotion versus competitiveness. That's a battle he always fights. You can see him look toward me with it a lot, but I thought today was actually pretty good, all things considered. His emotions got to him a little bit, but not too bad. I thought he stayed engaged in the match the whole time."
   The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Harris shocked 32-year-old Frenchman Gael Monfils, who has dropped from a career-high No. 6 in 2016 to No. 37, two weeks ago in Chengdu, China, for his first victory on the elite ATP World Tour.
   Paul, one of only three Americans to win the French Open boys singles titles (with John McEnroe and Bjorn Fratangelo) since the Open era began in 1968, reached ATP quarterfinals in Atlanta and Washington in consecutive weeks last year. The right-hander missed 4 1/2 months early this year with a right-elbow injury.
   Also advancing to the quarterfinals were sixth-seeded Casper Ruud of Norway and qualifier Sebastian Fanselow of Germany.
   Ruud, the 19-year-old son of former top-40 player Christian Ruud, defeated American JC Aragone, Altamirano's doubles partner at Virginia, 6-1, 7-6 (4).
   Ruud reached the second round of the Australian Open in his Grand Slam debut and the French Open, both times as a qualifier, this year. Altamirano and Aragone helped Virginia win the NCAA title in all three of their years there (2015-17).
   Fanselow, a 26-year-old former Pepperdine All-American who also advanced to last year's Fairfield quarterfinals as a qualifier, beat Lucas Miedler of Austria 6-4, 6-1.
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Thursday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Harris pulls off big comeback to stun veteran Young

No. 2 seed Lloyd Harris rallied from two breaks
down at 2-5 in the third set and saved two match
points in a win over former top-40 player Donald
Young today in the first round of the $100,000 Fair-
field (Calif.) Challenger. Photo by Paul Bauman 
   Note to readers: If you enjoy my coverage of Northern California tennis, please donate on my homepage. Even $5 or $10 will help. Here's why I need your support. Thank you.
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Donald Young has 103 singles victories on the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of men's tennis, to Lloyd Harris' one.
   But Harris has something that Young doesn't at the moment.
   Confidence. A lot of it.
   That was the difference in their first-round match today in the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship.
   The second-seeded Harris rallied from two service breaks down at 2-5 in the third set and saved two match points in a 7-6 (12), 4-6, 7-5 victory at Solano Community College. The nerve-wracking match lasted 2 hours, 33 minutes in 81-degree (27.2 Celsius) heat.
   "I think (confidence) got me the first set, and it also got me back from 2-5," asserted Harris, a 21-year-old South African. "Confidence definitely helps, especially on the big points."
   Whereas Harris has skyrocketed from No. 291 at the beginning of the year to a career-high No. 113, Young has tumbled from No. 61 to No. 264 over the same period and from a career-high No. 38 in 2012.
   In singles this year, Young is 3-12 on the ATP World Tour and now 4-7 on the Challenger circuit. He did beat three-time Grand Slam singles champion Stan Wawrinka, rebounding from knee surgery, in a third-set tiebreaker in the first round at Washington this summer as a qualifier.
   Young, a 29-year-old left-hander from Atlanta once considered the future of U.S. men's tennis, made his first appearance in Northern California since reaching the quarterfinals of the $100,000 Tiburon Challenger in 2013. He has won four Challenger singles titles in NorCal.
   "Playing a former top-40 player in the first round, it's not easy -- that's for sure," Harris said. "I think everybody saw the ability he has. He makes it look easy at times."
Donald Young has tumbled from a career-high No. 38
in 2012 to No. 264. Photo by Paul Bauman
   The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Harris stunned French veteran Gael Monfils, ranked 38th after reaching a career-high sixth in 2016, two weeks ago in Chengdu, China, for his first ATP main-draw victory and won last week's $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Pro Open for his second career Challenger singles title.
   "Today I was struggling to find my game," Harris admitted. "When you can pull through with a 'W' on days like that, I think that's what really counts."
   At 2-5 in the third set, Harris said he "was just like, 'Maybe he gets nervous. He hasn't won as many matches as he'd like maybe this year.' I thought maybe some nerves will kick in and maybe somehow I play more free. That's kind of what happened. I started playing a little better, more aggressive, and started moving better. Then all of a sudden, I play my best tennis from 5-2 down in the third."
   Young had six set points in the first-set tiebreaker. He double-faulted on the third one and on his first match point at 5-4 in the third set. Two points later, Harris escaped another match point with an inside-out forehand winner. On Harris' first match point, Young sailed a forehand approach barely long.
