Saturday, August 31, 2019

Stanford grad Ahn advances to last 16 in U.S. Open

Kristie Ahn, playing in Berkeley, Calif., last month, had never won
a main-draw match in a Grand Slam tournament before this week.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Kristie Ahn jumped for joy, put her head in her hands, sobbed and covered her face with a towel.
   The 27-year-old Stanford graduate, who had never won a main-draw match in a Grand Slam tournament before this week, defeated 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 7-5 to reach the round of 16 in the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   "Obviously, it's always going to be a tough battle with her," Ahn, who also beat the top-seeded Ostapenko in the first round on clay in Bogota in April, said on usopen.org. "I'm just really proud of how I was able to stay mentally focused and not let nerves get the best of me. She's come back from pretty much every score possible probably, so I was really keen on getting the first match point done."
   Ahn, who lives a 30-minute drive from Flushing Meadows in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., had more tape on her body than a mummy during the match. Both her right (playing) arm and left knee were wrapped to protect hyperextensions.
   Ahn overcame a long history of injuries to win the clinching match in Stanford's 4-3 victory over Texas A&M in the 2013 NCAA final in Urbana, Ill.
   The 5-foot-5 (1.65-meter) Ahn became the first winner of the U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge to advance to the fourth round in the eight-year history of the competition. She is set to face 25th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium on Monday. Mertens, 23, dispatched former top-10 player Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-3, 6-3.
   Ahn, who has a long history of injuries, shocked Mertens, a semifinalist in the 2018 Australian Open, 6-3, 6-3 in the second round of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose last month as a qualifier in their only previous meeting. It was the first hard-court match after Wimbledon for Mertens, who had received a first-round bye in San Jose.
   Even if Ahn loses on Monday, she will crack the top 100 in the world for the first time, soaring from No. 141 to No. 93, and add $280,000 to her career earnings of $548,241.
   In an anticlimactic match, top-ranked Naomi Osaka, the defending champion, routed 15-year-old phenom Coco Gauff, a wild card from Delray Beach, Fla., 6-3, 6-0.
   No U.S. man reached the singles round of 16.
   Americans John Isner, seeded 14th, and unseeded Tennys Sandgren lost to 22nd-seeded Marin Cilic, who won the U.S. Open five years ago, and 20th-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, respectively. The 6-foot-10 (2.08-meter) Isner slugged 40 aces.

Aptos runner-up Koepfer gains last 16 in U.S. Open

Dominik Koepfer, shown in Aptos, Calif., three weeks ago,
had never played in a Grand Slam tournament, even in
qualifying, before this year. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Qualifier Dominik Koepfer, who has reached the final of a Northern California Challenger in each of the past two years, surprised 17th-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-1 on Friday to reach the round of 16 in the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Koepfer, a 25-year-old German left-hander, graduated from Tulane in New Orleans in 2016 and lives in Tampa, Fla. He had never played in a Grand Slam tournament, even in qualifying, before this year. Koepfer, 5-foot-11 (1.80 meters), lost in the second round of qualifying in the Australian Open and French Open and reached the second round of the main draw at Wimbledon as a wild card.
   Koepfer, the runner-up in Aptos three weeks ago and San Francisco in 2018, is scheduled to play fifth-seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia on Sunday. Medvedev, 6-foot-6 (1.98 meters), topped Feliciano Lopez, a 37-year-old left-hander from Spain, 7-6 (1), 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4 in 3 hours, 19 minutes.
   In Medvedev's three other tournaments since Wimbledon, he reached the finals in Washington, D.C., and Montreal and won his first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati.
   Even if Koepfer loses, he will catapult 34 places to a career-high No. 84 after the U.S. Open and pocket $280,000, almost doubling his career earnings of $332,732.
   Top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who won his third U.S. Open title last year, and 38-year-old Roger Federer, the third seed and a five-time champion in Flushing Meadows, won in straight sets.
   Djokovic, who was hampered by a left shoulder injury against Juan Ignacio Londero on Wednesday night, said in an on-court interview that he played "almost pain-free."
   Eighth-seeded Serena Williams, a 37-year-old part-time resident of Silicon Valley, dismissed Karolina Muchova, 23, of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-2. Muchova reached the quarterfinals in her Wimbledon main-draw debut last month.
   Williams, who needs one more Grand Slam singles title to tie Margaret Court's record of 24, will meet 22nd-seeded Petra Martic of Croatia for the first time on Sunday.
   Martic, 28, eliminated 12th-seeded Anastasija Sevastova, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year and quarterfinalist in 2016 and 2017, 6-4, 6-3.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Townsend takes out Wimbledon champ Halep

   For the fourth consecutive match, Taylor Townsend won after dropping the first set.
   This one, however, was special.
   The 23-year-old qualifier from Atlanta knocked off fourth-seeded Simona Halep, the reigning Wimbledon champion, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) today in the second round of the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   "It's been a really long journey," the 116th-ranked Townsend, a left-hander who played for the now-defunct Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis at 17 in 2013, told reporters. "You flood with emotions of the things you've been through – positive, negative ... 
   "It's just confirmation more for myself that I'm on the right path, doing the right things. You keep your head down and keep working, and you see what happens."
   Townsend, who had never won more than four games in a set in three career matches against Halep, is scheduled to play another Romanian, unseeded Sorana Cirstea, on Saturday. The 29-year-old Cirstea, ranked 106th after reaching a career-high No. 21 in 2013, defeated Aliona Bolsova of Spain 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
   Wild card Kristie Ahn, a 27-year-old Stanford graduate, needed eight match points to defeat Russia's Anna Kalinskaya, a 20-year-old qualifier, 6-2, 6-3. Kalinskaya ousted 11th-seeded Sloane Stephens, the U.S. Open champion two years ago, on Tuesday.
   Ahn, who lives a 30-minute drive from Flushing Meadows in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., set up a rematch against unseeded Jelena Ostapenko, who won the 2017 French Open two days after turning 20 and last year became the first Latvian woman to reach the Wimbledon semifinals.
   Ahn shocked the top-seeded Ostapenko 2-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5 in the first round on clay at Bogota in April in their only other career meeting.
   Coco Gauff, a 15-year-old U.S. sensation, outlasted Timea Babos, ranked No. 112 in singles and No. 3 (formerly No. 1) in doubles, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 to become the youngest player to reach the third round of the U.S. Open since Anna Kournikova, also 15, in 1996.
   Gauff will meet top seed and defending champion Naomi Osaka, who eliminated Magda Linette of Poland 6-2, 6-4 in a blockbuster match on Saturday.
    Jenson Brooksby, an 18-year-old qualifier from Carmichael in the Sacramento area, lost to 17th-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-2 in 3 hours, 4 minutes.
   Brooksby, who will jump from No. 394 to No. 271 after the U.S. Open, led 4-0 in the second set and served for it at 5-4. He plans to enroll at Baylor in January but could turn pro instead.
   Basilashvili trained with Dmitry Tursunov, now the coach of 13th-ranked Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, at the Gorin Tennis Academy in the Sacramento suburb of Granite Bay.
   Tim Smyczek, 31, ended his career with a first-round doubles loss. In a matchup of U.S. wild-card teams, Martin Damm, 15, and Toby Kodat, 16, defeated Mitchell Krueger and Smyczek 7-6 (6), 7-5.
   In other opening-round men's doubles matches:
   –Luke Bambridge of Great Britain and Ben McLachlan (Cal, 2011-14) edged Americans Thai-Son Kwaitkowski and Noah Rubin 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4).
   –No. 10 seeds Rajeev Ram of Carmel, Ind., and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain beat unseeded Ryan Harrison and Sam Querrey, a 31-year-old San Francisco native, 6-4, 6-2.
   In the first round of mixed doubles, Raquel Atawo (Cal, 2001-04) of San Jose and Fabrice Martin of France nipped seventh-seeded Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany and Oliver Marach of Austria 2-6, 6-4 [10-8].
   Here are the U.S. Open men's singles, women's singles, men's doubles, women's doubles and mixed doubles draws and Friday's schedule.

