Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Collins, Kenin head U.S. team for Fed Cup final

Danielle Collins, playing at Indian Wells in March, and two other Americans
will make their Fed Cup debut in the Nov. 10-11 final against the Czech Republic
in Prague. Photo by Mal Taam
   Danielle Collins, a semifinalist at the inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose in August, will lead the defending champion United States against the Czech Republic in the Fed Cup final Nov. 10-11 in Prague.
   The 35th-ranked Collins and No. 48 Sofia Kenin will make their Fed Cup debuts, as will Nicole Melichar, a Czech native ranked 15th in doubles. Joining them will be Alison Riske, a member of last year's team that beat host Belarus in the final. She is ranked 63rd in singles.
   Absent will be the United States' top three singles players -- No. 6 Sloane Stephens, No. 15 Serena Williams and No. 16 Madison Keys -- as well as No. 40 Venus Williams and 2017 team members CoCo Vandeweghe and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
   Kenin, the youngest player in the top 50, will turn 20 three days after the final. She has won a Northern California Challenger in each of the past three years, including the $60,000 Berkeley Tennis Club Challenge in July.
   Riske reached the semifinals of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2016 and the quarterfinals there in 2015.
   The Czech Republic will field a formidable team with No. 7 Petra Kvitova, No. 8 Karolina Pliskova, doubles No. 1 Katerina Siniakova and doubles No. 5 Barbora Strycova. All four played in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford before it moved to San Jose this year. Pliskova advanced to the 2015 final, losing to Angelique Kerber, and Siniakova was the doubles runner-up in 2014 at age 18 with Paula Kania of Poland.
   The United States leads all nations with 18 Fed Cup titles. The Czech Republic is next with 10, including five in the last seven years.
   Tennis Channel will televise the best-of-five-match series, on a hard court in Prague's 10,700-seat O2 Arena, beginning at 5 a.m. PST on Nov. 10.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Svitolina subdues Stephens for title in WTA Finals

   Five of the last seven women's Grand Slam singles champions have been first-time winners.
   Elina Svitolina could add to that list in 2019.
   The 24-year-old Ukrainian, seeded sixth, defeated 25-year-old Fresno product Sloane Stephens, seeded fifth, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in 2 hours, 23 minutes today to win the WTA Finals in Singapore.
   "This is a very special moment for me in my career, and it will give me plenty of confidence for the season coming ahead," Svitolina said.
   Svitolina went 5-0, including four three-set victories, in the tournament for the biggest title of her career. She pocketed $2,209,000 and evened her career record against Stephens at 2-2 (1-1 in 2018). Stephens, who played in the tournament for the first time, collected $1,049,000.
   Svitolina finished the year with four singles titles, also winning Brisbane, Dubai and Rome. Stephens' only singles crown of 2018 came in Miami.
   Jelena Ostapenko began the run of first-time Grand Slam champions by winning last year's French Open two days after turning 20. Then came Stephens in the U.S. Open, Caroline Wozniacki in the Australian Open, Simona Halep in the French Open and Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open. The exceptions were Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
   Second-seeded Timea Babos of Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic of France won the doubles title in the WTA Finals, beating top-seeded Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 7-5.
   Babos claimed her second consecutive title in the tournament after pairing with Andrea Hlavackova of the Czech Republic last year in Singapore.
   Babos and Mladenovic shared $500,000, and Krejcikova and Siniakova split $260,000.
   The teams combined to capture three of this year's four Grand Slam titles. Babos and Mladenovic won the Australian Open for their first major crown together, and Krejcikova and Siniakova became the first pair in 15 years to sweep the French Open and Wimbledon.
   ATP World Tour in Vienna -- Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski of Great Britain won their first ATP title as a team, defeating Mike Bryan (Stanford, 1997-98) of Wesley Chapel, Fla., and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France 7-6 (5), 6-3. Both teams were unseeded.
   Both Salisbury and Skupski won doubles titles with other partners in $100,000 Northern California Challengers last year. Salisbury and countryman Brydan Klein triumphed in Stockton, and Skupski and Jonathan Erlich of Israel prevailed in Aptos.
   Skupski also played for the Sacramento-based California Dream of World TeamTennis in 2015, the squad's only year of existence.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Stephens stages huge rally to gain final in elite tourney