   "The tiebreaker was very draining," Harris said. "I thought I lost it like four times, so to come back and win it, that was awesome. It kept me in the match, obviously. He won the second set, then I came back from 2-5. My friend was telling me, 'Keep fighting; maybe you'll get a chance.' I was like, 'Yeah, sure.' I was fighting. I was playing unbelievable on the big points and somehow managed to get back."
   Harris finished with 17 aces and 12 double faults and saved 13 of 17 break points against him. Young had three aces and 11 double faults and survived two of the six break points he faced.
   Australia's Marc Polmans, the Stockton runner-up, lost to JC Aragone of Yorba Linda in the Los Angeles area 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-3.
No. 8 seed Alex Bolt beat fellow Australian and
close friend Thanasi Kokkinakis 7-5, 3-6, 6-4. Bolt
will face wild card Collin Altamirano of Sacramen-
to on Wednesday. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Aragone's doubles partner at the University of Virginia last year, wild card Collin Altamirano of Sacramento, will play eighth-seeded Alex Bolt of Australia for the first time on Wednesday. Bolt, a 25-year-old left-hander, withstood 16 aces to defeat his childhood friend Thanasi Kokkinakis 7-5, 3-6, 6-4.
   Bolt also beat Kokkinakis in the final round of qualifying at Wimbledon this year before losing to 21st-seeded Kyle Edmund of Great Britain in the first round of the main draw.
   Kokkinakis, who climbed as high as No. 69 in 2015 at age 19 before injuries derailed his career, shocked Roger Federer in the second round in Miami in March and won the $100,000 Aptos (Calif.) Challenger in August. Aptos is a two-hour drive south of Fairfield.
   "I was just trying to keep my level consistent," said Bolt, a two-time Australian Open doubles quarterfinalist. "Thanasi, his best game is up there with the best players, so I just had to weather the storm and was lucky enough to get on top."
   Top-seeded Jordan Thompson of Australia downed Jay Clarke of Great Britain 7-6 (3), 6-1, avenging a three-set loss to Clarke in the final of the $75,000 Binghamton (N.Y.) Challenger in July.
   Third-seeded Noah Rubin of Long Island, N.Y., beat wild card Axel Geller, a Stanford sophomore from Argentina, 6-3, 6-4.
   Rubin, a product of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York, reached the singles quarterfinals and won the doubles title (with Darian King of Barbados) last week in Stockton.
   Geller ended 2017 as the No. 1 junior in the world after advancing to the Wimbledon and U.S. Open boys singles finals that year. He also won the Wimbledon boys doubles crown with Hsu Yu-hsiou of Chinese Taipei in 2017.
   In tonight's featured singles match, Dominik Koepfer of Germany outplayed seventh-seeded Ivo Karlovic of Croatia 6-4, 6-4.
   Koepfer, a 24-year-old former All-American at Tulane, was the runner-up to Jason Jung, a Los Angeles-area native who plays for Chinese Taipei, in the $100,000 San Francisco Challenger in February. Fairfield is a 45-minute drive northeast of San Francisco.
   The 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Karlovic, 39, reached the final of last week's $150,000 Challenger in Monterrey, Mexico, losing to former world No. 3 David Ferrer, 36, of Spain.
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Wednesday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Monday, October 8, 2018

NorCal's Altamirano wins by 'learning how to lose'

Collin Altamirano, a 22-year-old wild card from Sacramento, leaves the court
with Steve Sutter, left, and Jimmy Roberts after beating former top-50 player
Daniel Evans of Great Britain 7-6 (2), retired today in the first round of the
$100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger at Solano Community College. Sutter's
son, Brandon, trained with Altamirano at the JMG Tennis Academy in Sacra-
mento before playing at Stanford. Roberts helps coach Altamirano and shares
shares a rented house with him. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Note to readers: If you enjoy my coverage of Northern California tennis, please donate on my homepage. Even $5 or $10 will help. Here's why I need your support. Thank you.
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- It didn't take long for Collin Altamirano to get discouraged at the beginning of the summer.
   Can you blame him? The 22-year-old Sacramentan hadn't lost much -- ever.
   Altamirano played few junior tournaments because his coach then and now, Joseph Gilbert, likes his players to stay fresh and reflect on wins and losses.
   Altamirano then became the first unseeded player to win the USTA Boys 18 National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich., five years ago and helped Virginia capture the NCAA title in all three of his years there. He went 64-14 (.821) in singles and 59-16 (.787) in doubles overall with the Cavaliers and turned pro in September 2017, forgoing his senior season.
   In his first 13 entry-level Futures tournaments, Altamirano went 27-11 (.711) in singles. But after winning $15,000 Singapore in late May for his second pro title, Altamirano went 1-3 (including a retirement) in his next three Futures tourneys.
