Monday, August 31, 2020

Bellis battles back as bizarre U.S. Open begins

CiCi Bellis returned to the U.S. Open for the first time since 2017 and earned
her first victory at Flushing Meadows since 2016. File photo by Mal Taam

No fans, no defending champions and no Roger Federer.

Otherwise, it's a typical U.S. Open.

The first round began today at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., with no fans permitted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Rafael Nadal, last year's champion, and five of the top seven women in the rankings, including 2019 champ Bianca Andreescu, chose not to play due to coronavirus concerns.

Federer is recovering from two knee operations, making this the first Grand Slam tournament of the 21st century without both men's icons.

Benoit Paire of France tested positive for the coronavirus and was removed from the draw.

But CiCi Bellis, a 21-year-old wild card who was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, returned to the U.S. Open for the first time since 2017 and earned her first victory at Flushing Meadows since 2016. She defeated Tamara Korpatsch, a 25-year-old German, 6-7 (13), 6-3, 6-2 in their first meeting. 

Bellis underwent three operations on her right wrist and one on her right elbow in 2018-19. She first made headlines by shocking 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of the 2014 U.S. Open at 15.

Bellis is scheduled to meet 38th-seeded Jennifer Brady, a 6-3, 6-2 winner over Anna Blinkova of Russia, on Wednesday. Brady won the Redding (Calif.) Challenger at 19 in 2014 and captured her first WTA title three weeks ago in Lexington, Ky.

Bellis beat Brady 7-6 (2), 7-5 in the first round of qualifying in Sydney in January 2018 in their only previous meeting.

Earlier today, 31st-seeded Anastasia Sevastova of Latvia eliminated 16-year-old U.S. sensation Coco Gauff 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

Gauff, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon last year and the Australian Open in January, committed 13 double faults in her second consecutive first-round loss and earliest exit from a Grand Slam tournament.

Sevastova, a U.S. Open semifinalist in 2018 and quarterfinalist the two previous years, had been 1-8 this year. Her only victory was over — go figure — Serena Williams, 7-6 in the third set, in the Fed Cup in February.

Top-seeded Karolina Pliskova, the runner-up to Angelique Kerber in the 2016 U.S. Open and 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, beat Ukraine's Anhelina Kalinina, who won the 2015 Sacramento Challenger, 6-4, 6-0. Pliskova, ranked third, reeled off the last eight games.

On the men's side, fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany topped 34-year-old Kevin Anderson, the U.S. Open runner-up three years ago, 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5. The 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) Anderson, who underwent knee surgery in February, pounded 20 aces, and the 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Zverev had 18.

Cameron Norrie, who won the 2017 Tiburon and Stockton Challengers in Northern California in consecutive weeks, outlasted ninth-seeded Diego Schwartzman, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist in two of the past three years, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 7-5 in 3 hours, 59 minutes. 

Norrie, a 25-year-old left-hander, won the last four games, saving two match points. He was born in South Africa, grew up in New Zealand and plays for Great Britain.

Steve Johnson, who won last year's Aptos (Calif.) Challenger, defeated Davis Cup teammate John Isner for the fifth consecutive time, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (3) in 3 hours, 50 minutes.

The 6-foot-10 (2.08-meter) Isner, seeded 16th, ripped 52 aces, and the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Johnson had 22. Johnson never lost his serve and broke Isner's twice.

Seventh-seeded David Goffin, a 5-foot-11 (1.80-meter) Belgian, beat Reilly Opelka, a 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) American, 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. 

In the first featured night match, top-ranked Novak Djokovic dismissed Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina 6-1, 6-4, 6-1. 

Djokovic, who improved to 24-0 this year and 27-0 since November, seeks his fourth U.S. Open singles title. Dzumhur, only 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters) and 150 pounds (68 kilograms), was seeded first in Aptos last year and reached the quarterfinals.

Fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka beat Misaki Doi, a 5-foot-3 (1.59-meter) left-hander, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 in an all-Japanese encounter. Osaka seems to have recovered from the hamstring injury that caused her to withdraw from the final of the Western & Southern Open at the National Tennis Center on Saturday. She did not wear a bandage.