Serena rallies to beat McNally, 17, in U.S. Open

Serena Williams, shown at Indian Wells in March, defeated Catherine McNally
5-7, 6-3, 6-1 in the second round of the U.S. Open. Photo by Harjanto Sumali
   Serena Williams won the first of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles 20 years ago in the U.S. Open.
   That was two years before Catherine McNally was born.
   The eighth-seeded Williams, a 37-year-old part-time resident of Silicon Valley, beat McNally, a 17-year-old wild card from Cincinnati, 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 Wednesday night in the second round of the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Only 10 matches, all in covered Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium, were completed because of rain. Sunny weather with highs of 82 degrees (27.8 Celsius) and 85 (29.4) is forecast for today and Friday, respectively.
   McNally, ranked No. 121, showed promise and poise in the late match in 23,771-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium, the biggest tennis facility in the world.
   Williams, who's still trying to equal Margaret Court's record of 24 major singles crowns, will meet either 29th-seeded Hsieh Su-Wei, 33, of Chinese Taipei or Karolina Muchova, 23, of the Czech Republic.
   Hseih stunned top-ranked Simona Halep in the second round at Wimbledon last year, and Muchova reached the quarterfinals in her main-draw debut there last month.
   Seventh-seeded Kei Nishikori, the U.S. Open runner-up to Marin Cilic five years ago, outplayed left-hander Bradley Klahn, a 29-year-old Stanford graduate, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
    Top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who won his third U.S. Open singles title last year, overcame a left-shoulder injury to defeat Juan Ignacio Londero of Argentina 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-1.
   Third seed and five-time champion Roger Federer, 38, beat Damir Dzumhur, a quarterfinalist in the $81,240 Aptos (Calif.) Challenger as the top seed last month, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
   Also, German left-hander Dominic Koepfer, the runner-up to Steve Johnson in Aptos, defeated 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Reilly Opelka, a 22-year-old American, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (2).

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Stephens loses to qualifier in U.S. Open

No. 11 seed Sloane Stephens, who grew up in Fresno, lost to Anna Kalinskaya,
a qualifier ranked 127th, 6-3, 6-4 tonight in the first round of the U.S. Open.
Stephens won the title two years ago. 2016 photo by Mal Taam 
   Even for erratic Sloane Stephens, this was a stunning loss.
   The 11th-seeded Stephens, who grew up in Fresno, fell to Anna Kalinskaya, a 20-year-old Russian qualifier ranked 127th, 6-3, 6-4 tonight in the first round of the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Stephens, who committed 33 unforced errors to Kalinskaya's 15, has dropped five of her last six matches. In addition, she lost in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament for the third time since winning the U.S. Open two years ago.
   Kalinskaya is scheduled to meet Kristie Ahn, a 27-year-old Stanford graduate, on Thursday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
   Ahn, who lives a 30-minute drive away in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., and practices at the site of the U.S. Open, beat 34-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova, the champion 15 years ago, 7-5, 6-2.
   Both Kalinskaya and the 141st-ranked Ahn, who's playing in the main draw of the U.S. Open for the first time in 11 years, earned their first Grand Slam victories.
   This year, Ahn also:
   –Saved two match points in a victory over top-seeded Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, in the first round on clay in Bogota.
   –Played in the main draw at Wimbledon for the first time, losing in the first round as a qualifier.
   –Reached the semifinals of the $60,000 Berkeley Challenger.
   –And earned her first win over a top-20 player, No. 20 Elise Mertens, in San Jose to reach her second WTA quarterfinal.
   Ahn's friend and former Stanford teammate, lucky loser Nicole Gibbs, lost to fourth-seeded Simona Halep, the reigning Wimbledon champion, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.
   Gibbs was playing in her fourth tournament since undergoing surgery for a rare cancer in the roof of her mouth on May 17 in Los Angeles.
   Halep, a U.S. Open semifinalist in 2015 and quarterfinalist in 2016, ended a streak of two first-round losses in Flushing Meadows.
   Fifteenth-seeded Bianca Andreescu, 19, of Canada outplayed Katie Volynets, 17, of Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area 6-2, 6-4.
   Volynets received an automatic wild card for winning the USTA Girls 18 National Championships in San Diego and made her Grand Slam women's main-draw debut.
   An even younger teenager, 15-year-old phenom Coco Gauff of Delray Beach, Fla., defeated Anastasia Potopova, 18, of Russia, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. Last month, Gauff became the youngest player to reach the round of 16 at Wimbledon since Jennifer Capriati in 1991.
   Four top-10 men's seeds, all in the bottom half of the draw, lost today. Exiting were No. 4 Dominic Thiem, No. 8 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 9 Karen Khachanov and No. 10 Roberto Bautista Agut.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Brooksby, 18, shocks Berdych for first tour-level win

Jenson Brooksby, an 18-year-old qualifier from the Sacramento
area, beat Tomas Berdych, formerly ranked No. 4, today in the
first round of the U.S. Open. 2018 photo by Paul Bauman
   Jenson Brooksby said last December that he "definitely" would play at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, for at least one season.
   Now he's not so sure.
   The 18-year-old qualifier from the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael shocked 33-year-old Tomas Berdych, who reached a career-high No. 4 in 2015, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 today in the first round of the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Berdych, the Wimbledon runner-up in 2010 and a U.S. Open semifinalist in 2012, has missed most of the last 14 months because of a back injury and fallen to No. 98. He has earned almost $30 million in prize money.
   Brooksby recorded his first tour-level win and victory over a top-100 player. He also became only the second qualifying wild card to win a men's main-draw match in the U.S. Open, joining Bradley Klahn. The Stanford graduate accomplished the feat in 2012.
   "I haven't decided whether I'm still going to college or not; it's still up in the air," Brooksby, who won the 2018 USTA Boys 18 National Championships to earn an automatic wild card in the U.S. Open and lost to John Millman in the opening round, told reporters. "I'll see where the rest of the tournament ends up, and also where my ranking is in the next two months. The more I win here, the more likely it could go in the other direction."
   Brooksby will soar from No. 394 to at least No. 268 after the U.S. Open. He is scheduled to face a top-20 player for the first time, Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, in the second round on Wednesday.
   Basilashvili, seeded 17th and ranked 18th, outlasted Marton Fuksovics of Hungary 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in three hours, 41 minutes.
   Unless Brooksby turns pro, he will forgo at least $100,000 for reaching the second round of the U.S. Open. On the other hand, a full scholarship at Baylor is worth $63,000 a year.
   "Yeah, it's definitely financial because I would get four years of free college if I went just for one semester compared with the money I earn here," said Brooksby, whose father, Glen, is an anesthesiologist. "You've got to figure all that out."
   Klahn dismissed Thiago Monteiro of Brazil 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 in a one-hour, 47-minute matchup of left-handers. The 108th-ranked Klahn will take on seventh-seeded Kei Nishikori in a clash of 29-year-olds. Nishikori, the runner-up to Marin Cilic in the 2014 U.S. Open, beat Marco Trungelliti of Argentina 6-1, 4-1, retired.
   Sam Querrey lost in the first round of the U.S. Open for the fourth time in five years. The 31-year-old San Francisco native, a quarterfinalist in Flushing Meadows two years ago, fell to Juan Ignacio Londero of Argentina 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (3), 7-5. Londero, 26, made his U.S. Open main-draw debut.
   Eighth-seeded Serena Williams, playing in Arthur Ashe Stadium for the first time since her tumultuous loss to Naomi Osaka in last year's final, crushed Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-1 in 59 minutes.
   Williams, a 37-year-old part-time resident of Silicon Valley, improved to 20-2 with a 19-match winning streak against Sharapova, 32, in a matchup of former world No. 1s. They are among six women to achieve a career Grand Slams in the Open era, with Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Smyczek, a consummate professional, to retire at 31

