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   Mackenzie McDonald, a 24-year-old product of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, has withdrawn from the U.S. Open after undergoing right hamstring surgery in June.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.

Daniel, Dzumhur, Escobedo survive Aptos thrillers

Ernesto Escobedo, shown in 2018, saved two match
points in a 7-6 (2), 6-7 (5), 7-6 (12) win over fellow
American Bjorn Fratangelo to reach the quarterfinals
in Aptos, Calif., for the second consecutive year.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Three consecutive matches on Center Court.
   Three straight matches decided by third-set tiebreakers.
   Three matches in a row in which the winner saved match points.
   Each match longer and more dramatic than the last.
   It might have been the wildest day in the 32-year history of the Nordic Naturals Challenger, the longest-running men's tournament at that level in the United States, in Aptos, Calif.
   Or, for that matter, in any tournament.
   Surviving the marathons on Thursday at the Seascape Sports Club were, in order, third seed and local favorite Taro Daniel of Japan, top-seeded Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and unseeded Ernesto Escobedo of West Covina in the Los Angeles area.
   Daniel escaped two match points and edged Michael Redlicki, a 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) left-hander originally from Chicago, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3) in 2 hours, 18 minutes to reach the Aptos quarterfinals for the first time since 2015.
   Daniel, 26, has an unusual background, to say the least. He was born in New York to an American father, Paul, and Japanese mother, Yasue. The family moved from New York to Japan when Taro was an infant and to Spain when he was 14. Paul Daniel grew up in Santa Cruz, near Aptos.
   Then Dzumhur saved three match points and nipped Lukas Lacko of Slovakia 6-7 (6), 6-3, 7-6 (9) in a 2-hour, 20-minute battle of former top-50 players. Dzumhur converted his second match point.
   Finally, Escobedo survived two match points in a 7-6 (2), 6-7 (5), 7-6 (12) triumph over countryman Bjorn Fratangelo in 2 hours, 47 minutes to reach the Aptos quarterfinals for the second consecutive year. Fratangelo saved six match points before succumbing. There were no service breaks in the match.
   Order was restored in the featured night match as second seed and 2012 Aptos champion Steve Johnson of Redondo Beach in the Los Angeles region defeated British left-hander Liam Broady, the 2017 runner-up as a qualifier, 7-5, 6-1.
   Today's quarterfinal matchups (with rankings in parentheses) are Dzumhur (109) against Escobedo (214), fourth-seeded Dominik Koepfer (122) of Germany versus seventh-seeded Marcos Giron (157) of Thousand Oaks in the L.A. region, Daniel (119) against sixth-seeded Egor Gerasimov (146) of Belarus, and Johnson (93) versus 10th-seeded Go Soeda (173) of Japan.
   Five quarterfinalists – Dzumhur, Johnson, Daniel, Soeda and Escobedo – have cracked the top 100 in the world. Johnson and Dzumhur have reached the top 25, and Soeda has broken into the top 50.
   Here are the Aptos singles and doubles draws and Friday's schedule. Live streaming is available.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