Osaka made her WTA main-draw debut in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic and won the first of her two Grand Slam singles titles at 20 in the 2018 U.S. Open, beating Williams in a tumultuous final.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Dangerous dozen: Men, women to watch in U.S. Open

Here are six men and six women to watch in the U.S. Open, Monday through Sept. 13 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. Television coverage begins at 9 a.m. (PDT) on ESPN.

MEN

NOVAK DJOKOVIC
Photo by Paul Bauman

Novak Djokovic (1) — Heavy favorite in absence of Rafael Nadal (coronavirus concerns) and Roger Federer (arthroscopic knee surgery). ... World No. 1 owns 26-match win streak dating to November. ... Treated for neck problem en route to title in this week's Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows. ... At 33, has won 17 Grand Slam singles titles, three in U.S. Open, to rank third behind 39-year-old Federer (20) and 34-year-old Nadal (19). ... Northern California connection: None.

Dominic Thiem (2) — Three-time Grand Slam runner-up lost 6-2, 6-1 in 61 minutes to Filip Krajinovic in second round of Western & Southern Open after receiving first-round bye. ... NorCal connection: None.

Daniil Medvedev (3) — Six-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Russian fell to Nadal in last year's epic U.S. Open final. NorCal connection: None.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) — At 20 in 2019, reached Australian Open semifinals, beating Federer in fourth round. ... Has not advanced past second round of U.S. Open in two main-draw appearances. ... NorCal connection: None.

Milos Raonic (25)Wimbledon runner-up in 2016 reached Western & Southern final, losing to Djokovic 6-4 in third set. ... NorCal connection: Won three of his eight career ATP singles titles in now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose, Calif. Never lost set in tournament, winning last three titles (2011, 2012, 2013).

Reilly Opelka — Surprisingly agile at 6-foot-11 (2.11 meters), 23-year-old is best hope to end U.S. men's 17-year title drought in Grand Slam singles, said ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert, adding that Opelka has top-three potential. ... Retired from Western & Southern quarterfinals with knee injury. ... Will open against seventh-seeded David Goffin, 5-foot-11 (1.80-meter) Belgian who has never advanced past fourth round of U.S. Open. ... NorCal connection: Lost in first round of 2018 Stockton and Fairfield Challengers as second and fourth seed, respectively. Blasted 32 aces in three-set Stockton loss to Maxime Janvier of France.

WOMEN

Karolina Pliskova (1) — Runner-up to Angelique Kerber in 2016 U.S. Open climbed to No. 1 following year. ... Upset by Veronika Kudermetova in second round of this week's Western & Southern Open after receiving first-round bye. ...  NorCal connection: Also lost to Kerber in final of 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford.

Sofia Kenin (2) — Stormed to first Grand Slam title in Australian Open in January as 14th seed at age 21. ... Ousted by Alize Cornet in second round of Western & Southern Open after receiving first-round bye. ... NorCal connection: Won Challenger singles titles in 2016 at 17, 2017 and 2018.

Serena Williams (3) — Has lost her last four major finals in straight sets in attempt to tie Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. ... Six-time U.S. Open champion has struggled in two tournaments since tour resumed this month. ... Will turn 39 on Sept. 26. ... NorCal connection: Part-time resident of Silicon Valley. Distracted by parole of sister's killer, suffered worst loss of career — 6-1, 6-0 in 51 minutes to Johanna Konta — in first round of inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., in 2018. Won Bank of the West Classic in 2011, 2012 and 2014.

NAOMI OSAKA
Photo by Paul Bauman

Naomi Osaka (4) — Former world No. 1 favored to win third Grand Slam singles title despite withdrawing from Western & Southern final against Victoria Azarenka with hamstring injury. ... First major crown came in 2018 U.S. Open at age 20 as she shocked Williams in tumultuous final. ... NorCal connection: Made her WTA main-draw debut in 2014 Bank of the West Classic at 16, stunning 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur.