   Then came Altamirano's breakthrough. He survived three qualifying matches and reached the semifinals of the $75,000 Winnetka (Ill.) Challenger, equivalent to Triple A in baseball.
   In his next three tournaments, Altamirano advanced to the semifinals of the $25,000 Iowa City (Iowa) Futures and quarterfinals of the $75,000 Lexington (Ky.) Challenger, and qualified for the U.S. Open, beating 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Ivo Karlovic of Croatia in the second round before losing to Ugo Humbert of France in straight sets in the first round of the main draw. The loss was worth $54,000, by far Altamirano's biggest payday.
   "I had kind of a bad start to the summer," explained Altamirano, a wild card who defeated former top-50 player Daniel Evans of Great Britain 7-6 (2), retired (shoulder) today in the first round of the $100,000 NorthBay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship at Solano Community College. "I just wasn't playing well mentally. I knew it had to change or you can't keep doing this. It kind of hit a point where I just had to accept that I was going to lose, and if I was going to lose, try to lose the right way. I feel like I've done a good job of that. I'm not doing a great job of it, but I'm doing a better job than I was.
   "I feel like learning how to lose is huge out here. To be able to come back from a tough loss last week and follow it up with a good start here, it makes me happy. It makes me know we're doing the right things at home. I owe my coaches (Gilbert, Thom Billadeau and Jimmy Roberts) all the credit in the world. They're there for me when things are tough."
   Altamirano took two weeks off after the U.S. Open because of a back injury, then lost to Isaiah Strode, a wild card from El Cajon in the San Diego area ranked No. 1,245, 6-4, 6-0 in the first round of qualifying for last week's $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Pro Open.
   "Unfortunately, it was probably a bad decision to play it," said the 306th-ranked Altamirano. "I thought I was going to get into the main draw. I saw I got in the qualies and picked up a racket just two days before playing. I thought it would be good, maybe try to get some matches under my belt, but I realized I wasn't ready yet. It was good that I had a week and a half to train for this and get everything back to where it was."
   Altamirano still trains at the JMG Tennis Academy, founded by Gilbert, at the Arden Hills Club & Spa in Sacramento. Gilbert also coaches Jenson Brooksby, this year's USTA Boys 18 national champion.
   Altamirano, 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters), and the 28-year-old Evans, only 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters) and 165 pounds (75 kilograms), traded punishing groundstrokes for most of their 64-minute set in 85-degree (29.4 Celsius) heat.
   "I felt like I was willing to work the points a little bit more than he was toward the end," Altamirano said.
  Altamirano added that he didn't notice anything wrong with his opponent until the tiebreaker, when Evans "didn't run for a shot. I thought maybe he was tired because we played a long point before that."
   Evans won the $100,000 Aptos (Calif.) Challenger in 2016 and reached the final there in 2013. He attained a career high of No. 41 in March 2017, tested positive for cocaine the following month and  returned from a 10-month suspension in April.
  Karlovic, seeded seventh in Fairfield, could have met another 6-foot-11 player, Reilly Opelka, in the semifinals. but the 21-year-old American lost to Lucas Miedler of Austria 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5) in tonight's late match. Opelka also fell in the first round in Stockton after reaching two consecutive Challenger finals.
   In the final round of qualifying today, ex-Stanford star Tom Fawcett lost to fourth-seeded Evan King of Chicago 1-6, 6-2, 6-1.
   Altamirano, who's in the opposite half of the draw as Karlovic, will face the winner of Tuesday's 10 a.m. match between Australians Alex Bolt, seeded eighth, and Thanasi Kokkinakis, who climbed to a career-high No. 69 in 2015 at age 19 before injuries derailed his career.
   Altamirano has never played Bolt and is 0-1 against Kokkinakis, who won 7-6 (4), 6-2 on clay in the first round of qualifying for the $50,000 Savannah (Ga.) Challenger in 2014.
   Kokkinakis stunned Roger Federer in the second round in Miami in March and won the Aptos title in August. Altamirano trained with the Swiss star in Dubai in 2013.
   "I think the nicest part about it was he's such a good person and has such good people around him," Altamirano said. "It's nice to see that's what's at the top of the game. It makes me feel good about playing this game."
   Here are the singles qualifying and main draws, doubles main draw and Tuesday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Harris thrives, Brengle survives in windy Stockton finals

Fourth-seeded Lloyd Harris, right, of South Africa beat eighth-seeded
Marc Polmans of Australia 6-2, 6-2 today to win the $100,000 Stockton
(Calif.) Pro Open. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Note to readers: If you enjoy my coverage of Northern California tennis, please donate on my homepage. Even $5 or $10 will help. Here's why I need your support. Thank you.
