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
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   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.

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