Diminutive Tim Smyczek, playing in the 2016 Fairfield (Calif.)
 Challenger, reached a career-high No. 68 in 2015. He is best
known for his sportsmanship during a five-set loss to Rafael
Nadal in the Australian Open that year. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Tim Smyczek attained a career-high ranking of No. 68 in the world in 2015.
   That's nothing to scoff at, especially for someone 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters) and 160 pounds (73 kilograms).
   But in terms of class and professionalism, Smyczek was top-10 material.
   The 31-year-old Dallas resident plans to retire after playing doubles in the U.S. Open, which begins Monday.
   "I went into this year knowing it would be my last," Smyczek (pronounced SMEE-check), who starred in Northern California tournaments, said in a podcast on Aug. 15. " ... When I got married (to Ana Pier on Nov. 21, 2015), it became a little harder for me to travel. Then when we had a daughter (Valentina, on Aug. 16, 2018), it became exponentially harder for me to travel. My wife and daughter have traveled with me a little bit, but it's a tough life for both me and them.
   "I knew it was time, and I also know I want to have a career outside of tennis. I'm 31 years old, and at some point, you're just kind of delaying the inevitable. I figured this fall was as good a time as any."
   Sick of traveling and wanting to be "intellectually challenged," Smyczek said he will begin a two-year Master of Business Administration program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He has not attended college but said an undergraduate degree is not required.
   Smyczek, who missed almost three months in the spring with an injury, has plunged to No. 310. He earned $2,059,479 in career prize money and compiled victories over 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Ivo Karlovic, 6-foot-10 (2.08-meter) John Isner and 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Sam Querrey.
   Smyczek's earnings, though significant, are deceptively high because of traveling and coaching expenses. By comparison, the U.S. Open men's and women's singles champions each will pocket $3.85 million. Each runner-up will collect $1.9 million.
   Smyczek – who grew up in frigid Milwaukee, of all places – is best remembered for his sportsmanship late in a five-set loss to Rafael Nadal in the second round of the 2015 Australian Open.
   With Nadal, suffering from nausea and dizziness, serving at 6-5, 30-0, in the fifth set, a fan yelled as the Spaniard tossed the ball on his first delivery, distracting him. The serve sailed long, but Smyczek allowed Nadal to take another first serve.
   "I'll always remember that (match)," Smyczek said on the podcast. "A couple of months later in Miami, I was a huge nerd and got ahold of a photo of us shaking hands after the match, and I asked Rafa to sign it. I'll put that up in my office someday."
   Smyczek also reached the third round of the 2013 U.S. Open as the last remaining American man, the semifinals on grass in Newport, R.I., on the ATP World Tour in 2018 and three ATP quarterfinals. One of those quarterfinal appearances came in San Jose in 2011 as a qualifier.
   In Northern California Challengers, Smyczek won the Tiburon singles title in 2015 and was the runner-up twice in singles (2013 Sacramento and 2014 Napa) and twice in doubles (2013 and 2014 Napa). Overall, he won seven singles and two doubles titles on the Challenger tour, all in the United States.
   Because of his size, Smyczek had to train extra hard. He wasn't going to blow anyone off the court with his serve, so he had to be prepared to play long points.
    Smyczek, though, wasn't always so professional.
   "In 2008, I had been on the tour for two or three years," Smyczek recalled. "Craig Boynton, who's still out there coaching, has been a bit of a mentor to me and one of my dear friends. He sat me down at a Challenger somewhere and said, 'What are your goals for tennis?' I told him, and he looked at me and said, 'Do you really think you're doing enough to get there?'
   "I was taken aback a little bit. When I was a young pro, I wasn't the most professional. I was the first one to go out and have a few beers after I lost and do that until I played the next week.
   "I just had a little bit of an 'aha' moment with him and had to come to terms with the fact that if I wanted to reach my goals, the only way I was going to have a chance was to work harder than most. Ever since that point, I can rest easy that I worked as hard as possible. That's probably what made it possible for me to have a 12-, 13-year career."
   Following up on Smyczek's goals, podcast moderator and New York Times reporter Ben Rothenberg noted that juniors invariably aspire to win Grand Slam titles.
   "Very early in my professional career, I kind of forgot about winning Slams," Smyczek replied with a laugh. "Goals are supposed to be realistic. I always wanted to be top 30. I didn't quite get there, but there were a few times when I was actually quite close. Maybe not numerically, but around those times, I might have lost five or six times in a year where I either served for the match or had match points.
   "That was one (goal). I had some monetary goals as well. Those are kind of what get you up in the morning, right? If I set a goal and said I wanted to be top 100, and I reached it and didn't set a new one, I probably would have retired shortly thereafter."
   Smyczek was all business on the court – staying composed and rarely, if ever, arguing with officials –  and thoughtful off it. He was generous with his time with reporters and wrote thank-you notes to host families on personalized stationery.
   Smyczek expressed mixed feelings about having played professional tennis.
   "I don't want to insult people who love tennis and tennis is their life, (but) it hasn't been that way for me," Smyczek said. "I've always loved competing, just kind of suffering on court and embracing the battle of tennis. The actual tennis part has always seemed less important to me.
   "That's probably a function of me being not as talented as a lot of other guys. You can tell that Roger (Federer) just loves tennis, and I would, too, if I could do what he can. ... "
   Similarly, Smyczek conceded that retirement will be bittersweet.
   "I'm sure I will end up being sad at some point," he said. "I don't know whether that will be a few weeks from now or a few months from now. I know that's coming, but right now I'm really excited to get going with school, get off the road and be around every day with my wife and daughter. I couldn't be happier."