Aryna Sabalenka (5) — Powerful but erratic, 22-year-old Belarusian has never advanced past fourth round of Grand Slam tournament. ... Won U.S. Open doubles title last year with Elise Mertens of Belgium. ... NorCal connection: Reached final of Silicon Valley Classic last August, losing to Zheng Saisai. Formerly coached by Dmitry Tursunov, former top-20 player from Moscow who trained in NorCal as junior and professional.

Garbine Muguruza (10) — Two-time major champion and ex-world No. 1 has not played official match since reaching Doha quarterfinals in February. ... Lost to Kenin in Australian Open final in January. ... NorCal connection: Withdrew from first two Mubadala Silicon Valley Classics in 2018 and 2019. This year's tournament was canceled because of COVID-19 pandemic. In her only two Stanford appearances, reached singles semifinals in 2017 and quarterfinals in 2014 and won doubles title in 2014 with fellow Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Osaka pulls out of final with injury; Djokovic takes title

Victoria Azarenka won her first singles title since
2016 and 21st overall. File photo by Paul Bauman
Naomi Osaka withdrew from today's final against Victoria Azarenka in the Western & Southern Open with a hamstring injury.

The fourth-seeded Osaka defeated 14th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-2, 7-6 (5) at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., on Friday.

"I'm sorry to have to withdraw today with an injury," Osaka, 22, of Japan said on wtatennis.com. "I pulled my left hamstring yesterday in the second-set tiebreak, and it has not recovered overnight as I had hoped. This has been an emotional week, and I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support."

The semifinal against Mertens was scheduled for Thursday, but Osaka, who's Black with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, staged a one-day boycott to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, an African-American, by police in Kenosha, Wis. All of Thursday's matches then were postponed until Friday.

Osaka is scheduled to play countrywoman Misaki Doi on Monday night (ESPN2) in the first round of the U.S. Open at the National Tennis Center. Osaka won the first of her two Grand Slam singles titles in the 2018 U.S. Open, stunning Serena Williams in a tumultuous final.

Osaka made her WTA main-draw debut in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2014, stunning 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur. 

The unseeded Azarenka, a 31-year-old mother and two-time Australian Open champion, claimed her first singles title since Miami in April 2016 and 21st overall. The former world No. 1 played only two tournaments between May of that year and March 2018 because of her pregnancy and a subsequent child custody dispute, plummeting to No. 978 in May 2017. 

Azarenka will soar 32 places to No. 27 in Monday's world rankings. Osaka, also formerly ranked No. 1, will rise one notch to No. 9. 

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic beat unseeded Milos Raonic 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 for his second Western & Southern title, tying Rafael Nadal's record of 35 Masters 1000 crowns. The only player to win all nine ATP Masters 1000 titles, Djokovic now has claimed them all twice. He improved to 23-0 this year, 26-0 dating to last November and 11-0 against the hard-serving Raonic.

Djokovic, 33, was coming off a grueling 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (0) victory in 3 hours over eighth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain on Saturday. 

Djokovic was treated for a neck problem twice during the second set and in his second-round victory over Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania. Late in Friday's match, Djokovic held his stomach, panted between points and bent over in apparent exhaustion.

As if all that isn't enough, Djokovic and former top-30 player Vasek Pospisil of Canada are trying to form a new group to represent men's professional players.

If healthy, Djokovic is strongly favored to win his fourth U.S. Open singles title. He is scheduled to open against No. 107 Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina on Monday at 4 p.m. PDT (ESPN2), followed by Osaka against Doi.

Nadal, who won his fourth U.S. Open title last year, is skipping this year's tournament because of coronavirus concerns. Roger Federer, who captured his five Flushing Meadows titles consecutively (2004-08), will miss the rest of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee for the second time this year.

Raonic, who played in his first final since losing to Roger Federer on grass in Stuttgart in June 2018, will rise 12 spots to No. 18 on Monday. He has been plagued by injuries since reaching the 2016 Wimbledon final, losing to Andy Murray, and ascending to a career-high No. 3 that November.