   STOCKTON, Calif. -- Lloyd Harris didn't just beat Marc Polmans today.
   Harris also defeated Mother Nature, quite a feat considering all the damage she is doing around the world with increasing frequency.
   The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) South African continued his remarkable rise this year with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Australia's Polmans in a matchup of 21-year-old friends to win the $100,000 Stockton Pro Open.
   Despite wind gusts that plagued the final for the second consecutive year at the University of the Pacific's Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center, Harris held serve throughout the match.
   "Before the match, I knew it was going to be tricky, so I just got myself in a positive mindset to expect anything and very difficult points," the fourth-seeded Harris said. "I was just mentally ready for it to be very difficult out there. I found my game somehow in the wind, and that was just amazing for me."
   Top-seeded Madison Brengle of Dover, Del., won the women's $60,000 tournament, topping unseeded Danielle Lao of Arcadia in the Los Angeles area 7-5, 7-6 (10). Lao, only 5-foot-2 1/2 (1.59 meters) and 115 pounds (52.2 kilograms), had one set point in the first set and four in the second-set tiebreaker.
Lloyd Harris held his serve throughout the final, saving
three break points against him. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Harris defeated Polmans for the first time in three career matches and pocketed $14,400 for the second and biggest Challenger title of his career. He won a $75,000 tournament in Lexington, Ky., in August and reached the final of the $100,000 Aptos (Calif.) Challenger the following week.
   Two weeks after Aptos, Harris qualified for a Grand Slam tournament in only his third attempt, losing in the first round of the U.S. Open to veteran Gilles Simon in straight sets.
   Harris last week qualified for a tournament on the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of men's tennis, for the third time and shocked Gael Monfils in the opening round in Chengdu, China, for his first ATP victory. Harris then lost to eventual champion Bernard Tomic in a third-set tiebreaker.
   Both Simon and Monfils are Frenchmen who have been ranked as high as No. 6.
   With the Stockton title, Harris rose eight places to a career-high No. 113, up from No. 340 on Feb. 26. Polmans, who collected $8,480, almost has mirrored Harris' year. Ranked No. 323 at the beginning of 2018, he improved 14 spots to a career-high No. 147 by reaching the Stockton final.
   The eighth-seeded Polmans lost his serve in the opening game of each set, the first time when Harris returned a second delivery with an explosive passing shot and the second time on a double fault.
   "Those first games in the first and second set were pretty crucial to try to get in front on the scoreboard and maybe put a bit more pressure on him," admitted Polmans, who moved from his native South Africa to Australia when he was 10. "I think that was a very important key to the match. Hopefully next time I can come out with a better start, and that's something I've got to improve on."
Top-seeded Madison Brengle topped unseeded
Danielle Lao 7-5, 7-6 (10) in an all-American
final. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Harris also broke for 5-2 in the first set when Polmans netted a backhand and for 4-1 in the second set on another big return of a second serve.
   "I definitely played the important points very well, and I think I served a lot better than him in the wind," said Harris, who lost his serve only once in his five matches during the week. "Those were some of the keys to my success today."
   Harris won 71 percent of the points on his second serve (17 of 24) to only 37 percent (7 of 19) for the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Polmans and saved all three break points against him.
   "Lloyd had a really good day today," conceded Polmans, who reached the doubles semifinals in the 2017 Australian Open with Aussie Andrew Whittington and won a preposterous 24 consecutive singles matches (mostly at the lower Futures level) in Australia early this year. "He was returning well and wasn't giving me too many cheap points. It just came down to a few points, and Lloyd was able to play a lot better on the big points. It was still a great week, so I'm not too disappointed."
   Of today's four singles finalists, Harris was the only one who didn't struggle in the wind. The women's final featured 15 service breaks, including six straight entering the second-set tiebreaker.
   The 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter) Brengle converted her second match point when Lao, who had taken a medical timeout for a lower back problem early in the second set, sliced a backhand long.
Danielle Lao wore down after a tough
trip to the final. Photo by Paul Bauman
 Brengle, 28, was much fresher than Lao, 27, for the final.
   After beating Ulrikke Eikeri of Norway 6-4, 7-5 in the first round, Brengle averaged only 68 minutes on the court in her three matches before the final.
   Lao, meanwhile, spent 4 hours, 42 minutes on the court on Thursday alone in two victories after  her first-round match, scheduled for Wednesday, had been postponed by rain.
   Lao then routed 16-year-old phenom Whitney Osuigwe 6-2, 6-0 in 1 hour, 30 minutes on Friday and ousted second-seeded Jessica Pegula 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 in 1 hour, 57 minutes on Saturday.