Friday, August 23, 2019

Brooksby, Gibbs advance to main draw in U.S. Open

Jenson Brooksby, 18, of Carmichael in the Sacramento area qualified for
the U.S. Open after receiving a wild card last year in Flushing Meadows
as the USTA boys 18 national champion. 2018 photo by Paul Bauman
   Jenson Brooksby received a main-draw berth in last year's U.S. Open by defeating fellow juniors.
   The 18-year-old Sacramento-area resident earned a spot this year by beating the big boys.
   Brooksby, a wild card from Carmichael, topped unseeded Pedro Martinez, 22, of Spain 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 today in the final round of qualifying in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Also, 24th-seeded Nicole Gibbs (Stanford, 2011-13) lost to 33-year-old Peng Shuai of China 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 but advanced to the main draw as a lucky loser.
   Gibbs is playing in her fourth tournament since undergoing surgery for a rare cancer in the roof of her mouth on May 17 in Los Angeles. She reached the final of the $60,000 Honolulu Challenger, lost in the first round of qualifying in Toronto on the WTA tour and fell in the opening round of the $100,000 Vancouver Challenger.
   Martinez, ranked No. 152, was the second top-200 player Brooksby, ranked No. 393, has beaten in three days and third overall. Brooksby knocked off No. 134 Yuichi Sugita of Japan on Thursday and No. 163 Marc Polmans of Australia on clay in April.
   Brooksby is scheduled to face unseeded Tomas Berdych, a 33-year-old Czech who has been sidelined with a back injury for most of the past 14 months, on Monday. The 2010 Wimbledon runner-up has tumbled from a career-high No. 4 in 2015 to No. 101.
   Brooksby won the USTA Boys 18 National Championships last year in Kalamazoo, Mich., to earn an automatic wild card in the U.S. Open. He lost to John Millman of Australia 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 in the first round in sweltering weather but advanced to the boys semifinals in the last junior tournament of his career. Millman went on to stun five-time champion Roger Federer to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
   Brooksby, who plans to enroll at Baylor in January, could have entered Kalamazoo again this year but told reporters he felt he "was ready to qualify" in the U.S. Open.
   Men's qualifiers also included Dominik Koepfer of Germany and Egor Gerasimov of Belarus. They reached the final and semifinals, respectively, in the $81,240 Aptos (Calif.) Challenger two weeks ago.
   Koepfer, a 25-year-old left-hander who graduated from Tulane in New Orleans, will meet Jaume Munar of Spain. Gerasimov, 26, will play South Africa's Lloyd Harris, last year's champion in the $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger and runner-up in Aptos.
   Peng, formerly ranked No. 14 in singles and No. 1 in doubles, began cramping in both legs while leading 5-1 in the third set against Gibbs. During a semifinal loss to Caroline Wozniacki in the 2014 U.S. Open, Peng suffered full-body cramps and left the court in a wheelchair.
   Gibbs, a 26-year-old resident of Venice in the Los Angeles area, will make her eighth consecutive appearance in the main draw of the U.S. Open. She reached the third round five years ago.
   Gibbs will face fourth-seeded Simona Halep, the reigning Wimbledon champion, for the second time. Halep won 6-4, 6-1 in the first round en route to the title in Shenzhen, China, during the first week of 2018.
   Halep has lost in the first round of the U.S. Open for the past two years after having reached the quarterfinals in 2016 and semifinals in 2015.
   Here are the U.S. Open men's and women's singles draws and Monday's schedule. ESPN and ESPN2 will televise the tournament beginning Monday at 9 a.m. PDT.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Serena, Sharapova to meet in first round of U.S. Open

Serena Williams, shown last year, is scheduled to play Maria Sharapova in the
U.S. Open for the first time. Photo by Mal Taam
   Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have met in four Grand Slam singles finals, with Williams winning three.
   Not only will the former world No. 1s and U.S. Open champions square off in the first round in Flushing Meadows, they will face each other there for the first time.
   The draw for the year's last Grand Slam tournament, Monday through Sept. 8, was held today.
   The eighth-seeded Williams, a 37-year-old part-time resident of Silicon Valley, and Sharapova, 32, are among six women to have achieved a career Grand Slam in the Open era (since 1968), joining Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf. 
   However, Williams has dropped to eighth in the world and Sharapova to 87th. Williams had her first child in September 2017, Sharapova returned from a 15-month doping ban in April 2017, and both have been hampered by physical problems. Williams retired from the Toronto final two weeks ago with an upper-back injury.
Former world No. 1s Maria Sharapova, shown in 2017, and Serena Williams
 have struggled in recent years. Photo by Mal Taam 
   Williams, who won the last of her six U.S. Open singles titles five years ago, is 19-2 against Sharapova, the 2006 champion at Flushing Meadows. Not counting Williams' injury withdrawal in the fourth round of last year's French Open, she owns an 18-match winning streak in the head-to-head series.
   Fresno product Sloane Stephens, the 11th seed and 2017 U.S. Open champion, will play a qualifier in the first round. The winner will meet either 34-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion and runner-up last week in Cincinnati, or wild card Kristie Ahn, a 27-year-old Stanford graduate.
   Katie Volynets, a 17-year-old wild card from Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area, will make her Grand Slam women's debut against 15th-seeded Bianca Andreescu, a 19-year-old who became the first Canadian woman to win the Rogers Cup in Toronto in 50 years.
   In the men's draw, San Francisco native Sam Querrey, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist in 2017, will play Argentina's Juan Ignacio Londero, who reached the fourth round of the French Open in June. The survivor likely will face top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who won his third U.S. Open singles title last year, in the second round. Querrey ousted Djokovic in the third round at Wimbledon in 2016.
   Bradley Klahn, a 28-year-old Stanford graduate who won his first Challenger title in Aptos, Calif., in 2013, will play Thiago Monteiro, 25, of Brazil in a clash of left-handers. The winner probably will face seventh-seeded Kei Nishikori, the U.S. Open runner-up five years ago, in the second round. 
   Steve Johnson, who won his second Aptos title two weeks ago, will meet 28th-seeded Nick Kyrgios of Australia. Kyrgios incurred eight fines totaling $113,000 after his second-round loss to Karen Khachanov in Cincinnati last week. Kyrgios was cited for violations including unsportsmanlike conduct, verbal abuse and audible obscenity.
   U.S. Open qualifying – Nicole Gibbs, who played with Ahn on Stanford's 2013 NCAA championship team, advanced to the last round of U.S. Open qualifying by walkover against former Pacific-12 Conference rival Robin Anderson, who starred at UCLA, in a matchup of 26-year-olds.
   Gibbs will seek her eighth consecutive berth in the main draw against 33-year-old Peng Shuai, formerly ranked as high as No. 14 in singles and No. 1 in doubles, from China. They will meet for the first time.
   Fifth-seeded Kirsten Flipkens, a 33-year-old Belgian who reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 2013, trounced Jovana Jaksic, a 25-year-old Serb living in Sacramento, 6-2, 6-0 in 58 minutes.

Brooksby, 18, earns milestone win in Open qualifying

Jenson Brooksby, practicing in Sacramento last
year, defeated Yuichi Sugita, ranked No. 134, on
Wednesday in the second round of U.S. Open
qualifying. Photo by Paul Bauman
   After beating the highest-ranked player of his career on Wednesday, 18-year-old Jenson Brooksby needs one more victory to make his second consecutive main-draw appearance in the U.S. Open.
   Brooksby, a wild card from the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael, eliminated Yuichi Sugita, a 30-year-old Japanese seeded 27th and ranked 134th, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) in the second round of qualifying in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Brooksby, ranked No. 393, recorded his second win over a top-200 player. He beat No. 163 Marc Polmans of Australia in the second round of a $108,320 Challenger on clay in Sarasota, Fla., in April.
   Brooksby won the USTA Boys 18 National Championships last year in Kalamazoo, Mich., to earn an automatic wild card in the U.S. Open. He lost to John Millman of Australia 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 in sweltering heat and humidity in the first round but advanced to the semifinals of the boys event in the last junior tournament of his career. Millman went on to stun five-time champion Roger Federer to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
   "It would mean even more than last year," Brooksby said on usopen.org of qualifying for the U.S. Open. "Qualifying your way into the main draw here is definitely tougher than getting in through Kalamazoo."
   Brooksby is scheduled to play unseeded Pedro Martinez of Spain on Friday. Martinez, ranked No. 152, beat American Tommy Paul, seeded 10th and ranked a career-high 112th, 6-4, 6-4 in a matchup of 22-year-olds.
   Martinez qualified for the French Open this year and lost in the first round to Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland. Laaksonen, who has a Finnish mother and Swiss father, reached the doubles final in the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger last October with Harri Heliovaara of Finland.
    Brooksby has won three ITF singles titles, all this year in $25,000 tournaments. Two came in consecutive weeks this summer in Champaign, Ill., and Decatur, Ill., with the loss of only one set.
   Brooksby plans to enroll at Baylor in Waco, Texas, in January. He will play for coach Brian Boland, who guided Virginia to four NCAA team titles in five years (2013-17) before becoming the USTA's head of men's player development.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Gibbs defeats Aussie in return to Grand Slam play

