Sunday, July 21, 2019

Ahn flings racket into crowd during Berkeley loss

Sixth-seeded Kristie Ahn, a 27-year-old Stanford graduate, said she had
intended to throw her racket to the bottom of the net during her loss to
top-seeded Madison Brengle on Saturday. Photo by Paul Bauman
   BERKELEY, Calif. – As her frustration mounted, Kristie Ahn finally snapped.
   Standing behind the baseline, the 27-year-old graduate of Stanford, across San Francisco Bay from Berkeley, flung her racket high in the air Saturday on the court where Billie Jean King was crowned the girls 18 national champion.
   The racket sailed into the crowd on one sideline, and a man dived to catch it.
   "If it gives you any indication of how my day went, I was aiming for the bottom of the net," the sixth-seeded Ahn said after losing to top seed, fellow American and good friend Madison Brengle 6-1, 6-3 in the semifinals of the $60,000 Berkeley Tennis Club Women's Challenge. "Somehow, my hand caught onto the grip, and (the racket) just went floating away in the crowd unfortunately. Luckily, no one got hurt."
   Chair umpire Carrie Hinueber warned Ahn for unsportsmanlike conduct and turned to International Tennis Federation supervisor Marc Bell, who was sitting the stands, to see if he needed to intervene and possibly default Ahn. Bell shook his head.
   "We check three things," Bell said after the match. "We check the action, intent and result. The intent was not to hurt anybody; the intent was to throw it to the (racket) bag. Nobody got hurt, so the result wasn't really bad. Her action? She's responsible for herself.
   "Any one of these three could be enough to be defaulted. In this case, none of these there were bad enough. The action itself was not so bad. That thing flew very lightly – the rest does not exist."
Madison Brengle complained to the chair umpire but later said it wasn't her de-
cision whether Kristie Ahn should have been defaulted. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Had Ahn hurled the racket on a line into the crowd, that would have been different, Bell noted.
   Ahn, who will be fined up to $500, went into the crowd to retrieve her racket but said nothing, and play continued.
   On the next changeover, Brengle complained to Hinueber, saying, "This is unacceptable." Brengle, who will play unseeded Mayo Hibi of Japan today at 2:30 p.m., then turned around and glared at Bell.
   After the subsequent doubles final, won by Brengle and Sachia (prounounced SAH-shuh) Vickery, Brengle was asked what was unacceptable.
   "I don't remember. Sorry," she said.
   Did Brengle think Ahn, who did apologize after their match to two fans sitting in the area, should have been defaulted?
   "That's not my call," she said. "That has nothing to do with me."
   Ahn, ranked No. 180 after reaching a career-high No. 105 in January 2018, had survived a grueling baseline battle against unseeded Arina Rodionova, who's No. 206, on Friday and faced the prospect of an even tougher one against Brengle, ranked No. 83 after climbing as high as No. 35 in 2015.
   Then Ahn, a right-hander with a two-handed backhand, bruised her left hand hitting a shot on the first point of the match.
Unseeded Mayo Hibi will play Madison Breng-
le in a rematch of the 2013 Sacramento final,
won by Hibi, then 17, in shocking fashion.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   "It just went downhill from there," she lamented.
   Ahn was victimized by a bad line call in the second game and in the first game of the second set. In the next game, she had control of a point but watched helplessly as Brengle laced a spectacular running forehand passing shot down the line.
   That's when Ahn lost her temper.
   "Maddie obviously is super tough to play," said Ahn, who stunned 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round on clay in Bogota in April. "She gets a lot of balls back and puts you in really uncomfortable situations. I played a really good, solid point and was just unable to execute, and it was just a bit of frustration there.
   "You come out to play regardless of the circumstances, and it's just a bit disappointing that I couldn't mentally get over my demons."
   Ahn was bidding to become the second former Stanford star in the two-year history of the Berkeley tournament to reach the final. Her ex-teammate and close friend, Nicole Gibbs, lost to Sofia Kenin last year. Kenin, a Moscow-born American, is now ranked No. 27 at age 20.