   "I'm a little banged up right now," Lao, a former USC All-American nicknamed the "Little Giant," admitted after the final. "I think the first day with two matches started to add up, and yesterday night after the tough Pegula match, my back was stiffening up. Thankfully, it loosened up during warmup, but playing in the wind, you reach for a lot of shots, and it stiffened up midway through. Playing someone like Madison, I don't think you can have anything like that limit you, especially when you have to move and adjust a lot in these tough conditions. It's unfortunate, but it's part of the sport."
   Brengle, who improved to 2-1 against Lao, refused to talk to a reporter who had asked about her lawsuit against the WTA and International Tennis Federation on Wednesday. After initially declining to discuss the matter with the reporter, she cooperated and then complained to the tournament supervisor.
Madison Brengle won her third ITF singles title this year and
the 13th of her career. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Brengle, ranked a career-high No. 35 in 2015, rose seven notches to No. 88. She earned $9,119 for her third ITF singles title this year and the 13th of her career.
   Lao, who has qualified for the last two U.S. Opens, improved 24 places to No. 194, one spot below her career high last year. She received $4,863 after appearing in her first final above a $25,000 tournament.
   "New territory," Lao said. "Hopefully I can do a little better next time."
   In the women's doubles final, Hayley Carter of Hilton Head, S.C., and Ena Shibahara of Rancho Palos Verdes in the Los Angeles region edged Quinn Gleason of Mendon, N.Y., and Luisa Stefani of Brazil 7-5, 5-7 [10-7]. Both teams were unseeded.
   Here are the completed Stockton men's singles and doubles draws and women's singles and doubles draws.
   Here are the singles qualifying and main draws, doubles draw and Monday's schedule in the $100,000 Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship at Solano Community College in Fairfield, Calif. The tournament is being streamed live.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Stockton finals to feature childhood friends, tiny Lao

No. 4 seed Lloyd Harris of South Africa beat No. 1 seed
Jordan Thompson of Australia in the semifinals of the
Stockton (Calif.) Pro Open. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Note to readers: If you enjoy my coverage of Northern California tennis, please donate on my homepage. Even $5 or $10 will help. Here's why I need your support. Thank you.
   STOCKTON, Calif. -- Even though Lloyd Harris is from South Africa and Marc Polmans plays for Australia, the 21-year-olds became friends as kids.
   Polmans was born in South Africa and lived there until moving to Australia at age 10.
   "We grew up playing together," Polmans said today. "We played all through the under-8s and under-10s. We were always the two who took tennis the most seriously, so we were always practicing together and going to tournaments together. Our parents know each other very well. He's a very close family friend."
   Harris, seeded fourth, and Polmans, seeded eighth, will meet for the singles title on Sunday at 11 a.m. in the $100,000 Stockton Pro Open at the University of the Pacific's Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center.
   In the singles final of the Stockton Women's $60K, top-seeded Madison Brengle will play tiny fellow American Danielle Lao, who's unseeded, after the 10:30 a.m. doubles final.
   Harris and Polmans have more in common than their age. Both overcame deficits in the semifinals and have soared in the rankings this year with impressive feats, including their first Challenger singles title. The primary difference between them is size and power. At 6-foot-5 (1.96 meters), Harris is three inches (7.6 centimeters) taller than Polmans.
   Harris beat top-seeded Jordan Thompson of Australia 7-6 (6), 6-2 on a windy day, gaining confidence after rallying from two mini-breaks down at 2-5 in the tiebreaker and saving two set points in the set.
  "I felt like I really stepped up in the second set," said Harris, who took a medical timeout after the first set after tearing skin on his left foot by running through his shoe. "I started playing a lot more aggressive, going for bigger forehands and serving a lot bigger, a lot better. I think that really pulled me over."
No. 8 seed Marc Polmans of Australia
eliminated unseeded Maxime Janvier of
France. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Harris hammered 15 aces to two for the 6-foot (1.83-meter) Thompson, won 81 percent of the points on his first serve (39 of 48) and saved all five break points against him.
   "I served really big, and I hit some really big shots off the ground, and maybe that was the key," said Harris, whose serve has been clocked at more than 136 mph (220 kph).
   Thompson has dropped from a career-high No. 63 in February 2017 to No. 106 after having his tonsils removed last last year. He stunned top-ranked Andy Murray in the first round of a Wimbledon tune-up tournament in June last year.
   Polmans eliminated unseeded Maxime Janvier of France 6-1, 6-4, coming back from 0-3 (one service break) in the second set.
   "I don't think I was doing too much wrong," Polmans said of the deficit. "He came out smoking a few winners off my serve, and I think he came out with a slightly different game plan for the second set. He started ripping as much as he could and coming forward, and it took me a bit by surprise. I tried to adjust and was able to get the break back in the second."