San Jose's Ovrootsky reaches Girls 16 National semis

Second-seeded Vivian Ovrootsky will meet 14th-seeded Reese
Brantmeier of Whitewater, Wis., in the semifinals of the USTA
Girls 16 National Championships in San Diego. 2018 photo by
Paul Bauman
   Second-seeded Vivian Ovrootsky of San Jose routed 33rd-seeded Kida Ferrari of Fairhope, Ala., 6-2, 6-2 today in the quarterfinals of the USTA Girls 16 National Championships in San Diego.
   Ovrootsky is set to meet 14th-seeded Reese Brantmeier of Whitewater, Wis., on Friday. Brantmeier outplayed 17th-seeded Gracie Epps of Norman, Okla., 6-2, 6-3.
   In the girls 18 quarterfinals in San Diego, second-seeded Katie Volynets, 17, of Walnut Creek will play fifth-seeded Connie Ma, 16, of Dublin in an all-San Francisco Bay Area matchup. Both lost in the first round of the recent $60,000 Berkeley Tennis Club Women's Challenge.
   Volynets and Ma advanced with straight-set victories, but 33rd-seeded Allura Zamarripa of Saint Helena in the Napa region lost to third-seeded Emma Navarro of Charleston, S.C., 6-3, 6-2. Navarro won the French Open girls doubles title with compatriot Chloe Beck in June.
   In girls 12 quarterfinals in Alpharetta, Ga., third-seeded Kinley Vanpelt of Lawrence, Kan., topped fifth-seeded Alexis Nguyen of El Dorado Hills in the Sacramento area 6-4, 7-6 (tiebreaker score not available).
   Both remaining Northern California boys lost in the round of 16 of the 18s in Kalamazoo, Mich. Top-seeded Brandon Nakashima of San Diego dominated 33rd-seeded Ryder Jackson of Nicasio in the Bay Area 6-3, 6-0, and 10th-seeded Eliot Spizzirri of Greenwich, Conn., outlasted 33rd-seeded Marcus McDaniel of Vacaville 6-1, 6-7 (6), 6-4.
   Three boys with NorCal ties – second-seeded Luke Casper of Santa Cruz; fourth-seeded Aidan Mayo, a resident of Torrance in the Los Angeles region who grew up in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville; and 32nd-seeded Hugo Hashimoto of San Jose – reached the quarterfinals of the 16s in Kalamazoo.
   In the boys 14 quarters in Mobile, Ala., 13th-seeded Joseph Phillips of Alpharetta ousted second-seeded Dylan Tsoi of El Dorado Hills 6-2, 6-2.

NorCal's Jackson to face top seed in boys 18 nationals

Ryder Jackson, left, defeated Luke Casper, right, last Nov-
ember in the Sacramento suburb of Folsom for his fourth
consecutive Northern California Sectional (fall and sum-
mer) boys 18 title. Photo by Paul Bauman
   No. 33 seed Ryder Jackson of Nicasio in the San Francisco Bay Area surprised No. 9 seed Stefan Dostanic of Irvine 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 on Wednesday in the round of 32 in the USTA Boys 18 National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich.
   Both players are headed to USC.
   Jackson is set to face top-seeded Brandon Nakashima of San Diego today. Nakashima, who will be a sophomore at Virginia, routed No. 18 seed Evan McDonald of Bethesda, Md., 6-1, 6-1.
   No. 33 seed Marcus McDaniel, a Vacaville resident who will play at Georgia Tech, will take on No. 10 seed Eliot Spizzirri of Greenwich, Conn.
   Advancing to the round of 16 in the boys 16s in Kalamazoo were No. 2 seed Luke Casper of Santa Cruz; No. 4 seed Aidan Mayo, a resident of Torrance in the Los Angeles area who grew up in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville; and No. 32 seed Hugo Hashimoto of San Jose.
   In the boys 14s in Mobile, Ala., No. 2 seed Dylan Tsoi of El Dorado Hills in the Sacramento area reached the quarterfinals.
   Advancing to the round of 16 in the girls 18s in San Diego were No. 2 seed Katie Volynets of Walnut Creek in the Bay Area, No. 5 Connie Ma, 16, of Dublin in the Bay Area and No. 33 Allura Zamarripa of Saint Helena in the Napa region.
   Moving on to the quarterfinals were No. 2 seed Vivian Ovrootsky of San Jose in the girls 16s in San Diego and No. 5 Alexis Nguyen of El Dorado Hills in the girls 12s in Alpharetta, Ga.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Gerasimov ousts defending champ Kokkinakis in Aptos