Raonic won three of his eight career ATP singles titles in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose, Calif. He never lost a set in the tournament, winning the last three titles (2011, 2012 and 2013).

Friday, August 28, 2020

Resurgent Raonic, Azarenka in finals; Djokovic survives

Unseeded Victoria Azarenka topped eighth-seeded Johanna Konta 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the
semifinals of the Western & Southern Open. They won the Bank of the West Classic
at Stanford in 2010 and 2016, respectively. 2018 photo by Mal Taam
Tuning up for the U.S. Open, two resurgent players reached finals in the Western & Southern Open.

Unseeded Milos Raonic, a 29-year-old Canadian, beat fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 7-6 (5), 6-3 today at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. 

The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Raonic, who saved a set point serving at 5-6 in the first set, advanced to his first final since losing to Roger Federer on grass in Stuttgart in June 2018.

Earlier today, unseeded Victoria Azarenka, a 31-year-old mother from Belarus, topped eighth-seeded Johanna Konta of Great Britain 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to reach her first final since retiring against Garbine Muguruza in Monterrey in April 2019. 

Azarenka and Konta won the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2010 and 2016, respectively. 

The U.S. Open begins Monday at the National Tennis Center.

Unseeded Milos Raonic beat fourth-seeded
Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6 (5), 6-3. Raonic won
three of his eight career ATP singles titles
in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose,
Calif. 2016 photo by Paul Bauman 

In Saturday's finals (ESPN2), Azarenka will face fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka of Japan at 8 a.m. (PDT), followed by Raonic against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the 2018 Western & Southern Open champion in Cincinnati.

An ailing Djokovic literally gutted out a 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (0) victory over eighth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut to improve to 22-0 this year and end a three-match losing streak to the Spaniard on hardcourts. The grueling baseline battle lasted 3 hours.

Osaka beat 14th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-2, 7-6 (5) one day after declining to play in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an African-American, in Kenosha, Wis. 

"During the quarantine, I was seeing a lot of (protests) happening, and I always thought it would be nice if someone started something in tennis," the 22-year-old Osaka, who's Black and Japanese, said on ESPN2. "Honestly, I'm more of a follower than a leader. I was just waiting and waiting, but then I realized that maybe I would have to be the one to take the first step."

Djokovic, 33, is 10-0 against Raonic. Osaka leads Azarenka 2-1, but Osaka's victories came on clay, and Azarenka's 6-1, 6-1 win in the third round of the Australian Open came in January 2016, when Osaka was only 18.

Both Osaka and Azarenka have won two Grand Slam singles titles, including the Australian Open, and been ranked No. 1. 

Osaka made her WTA main-draw debut in the Bank of the West Classic at 16 in 2014, stunning 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur.

Raonic will jump at least 12 places to No. 18 on Monday. He has been plagued by injuries since reaching the 2016 Wimbledon final, losing to Andy Murray, and ascending to a career-high No. 3 that November.

Raonic won three of his eight career ATP singles titles in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose, Calif. He never lost a set in the tournament, winning the last three titles (2011, 2012 and 2013).

Azarenka will soar at least 24 spots to No. 35. She played only two tournaments between May 2016 and March 2018 because of her pregnancy and a subsequent child custody dispute, plummeting to No. 978 in May 2017.

Djokovic was treated for a neck problem twice during the second set. Late in the match, he held his stomach, breathed heavily between points and bent over in apparent exhaustion. 

Osaka, struggling with her toss, converted only 50 percent of her first serves. Mertens, meanwhile, capitalized on only three of 21 break-point opportunities. At 4-4 in the second set, Osaka held serve after 10 deuces.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Osaka to play; Bryans retire; U.S. Open draws held

Naomi Osaka, shown at 16 in 2014, said postponing the
semifinals of the Western & Southern Open one day brings
more attention to police violence. Photo by Paul Bauman

Naomi Osaka said today that she will play Friday in the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

The semifinals had been scheduled for today, but Osaka, a two-time Grand Slam singles champion, said she would not play to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, an African-American, by police in Kenosha, Wis., on Sunday. Tournament officials then postponed all of today's matches until Friday.