   Janvier, a 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) right-hander, took a medical timeout after holding serve for 4-3 in the second set to have his right forearm treated. He also took one for a left-foot problem during his quarterfinal victory over 2017 runner-up Darian King of Barbados on Friday. Janvier, 21, did not appear hindered by either issue against Polmans.
   Janvier survived 32 aces by second-seeded Reilly Opelka, a 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) American, in the first round and four match points against King.
   Polmans is 2-0 against Harris with victories in the final of two hardcourt Futures tournaments in Africa in 2016.
   Harris has skyrocketed from No. 340 in the world on Feb. 26 to No. 121. In three consecutive Challengers over the summer, he won the title in $75,000 Lexington (Ky.), reached the final in $100,000 Aptos (Calif.) and advanced to the quarterfinals in $100,000 Vancouver (British Columbia).
   Harris then qualified for a Grand Slam tournament in only his third attempt, losing in the first round of the U.S. Open. Harris last week shocked Gael Monfils, ranked No. 38 after reaching a career-high No. 6 in 2016, in the first round as a qualifier in Chengdu, China, for his first main-draw victory on the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of men's tennis. Harris then lost to eventual champion Bernard Tomic in a third-set tiebreaker.
   "I'm just working hard regardless on a match day or not, just putting in some extra hours on and off the court," Harris said of his rise. "If it's fitness or mobility or taking better care of my body, I feel like I'm just doing everything a little bit better this year, working on my game and really trying to make some improvements all the time, and that's paid off."
Tiny Danielle Lao rallied to beat fellow American
Jessica Pegula, seeded No. 2. Photo by Paul Bauman
   When he's not playing in a tournament, Harris said he practices for five hours, then does fitness work for 60 to 90 minutes and lifts weights for 30 to 40 minutes.
   Polmans said he moved to Australia with his family -- his father, Gavin, is a financial planner, and mother, Nicola, stays at home -- for "many reasons. The lifestyle was obviously a lot better in Australia. It's much safer, and the economy is a lot better. Also, the tennis system is a lot wealthier. They have a Grand Slam, so it's a very wealthy country for tennis. When I was young, it was better for schooling as well."
   Polmans reached the Australian Open doubles semifinals last year with Aussie Andrew Whittington and won a preposterous 24 consecutive singles matches in Australia early this year. He claimed the title in the $75,000 Launceston Challenger and three Futures tournaments and advanced to the final of another Futures tourney.
   The streak has helped Polmans cut his singles ranking almost exactly in half, from No. 323 to No. 161, in 2018.
   When asked what his biggest strength is, Polmans replied: "Just compete for every point and make points tough because I don't have the biggest weapons out there. I have to work my opponent from side to side. I have to rely on making points physical. In the future, I hope to play a bigger game style because I think that will be more successful at the next level."
   Polmans is immediately recognizable by his legionnaire's cap, popularized by Ivan Lendl during his International Tennis Hall of Fame career.
   "I've worn it ever since I was 8 years old," Polmans said. "It feels very normal, and I cannot play without it because I don't like the feeling of the sun on my neck. In Australia, the sun is very dangerous. ... It's cool to bring the tradition back."
   Lao, only 5-foot-2 1/2 (1.59 meters) and 115 pounds (52.2 kilograms), beat second seed and countrywoman Jessica Pegula, whose parents own the Buffalo Bills of the NFL and Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, 1-6, 6-2, 6-2.
   "She was playing some of the best tennis I've ever seen in the first set," said Lao, 27, of Arcadia in the Los Angeles area. "She kind of knew where my shots were going to go, and when I pressed her, she came up with a winner.
No. 1 seed Madison Brengle of Dover, Del.,
crushed No. 3 seed Sofya Zhuk, an 18-year-
old Russian, 6-1, 6-1. Photo by Paul Bauman 
 "I took a bathroom break to walk it out a little bit. I think my energy level picked up a bit in the second set, and maybe I found a little opening on her. She had a couple more errors than she did in the first -- she played nearly perfect tennis in the first set -- and I just capitalized, and maybe she brought her game down a little bit. That's all it takes out here."
   Lao's first-round match, scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed by rain. She played twice on Thursday, edging U.S. veteran Sanaz Marand 6-0, 2-6, 7-6 (4) in 3 hours, 1 minute and upsetting fourth-seeded Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-3 in 1 hour, 41 minutes.
   Lao, a former USC All-American who has qualified for the last two U.S. Opens, relies on intelligence, mental toughness and quickness.