   Sloane Stephens overcame a terrible start today to reach the title match in her first WTA Finals.
   Seeded fifth, Stephens downed seventh-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 0-6, 6-4, 6-1 after losing the first eight games in Singapore.
   "I came out here a little bit nervous, and I wasn't really feeling the ball," Stephens, a 25-year-old Fresno product now based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said on wtatennis.com. " ... I had a bit of an adrenaline dump after I finally won one game. I was really fired up, so I was like, 'OK, come on, let's do this. I can win one game; maybe I can win two, then three.' And I just started to feel the ball a little bit better. ... I just tried to stay in it and get as many balls back as I could. I'm just really proud of my fight today."
   Stephens, who won last year's U.S. Open and reached the French Open final in June, will meet sixth-seeded Elina Svitolina of Ukraine on Sunday not before 4:30 a.m. PDT. Svitolina, 24, outlasted eighth-seeded Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-4 in 2 hours, 38 minutes.
   Stephens leads Svitolina 2-1 (2-0 on hardcourts) in their head-to-head series. Stephens won the last meeting 6-3, 6-3 in the Montreal semifinals in August before losing to Simona Halep 6-4 in the third set.
   ATP World Tour in Vienna -- Unseeded Mike Bryan (Stanford, 1997-98) of Wesley Chapel, Fla., and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France edged top-seeded Oliver Marach of Austria and Mate Pavic of Croatia 6-4, 6-7 (2) [10-7] in the semifinals.
   Bryan and Roger-Vasselin, playing in their second tournament together, will meet unseeded Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski of Great Britain for the title on Sunday.
   Salisbury and Skupski ended the winning streak of second-seeded Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil at 10 matches with a 2-6, 6-3 [10-8] triumph on Friday.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Stephens stops Kerber to reach semis in WTA Finals

   Sloane Stephens continued her domination of Angelique Kerber today to reach the semifinals in her first WTA Finals.
   The fifth-seeded Stephens, a 25-year-old Fresno product, dismissed the top-seeded Kerber, a 30-year-old German left-hander, 6-3, 6-3 to finish 3-0 in the Red Group in Singapore.
   After losing her first meeting against Kerber, at Indian Wells in 2012, Stephens has won their last five matches without dropping a set.
   Also today, eighth-seeded Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands led 6-3 when third-seeded Naomi Osaka of Japan retired with a hamstring injury. Bertens finished 2-1 in the Red Group, followed by Kerber at 1-2 and Osaka at 0-3.
   None of the top four seeds reached the semifinals. No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki (1-2), the defending champion from Denmark, and No. 4 Petra Kvitova (0-3) of the Czech Republic were eliminated Thursday in the White Group.
   In Saturday's semifinals, Bertens will meet sixth-seeded Elina Svitolina (3-0 in the White Group) of Ukraine not before 1 a.m. PDT, followed by Stephens against seventh-seeded Karolina Pliskova (2-1 in the White Group) of the Czech Republic in the White Group) not before 4:30 a.m. PDT.
   Bertens and Svitolina have split two career matches, both on hardcourts. In their last meeting, Bertens won 6-4, 6-3 in the quarterfinals at Cincinnati en route to the title in August.
   Stephens is 2-1 against Pliskova, winning on a hardcourt and grass and losing on clay.
   It will be the fourth consecutive year in which the champion of the WTA Finals did not win a Grand Slam singles title. Dominika Cibulkova and Agnieszka Radwanska won the crown in 2016 and 2015, respectively.
   In fact, Stephens is the only semifinalist this year who has ever won a major singles championship. She broke through in last year's U.S. Open.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Stephens beats Bertens, improves to 2-0 in WTA Finals