   It was Ahn's second consecutive debacle against Brengle, who leads the head-to-head series 3-0. Ahn vomited on the court and retired with Brengle leading 6-4, 1-0 last August in the final of a $60,000 tournament in hot, humid Landisville, Pa.
   Ahn said she had never thrown a racket into the seats.
   "No, no. I don't really throw my racket to begin with, but when I do, I aim for the bottom of the net or bottom of the fence," she said.
   Nor, Ahn said, has she ever been defaulted from a match.
   "I've barely even gotten (warnings), so it's not part of my routine," she said.
   Bell estimated that he has seen a player throw his or her racket into the stands four times in his 32 years as a linesman, chair umpire or supervisor, adding that sometimes nobody is sitting in them. He said he has never seen a player get defaulted for throwing a racket or a fan get hurt by one.
   "I saw a guy throw it out of the stadium on Center Court once," Bell said. "I don't want to say who it was or where. It was maybe seven or eight years ago. Nobody can throw it out of a stadium – the wind caught it."
   Vickery also had a bad day in singles – although nothing compared to Ahn's – at the Berkeley Tennis Club, which has a rich history. It was founded in 1906, and legends Don Budge, Helen Wills Moody, Helen Hull Jacobs and Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman once were members. Fellow International Tennis Hall of Famers Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Stan Smith and Arthur Ashe – in addition to King – played in tournaments there.
Second-seeded Sachia Vickery said she wasn't
herself in a 6-3, 6-0 loss to Mayo Hibi. Photo by
Paul Bauman
   The second-seeded Vickery, rebounding from lingering knee and elbow injuries, dropped the last eight games and lost to Hibi, who was born in Japan but has lived in California since she was 2 years old, 6-3, 6-0.
   "I woke up and wasn't really myself," said the 5-foot-4 (1.63-meter) Vickery, 24. "It was just one of those days where I couldn't get anything right. Even in the warmup, I wasn't feeling great. I thought as the match went on it would get better, but it didn't.
   "I haven't played this amount of matches in a row in a while since I have been a little bit injured, so my body was not used to the everyday routine, but she played a good match. Like I said yesterday, she's a tricky opponent to play, especially when you're not 100 percent."
   Still, Brengle and Vickery, playing their second tournament together, defeated Francesca Di Lorenzo from Columbus, Ohio, and Katie Swan of Great Britain 6-3, 7-5 for the doubles title. Both teams were unseeded.
   Brengle, 29, and the 23-year-old Hibi, who has tumbled from a career-high No. 166 in 2016 to No. 302, will meet for the second time. The first was also in the final of a Northern California Challenger as the unseeded Hibi, then 17, shocked the fifth-seeded Brengle, suffering from an intestinal illness, 7-5, 6-0 in Sacramento in July 2013.
   Hibi, who saved nine set points and won the last 12 games of that match, signed a letter of intent that November to attend UCLA but turned pro five months later instead. The Sacramento tournament moved to Berkeley last year.
   Hibi, only 5-foot-5 (1.65 meters) and 121 pounds (55 kilograms), said she's happy with her decision to turn pro but admitted that was not always the case.
   "There was definitely a point of time when I did kind of regret it," she said. "In your career, you have ups and downs. After I turned pro, all the pressure came to me. I was worrying about every single thing – money, I need a coach ...
   "College had been an (option) – if I don't do well enough, I can go to college. Now, I didn't have that anymore. I had so much more responsibility, so much more pressure that sometimes I wish I (had) gone to college.
   "Now I feel different. I feel those experiences also helped me and will help me in the future."
   The Bay Area is a second or third home for Hibi, whose father, Soichi, is a tennis fanatic and sales manager for a branch of a Japanese music company. She lived with her parents in Foster City, near San Francisco International Airport, from age 2 to 4, and her 19-year-old brother, Leo, was born in San Francisco. He is helping Mayo at the Berkeley tournament.
   The Hibis moved from Foster City to the Los Angeles area, first to Rancho Palos Verdes for two or three years and then to Irvine, where they still reside.
   Here are the Berkeley singles and doubles draws.

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