Ex-Stanford star Nicole Gibbs, playing in Berkeley
last year, won today in the first round of qualifying
at the U.S. Open after undergoing cancer surgery
in May. Photo by Paul Bauman
   No. 24 seed Nicole Gibbs (Stanford, 2011-13) returned to Grand Slam competition today with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Kaylah McPhee of Australia in the first round of qualifying at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   It was Gibbs' first appearance in a major tournament since she fell in the last round of qualifying at the Australian Open in January. She underwent surgery for a rare cancer in the roof of her mouth on May 17 at UCLA.
   Gibbs has played in the main draw of the U.S. Open for the past seven years, reaching the third round in 2014.
   Gibbs is playing in her fourth tournament since the surgery. After advancing to the final of a $60,000 ITF tournament in Honolulu, Gibbs lost in the opening round of qualifying in Toronto on the WTA tour and to a qualifier in the first round of a $100,000 tournament in Vancouver.
   "I've had a tough last couple of competitive weeks, so I think that today was a tough one to get through for me in terms of my confidence," Gibbs, a resident of Venice in the Los Angeles area, said on usopen.org. "Being on the other side of it feels really good, and I think I'll have a lot to build on now."
   Gibbs, 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters), is scheduled to meet former Pacific-12 Conference rival Robin Anderson, a 5-foot-3 (1.61-meter) native of Long Branch, N.J., who starred at UCLA, in a matchup of 26-year-olds on Thursday.
   Anderson, ranked No. 165, is 2-1 against Gibbs, ranked No. 135 after climbing to a career-high No. 68 in 2016, in professional tournaments. This will be their third meeting of the year after they split matches in $100,000 U.S. clay-court tournaments in consecutive weeks last spring.
   Also today, Jovana Jaksic, a 25-year-old Serb living in Sacramento, beat Julia Grabher of Austria 6-2, 6-4.
   Jaksic has tumbled from a career-high No. 102 in 2014 to No. 244 because of injuries. She is set to play fifth-seeded Kirsten Flipkens, 33, of Belgium for the first time on Thursday. Flipkens, a Wimbledon semifinalist in 2013, eliminated Irina Bara of Romania 6-3, 6-4.
   Anisimova withdraws – Amanda Anisimova, a 17-year-old American ranked No. 24, withdrew from the U.S. Open after the death of her father and coach, Konstantin Anisimov.
   In June, Anisimova shocked defending champion Simona Halep to become the youngest American to reach the French Open semifinals since 14-year-old Jennifer Capriati in 1990.
   At 15 in 2017, Anisimova claimed her first professional title in a $60,000 tournament in Sacramento and won the U.S. Open girls singles crown.

Brooksby, 18, advances in U.S. Open qualifying

   Jenson Brooksby, an 18-year-old wild card from Carmichael in the Sacramento area, defeated Kaichi Uchida, 24, of Japan 6-3, 6-2 Monday in the first round of qualifying for the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Brooksby, ranked No. 393, did not face a break point in the 66-minute match against Uchida, ranked No. 256.
   Brooksby, who won last year's USTA Boys 18 National Championships to earn an automatic wild card in the main draw of the U.S. Open, is scheduled to meet another Japanese player, 27th-seeded Yuichi Sugita, on Wednesday. The 30-year-old Sugita, ranked No. 134, beat Marc Polmans of Australia 6-3, 6-4.
   Stefano Napolitano, a 24-year-old Italian, eliminated Sam Riffice, a 20-year-old wild card who grew up in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville, 6-2, 6-4.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Mackie pulls out of Open; Sabalenka avenges S.J. loss

Mackenzie McDonald, who grew up in Piedmont in
the San Francisco Bay Area, had right hamstring
 surgery in June. 2018 photo by Paul Bauman
   Mackenzie McDonald, a 24-year-old product of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, has withdrawn from the U.S. Open after undergoing right hamstring surgery in June.
   McDonald, now based in Orlando, Fla., has been sidelined since losing to Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan in five sets in the first round of the French Open in late May.
   The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter), 160-pound (73-kilogram) McDonald has dropped from a career-high No. 57 on April 29 to No. 97. He is 0-2 in the singles main draw of the U.S. Open.
   Among those receiving wild cards in the women's main draw of the U.S. Open, Aug. 26-Sept. 8 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., are Kristie Ahn, a 27-year-old Stanford graduate from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., and Katie Volynets, 17, of Walnut Creek in the Bay Area.
   Ahn won the U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge, and Volynets received an automatic berth for winning the USTA Girls 18 National Championships in San Diego on Sunday.
   Ahn will make her second appearance in the main draw of the U.S. Open. At 16, she qualified for the 2008 U.S. Open before losing to sixth-seeded Dinara Safina in the first round. Safina was ranked seventh at the time and ascended to No. 1 the following year.
   Wild-card recipients in men's qualifying include Sacramento-area products Jenson Brooksby, 18, and Sam Riffice, 20.
   WTA Tour – Ninth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus beat Zheng Saisai of China 6-4, 6-3 today in the second round of the Western & Southern Open in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason, Ohio.
   The powerful Sabalenka, who's coached by former longtime Northern Californian Dmitry Tursunov, avenged a 6-3, 7-6 (3) loss to the crafty Zheng in the final of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose on Aug. 4.
   ATP Challenger Tour – Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands topped second-seeded Steve Johnson, who won last week's $81,240 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif., 6-4, 6-4 in the second round of the $108,320 Odlum Brown VanOpen in Vancouver, British Columbia.
   Johnson, a 29-year-old resident of Redondo Beach in the Los Angeles area, received a first-round bye.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Johnson wins Aptos again, this time without late father