Defending champion Thanasi Kokkinakis, who shocked
Roger Federer last year, lost to Egor Gerasimov 7-6 (2),
6-4 today in the second round of the Nordic Naturals
Challenger in Aptos, Calif. 2018 photo by Paul Bauman
   Sixth-seeded Egor Gerasimov of Belarus beat defending champion Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia 7-6 (2), 6-4 today in the second round of the $81,240 Nordic Naturals Challenger at the Seascape Sports Club in Aptos, Calif.
   The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Gerasimov, 26, saved both break points against him and converted his only one against the 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) Kokkinakis, 23.
   Gerasimov reached two quarterfinals on the ATP Tour, in Los Cabos and Moscow, last year. He defeated three top-60 players in the process, including then-No. 28 Sam Querrey in Los Cabos.
   Kokkinakis, whose promising career has been derailed by injuries, shocked Roger Federer in the second round in Miami in March 2018. He is ranked No. 171 after climbing as high as No. 69 at 19 years old in 2015.
   Gerasimov, ranked No. 146, is scheduled to face 12th-seeded Emilio Gomez, an Ecuadorian ranked No. 169, on Thursday for a quarterfinal berth. They will meet for the first time.
   Top-seeded Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina beat Keegan Smith, a 6-foot-7 (2.01-meter) qualifier from San Diego, 6-4, 6-4. Smith won the NCAA doubles title as a UCLA sophomore with Maxime Cressy last May in Orlando, Fla.
   The 5-foot-9 (1.75-meter) Dzumhur, who has plunged from a career-high No. 23 last July to No. 109, will meet unseeded Lukas Lacko of Slovakia.
   The 31-year-old Lacko, down from a career-high No. 44 in 2013 to No. 227, topped 6-foot-7 American Christopher Eubanks, an Aptos semifinalist last year, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5).
   Dzumhur and Lacko have split two career matches.
   Fifth-seeded Bjorn Fratangelo of Orlando beat Italy's Jannik Sinner, who won last week's $54,160 tournament in Lexington, Ky., 7-6 (6), 6-3. Fratangelo won the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger last October and reached the Aptos semifinals in 2015 and 2016.
   Second-seeded Steve Johnson of Redondo Beach in the Los Angeles area dismissed Roberto Quiroz of Ecuador 6-1, 6-2 in 48 minutes. Johnson, the 2012 Aptos champion, has tumbled from a career-high No. 21 in 2016 to No. 93.
   Johnson will meet unseeded Liam Broady, a left-hander from Great Britain. Broady, the 2017 Aptos runner-up, beat 14th-seeded Ramkumar Ramanathan of India 7-6 (2), 6-4.
   Here are the updated Aptos singles and doubles draws and Thursday's schedule. Live streaming is available.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Kenin upsets No. 1 Barty; Ahn earns U.S. Open berth

Sofia Kenin, shown en route to the Berkeley title last
year, earned her first victory over a top-five player.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Sofia Kenin continued her meteoric rise today.
   The 20-year-old American, who won Northern California Challengers in three consecutive years, ousted top-ranked Ashleigh Barty of Australia 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4 in the second round of the Rogers Cup in Toronto.
   Kenin, ranked 29th, had been 0-3 against top-five players and 0-3 against Barty, who was playing in her first tournament since reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon. She won the French Open in June for her first Grand Slam singles title.
   Kenin captured the title in Sacramento in 2016, Stockton in 2017 and Berkeley in 2018. She will play the winner of Wednesday's match between former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and 19-year-old rising star Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine on Thursday.
  Marie Bouzkova, a 21-year-old Czech qualifier, stunned seventh-seeded Sloane Stephens, a 26-year-old Fresno product, 6-2, 7-5. Stephens is ranked eighth and Bouzkova 91st.
   Tatjana Maria, a 32-year-old qualifier and mother from Germany, eliminated China's Zheng Saisai, who won last week's Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, in the first round.
   Ahn in U.S. Open – Kristie Ahn, a 27-year-old Stanford graduate from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., earned a wild card in the U.S. Open by reaching the quarterfinals of last week's Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose as a qualifier.
   Ahn, ranked No. 138, will make her second appearance in the main draw of the U.S. Open. She qualified at age 16 in 2008 and lost in the first round to Dinara Safina of Russia in the first round. Safina was ranked seventh at the time and reached No. 1 the following year.
   USTA Pro Circuit – Here are the updated singles and doubles draws and Wednesday's schedule in the Nordic Naturals Challenger at the Seascape Sports Club in Aptos, Calif. Live streaming is available.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Zheng wins San Jose with a lot of help from her friend