   "I think it's just accepting that I will not hit harder than (bigger players), so I need to find other ways to play a point that I want," said the 218th-ranked Lao, nicknamed "The Little Giant." "Maybe it's a little change in pace, maybe it's with accuracy, and sometimes it's with my foot speed. It just depends on the player and the day. Altogether, it's a mind game. It's about me extracting a strategy that I want to implement and just executing it."
   Brengle, 28, of Dover, Del., crushed third-seeded Sofya Zhuk, an 18-year-old Russian, 6-1, 6-1 in 66 minutes. Zhuk won the Wimbledon girls singles title three years ago.
   Brengle has tumbled from a career-high No. 35 in 2015 to No. 95. The 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter) right-hander is suing the WTA and International Tennis Federation for requiring an anti-doping blood test in 2016 that she says continues to cause severe pain in her right forearm and hand.
   Brengle, who reached the fourth round of the 2015 Australian Open and beat Serena Williams in 2017, and Lao have split two career matches. In their last meeting, Brengle won 6-4, 6-7 (9), 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the $50,000 Sacramento Challenger in 2014.
   "She really knows how to play the game," Lao said. "She's seen a lot of tennis, and she's super-accurate. She reads matches and players really well. She's a really smart player. She's open to making adjustments and the right adjustments. I think that's what makes her the toughest. She can play a lot of different ways. She's going to compete hard, too."
   In today's men's doubles final, unseeded Darian King of Barbados and Noah Rubin of Long Island, N.Y., beat top-seeded Sanchai Ratiwatana of Thailand and Christopher Rungkat of Indonesia 6-3, 6-4. King and Rubin split $6,200, and Ratiwatana and Rungkat shared $3,600.
   Sunday's ticket prices are $25 for courtside/VIP, $20 for general admission and $10 for children 5-12.
   Here are the Stockton men's singles and doubles draws and Sunday's schedule, plus the women's singles and doubles draws and Sunday's schedule. The men's singles final will be streamed live.
   Here are the singles qualifying and main draws and Sunday's schedule in the $100,000 Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship at Solano Community College in Fairfield, Calif.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Ex-Wimbledon girls champ reaches Stockton semis

Third-seeded Sofya Zhuk, a Russian who won the Wimbledon girls
singles title three years ago at 15, overcame a big deficit to beat
unseeded American Robin Anderson today in the quarterfinals of
the Stockton (Calif.) Women's $60K. Photo by Paul Bauman
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   STOCKTON, Calif. -- For Sofya Zhuk, winning the Wimbledon girls singles title three years ago at 15 was a bonus.
   "I was dreaming to go to the Wimbledon ball," Zhuk, a Russian based in Bradenton, Fla., who speaks English with no accent, said today. "After I won in the semifinals, I didn't care what's going to happen in the final. I knew I was already in the Wimbledon ball because both finalists go."
   The third-seeded Zhuk spoke after holding off unseeded American Robin Anderson 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in 2 hours, 27 minutes in the quarterfinals of the Stockton Women's $60K at the University of the Pacific's Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center.
   Zhuk trailed 0-3 in the second set. When asked how she won the match, the 137th-ranked Zhuk said: "That's a very good question. I really don't have an answer for that one."
   Actually, she did.
   "I knew I was really down, and I decided to just try to put every ball in the court," added Zhuk, who has punishing flat groundstrokes. "I didn't even count the score after that. ... I kind of slowed down the pace. I figured out after 0-3 that she didn't like it. That helped me a lot."
   Zhuyk bolted to a 4-0 lead in the third set as the 5-foot-3 (1.61-meter) Anderson, ranked No. 336, hardly could put a ball in the court. But Anderson suddenly found her game again, and Zhuk admittedly got nervous.
Robin Anderson led Sofya Zhuk by a set and 3-0.
Anderson's rally in the third set fell short. Photo by
Paul Bauman
   Anderson, a 25-year-old former UCLA star, broke serve for 4-5 but then netted a backhand for 30-40. Zhuk finally closed out the match with a backhand passing shot down the line.
   So how was the Wimbledon ball?
   "I almost fell asleep because it was kind of boring," Zhuk admitted.
   Still, she wasn't disappointed.
   "The food was really good, and I got to see Serena (Williams) and (Novak) Djokovic," crowed Zhuk, adding that she did not dance. "It was fun, but I was really tired. I left early because I had an early flight in the morning."
   Zhuk didn't have to buy a dress for the ball.
   "In the locker room, they bring so many new dresses, and you can choose, and they do makeup and hair," she noted. "I chose a black dress that was long in the back with a long cut on the side. Then I had some curls in the hair and the smoky eye makeup. I planned it all out."
   Maybe someday Zhuk will go to the Wimbledon ball as a women's finalist. She's off to a good start on the pro tour.