Top-seeded Steve Johnson beat fourth-seeded Dominik Koepfer 6-4, 7-6 (4)
today to win the $81,240 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif. Johnson
also won the title in 2012, six weeks after he turned pro. Photo by Paul Bauman
   APTOS, Calif. – It was practically another lifetime ago that Stevie Johnson won the Challenger singles title at the Seascape Sports Club for the first time.
   In 2012, he had been a professional for only six weeks after completing one of the most decorated careers in NCAA history at USC.
   Since then, Johnson has risen as high as No. 21 in the world, won four singles titles on the ATP World Tour, compiled a 5-3 record in Davis Cup singles and doubles, won an Olympic bronze medal in doubles and earned almost $6 million in prize money.
Steve Johnson, whose father/mentor died of a heart attack at 58 in 2017, says
a prayer before the final. " ... I don't know if I was meant to be a pro by myself,"
Johnson said. "I love the game of tennis, but sometimes I wish my partner
in crime was with me." Photo by Paul Bauman
   The biggest change, however, is that Johnson's beloved father is no longer with him. Steve Johnson, a tennis coach, died of a heart attack at 58 in May 2017. Three weeks later, Stevie captured the hearts of fans worldwide when he broke down on television after his second-round win in the French Open.
   Stevie has said his father "taught me pretty much everything I know."
   Before and after beating Dominik Koepfer 6-4, 7-6 (4) today to win the $81,240 Nordic Naturals Challenger, Johnson went through his usual rituals. Beforehand, he walked to the back of the court, squatted briefly while facing the wall and said a prayer. Afterward, he crossed himself, gazed at the sky and pumped his fist.
   "I've done that for a long time," Johnson said. "It's just a bit more meaning the last couple of years. He was here when I won in 2012, so I like to look up and see him up there, but that's the way life goes sometimes."
Steve Johnson's lethal forehand helped him beat Dominik
Koepfer in their first career meeting. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Johnson, who wears a cross necklace, has tumbled from No. 33 at the beginning of the year to No. 93. He will rise to No. 79 on Monday.
   "Mentally, it's just been hard to do it week in, week out," said Johnson, 29, of Redondo Beach in the Los Angeles area. "I don't know if I was meant to be a pro by myself. I love the game of tennis, but sometimes I wish my partner in crime was with me."
   The top-seeded Johnson, who didn't lose a set in his five matches during the week, collected $10,800 – pocket change for him – in his first Challenger since March 2018 and second since 2014.
   The fourth-seeded Koepfer, a 25-year-old left-hander from Germany now based in Tampa, Fla., received $6,360 after playing in the singles final of a Northern California Challenger for the second consecutive year. The Tulane graduate lost to Jason Jung, a Los Angeles-area native who plays for Taiwan, 7-6 in the third set indoors in San Francisco in February 2018.
   Johnson and Koepfer met for the first time on a gorgeous, 70-degree (21.1 Celsius) day in the 32-year-old tournament, the longest-running men's Challenger in the United States.
   Johnson, 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters), triumphed with his booming serve, lethal forehand and consistent slice backhand. He pounded 10 aces, committed only one double fault and won 85 percent of the points (29 of 34) on his first serve.
   "I served well when it mattered," Johnson said. "My serve has been an issue all year. This week, it was great on Day 1, not so good on Days 2 and 3, great on Day 4 and good when it needed to be today."
Dominik Koepfer, 25, will rise to a career-high No. 113.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Koepfer, who has surprising power at 5-foot-11 (1.80 meters), had three aces and four double faults and won 68 percent of the points (28 of 41) on his first serve.
   Like everyone, Koepfer targeted Johnson's backhand during rallies.
   "That was the game plan, to approach to his backhand," said Koepfer, who will rise nine spots to a career-high No. 113. "He doesn't have a great two-handed backhand, but it's not a nice ball to hit off his slice. It stays low every time. You've got to be patient. I thought I did a pretty good job with it. It just wasn't enough.
   "He doesn't give you a lot of free points. Obviously, if you hit it to his forehand, he has you on the run. That's the danger playing him."
   Johnson raced to a 3-0 lead (one service break) in the first set against an admittedly nervous Koepfer, who won his first Challenger singles title in June on grass in Ilkey, England, before Koepfer rallied to even the set at 4-4. After Johnson held serve, he broke for the set on a spectacular forehand cross-court passing shot with Koepfer at the net.
   Both players held serve throughout the second set, although Koepfer saved a championship point while serving at 5-6 with an overhead smash.
   Johnson led 4-2 in the tiebreaker, but Koepfer leveled at 4-4 with a cross-court backhand winner after Johnson missed his first serve.
   After Johnson made a tremendous lunging backhand volley winner to lead 5-4, Koepfer sprayed a swinging forehand volley to give Johnson his second championship point. He capitalized with a runaround forehand passing shot set up by – what else? – an inside-out forehand to the opposite corner.
   "At 6-5 (in the third set), I thought I played a pretty bad match point," Johnson said. "I played really passively, didn't try to win. That's kind of the way my year has been.
   "I was thinking about that, so when I got to the 6-4 point (in the tiebreaker), I was playing to win. I was going to try to hit as many forehands as possible and go for it. That's the way I've got to play, and it paid off."
Left to right, top-seeded Marcelo Arevalo and Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela
beat unseeded Max Schnur and Nathan Pasha for the doubles title. Photo by
Paul Bauman
   In the doubles final, top-seeded Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador and Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela of Mexico beat unseeded Nathan Pasha of Atlanta and Max Schnur of New York 5-7, 6-3 [10-8] to share $4,650.
   Pasha and Schnur, who split $2,700, played in the tournament only because third-seeded Leander Paes of India and Max Purcell of Australia withdrew after Paes strained a calf muscle.
   Paes, 46, has won 18 major titles, eight in men's doubles and 10 in mixed doubles with a career Grand Slam in each event.
   Here are the complete Aptos singles and doubles draws.

Volynets wins USTA girls 18s, earns U.S. Open berth

Katie Volynets became the third Northern Californian
to win a USTA 18 national singles title in six years.
Photo courtesy of JFS Communications
   Katie Volynets is headed to the U.S. Open.
   The 17-year-old resident of Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area, seeded second, beat third-seeded Emma Navarro of Charleston, S.C., 6-2, 6-4 today to win the USTA Billie Jean King Girls 18 National Championships in San Diego.
   Volynets, a Walnut Creek native whose parents are Ukrainian, received an automatic wild card in the women's main draw of the U.S. Open, Aug. 26-Sept. 8 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   She became the third Northern Californian to win a USTA 18 national singles title in six years, joining Collin Altamirano (2013) and Jenson Brooksby (2018). All train under Joseph Gilbert at the Arden Hills Club & Spa in Sacramento.
   Volynets bolted to a 4-0 lead against Navarro.
   "The key was starting really well and maintaining the level of play like I wanted to," Volynets said in a news release. "I was really energetic and focused on court and pumped myself up constantly.
   "After I won match point, I had a surge of energy and joy. It means so much to me, and I'm excited to go play (the U.S. Open). I've been working on this for a long time."
   Meanwhile, Sacramento-area product Aidan Mayo lost a heartbreaker in the final of the USTA Boys 16 National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich.
   Top-seeded Alexander Bernard of Bonita Springs, Fla., outlasted the fourth-seeded Mayo, who now lives in the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5. Mayo had a match point at 5-3 in the third set.
   Hugo Hashimoto of San Jose won the boys 16 doubles title with Benjamin Kittay of Potomac, Md. Seeded seventh, they beat 11th-seeded Lucas Brown of Plano, Texas, and Aiden Kim of Chantilly, Va., 6-4, 6-3.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Johnson back in Aptos final; Koepfer ends foe's streak

