Sunday, July 21, 2019

Six years after loss, Brengle beats Hibi for Berkeley title

Madison Brengle rejoices after winning the singles title
in the $60,000 Berkeley Tennis Club Women's Challenge
today. Photo by Paul Bauman
   BERKELEY, Calif. – Madison Brengle scoffed at the notion that she had extra motivation in the final of the $60,000 Berkeley Tennis Club Women's Challenge.
   The top-seeded Brengle beat unseeded Mayo Hibi 7-5, 6-4 today in their second career meeting. The first also was in the final of a Northern California Challenger as the unseeded Hibi, then a 17-year-old amateur, shocked the fifth-seeded Brengle, who was suffering from an intestinal illness, 7-5, 6-0 six years ago in Sacramento. Hibi saved nine set points and won the last 12 games of that match.
   Time for revenge, right? Prove that the result was a fluke. Show the upstart who's boss.
   Nope. Brengle, 29, had to be reminded about Sacramento.
   "That's a blast from the past," marveled Brengle, who also won the singles title in Stockton, 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Berkeley, last October. "I think as a tennis player your memory is maybe a little shorter than that. We always have a tournament the next week. Every time I step on the court, I have plenty of motivation."
   Indeed, whether it's Wimbledon or Berkeley, Brengle has Rafael Nadal-like focus and consistency. She stunned 16th seed and French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova in the first round at the All England Lawn Tennis Club two weeks ago before losing to eventual quarterfinalist Karolina Muchova in the second round.
Madison Brengle and Mayo Hibi have met twice, both times in the
final of a Northern California Challenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Isn't it a letdown to go from the most prestigious tournament in the world to the minor leagues?
   "No," Brengle insisted Wednesday. "Every match I get to play, it's an opportunity to go out and give it my best. I'm very happy to be here.
   "It's my first time playing here, I think. People are saying to me, 'You played (the Girls 18 National) Hardcourts here,' but I don't think I played it when it was here. But it's really nice."
   Brengle, a 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter) native of Dover, Del., now based in Bradenton, Fla., will improve five places in the world rankings to No. 78 on Monday. She earned $9,119 in singles and collected $1,672 for winning the doubles crown Saturday with Sachia (pronounced SAH-shuh) Vickery of Miramar, Fla.
   Brengle climbed to a career-high No. 35 in singles in 2015, but she has a soft, stiff-armed serve because of what she says is incurable hand and arm pain from 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.
   Hibi, a longtime resident of Irvine in the Los Angeles area who plays for her native Japan, will jump 30 spots to No. 272. She pocketed $4,863 in singles and did not play doubles.
Madison Brengle "gets every ball back," Mayo Hibi said.
"It's very tough to finish the point against her ... " Photo
by Paul Bauman
   Brengle faced only one player ranked in the top 300 during the week – No. 180 Kristie Ahn, a Stanford graduate, in the semifinals –  but barely survived in the second round against 18-year-old qualifier Alycia Parks of Port St. Lucie, Fla. Brengle prevailed 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, saving eight break points to avoid trailing by two service breaks at 0-3 in the second set.
   Brengle showed her mental toughness again in the final, winning the last four games of the first set and final three games of the second set. The match featured many long, entertaining rallies.
   "It was a very physical match with a lot of running," Brengle said. "She has such good control of the ball, so I just kept trying to fight and work the point and be aggressive when I could. She's very tough, and it was a difficult match to play, so I'm happy to get through it."
   Hibi, who reached a career-high No. 166 in 2016, relied on her trademark slice backhand throughout the match and tried to disrupt Brengle's timing with forehand moonballs in the first set.
   "I thought that was working until 5-3," said Hibi, formerly coached by 1983 Wimbledon runner-up Chris Lewis from New Zealand and 1990 NCAA singles champion Debbie Graham from Stanford. "Then I felt like she started to adjust to that. She didn't take any risks on those high balls. I just didn't have a second option."
Defensive-minded Mayo Hibi said she needed to
be more aggressive against Madison Brengle.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   The defensive-minded Hibi, only 5-foot-5 (1.65 meters) and 120 pounds (55 kilograms), added that she needed to be more aggressive against Brengle.
   "It's a balance of cutting the unforced errors but also taking risks and putting pressure (on opponents)," Hibi said. "I think it's going to be really important in the future for my game. You can't just have the one or the other.
   "I wasn't taking enough risks from the beginning. I wasn't putting too much pressure on her, like coming to the net, just giving her a message that, you know, I can go for it if I want to. I couldn't do that today.
   "But she gets every ball back. It's very tough to finish the point against her, but I feel like to get to a higher level I need to be able to do that."
   Here are the complete Berkeley singles and doubles draws.

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