Champion Zheng Saisai, middle, and members of the San Jose State football
team pose in front of Spartan statues. The university's football stadium is next
to the site of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic. Photo by Mal Taam
   SAN JOSE, Calif. – After a strong start to the clay-court season in the spring, Zheng Saisai thought she was on her way.
   Instead, the 25-year-old Chinese player lost six of her next seven matches on clay and grass. She arrived in San Jose with first-round losses in her last four tournaments. Granted, three of the four came against top-16 players, and the other was against 35-year-old Samantha Stosur, who has won seven Grand Slam titles (one in singles, three in women's doubles and three in mixed doubles).
   But after a conversation with her best friend, the unseeded Zheng (pronounced Jung) knocked off four consecutive seeds in the second annual Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, which launches the hardcourt U.S. Open series, en route to her first WTA singles title. In Sunday's final, Zheng toppled second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 6-3, 7-6 (3).
   Zheng also:
   –Demolished eighth-seeded Danielle Collins, an American who reached last year's semifinals in San Jose, 6-2, 6-0 in the second round.
   –Outlasted 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova, the fourth seed who reached the French Open semifinals in June, 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 in the quarterfinals in the longest match of the tournament (2 hours, 52 minutes).
   –Frustrated seventh-seeded Maria Sakkari, last year's runner-up from Greece, 7-6 (5), 6-2 in the semifinals.
   "Before, I wasn't (playing) this well," Zheng, who pocketed $151,070 in her second career WTA final to surpass $3 million in career earnings, said after the final. "After Wimbledon, I (was) back in China. My best friend (Ng Kwan-yau, a 22-year-old player from Hong Kong) tell me, 'You know, Saisai, when you are calm and not so emotional, you can use your brain. You will play your best tennis. But she doesn't see that last few months. Then I realized, OK, I probably (feel) too much pressure, too much expectation. This week, I start to enjoy and don't think (about) the result and play each point.
   "I really want to thank her. I was losing a lot, and I realized (feeling pressure) is a problem. I fixed it this week, and it turns out good."
Zheng Saisai used her outstanding movement to upset top-10 player Aryna Saba-
lenka in Sunday's final. Photo by Mal Taam
   Zheng recorded her fifth victory over a top-10 player and became the first Chinese singles champion in the 49-year history of the San Francisco Bay Area stop on the WTA tour, the longest-running women's professional tournament in the world. She won the doubles title in the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford with compatriot Xu Yifan and earned the first of her first 302 main-draw singles victories on the WTA tour at Stanford in 2012.
   Both Zheng and Sabalenka, 21, equaled their career highs in today's new weekly world rankings. Zheng jumped 17 places to No. 38, and Sabalenka improved one spot to No. 9.
   Sunday's final matched the 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter) Zheng's outstanding movement and consistency against the 5-foot-11 (1.82-meter) Sabalenka's tremendous power. Zheng prevailed by mixing up her shots and keeping the ball in play until Sabalenka made an error.
   "Obviously, you don't want to play fast, fast, fast with her," said Zheng, who improved to 2-0 against Sabalenka. "She the best (at) this. The tactic is (to) put the ball deep, and whenever I see space, let her run and change (the pace) if I can (with) slice or high ball. If I give her same ball, she will hit winner from any corner, so I was just trying to mix it up.
   "I was focused. I wasn't overthinking anything. I (told myself) this is not a final; this is a normal match. Just enjoy."
Aryna Sabalenka said she was "freaking out" against Zheng Saisai. Photo by
Mal Taam
   Sabalenka sounded much like the 5-foot-8 (1.72) Sakkari, another hard hitter, after losing to Zheng.
   When asked what went wrong, Sabalenka said "everything – my game, my reaction, my backhand, forehand, serve, tactic (in) the match. Emotional side was really ... I was freaking out. I couldn't do anything today with myself. I couldn't control my emotions. I was screaming some s---. I was throwing the racket, always speaking with my team trying to get something from them, but actually it was in my head. They couldn't do anything, but I was looking to them like, Tell me something that's going to help me come back in this match because she's like crazy player. She's going for crazy (moonballs), then slice, then flat backhand, and you always have to adjust for the ball.
   "Yesterday's match (against Donna Vekic) was kind of like flat (shots), but here it was completely different game. I just wasn't ready for this match. This is my mistake. I knew her game – we watched her a little bit – but still it wasn't enough to actually play."
   Zheng's high balls were particularly effective.
