Saturday, September 15, 2018

U.S. barely survives; Anisimova, 17, gains first WTA final

Ryan Harrison, playing in Sacramento in 2014, and Mike Bryan
won a fifth-set tiebreaker today to keep the United States alive
at Croatia in the Davis Cup semifinals. Photo by Paul Bauman
   The United States still has a chance.
   Not much of one, but a chance nonetheless.
   The U.S. barely avoided elimination today as Mike Bryan (Stanford, 1997-98) and Ryan Harrison edged Ivan Dodig and Mate Pavic of host Croatia 7-5, 7-6 (6), 1-6, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5) in 4 hours, 41 minutes in the Davis Cup semifinals. Bryan has won a record 18 Grand Slam men's doubles titles, and the other three players have earned one each. 
   Croatia leads the best-of-five series, on outdoor clay in Zadar on the Adriatic Sea, 2-1. The winner will face defending champion France on Nov. 23-25 at a site to be determined.
   In Sunday's reverse singles matches, No. 6-ranked Marin Cilic of Croatia will face No. 30 Steve Johnson, and No. 18 Borna Coric of Croatia will meet No. 40 Frances Tiafoe.
   The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Cilic, who will turn 30 on Sept. 28, won the 2014 U.S. Open and reached the final of Wimbledon last year and the Australian Open this year. Coric, 21, shocked Roger Federer to win Halle (Germany) on grass in June.
   Johnson, 28, is 1-3 in Davis Cup singles. Tiafoe, who won the 2016 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger, made his Davis Cup debut at age 20 on Friday and lost to Cilic 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
   The United States is missing its top two players, not that they necessarily would make a difference. Six-foot-10 (2.08-meter) John Isner, ranked No. 10, is awaiting the birth of his first child. Jack Sock, ranked No. 17 in singles and No. 2 in doubles, has a hip injury after winning his second consecutive Grand Slam men's doubles title with Bryan in the U.S. Open.
   The United States has failed to reach the Davis Cup final since winning the 2007 championship in Portland, Ore. Croatia, which won its only Davis Cup title in 2005, is trying to advance to the final for the second time in three years. The team lost to Argentina 3-2 in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2016.
   Croatia, slightly smaller than West Virginia with a population (4.2 million) comparable to metropolitan Detroit's, is 4-0 against the United States in the Davis Cup. In the most recent meeting, Croatia stunned the U.S. 3-2 after trailing 2-0 in Portland in the 2016 quarterfinals.
   WTA tour -- Two U.S. qualifiers who excelled in the now-defunct Sacramento Challenger reached their first WTA finals today. Both will play 32-year-olds.
   Amanda Anisimova, who won her first professional title last year in Sacramento at 15 years old, knocked off top-seeded Zhang Shuai of China 7-6 (4), 7-5 in Hiroshima.
   Jessica Pegula, the runner-up to Modesto product Maria Sanchez in the inaugural Sacramento Challenger six years ago, outlasted 19-year-old compatriot Sofia Kenin 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 in Quebec City.
   Kenin has won Northern California Challengers in each of the past three years (Sacramento in 2016Stockton last year and Berkeley in July). The Sacramento tournament lost its primary sponsor and moved to Berkeley this year.
   Anisimova, who turned 17 two weeks ago, became the youngest player to reach a WTA final since Donna Vekic of Croatia lost in Tashkent in 2012 and Birmingham in 2013 as a 16-year-old. Anisimova, ranked No. 134, also will become the first player born in 2001 to crack the top 100 on Monday.
   A potential star, Anisimova improved to 12-3 since returning from a four-month injury layoff in San Jose in July and 24-6 overall this season, including 11-4 in WTA main draws. She broke a foot in Miami in March.
   Anisimova is scheduled to face second-seeded Hsieh Su-Wei of Chinese Taipei on Sunday. The 40th-ranked Hsieh, playing her second match of the day, beat Wang Qiang of China 6-4, 6-4.
   Earlier, Hsieh topped fifth-seeded Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia 4-6, 6-2, 6-0 in a rain-postponed quarterfinal. Tomljanovic, a Croatia native, withdrew from the final of the 2017 Sacramento Challenger with a shoulder injury.
   Hsieh upset top-ranked Simona Halep in the third round at Wimbledon in July before losing to Dominika Cibulkova.
  Pegula, the 24-year-old daughter of Buffalo Bills and Sabres owners Terrence and Kim Pegula, has been plagued by injuries during her career. Ranked No. 227, she will meet eighth-seeded Pauline Parmentier of France. Parmentier, ranked No. 69, nipped Heather Watson of Great Britain 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
   In the Quebec City doubles semifinals, unseeded Asia Muhammad and Sanchez topped third-seeded Desirae Krawczyk and Giuliana Olmos 3-6, 6-3 [10-7] in an all-American encounter.
   Krawczyk and Olmos, who's from Fremont in the San Francisco Bay Area, won last year's Sacramento Challenger.
   Muhammad took the Sacramento crown in 2012 with local product Yasmin Schnack, who retired the following year at 25, and in Berkeley in July with former Stanford star Nicole Gibbs.
   Muhammad and Sanchez, who reached the second round of the 2015 U.S. Open together, will play second-seeded Darija Jurak of Croatia and Xenia Knoll of Switzerland for the title.
   Muhammad seeks her third career WTA doubles title and Sanchez her second.

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