Steve Johnson has dropped from a career-high No. 21
in 2016 to No. 93, but he said that's deceiving. Photo
by Paul Bauman
   APTOS, Calif. – What today's Nordic Naturals Challenger semifinals lacked in drama, they made up for with significance.
   Steve Johnson returned to the final at the Seascape Sports Club after seven years, and Dominik Koepfer ended Ernesto Escobedo's winning streak at 10 matches.
   As fog rolled in from the nearby Pacific Ocean, the fourth-seeded Koepfer beat the unseeded Escobedo 6-4, 6-3 to improve to 2-1 in their head-to-head series, and the second-seeded Johnson dispatched sixth-seeded Egor Gerasimov 6-2, 6-1 in 55 minutes in their first career meeting.
   Johnson, the 2012 Aptos champion and a longtime regular on the ATP World Tour, is playing in his first Challenger since March 2018 and second since 2014.
   Koepfer will play in the final of a Northern California Challenger for the second straight year. He lost to Jason Jung, a Los Angeles-area native who plays for Taiwan, 7-6 in the third set indoors in San Francisco in early 2018.
   Neither Johnson nor Koepfer has lost a set in four matches this week. They will meet for the first time on Sunday after the noon doubles final, in which top-seeded Marcelo Arevelo of El Salvador and Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela of Mexico will play unseeded Nathan Pasha of Atlanta and Max Schnur of New York.
Dominik Koepfer ended Ernesto Escobedo's winning streak
at 10 matches. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Johnson and Koepfer wouldn't seem to have much in common. Johnson is four years older at 29 and three inches (7.6 centimeters) taller at 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters). Johnson, a right-hander, is a lifelong Southern Californian. Koepfer is a German left-hander based in Tampa, Fla.
   Both, however, are ex-college stars. Johnson had one of the most decorated careers in NCAA history, ending his stay at USC in 2012 with four NCAA team titles, NCAA singles crowns in his last two years and a 72-match winning streak in singles. He plans to finish his degree in human performance after retiring from tennis.
   Koepfer, a two-time All-American at Tulane in New Orleans, was ranked No. 1 nationally for most of his senior year in 2016. He graduated with a degree in finance.
  Johnson did not face a break point against Gerasimov, a 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Belarusian who ousted defending champion Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round, and converted four of six break-point opportunities.
   "I thought I capitalized on break points well," said Johnson, who reached the third round at Wimbledon last month. "I served much better today than in the last two rounds. Whenever you can take care of business on your serve, it's always a plus."
Egor Gerasimov, who ousted defending champion Than-
asi Kokkinakis in the second round, fell to Steve Johnson
in 55 minutes. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Johnson, who would have had to qualify in the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Montreal this week, was candid when asked if it was tough to play a Challenger after competing at the top level of men's tennis for so many years.
   "I'd be lying if I said no," he said. "I'd rather be in Montreal and Cincinnati (next week), but I won here, and everyone here has treated me incredibly well over the years (2011-13). It's California, so it's kind of close to home. I've had a lot of luck here, so I'd like to get one more here tomorrow. Anytime you enter a tournament and come out the winner, that's the goal."
   Johnson, a Davis Cup veteran and an Olympic bronze medalist in doubles with Jack Sock in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, has dropped from a career-high No. 21 in 2016 to No. 93. He was devastated when his father, mentor and confidant, also Steve, died of a heart attack at 58 in May 2017. Steve Jr. was hospitalized with exhaustion that summer, and anxiety attacks have led him to consult a psychologist when he's at home in Redondo Beach in the Los Angeles area. Still, he began the year at No. 33.
   "Tennis hasn't been easy the last couple of years with everything that's gone on, but I'm doing my best to put my best foot forward every day," Johnson said. "If you look at this year, if I could change (fewer) than 10 points, I think I'm top 30 in the world. I lost six matches 7-6 in the third, I think (actually four, including last week to former world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov in Los Cabos), and four other matches where I had match points. It's been a bummer of a year from that standpoint, but you can't hang your head and feel sorry for yourself. You've got to get better and go out and try to win."
Ernesto Escobedo won a Challenger in Granby, Quebec,
two weeks ago and was coming off two tough matches
in Aptos. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Koepfer won his first Challenger singles title in June, on grass in Ilkey, England, and advanced to the second round at Wimbledon last month as a wild card in his Grand Slam main-draw debut. He will achieve a career-high ranking of at least No. 113 on Monday.
   Despite – or perhaps because of – Escobedo's winning streak, Koepfer said he had an edge in the matchup of hard hitters. Whereas Koepfer was fresh, Escobedo won a Challenger in Granby, Quebec, two weeks ago and was coming off two tough matches in Aptos. He saved two match points in a 7-6 (2), 6-7 (5), 7-6 (12) victory over fifth-seeded Bjorn Fratangelo that lasted 2 hours, 47 minutes on Thursday and outlasted top-seeded Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 on Friday.
   "Yeah, for sure," said Koepfer, who won the last four games of the match. "(Escobedo) was struggling a little bit, especially toward the end of the second set. You could see he wasn't as physical anymore. He couldn't go after his serve as much. It always helps playing quicker matches in early rounds to be fresh when it counts in the semis and finals."
   Escobedo, a 23-year-old resident of West Covina in the Los Angeles area, hedged when asked if his previous two matches took a toll on him against Koepfer.
   "Maybe in a way, but at the same time, I still had to prepare myself for this match," said Escobedo, ranked No. 214 after reaching a career-high No. 67 in 2017. "It's been a long two weeks. I went through the whole summer and won a Challenger. It kind of did (take a toll), but it's not an excuse."
Bernardo Saraiva, a former University of
San Francisco standout, lost in the doubles
semifinals. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Escobedo had his left thigh taped after the first set and re-taped after he broke serve to lead 2-1 in the second set.
   "I pulled a quad a little bit," said Escobedo, who clinched the U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge with his victory over Fratangelo to earn a main-draw berth in the year's last Grand Slam tournament. "It's nothing major. I just need some rest, and I'll be fine for the Open. I felt it a little bit this morning."
   Pasha and Schnur are playing in the tournament only because third-seeded Leander Paes of India and Max Purcell of Australia withdrew after Paes strained a calf muscle.
   Paes, 46, has won 18 major titles, eight in men's doubles and 10 in mixed doubles with a career Grand Slam in each event.
   Pasha and Schnur – who starred at the University of Georgia and Columbia, respectively – beat unseeded Evan Hoyt of Great Britain and Bernardo Saraiva, a former University of San Francisco standout from Portugal, 6-3, 6-4.
   Saraiva, 26, attended Albany High School in the East Bay as a senior when his father, Antonio, was a visiting scholar for a year at Cal as a professor of anthropology and geography.
   Bernardo is based in San Francisco and Lisbon. He said the cities have "a lot of similarities – the hills, the cable cars, the bridge. The weather is better in Lisbon, and San Francisco is quite more expensive," Saraiva added with a laugh.
   Here are the updated Aptos singles and doubles draws and Sunday's scheduleLive streaming is available.

Bay Area's Volynets reaches Girls 18 National final

Katie Volynets, shown earlier in the week, could become the third Northern Calif-
ornian to win a USTA Boys or Girls 18 National singles title in six years. Photo
courtesy of JFS Communications 
   Second-seeded Katie Volynets, 17, of Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area beat 13th-seeded Katrina Scott, 15, of Woodland Hills in the Los Angeles region 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 today in the semifinals of the USTA Billie Jean King Girls 18 National Championships in San Diego.
   Volynets is scheduled to face third-seeded Emma Navarro of Charleston, S.C., on Sunday at 2 p.m. PDT (Tennis Channel). The winner will receive a wild card in the women's main draw of the U.S. Open, Aug. 26-Sept. 8 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Navarro, who won the French Open girls doubles title with Alexa Noel of Summit, N.J., in June, crushed top-seeded Hailey Baptiste of Washington, D.C., 6-0, 6-2.
   Volynets is 2-0 against Navarro in International Tennis Federation junior tournaments. Volynets won their last meeting 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 in the Easter Bowl 18 semifinals on a hardcourt in April 2018 in Indian Wells, Calif. Volynets went on to win the title.
   Volynets could join Collin Altamirano (2013) and Jenson Brooskby (2018) as the third Northern Californian to win the USTA Boys or Girls 18 National singles title in six years. All train under Joseph Gilbert at the Arden Hills Club & Spa in Sacramento.
   In Kalamazoo, Mich., fourth seed and Sacramento-area product Aidan Mayo topped 19th-seeded Alex Finkelstein of Raynham, Mass., 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals of the USTA Boys 16 National Championships. Finkelstein was coming off a three-set victory over second-seeded Luke Casper of Santa Cruz, Calif.
   Mayo, who now lives in the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance, will face top-seeded Alexander Bernard of Bonita Springs, Fla. Bernard beat seventh-seeded Ben Shelton of Gainesville, Fla., 6-2, 6-4.
   In the boys 16 doubles semifinals, seventh-seeded Hugo Hashimoto of San Jose and Benjamin Kittay of Potomac, Md., outlasted 13th-seeded Casper and Jameson Corsillo of Boca Raton, Fla., 7-6 (6), 0-6, 6-4.
   The match ended with a game penalty against Casper and Corsillo for unsportsmanlike conduct, Colette Lewis reported on ZooTennis. A line umpire reported a threatening remark to the chair after a point had been assessed earlier in the set for comments about a line call.
   Hashimoto and Kittay will meet 11th-seeded Lucas Brown of Plano, Texas, and Aiden Kim of Chantilly, Va. Brown and Kim surprised second-seeded Thomas Paulsell of Seattle and Frank Thompson of Blacksburg, Va., 7-6 (2), 7-6 (7).
   Aspen Schuman of Menlo Park in the Bay Area won the doubles title in the USTA Girls 12 National Championships in Alpharetta, Ga., with Haylee Conway of Bellevue, Wash. Seeded first, they beat fifth-seeded Kate Fakih of Arcadia in the Los Angeles region and Victoria Osuigwe (pronounced Oh-sig-way) of Bradenton, Fla., 7-5, 4-6, 6-2.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Escobedo ousts top seed Dzumhur in Aptos quarters

