Sunday, September 30, 2018

Veteran Granollers, promising Mmoh reach Tiburon final

   TIBURON, Calif. -- Marcel Granollers has reached the top 20 in the world in singles.
   Michael Mmoh could get there.
   Granollers, a 32-year-old Spaniard, and Mmoh, a 20-year-old American, will meet for the first time today in the final of the $100,000 Wells Fargo Tiburon Challenger.
   The top-seeded Granollers, ranked No. 104, outclassed sixth-seeded Noah Rubin, a 5-foot-9 (1.75-meter) American, 6-2, 6-2 with his impressive all-around game on Saturday at the Tiburon Peninsula Club.
   "It was not easy; it was a bit windy today," said the 6-foot-3 (1.91-meter) Granollers, who has fallen from career highs of No. 19 in singles in 2012 and No. 4 in doubles in 2013 to No. 104 and No. 22, respectively. "I think I played a very solid match, a smart match with no mistakes."
   The fifth-seeded Mmoh, ranked a career-high No. 108, coped with not only the wind but Australian alternate James Duckworth's unusual game to prevail 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in a matchup of the last two Challenger champions.
   Mmoh won last week's $75,000 tournament in Columbus, Ohio, and the Duckworth triumphed as a qualifier in a $50,000 tourney in Cary, N.C., two weeks ago in his comeback from five operations (three on his right foot and one each on his right shoulder and right elbow).
    "I hadn't really played a guy with that type of game style in a very long time, if ever," said Mmoh, the Tiburon runner-up two years ago as a qualifier. "Some of the plays he was coming up with I've never seen. He has a really good short slice where he kind of baits you. He hits it short and wants you to come in; he has pretty good passing shots. Nobody really uses that play except for maybe (Roger) Federer.
   "And it's a different slice. He puts a lot of undercut on it. In this wind, it's pretty tough to play against his slice. The stuff he does with his slice and sometimes with his drop shots, his volleys ... he's a very creative, crafty tennis player."
   Mmoh said Duckworth did not play the same way in their only other match, which the Aussie won  6-3, 6-4 two years ago in the first round of qualifying in Winston-Salem (N.C.) on the elite ATP World Tour.
     "I think two years ago he was just better than me.," Mmoh admitted. "He was beating me from the back, but I feel like I've improved a lot, so he felt he had to change it up, and it almost threw me off guard."
   This time, Mmoh served and returned better than Duckworth, 26, in a match that featured many long rallies. Mmoh's first-serve percentage for the match was almost double Duckworth's: 70 to 38.
   After Mmoh broke serve to lead 3-2 in the third set, Duckworth pleaded, "One first serve, one first serve!"
   The sixth game of the second set was almost a match in itself. It went to 13 deuces, and Duckworth saved seven break points before holding serve for 4-2.
   "I couldn't believe I didn't win it," Mmoh said. "I thought I played a good game, had so many chances. I felt like every single break point he was down he was playing a very tough point. He made sure he hit that slice with a lot of undercut and just didn't miss. Sometimes on the deuce point, he wasn't doing that. He was little streaky.
   "That game was a momentum changer. It gave him a lot of confidence and kind of defeated me in a way."
   But only temporarily. Mmoh recovered in the third set to advance.
   Not only are Mmoh and Granollers ranked near each other now, they were No. 175 and No. 177, respectively, at the beginning of the year.
   Granollers, who has earned $9.74 million in career prize money, attributed his rise to "playing more matches, and this gives you more confidence. Last year, I lost many first rounds, so I don't play many matches during the week, and you are out of your rhythm."
   Mmoh, meanwhile, credited "a lot of hard work last offseason" with his former coach, Glenn Weiner, and help from his new coach, Alexander Waske, a 43-year-old former pro from Germany.
   "He's taken my game to the next level," said Mmoh, who played in the main draw at Wimbledon for the first time as a qualifier in July and reached his second career ATP quarterfinal at Los Cabos later in the summer. "The fact I've been doing so well so consistently the second half of the year is all due to him, honestly."
   Mmoh, a chiseled 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters) and 198 pounds (98 kilograms), added that Waske has helped him add offense.
   "I'm a very good defensive player. It's tough to get by me and whatnot, but my offensive tennis wasn't fully developed, and I didn't exactly know how to execute it. I felt like he gave me a very good template," Mmoh said.
   Waske, who peaked at No. 16 in doubles in 2007 and No. 89 in singles in 2006, agreed that "offense is the thing that's missing in order to do the next step. There's a couple more steps he needs to do in order to get even higher -- get to top 50, top 20, whatever -- but Michael has incredible potential. His physical abilities are very strong. He has a lot of power, and he hasn't been using his power for offense, only for defense. In my opinion, he's too strong and too big to play defensive tennis purely. He will never be a chip-charger, but he needs to realize in which situation to play what. If he has a good serve and gets a short return, he needs to play offensive.
   "He's a smart guy. We had a lot of video analysis and looked at certain things. He's worked on it, and it's getting better."
   It figures that Mmoh, a one-man United Nations, would hire a non-American.
   Mmoh was born in Saudi Arabia to Tony Mmoh, a former journeyman professional and Olympian from Nigeria, and Geraldine O'Reilly, an Irishwoman who moved to Australia in 2016.
   Tony was coaching the Saudi Arabian Davis Cup team, and Geraldine, an avid tennis fan, was working in Saudi Arabia as a nurse at the time.
   Michael was named after Michael Jordan. Tony had become infatuated with the NBA legend while attending St. Augustine's College (now St. Augustine's University) in North Carolina and becoming a U.S. citizen. Michael moved from Saudi Arabia to Bradenton, Fla., at 12 to train at the IMG Academy and still is based there.
   Here are the Tiburon singles and doubles draws and today's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.
   Here are the singles qualifying and main draws and today's schedule in the men's $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger and the singles qualifying draw and today's schedule in the Stockton Women's $60K.

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