   Sloane Stephens snapped Kiki Bertens' streak and improved to 2-0 with one round-robin match left in the WTA Finals.
   But Stephens, a 25-year-old Fresno product, still hasn't clinched a berth in the semifinals of the tournament, featuring the top eight singles players and top eight doubles teams of the year, in Singapore.
   Stephens, seeded fifth and ranked sixth, defeated Bertens, seeded eighth and ranked ninth, 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-3 in a match that ended at almost 1 a.m. Thursday local time.
   Bertens, a 26-year-old Dutchwoman who replaced injured Simona Halep in the field, had beaten her last nine top-10 opponents. But Stephens needed to win in straight sets to advance.
   Earlier today, top-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany outlasted third-seeded Naomi Osaka of Japan 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 in 2 hours, 30 minutes. On Friday in the Red Group, Stephens will face Kerber (1-1), and Bertens (1-1) will take on Osaka (0-2).
   On Thursday in the White Group, fourth-seeded Petra Kvitova (0-2) will play seventh seed and fellow Czech Karolina Pliskova (1-1) not before 1 a.m. PDT, followed by second seed and defending champion Caroline Wozniacki (1-1) of Denmark against sixth-seeded Elina Svitolina (2-0) of Ukraine.
   Kerber defeated Pliskova to win the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford. The tournament moved to San Jose this year under a new sponsor, Mubadala, after 21 years at Stanford.
   Osaka earned her first big win in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic. As a 16-year-old qualifier playing her first main-draw match on the WTA tour, Osaka ousted 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur 4-6, 7-6 (7), 7-5 in the first round. Osaka saved a match point in the tiebreaker and overcame a 3-5 deficit in the third set.
   Osaka then fell to eighth-seeded Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-2, 6-2. Petkovic reached a career-high No. 9 in 2011.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Stephens tops Osaka as both debut in WTA Finals

   In a matchup of the last two U.S. Open champions, No. 5 seed Sloane Stephens of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., beat No. 3 Naomi Osaka of Japan 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 today in a round-robin opener at the WTA Finals in Singapore.
   The 20-year-old Osaka, who defeated Serena Williams in a controversial final at Flushing Meadows in September, committed 46 unforced errors and fell to 0-2 against Stephens, a 25-year-old Fresno product.
   Both players debuted in the tournament, which features the top eight singles players and top eight doubles teams of the year.
   Also in the Red Group today, No. 8 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands surprised No. 1 Angelique Kerber of Germany 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. Bertens replaced top-ranked Simona Halep, who withdrew from the tournament with a herniated disc.
   No. 6 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine and No. 7 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic lead the White Group at 1-0. No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki, the defending champion, and No. 4 Petra Kvitova are 0-1.
   On Wednesday, Kerber is scheduled to face Osaka at 4:30 a.m. PDT, followed by Stephens versus Bertens. If Stephens wins in straight sets, she will qualify for the semifinals. If Stephens and Osaka win, Stephens will qualify as the group winner, and Kerber will be eliminated.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Volynets, 16, falls to Osaka's sister in semis of $25K

Katie Volynets, playing in the Stockton (Calif.)
Women's $60K two weeks ago, lost to Mari Osaka,
the older sister of reigning U.S. Open champion
Naomi Osaka, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in the semifinals of the
$25,000 Florence (S.C.) Open. Photo by Paul Bauman 
   Katie Volynets' run in her breakthrough tournament ended today.
   The 16-year-old qualifier from Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area lost to unseeded Mari Osaka of Japan 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in the semifinals of the $25,000 McLeod for Health Florence (S.C.) Open.
    Osaka's younger sister Naomi won her first Grand Slam title in the U.S. Open in September.
   Volynets, a 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter) amateur, shocked the Netherlands' Arianne Hartono, who won the NCAA Division I singles title as a Mississippi senior in May, in the final round of qualifying in the hardcourt tournament.
   Volynets then eliminated former collegiate All-Americans Anna Danilina and Emina Bektas and sixth-seeded Sherazad Reix of France before falling to Osaka.
   Danilina, a 23-year-old Moscow native who plays for Kazakhstan, reached the NCAA quarterfinals in 2017 and 2018 in her last two years at Florida. Bektas, a 25-year-old Indianapolis product, won a $80,000 tournament in Albuquerque, N.M., last fall. Reix, a 29-year-old left-hander, is ranked No. 287.
   Volynets had never won a main-draw match in three previous professional tournaments.
   Osaka, 22, will meet third-seeded Bianca Andreescu, 18, of Canada for the title. Andreescu routed eighth-seeded Maria Mateas, a 19-year-old freshman at Duke from nearby Chapel Hill, N.C., 6-1, 6-2.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Volynets, 16, ousts seed to reach semis in $25K tourney