   "Her game destroy me because I couldn't use my power," said Sabalenka, who lost in the first round of qualifying in San Jose last year to Maria Sanchez, a Modesto, Calif., product ranked No. 258, after leading 6-2, 5-3. "I wasn't ready for that. In practice, I work a lot on these shots, and I know how to play, but I never actually played against those kind of players. Probably I have to work a little bit more on this game."
   Sabalenka committed eight double faults, including one on Zheng's first championship point, and struggled to return Zheng's modest serve, repeatedly slugging not only first but second serves out.
   Sabalenka was playing in her first final since winning her third career WTA singles title in Shenzhen, China, in the first week of the year. She had the same problem with pressure on Sunday that Zheng solved.
   "Of course, I wanted to do well," said Sabalenka, who collected $80,500 to top $3.5 million for her career. "That's why I (had) a lot of emotions on the court. Next time, if I will be a little bit relaxed on the court, just enjoy, probably things can happen different direction. The main thing is I just need to be calm on the court and play my tennis and don't care about anything else."
Forty-four-year-old Kveta Peschke, left, won her second consecutive San Jose
doubles title, this time with Nicole Melichar. Photo by Mal Taam
   Sabalenka's coach, former top-20 player Dmitry Tursunov, praised Zheng and said his protege needs to be more patient.
   "(Sabalenka) didn't play well, for sure, but the main thing is her opponent managed to make her not play well," said Tursunov, who moved alone from his native Moscow to Los Altos in the San Francisco Bay Area at 12 to train and owns a townhouse in the Sacramento suburb of Folsom that he rents out. "Watching that match, I kept thinking of a (Fabrice) Santoro-(Marat) Safin matchup where Safin was losing his mind. It's a tough matchup. For Aryna, these types of opponents will always create problems. You have to really know how to play them and develop your game in such a way where you can stay in points long enough to earn an opportunity to attack.
   "Right now, definitely, there (are) too many premature attacks, and (there's) chaotic behavior on the court. It's part of the growing process. It's kind of a David and Goliath matchup where you have to really develop your game to be able to maybe not use so much power, maybe use a little more finesse and develop the point versus trying to just win it outright."
   Santoro, a 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Frenchman, reached career highs of No. 17 in singles in 2001 and No. 6 in doubles in 1999. He was 7-2 against the 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) Safin, Tursunov's teammate on Russia's 2006 Davis Cup championship team who was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2016.
   After Sabalenka held serve for 3-4 in the first set Sunday, Zheng reeled off four straight games to lead 2-0 in the second set. Sabalenka then won three games in a row, breaking Zheng twice, to get back in the match. But Sabalenka double-faulted twice in the next game, including on break point, for 3-3.
   Both players then held serve to send the set into a tiebreaker. Zheng raced to a 4-1 lead (one mini-break) with the help of two Sabalenka errors. With Zheng leading 5-3, Sabalenka sailed a forehand return of an 80-mph (128.8-kilometer) first serve long to give Zheng her first championship point. After Sabalenka missed her first serve, Zheng stood several feet inside the baseline to receive the second delivery, which Sabalenka netted. Sabalenka then slammed her racket on the court, picked it up and flung it at her chair.
   Ng, of course, isn't the only one who has helped Zheng.
   "I want to thank Alan (Ma, the head coach of the Star River Professional Tennis Club in Guangzhou, China)," Zheng said."He always support me. He the one believe in me from the beginning. He's saying I'm going to be good. Even I don't know if I'm going to be good or if I'm going to go pro, but he tell me, 'You're going to be good. You just keep going.' I really want to thank him."
   Zheng wasn't finished.
   "One more. I want to thank my mom," Zheng added, eliciting a  big laugh from the media. "She's the one bring me to play tennis, always support me, believe in me. Whenever tough moments, she will say, 'If you don't want to play, OK, let's go back.' You always know someone is there. It's a lot of love."
   No pun intended.
   Earlier Sunday, 44-year-old Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic won her second consecutive San Jose doubles title, this time with 26-year-old Nicole Melichar, a Czech-born American. The top-seeded pair beat unseeded Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara of Japan 6-4, 6-4. Peschke won last year's title with Latisha Chan of Taiwan.
   Here are the complete San Jose singles and doubles draws.
   Here are the singles qualifying draw, singles main draw, doubles main draw and Tuesday's schedule in the $81,240 Nordic Naturals Challenger at the Seascape Sports Club in Aptos, Calif., a one-hour drive south of San Jose on the Pacific Ocean. In its 32nd year, the tournament is the longest-running men's Challenger in the United States. It's being streamed live.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Zheng upsets Sabalenka for first WTA singles title