Osaka, 22, was born in Japan to a Haitian father and Japanese mother and grew up in Florida. Although based in Los Angeles, she plays for Japan.

"As you know, I pulled out of the tournament yesterday (to protest) racial injustice and continued police violence," Osaka, who's Black with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, said in a statement. "I was (and am) ready and prepared to concede the match to my opponent.

"However, after my announcement and lengthy consultation with the WTA and USTA, I have agreed at their request to play on Friday. They offered to postpone all matches until Friday and in my mind that brings more attention to the movement."

Osaka is scheduled to play 14th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Friday at 8 a.m. PDT (ESPN2). They have split two career matches. Osaka won the last meeting 6-4, 6-1 in the Osaka semifinals en route to the title last September.

Osaka made her WTA main-draw debut in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford at 16 in 2014, stunning 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur.

Mertens reached the semifinals of the Australian Open and inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., in 2018. The tournament replaced the Bank of the West Classic.

Here's Friday's schedule (times EDT). 

Bryans retire – Former Stanford stars Bob and Mike Bryan, who won a record 16 Grand Slam men's doubles titles, announced their retirement after a 22-year career.

"We just both feel it in our guts that it is the right moment," Mike Bryan, the older of the 42-year-old twins by 2 minutes, told The New York Times. "At this age, it takes so much work to go out there and compete. We love playing still, but we don't love getting our bodies ready to get out there. The recovery is tougher. We feel like we were competitive this year, last year, the year before. We want to go out right now where we still have some good tennis left."

The Bryans won six Australian Open, five U.S. Open, three Wimbledon and two French Open titles. They captured an Open Era-record 119 tour titles together (including four in the ATP Finals), earned a gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics and helped the United States win its last Davis Cup championship in 2007.

The Bryans spent 438 weeks at No. 1 and ended 10 seasons as the top-ranked team (2003, 2005-07, 2009-14). They played at Stanford in 1997 and 1998, helping the Cardinal win the NCAA team championship each year. Bob Bryan achieved a rare Triple Crown in 1998, sweeping the NCAA singles, doubles (with Mike) and team titles.

Stanford students are not allowed to choose roommates. The Bryans were given rooms on opposite sides of campus, but Bob brought a mattress to Mike's dorm and slept on the floor.

The Bryans' father, Wayne Bryan, coached the now-defunct Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis for 12 years (2002-13). He led Sacramento to two WTT titles (2002 and 2007) and was named the league's Coach of the Year three times (2004-06).

U.S. Open draws – Third-seeded Serena Williams, a part-time Silicon Valley resident, will open her quest for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title against Kristie Ahn, a 28-year-old Stanford graduate.

The U.S. Open is scheduled for Monday through Sept. 13 at the National Tennis Center. No fans will be allowed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Williams, a six-time U.S. Open champion who will turn 39 next month, and Ahn, who reached the fourth round at Flushing Meadows last year, will meet for the first time. They are ranked No. 9 and No. 97, respectively.

Ahn was born two miles (3.2 kilometers) from the National Tennis Center and lives a 30-minute drive away in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

Sloane Stephens, a 27-year-old Fresno, Calif., product who won the 2017 U.S. Open, is set to meet Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania for the first time.

Buzarnescu, a 32-year-old left-hander, claimed her only career WTA singles title in the first Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic

Wild card CiCi Bellis, a 21-year-old San Francisco native who grew up down the peninsula in Atherton, will play Tamara Korpatsch of Germany in another first-time matchup. 

Bellis, rebounding from three operations on her right wrist and one on her right elbow, first made headlines by shocking 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of the 2014 U.S. Open at 15.

The men's draw features three players with strong Northern California ties. 

Sam Querrey, another San Francisco native, will meet Andrey Kuznetsov of Russia. The winner could face 11th-seeded Karen Khachanov of Russia.

Left-hander Bradley Klahn, a 30-year-old Stanford grad, will play Sumit Nagal of India, with the survivor potentially facing second-seeded Dominic Thiem.