Katie Volynets, playing in the Stockton (Calif.) Women's
$60K two weeks ago, beat sixth-seeded Sherazad Reix of
France 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in a 3-hour quarterfinal today in the
$25,000 Florence (S.C.) Open. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Katie Volynets continued her stunning run in the $25,000 McLeod for Health Florence (S.C.) Open today.
   The 16-year-old qualifier from Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area surprised sixth-seeded Sherazad Reix of France 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in a 3-hour quarterfinal in the hardcourt tournament. Reix, a 29-year-old left-hander, is ranked No. 278.
   Volynets, a 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter) amateur, shocked the Netherlands' Arianne Hartono, who won the NCAA Division I singles title as a Mississippi senior in May, in the final round of qualifying and eliminated Moscow native Anna Danilina, an NCAA quarterfinalist in 2017 and 2018 in her last two years at Florida, for her first main-draw victory in a professional tournament.
   Volynets then knocked off Emina Bektas, a 25-year-old former Michigan All-American who won an $80,000 tournament in Albuquerque, N.M., last fall.
   Volynets is scheduled to play unseeded Mari Osaka, the 22-year-old sister of reigning U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka, on Saturday after the 9 a.m. PDT doubles final. Osaka topped qualifier Paula Cristina Goncalves of Brazil 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 in 2 hours, 27 minutes.
   In the other semifinal, third-seeded Bianca Andreescu, 18, of Canada will play eighth-seeded Maria Mateas, a 19-year-old Duke freshman from nearby Chapel Hill, N.C. 

Serena named Comeback Player of Year

SERENA WILLIAMS
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Serena Williams, a part-time Silicon Valley resident, was named the Comeback Player of the Year, the WTA announced today.
   Williams, 37, has skyrocketed from No. 491 in March to No. 17 after having her first child in September 2017 and suffering life-threatening complications. She reached two consecutive Grand Slam finals, losing to Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon and Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open.
   Other award winners were Simona Halep (Player of the Year), Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (Doubles Team of the Year), Kiki Bertens (Most Improved Player of the Year) and Aryna Sabalenka (Newcomer of the Year).
   Halep, a 27-year-old Romanian, won her first Grand Slam title in the French Open, spent 40 weeks at No. 1 in the world and finished the year there.
   Krejcikova and Siniakova, both 22-year-old Czechs, became the first team in 15 years to win the French Open and Wimbledon back to back.
   Bertens, 26, became the first Dutchwoman to crack the top 10 in 22 years. She beat Halep to win Cincinnati, one of her three titles this year.
   Sabalenka, 20, of Belarus is ranked No. 15 after beginning the year at No. 78. She is coached by Dmitry Tursunov, a Moscow native and former longtime Northern California resident.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Volynets, 16, reaches first quarterfinal in pro tourney

Katie Volynets, a 16-year-old qualifier from Walnut
Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area, beat Emina
Bektas, a 25-year-old former All-American at Mich-
igan, 6-2, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals of a $25,000
tournament in Florence, S.C. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Qualifier Katie Volynets, a 16-year-old amateur from Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area, knocked off her third consecutive former collegiate All-American today to reach the quarterfinals of a professional tournament for the first time.
   Volynets, 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters) and 123 pounds (55.8 kilograms), dispatched unseeded Emina Bektas, a 25-year-old American who starred at Michigan, 6-2, 6-3 on a hardcourt in the $25,000 McLeod for Health Florence (S.C.) Open.
   Bektas won an $80,000 tournament in Albuquerque, N.M., in September 2017.
   Volynets shocked the Netherlands' Arianne Hartono, the reigning NCAA Division I singles champion from Mississippi, in the final round of qualifying and eliminated Moscow native Anna Danilina, who reached the NCAA quarterfinals in 2017 and 2018 in her last two years at Florida, for her first main-draw victory in a pro tournament.
   Volynets, who's playing in her fourth pro tourney, is scheduled to face sixth-seeded Sherazad Reix, a 29-year-old left-hander from France, on Friday at 7 a.m. PDT. Reix, ranked No. 278, defeated wild card Salome Devidze of Georgia 6-1, 6-4 after edging American Sophie Chang 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (5) in the first round.
   Volynets, coached by Mark Orwig, is reminiscent of CiCi Bellis. Both are petite Bay Area products. Bellis, though, stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of the 2014 U.S. Open at age 15.
   Bellis turned pro in September 2016 at 17 and climbed to a career-high No. 35 in August 2017 to earn the WTA Newcomer of the Year award. She is recovering from wrist surgery.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Volynets, 16, earns first main-draw win in pro tourney