  Zhuk reached the final of a $140,000 tournament in Newport Beach, Calif., in January and the third round of the prestigious BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in March. In the BNP, she defeated France's Alize Cornet, who beat Serena Williams three times in 2014 (including a third-round win at Wimbledon and a retirement), and Slovakia's Magdalena Rybarikova, a Wimbledon semifinalist last year.
   Zhuk is scheduled to face top-seeded Madison Brengle, 28, for the first time on Saturday at 11 a.m. Brengle, ranked No. 95 after climbing to a career-high No. 35 in 2015, routed fellow American Ann Li, the Wimbledon girls runner-up last year, 6-2, 6-1 in 63 minutes.
   Also on Saturday at 11, second-seeded Jessica Pegula will play unseeded Danielle Lao in an all-American matchup.
Top-seeded Jordan Thompson of Australia beat another
former Wimbledon junior champion, sixth-seeded Noah
Rubin of Long Island, N.Y., 6-7 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-3. Photo
by Paul Bauman
   Pegula, the 24-year-old daughter of Buffalo Bills and Sabres owners Terrence and Kim Pegula, defeated qualifier Amra Sadikovic of Switzerland 6-4, 6-0.
   Lao, 5-foot-3 (1.61 meters) and slightly built, outclassed Whitney Osuigwe, a 16-year-old phenom from Bradenton, 6-2, 6-0 in 90 minutes. Osuigwe (pronounced (Oh-SIG-way) last year became the first American to win the French Open girls singles title since Jennifer Capriati in 1989.
   Pegula reached the final of the inaugural $50,000 Sacramento Challenger in 2012, before injuries derailed her career, and her first WTA final in Quebec City as a qualifier three weeks ago.
   Lao, a 27-year-old former USC All-American, has qualified for the last two U.S. Opens, losing in the first round each time.
   Pegula, who has played all week with left thigh wrapped, is 2-1 against Lao. They have not met in more than two years. In their first encounter, Lao won 6-3, 6-1 in the opening round of the inaugural Stockton Challenger in 2015.
   Another former Wimbledon junior champion, Noah Rubin of Long Island, N.Y., did not fare as well as Zhuk. Then again, the sixth-seeded Rubin faced the top seed in the $100,000 men's tournament. Jordan Thompson of Australia defeated the 5-foot-9 (1.75-meter) Rubin 6-7 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-3 in 2 hours, 35 minutes.
   Thompson reached a career-high No. 63 in February 2017 and stunned top-ranked Andy Murray in the first round of a Wimbledon tune-up tournament in London last year. Thompson has dropped to No. 106 after having his tonsils removed late last year.
    Rubin, a product of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York, won the Wimbledon boys singles title in 2014 and advanced to the Stockton final two years ago.
Unseeded Maxime Janvier of France saved four match points in his
7-5, 5-7, 7-6 (3) victory over Barbados' Darian King, last year's
runner-up in Stockton. Photo by Paul Bauman
   The 6-foot (1.83-meter) Thompson, 24, will face 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) South African Lloyd Harris, 21, for the first time at 11 a.m. Harris, seeded fourth and ranked No. 121, eliminated 6-foot-7 (2.01-meter) Christopher Eubanks, an unseeded American, 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-3.
   Harris advanced to the final of the $100,000 Aptos (Calif.) Challenger in August and won an ATP match for the first time last week. As a qualifier in Chengdu, China, Harris ousted 38th-ranked Gael Monfils, who attained a career high of No. 6 in November 2016, in the first round before losing to eventual champion Bernard Tomic of Australia in a third-set tiebreaker.
   In Saturday's second men's semifinal, eighth-seeded Marc Polmans of Australia will meet unseeded Maxime Janvier of France for the first time in a matchup of 21-year-olds.
   Polmans, ranked No. 161, topped Liam Broady of Great Britain 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. The 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) Janvier, ranked No. 272, saved four match points in a 7-5, 5-7, 7-6 (3) victory over Barbados' Darian King, last year's runner-up in Stockton, in 2 hours, 38 minutes.
   "I'm very happy because I played very well at the end of the third set," said Janvier, who survived 32 aces by second-seeded Reilly Opelka, a 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) American, in the opening round.
   Janvier took a medical timeout at 3-3 in the second set for a left foot injury.
   Daily ticket prices are $25 for courtside/VIP, $20 for general admission and $10 for children 5-12.
   Here are the Stockton men's singles and doubles draws and Saturday's schedule, plus the women's singles and doubles draws and Saturday's schedule. The men's tournament is being streamed live.
   Here are the singles qualifying draw and Saturday's schedule in the $100,000 Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship at Solano Community College in Fairfield, Calif.
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