   SAN JOSE, Calif. – Unseeded Zheng Saisai of China won her first WTA singles title today, beating second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the second annual Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic at San Jose State University. A complete story with quotes and photos will be posted Monday.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Crafty Zheng, powerful Sabalenka reach San Jose final

   SAN JOSE, Calif. – With her crafty game, Zheng Saisai is quietly making a name for herself in Northern California.
   The unseeded Zheng reached her first Premier Level singles final today, beating seventh seed and 2018 runner-up Maria Sakkari 7-6 (5), 6-2 in the second annual Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic at San Jose State.
   Zheng, 25, of China also played in the doubles semifinals. Top-seeded Nicole Melichar, a Czech-born American, and Kveta Peschke, a 44-year-old Czech, downed the unseeded Zheng and 18-year-old Liang En-Shuo of Taiwan 6-4, 4-6 [10-3]. Peschke won last year's title with Latisha Chan of Taiwan.
   Zheng will play second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus on Sunday at 4 p.m. (Tennis Channel). The 10th-ranked Sabalenka, a sturdy 5-foot-11 (1.82 meters), overpowered fifth-seeded Donna Vekic, a slender 5-foot-10 (1.79-meter) Croat, 6-4, 6-3 at night.
   "I just hit the ball as hard as I could, and everything went in," the 21-year-old Sabalenka, who lost in the first round of qualifying last year in San Jose, said with a laugh.
   Zheng defeated Sabalenka 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of a $60,000 tournament in Zhuhai, China, in March 2017 in their only meeting.
   Sabalenka, who seeks her fourth career WTA singles title, is coached by former top-20 player Dmitry Tursunov, a Moscow native who moved alone to the San Francisco Bay Area at 12 to train and was based in the Sacramento area for most of his professional career.
   "He knows me really well," Sabalenka said of her 36-year-old mentor. "Before I say something, he actually knows what I'm going to say. That's amazing. I think he was the same as me when he was playing – same emotions, same problems – so he knows how to help me."
   Zheng is playing in the Bay Area for the first time since 2016, when she lost to eventual champion Johanna Konta in the quarterfinals of the Bank of the West Classic at nearby Stanford. Zheng won the doubles title there in 2015 with compatriot Xu Yifan.
    Mixing up her shots and playing tremendous defense, Zheng wore down the hard-hitting Sakkari in 85-degree (29.4 Celsius) heat that felt 20 degrees warmer. In fact, a woozy ballgirl had to be helped off the court late in the first set.
   Most of the modest crowd favored Sakkari. The 24-year-old Greek is known as "The True Spartan" at the home of the San Jose State Spartans.
   "I played really, really bad for the whole match," lamented the chiseled Sakkari, who fell to 1-2 against Zheng in their first match since 2016. "I was not playing even my minimum level. She has a tricky game, which played a huge role in the match. My level was pretty poor today to win that match after coming from a win like that yesterday. Maybe I was a little bit mentally fatigued after coming back yesterday from a set and 5-2 down."
   Sakkari stormed back from a 6-1, 5-2 deficit and saved four match points to shock top-seeded Elina Svitolina in a three-set match that lasted 2 hours, 32 minutes on Friday afternoon. Zheng needed 20 more minutes to outlast 17-year-old U.S. phenom Amanda Anisimova in the featured night match.
   "Today's match was quite different than yesterday's," Zheng said in an on-court interview. "(Sakkari) had much more spin, so I had to adapt to her game. She was really aggressive on her forehand, which gave me a lot of trouble, but I hung in there."
   Zheng's career has been slowed by injuries. After coming to San Jose on a four-match losing streak, she will improve from No. 55 to at least No. 42, four spots below her career high at the end of last year.
   Zheng frustrated Sakkari with "slice, lobs, drop shots," Sakkari said. "She's not one of the nicest players to play – tennis-wise ... she's a nice girl. You don't find this kind of player playing loopy balls at this level. Her ball has no pace. We're used to bang, bang, bang, so it's quite tough.
   "I didn't know she was going to play like that. To tell you the truth, I haven't watched her for a long time. I didn't prepare the right way. It was not so much about the drop shots. It was more about these loopy balls that I was playing when I was under 12."
   The last point of the first set was typical as Sakkari muscled a moonball long.
   In addition to making repeated errors, Sakkari served poorly. She converted only 49 percent of her first deliveries and had no aces and eight double faults, including two to get broken for 1-1 in the second set and two to lose her serve in the last game of the match. In both games, Sakkari double-faulted on break point. In the final game, her first double fault bounced in front of the net, and her second one sailed way long.
   Sakkari was mystified afterward about the cause of her serving woes.
   "That's a good question," she said. "That's something I want to ask my coach. If I (knew) what was wrong, I would (have changed) it. Maybe my legs were heavy, and I was not pushing enough to get power and height."
   Here are the San Jose singles and doubles draws and Sunday's schedule. Here's the singles draw for next week's $81,240 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif. The men's tournament will be held at the Seascape Sports Club, a one-hour drive south of San Jose.
   Citi Open – Wild cards Cori Gauff, 15, of Delray Beach, Fla., and Caty McNally, 17, of Cincinnati beat fourth-seeded Maria Sanchez, a 29-year-old Modesto, Calif., product, and Fanny Stollar, 20, of Hungary 6-2, 6-2 in the final in Washington, D.C.
   Gauff last month became the youngest player to reach the singles round of 16 at Wimbledon since Jennifer Capriati in 1991.