Katie Volynets is interviewed by Tony Acosta of the Stockton
(Calif.) Record during the Stockton Women's 60K two weeks
ago. In the background is Volynets' father Andrey. Photo by
Paul Bauman
   Katie Volynets, a 16-year-old amateur from Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area, upset another former collegiate All-American today for her first victory in the main draw of a professional tournament.
   Volynets, a 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter) qualifier playing in her fourth pro tourney, dismissed Anna Danilina, a 23-year-old Moscow native who plays for Kazakhstan, 6-2, 6-3 in the first round of the $25,000 McLeod for Health Florence (S.C.) Open on hardcourts.
   Danilina, 5-foot-10 (1.79 meters), reached the quarterfinals of the 2017 and 2018 NCAA Division I Singles Championships in her last two years at Florida.
   Volynets ousted Dutchwoman Arianne Hartono, this year's NCAA singles champion as a senior at Mississippi, on Tuesday in the final round of qualifying.
   Volynets is scheduled to play Emina Bektas, a 25-year-old wild card from Indianapolis, on Thursday. Bektas, a former Michigan All-American, eliminated top-seeded Kristie Ahn, a 26-year-old Stanford graduate, 7-5, 2-3, retired on Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

NorCal's Volynets, 16, stuns NCAA champion Hartono

Katie Volynets, playing in the Stockton (Calif.) Women's
60K two weeks ago, defeated reigning NCAA Division I
singles champion Arianne Hartono 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1 in the
final round of qualifying for a $25,000 hardcourt tourna-
ment in Florence (S.C.). Photo by Paul Bauman 
   Katie Volynets, 16, of Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area shocked 14th-seeded Arianne Hartono, the reigning NCAA Division I singles title champion, 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1 today in the final round of qualifying for the $25,000 McLeod for Health Florence (S.C.) Open.
   Hartono, from the Netherlands, won the NCAA crown as a Mississippi senior in May. She and Volynets are 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters).
   Volynets is scheduled to play Anna Danilina, a 23-year-old former Florida All-American from Moscow who plays for Kazakhstan, on Wednesday in the first round of the main draw of the hardcourt tournament.
   Volynets, an amateur, is playing in her fourth professional tournament. She has qualified in three of them, including the Stockton (Calif.) Women's 60K two weeks ago, but has yet to win a main-draw match in one.
   In Volynets' first pro tourney, at 15 in June 2017 on a hardcourt in $25,000 Sumter, S.C., she defeated Brazil's Luisa Stefani, an NCAA semifinalist in 2016 and quarterfinalist this year (losing to Hartono) for Pepperdine.
   Volynets, a junior at Clayton Valley Charter High School in Concord, said in Stockton that she has scholarship offers from all the top tennis schools in the nation, including NCAA defending champion Stanford and Cal, but hasn't decided if she will attend college.
   "I'm just testing the pro circuit right now," she said.
   Volynets won the prestigious Easter Bowl at Indian Wells in April and reached the quarterfinals of the USTA Girls 18 National Championships in San Diego in August.
   Last year, Volynets advanced to the U.S. Open girls quarterfinals in her first junior Grand Slam and won the USTA Girls 18 National Clay Court Championships in Memphis, Tenn.
   In 2016, Volynets became the first girl to win the 16s in the Eddie Herr International Championships and Orange Bowl in the same year. The tournaments were held in consecutive weeks on hard courts in Bradenton, Fla., and on clay in Plantation, Fla., respectively.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

After mulling retirement, Fratangelo fabulous in Fairfield

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 or $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.
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