Ernesto Escobedo, serving in Aptos last year, extended his winning
streak to 10 matches. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Resurgent Ernesto Escobedo of West Covina in the Los Angeles area outlasted top-seeded Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 today in the quarterfinals of the $81,240 Nordic Naturals Challenger at the Seascape Sports Club in Aptos, Calif.
   The unseeded Escobedo, ranked No. 214 after climbing to a career-high No. 67 in 2017, broke serve in the last game when Dzumhur sprayed a forehand.
   Escobedo, a hard hitter who began working with former top-20 player Jan-Michael Gambill in March, extended his winning streak to 10 matches. He won an $81,240 tournament in Granby, Quebec, two weeks ago for his first Challenger title in three years.
   Both Escobedo, 23, and Dzumhur, 27, saved match points and won third-set tiebreakers on Thursday. Escobedo, with his dramatic victory over fifth-seeded Bjorn Fratangelo, earned a main-draw berth in the last Grand Slam tournament of the year by winning the U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge.
   Dzumhur also has plunged in the rankings, from a career-high No. 23 in July 2018 to No. 109. But he has reached two quarterfinals on the ATP World Tour this year, stunning then-No. 12 Stefanos Tsitsipas indoors in Rotterdam in February and three-time Grand Slam singles champion Stan Wawrinka on clay in Geneva.
   Escobedo will face his fourth seed in the tournament when he meets No. 4 Dominik Koepfer, a 25-year-old left-hander from Germany, on Saturday after an 11 a.m. doubles semifinal.
   Koepfer, ranked No. 122, beat seventh-seeded Marcos Giron of Thousand Oaks in the Los Angeles area 6-1, 6-4.
   Koepfer, who graduated from Tulane in New Orleans, had an outstanding grass-court season in England. He reached the quarterfinals and won $165,571 Challengers in Nottingham and Ilkey, respectively, and advanced to the second round at Wimbledon.
   Escobedo and Koepfer have split two career matches. Escobedo prevailed 6-1, 2-6, 7-5 on an indoor hardcourt in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, and Koepfer won 6-1, 7-5 on an outdoor hardcourt in Houston last year.
   After the Koepfer-Escobedo match, second-seeded Steve Johnson, 29, of Redondo Beach in the Los Angeles region will face sixth-seeded Egor Gerasimov, 26, of Belarus for the first time.
   Johnson, the 2012 Aptos champion, is playing in his first Challenger since March 2018 and second since 2014. He downed 10th-seeded Go Soeda, 34, of Japan 6-3, 7-6 (4).
   Johnson has tumbled from a career-high No. 21 in 2016 to No. 93, but he reached the third round at Wimbledon last month. Soeda won the Tiburon (Calif.) Challenger 10 years ago and advanced to the Aptos semifinals in 2014.
   The 146th-ranked Gerasimov, who ousted defending champion Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round, dispatched third-seeded Taro Daniel, the local favorite from Japan, 6-3, 6-4.
   Daniel was born in New York to an American father, Paul, and Japanese mother, Yasue. The family moved to Japan when Taro was an infant and to Spain when he was 14. Paul Daniel grew up in Santa Cruz, near Aptos.
   The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Gerasimov won his sixth career Challenger singles title in Recanati, Italy, on hardcourts in early July and last year reached two quarterfinals on the ATP Tour, in Los Cabos and Moscow. He defeated three top-60 players, including then-No. 28 Sam Querrey in Los Cabos, en route to the quarters in those tournaments.

Volynets tops Ma in all-Bay Area USTA National 18 QF

Katie Volynets, shown Thursday, beat Connie Ma in an all-San Francisco
Bay Area quarterfinal in the USTA Girls 18 National Championships in
San Diego, Photo courtesy of JFS Communications
   In an all-San Francisco Bay Area quarterfinal, second-seeded Katie Volynets, 17, of Walnut Creek beat fifth-seeded Connie Ma, 16, of Dublin 7-6 (1), 6-1 today in the USTA Girls 18 National Championships in San Diego.
   Walnut Creek and Dublin are 18 miles (29 kilometers) apart on Interstate 680 in the East Bay.
   Volynets is scheduled to play 13th-seeded Katrina Scott, 15, of Woodland Hills in the Los Angeles area on Saturday. Scott eliminated 10th-seeded Elli Mandlik, the daughter of International Tennis Hall of Famer Hana Mandlikova and a resident of Bradenton, Fla., 7-6 (5), 6-3.
   In the other semifinal, top-seeded Hailey Baptiste of Washington, D.C., will face third-seeded Emma Navarro of Charleston, S.C.
   In the girls 16 semifinals in San Diego, 14th-seeded Reese Brantmeier, 14, of Whitewater, Wis., topped second-seeded Vivian Ovrootsky of San Jose 7-5, 1-6, 6-3.
   The girls 12 doubles final in Alpharetta, Ga., will feature top-seeded Haylee Conway of Bellevue, Wash., and Aspen Schuman of Menlo Park in the Bay Area against fifth-seeded Kate Fakih of Arcadia in the Los Angeles region and Victoria Osuigwe of Bradenton 6-4, 6-3.
   Meanwhile, fourth-seeded Aidan Mayo, a resident of Torrance in the Los Angeles area who grew up in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville, beat ninth-seeded Victor Lilov of Raleigh, N.C., 6-4, 6-4 in the boys 16 quarterfinals in Kalamazoo, Mich.
   Mayo will play 19th-seeded Alex Finkelstein of Raynham, Mass. Finkelstein upset second-seeded Luke Casper of Santa Cruz 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-2.
   In the other semifinal, top-seeded Alexander Bernard of Bonita Springs, Fla., will meet seventh-seeded Ben Shelton of Gainesville, Fla. Bernard beat 32nd-seeded Hugo Hashimoto of San Jose 6-1, 6-4.
   A Northern Californian is guaranteed to reach the boys 16 doubles final, as seventh-seeded Hashimoto and Benjamin Kittay of Potomac, Md., will face 13th-seeded Casper and Jameson Corsillo of Boca Raton, Fla.
   Sixth-seeded Dylan Tsoi of El Dorado Hills in the Sacramento region and Alexander Razeghi of Humble, Texas, won the boys 14 doubles title in Mobile, Ala.  They routed fifth-seeded James Lian of Parsippany, N.J., and Nicholas Mangiapane of Davidson, N.C., 6-1, 6-1.
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