Sakkari stages stunning comeback, ousts top seed in S.J.

Maria Sakkari, playing in the final of last year's inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley
Classic in San Jose, rallied from a big deficit and saved four match points to stun
top-seeded Elina Svitolina in Friday's quarterfinals. Photo by Mal Taam
   Maria Sakkari made a dramatic comeback on Friday to stun top-seeded Elina Svitolina in the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic.
   After trailing 6-1, 5-2, the seventh-seeded Sakkari saved four match points in a 1-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3 victory in the quarterfinals of the second annual tournament at San Jose State.
   The 30th-ranked Sakkari, last year's runner-up in San Jose, also lost her serve in the first game of the third set but immediately broke back. She broke again to lead 4-2.
   "My coach came in, and he said, 'If you did it once in Rabat (where she beat Johanna Konta from a set and a break down in the final on clay in early May), you can do it again,' " Sakkari, 24, of Greece said on wtatennis.com.
   Svitolina, ranked seventh, last month became the first Ukrainian woman to reach the Wimbledon semifinals, her best performance in a Grand Slam tournament.
   Sakkari is scheduled to play unseeded Zheng Saisai of China today at 2 p.m. (Tennis Channel). Zheng, ranked No. 55, surprised fourth-seeded Amanda Anisimova, 17, of Aventura, Fla., 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 in 2 hours, 52 minutes on Friday night to reach the biggest semifinal of her career.
   Anisimova won her first professional title at 15 in the 2017 Sacramento Challenger and in June stunned defending champion Simona Halep to become the youngest American woman to reach the French Open semifinals since 14-year-old Jennifer Capriati in 1990.
   Sakkari and Zheng, 25, have split two matches, both in 2016.
   In the other semifinal, second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus will face fifth-seeded Donna Vekic of Croatia at 7 p.m. (Tennis Channel).
   Sabalenka, 21, outlasted sixth-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 during the day session.
   Sabalenka is coached by former top-20 player Dmitry Tursunov, a Moscow native who moved alone to the San Francisco Bay Area at 12 to train and was based in the Sacramento area for most of his professional career.
   Suarez Navarro won the doubles title in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic at nearby Stanford with countrywoman Garbine Muguruza, who last week withdrew from the Silicon Valley Classic for the second consecutive year because of an injury.
   Vekic, 23, eliminated U.S. qualifier Kristie Ahn, a 27-year-old Stanford graduate, 7-5, 6-0. Ahn ousted third-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium in the second round for her first victory over a top-20 player.
   The 26th-ranked Vekic is 3-0 against the 10th-ranked Sabalenka, all on hardcourts. They last met in 2017.
   In the doubles quarterfinals, unseeded Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara of Japan beat third-seeded Lyudmyla Kichenok and Nadiia Kichenok, 27-year-old twins from Ukraine and last year's runners-up, 6-1, 6-4.
   Shibahara, a 21-year-old native of Rancho Palos Verdes in the Los Angeles area who starred at UCLA, won the Stockton (Calif.) doubles title with Haley Carter last October.
   After tonight's singles match, International Tennis Hall of Famers Andy Roddick and Michael Chang and former top-10 players James Blake and Mark Philippoussis will compete in a one-night, single-elimination tournament. Each match will be one set.
   Here are the San Jose singles and doubles draws and today's schedule.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

