Sunday, September 15, 2019

Romanian routs ailing U.S. teen for $25K Redding title

Champion Gabriela Talaba, right, and Alycia Parks, clutching her sore right
arm, hold their checks during the awards ceremony. Photo by Paul Bauman
   REDDING, Calif. – It doesn't exactly compare to Simona Halep's Wimbledon crown two months ago, but fellow Romanian Gabriela Talaba's title today was special all the same.
   The third-seeded Talaba routed ailing Alycia Parks, 18, of Port St. Lucie, Fla., 6-1, 6-1 in 62 minutes to win the $25,000 Ascension Project Women's Open on a breezy day at Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness.
   It was the 24-year-old Talaba's fourth singles title in a professional tournament but first on a hardcourt.
Gabriela Talaba of Romania celebrates after
converting her first championship point.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   "I wanted to win it so bad, and it happened," gushed Talaba, who graduated from Texas Tech in sports management last year. "I'm fortunate to be in this situation right now."
   Halep played the match of her life to dismantle Serena Williams 6-2, 6-2 in July for her second Grand Slam singles title and first at Wimbledon. After ending 2017 and 2018 ranked No. 1, Halep is now No. 6.
   "Everyone (in Romania) appreciates what she's doing," said Talaba, a 5-foot-8 (1.73-meter) left-hander with a beautiful one-handed backhand. "For her being No. 1 in the world and coming from such a small country (with a population of 19.4 million), it brings so much pride to the people.
   "Of course, it's not only her. There are so many others after her – top 100, top 200. There are probably 10 girls ahead of me, and I'm pretty high-ranked right now."
   Actually, Talaba is ranked 13th in Romania at No. 307. No. 125 Mihaela Buzarnescu, another left-hander, won last year's inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose on the WTA Tour.
   Talaba has crossed paths with Halep once, at a fitness camp in 2014 before enrolling at Texas Tech. Talaba has never hit with the 27-year-old star.
   "I barely got to talk to her," Talaba cracked.
Alycia Parks serves during the final. Gabriela
Talaba praised Parks' serve and said the 18-
year-old American has top-100 potential.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Parks, who turned pro at 16, fell to 0-2 in singles finals. The 5-foot-11 (1.80-meter) right-hander, who ousted top-seeded Katherine Sebov 6-4, 7-5 in Saturday night's second semifinal, often grabbed her right forearm and shook her right arm during the final. She also iced her right biceps on changeovers.
   "I had this problem a month ago," the unseeded Parks said. "It started bothering me in the quarterfinals. If I play a tougher match, it starts bothering me the next day. It affected me a lot (today) because I couldn't serve."
  Parks had only one ace and committed seven double faults. The wind didn't help, especially considering Parks has a high service toss.
   "Some of my tosses were too far in front," lamented Parks, who also made numerous unforced errors. "Today just wasn't my day."
   Parks said she will play in a $15,000 tournament in windy Lubbock, the home of Texas Tech, next week as planned.
   Talaba, who played all week with a bandage on her left hand to protect a blister on her palm, formulated her strategy against the explosive Parks after watching the American's semifinal.
   "I thought she made more mistakes on the backhand side," said Talaba, who collected $3,935 and improved to 2-0 against Parks, who earned $2,107. "Today, I tried to mix it up because yesterday from what I watched, they were just playing a flat ball all the time back and forth.
   "I tried to slice the return pretty much all the time, then be aggressive on other shots, mixing spin with slice and coming in sometimes. She (plays very well) if I hit flat balls to her, but she doesn't (play) that well when I mix it up. I tried to switch sides, (hitting) not only (to her) backhand or forehand. I think that helped."
Gabriela Talaba prepares to slug her one-handed
backhand. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Talaba was Parks' second left-handed opponent in the tournament. Parks edged American Sanaz Marand, who won the Redding doubles title in 2012 with compatriot Jacqueline Cako, 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (5) in 3 hours, 6 minutes on Tuesday in the first round and did not play singles on Wednesday.
   "She doesn't usually get to play lefties, so that was a little bit of an advantage for me," said Talaba, who saved all six break points against her, twice overcoming 0-40 deficits, had one ace and committed no double faults.
   The 522nd-ranked Parks has top-100 potential, according to Talaba.
   "She has a really good serve," observed Talaba. "If she stays a little bit more positive throughout her matches, I think she has a bright future."
   Talaba, who's based in Dallas, will skip the Lubbock tournament and play a $60,000 event in Templeton, Calif., the following week.
   "I want to go farther and farther in the rankings and play in the bigger tournaments, but I miss the place. Probably what I don't miss about it is the wind," Talaba said with a laugh. "But I miss the people, the place. It just brings me really good memories."
   Kunal Patel San Francisco (KPSF) ChampionshipsSteve Johnson of Redondo Beach in the Los Angeles area defeated Stefan Kozlov of Pembroke Pines, Fla., in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale region 6-4, 6-2 to win the unsanctioned tournament at the Berkeley Tennis Club.
   Johnson, 29, is ranked No. 95, and Kozlov, 21, is No. 546.

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