Friday, July 19, 2019

Ahn survives battle to reach $60K Berkeley semis

Sixth-seeded Kristie Ahn, a 27-year-old Stanford graduate, won
 a fierce baseline battle against unseeded Arina Rodionova, a 29-
year-old Australian from Russia. Photo by Paul Bauman
   BERKELEY, Calif. – The first meeting between Kristie Ahn and Arina Rodionova was memorable.
   Point after point, the veterans traded blistering groundstrokes and made amazing gets on another warm, sunny day at the venerable Berkeley Tennis Club.
   Set after set, Ahn took a lead only for Rodionova to fight back.
   Ahn, a 27-year-old Stanford graduate, finally prevailed 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in 2 hours, 13 minutes today in the quarterfinals of the $60,000 Berkeley Tennis Club Women's Challenge.
   Ahn led 3-0 in the third set, but Rodionova, a 29-year-old Australian from Russia, got back on serve at 3-4. Rodionova then played an uncharacteristically loose game to trail 3-5, and Ahn held serve at 15 for the match, ending a string of four consecutive breaks.
   "She's an incredible competitor, and we had so many good points," said the 5-foot-5 (1.65-meter) Ahn, seeded sixth. "I just tried to stay as tough as I could and hang in there."
   The unseeded Rodionova, a chiseled 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters), was coming off a 6-7 (5), 7-6 (6), 6-3 victory over Jovana Jaksic, a Serb living in Sacramento, that lasted 2 hours, 56 minutes.
   "If you know Arina, you know she's one of the fittest players out there," said Ahn, who's ranked No. 180 after reaching a career-high No. 105 in January 2018. "She can do that all day, so I tried to stay aggressive but hang in there as well."
   Ahn, a right-hander, again played with her right arm heavily taped to protect a hyperextended elbow. The arm, she said Wednesday, is "much better than it looks."
Arina Rodionova was coming off a three-set victory over Jovana
Jaksic, a Serb living in Sacramento, that lasted almost three
hours. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Both Ahn and Rodionova qualified for Wimbledon this month and lost in the first round. Rodionova also reached the second round of doubles there with Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine. They lost to eventual runners-up Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Yifan Xu of China.
   Ahn, a resident of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., was named after Kristi Yamaguchi, who won the Olympic gold medal in figure skating in 1992, the year Ahn was born.
   Ahn, who stunned 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round on clay in Bogota in April, will take on good friend and top seed Madison Brengle, a 29-year-old native of Dover, Del., now based in Bradenton, Fla., on Saturday not before 1:30 p.m.
   Brengle, ranked No. 83 after climbing as high as No. 35 in 2005, beat unseeded Gail Brodsky, a 28-year-old mother of two who grew up in Brooklyn, 6-0 6-4 in 55 minutes. They embraced after their meeting since 2012.
   "We talked about it," Brengle said. "It's been a long time, but we've known each other for so long (since Brengle was 10 or 11), and we're very good friends."
   Brodsky quit tennis in 2012 because of burnout and returned last year.
   Brengle is 2-0 against Ahn. But their first meeting was nine years ago, and Ahn retired from the second one with Brengle leading 6-4, 1-0 in the final of a $60,000 tournament in Landisville, Pa., last August. Ahn vomited on the court in the heat and humidity.
   "(Brengle) has an incredible tennis IQ," Ahn said. "She knows exactly how to play the game and how to play to her strengths. She can read the ball really well."
Second-seeded Sachia Vickery, who beat unseeded
Caroline Dolehide 6-3, 7-5, is the only semifinalist
who hasn't lost a set this week. Photo by Paul Bauman
   But Brengle has a soft, stiff-armed serve because of what she says is incurable hand and arm pain caused by a reaction to an anti-doping blood test at the 2016 U.S. Open. She sued the Women's Tennis Association and International Tennis Federation in April 2018. The WTA and ITF have not publicly commented on the case.
   "Everyone says, 'Oh, attack the serve,' but it's really tricky," Ahn said. "She defends so well, so if you go for too much, you miss. If you don't go for enough, she's right back on you."
   In Saturday's other semifinal, second-seeded Sachia (pronounced SAH-shuh) Vickery, 24, of Miramar, Fla., will face unseeded Mayo Hibi, 23, of Japan at 11 a.m.
   Vickery, only 5-foot-4 (1.63 meters), eliminated unseeded but powerful Caroline Dolehide, a 20-year-old native of Hinsdale, Ill., 6-3, 7-5.
   Hibi, a resident of Irvine in the Los Angeles region, topped fifth-seeded Na-Lae Han, a 27-year-old left-hander from South Korea, 7-5, 6-4 in a matchup of players with an unusual stroke. Hibi has a one-handed backhand, and Han possesses a two-handed forehand.
   Both Vickery, ranked No. 163, and Dolehide, ranked No. 256, have struggled this year after emerging in 2018.
   Vickery reached a career-high No. 73 last July but suffered tears in her knees late last year, came back too soon and hurt her elbow last month.
   "I wasn't even supposed to play this week," said Vickery, the only semifinalist who hasn't lost a set this week. "I was supposed to be doing another week of rehab."
   Dolehide, 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters), has plunged from a career-high No. 102 last July to No. 256 but reached the singles semifinals and doubles final in a $60,000 tournament in Honolulu last week.
Last year at age 19, Caroline Dolehide played in the main
draw of three Grand Slam tournaments, reaching the sec-
ond round of the French Open, and almost upset Simona
Halep at Indian Wells. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Last year, Dolehide played in the main draw of three Grand Slam tournaments, reaching the second round of the French Open as a qualifier, and advanced to the third round at Indian Wells, coming within a tiebreaker of beating Simona Halep, then ranked No. 1.
   Vickery and Hibi, ranked No. 302 after climbing as high as No. 166 in 2016, have split four career matches. They will meet for the third time this year and second time in five weeks.
   Vickery beat Hibi  6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in the first round of a $100,000 tournament in Manchester, England, last month and 6-3, 6-4 in the opening round of a $25,000 hard-court tourney in the San Diego suburb of Rancho Santa Fe in February.
   Vickery described the 5-foot-5 (1.65-meter) Hibi's game as "frustrating. She makes you work for everything. She doesn't play like anyone else on tour. Her ball is very flat and skiddy. She has kind of an underspin with a continental grip, so the ball comes very differently. She serves-and-volleys, and she chips-and-charges. She has very good hands, so that's something you don't see very often.
   "Playing her on grass is probably anyone's worst nightmare because her game is so suited to it. But I think here with the bouncier courts, I may have a little more time to take her shots. Her balls won't come through as quickly."
   In Saturday's doubles final, Brengle and Vickery will play Francesca Di Lorenzo from Columbus, Ohio, and Katie Swan of Great Britain in a matchup of unseeded teams.
   Brengle and Vickery crushed unseeded Ahn and Catherine Harrison, from Germantown, Tenn., in the Memphis area, 6-1, 6-0 in 54 minutes.
   Di Lorenzo and Swan edged top-seeded Giuliana Olmos, a product of Fremont in the San Francisco Bay Area who plays for Mexico, and Luisa Stefani of Brazil 6-3, 6-7 (2) [11-9].
   Here are the Berkeley singles and doubles draws and Saturday's schedule. Live streaming is available.

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