It's Ahn to the San Jose quarterfinals after big upset

Stanford graduate Kristie Ahn, playing in Berkeley two weeks ago,
stunned third-seeded Elise Mertens to reach the quarterfinals of a
WTA tournament for the second time. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Kristie Ahn almost cracked the top 100 in early 2018.
   It could happen this year.
   Ahn, a qualifier from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., stunned third-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-3, 6-3 today to reach the quarterfinals of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic at San Jose State.
   The 20th-ranked Mertens, a semifinalist in last year's inaugural tournament in San Jose, committed 10 double faults to none for the 178th-ranked Ahn.
   Ahn, a 27-year-old graduate of nearby Stanford from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., earned her first victory over a top-20 player and advanced to the quarters of a WTA tournament for the second time. She will soar to at least No. 137, 32 spots below her career high, on Monday.
   Ahn, only 5-foot-5 (1.65 meters), shocked 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round on clay in Bogota in April and earned her first Wimbledon main-draw berth last month.
   In her last tournament, Ahn became so frustrated in a semifinal loss to Madison Brengle in the $60,000 Berkeley Tennis Club Challenge that she flung her racket into the crowd. No one was hurt.
   Ahn is scheduled to play fifth-seeded Donna Vekic of Croatia for the first time on Friday not before 4 p.m. Vekic, ranked No. 25, beat former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, who won the 2010 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, 6-4, 6-3.
   In Friday night's featured match at 7, fourth-seeded Amanda Anisimova, 17, of Aventura, Fla., will play unseeded Zheng Saisai of China.
Donna Vekic of Croatia celebrates during her 6-4, 6-3
victory over former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.
Photo by Mal Taam
   Anisimova, ranked No. 23 after reaching the French Open semifinals in June, overpowered Brengle, the Berkeley champion, 6-2, 6-2 in 54 minutes. Zheng, ranked No. 55, whipped eighth-seeded Danielle Collins, an American who reached the San Jose semifinals last year, 6-2, 6-0 in 61 minutes.
   Anisimova, who won her first professional title at 15 in the 2017 Sacramento Challenger, overwhelmed Zheng 6-1, 6-1 in the second round at Hiroshima last September en route to her first WTA final, in which she lost to crafty veteran Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan.
   In Friday's other quarterfinals, second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus will meet sixth-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain at noon, followed by top-seeded Elina Svitolina of Ukraine against seventh seed and 2018 runner-up Maria Sakkari of Greece.
   The 5-foot-11 (1.82-meter) Sabalenka, 21, is 2-0 against the 5-foot-4 (1.62-meter) Suarez Navarro, 30, including a 6-1, 6-4 victory in the New Haven final last August.
   Suarez Navarro won the doubles title in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic with countrywoman Garbine Muguruza, who last week withdrew from the Silicon Valley Classic for the second consecutive year with an injury.
   Svitolina, a semifinalist in the 2015 Bank of the West Classic in her only other San Francisco Bay Area appearance, defeated Sakkari 6-3, 6-7 (1), 6-2 in the third round at Wimbledon last month in their only career meeting. Svitolina, 24, went on to become the first Ukrainian woman to reach the semifinals at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, her best Grand Slam result.
   Here are the San Jose singles and doubles draws and Friday's schedule.
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