Mackenzie McDonald, who was born and raised in Piedmont in the East Bay, drew 30th-seeded Casper Ruud, a 21-year-old Norwegian and son of former top-40 player Christian Ruud. McDonald, 25, underwent hamstring tendon surgery in June 2019 and missed the rest of the year.

All three men's matches are first-time meetings. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Osaka declines to play; W&S matches postponed

After Naomi Osaka said today that she would not play Thursday in the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, tournament officials postponed all matches until Friday.

"As a sport, tennis is collectively taking a stance against racial inequality and social injustice that once again has been thrust to the forefront in the United States," the USTA, ATP and WTA said in a statement. "The USTA, ATP Tour and WTA have decided to recognize this moment in time by pausing play at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday, August 27. Play will resume on Friday, August 28."

It's unclear if Osaka will play Friday. 

All three NBA playoff games and three major-league baseball games today also were postponed in the aftermath of the shooting. 

Osaka, 22, was born in Japan to a Haitian father and Japanese mother and grew up in Florida. Although based in Los Angeles, the two-time Grand Slam singles champion plays for Japan. 

"Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman," she tweeted tonight. "And as a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis. I don't expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction."

Blake, a 29-year-old African-American man, was shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wis., on Sunday. He is in intensive care in a Milwaukee hospital and paralyzed from the waist down, his father, Jacob Sr., told CNN. Jacob Sr. said he wasn't sure if the condition is permanent.

"Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach," Osaka wrote. "I'm exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I'm extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again. When will it ever be enough?"

Earlier today, the fourth-seeded Osaka outlasted eighth-seeded Anett Kontaveit of Estonia 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. Osaka is scheduled to play 14th-seeded Elise Mertens, a Belgian who dismissed qualifier Jessica Pegula, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., 6-1, 6-3 in 64 minutes.

Osaka and Mertens, 24, have split two career matches. Osaka won the last meeting 6-4, 6-1 in the Osaka semifinals en route to the title last September. 

Osaka made her WTA main-draw debut in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford at 16 in 2014, stunning 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur. 

Mertens reached the semifinals of the Australian Open and inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., in 2018. The tournament replaced the Bank of the West Classic.

In Friday's other women's semifinal, eighth-seeded Johanna Konta of Great Britain will play unseeded Victoria Azarenka, the 2013 champion in the tournament's traditional home of Cincinnati. 

Konta beat 13th-seeded Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-3, and Azarenka downed unseeded Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 7-6 (9), 6-2. Neither Konta, who received a first-round bye, nor Azarenka has lost a set in the tournament.

Azarenka, a 31-year-old mother, is ranked No. 59 after spending most of 2012 at No. 1. Entering the Western & Southern Open, she was 0-3 since last year's tournament.

Azarenka and Konta won the Bank of the West Classic in 2010 and 2016, respectively.

In Friday's men's semifinals, top-ranked Novak Djokovic will face eighth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, and fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece will take on unseeded Milos Raonic of Canada.

Neither Djokovic nor Tsitsipas has lost a set in three matches each this week.

Djokovic improved to 21-0 this year with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany in 62 minutes. Bautista Agut eliminated Russia's Daniil Medvedev, the third seed and defending champion, 1-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Djokovic, 33, is 8-3 against Bautista Agut, 32. Djokovic won the last meeting 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in last year's Wimbledon semifinals, but Bautista Agut has won the last three encounters on hardcourts.

Tsitsipas beat unseeded Reilly Opelka, a 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) American, 5-6 retired (knee). Raonic saved a match point in a 4-6, 7-6 (2), 7-5 victory over unseeded Filip Krajinovic of Serbia. 

Krajinovic routed second-seeded Dominic Thiem 6-2, 6-1 in 61 minutes in the second round.

Raonic defeated the Tsitsipas 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (2) in the third round of the Australian Open in January in their only previous meeting.

Raonic never lost a set in the SAP Open in San Jose, winning the last three titles before the tournament was replaced on the calendar by Rio de Janeiro after 125 years in Northern California. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Serena blows lead, falls listlessly in W&S Open

Six-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Reilly Opelka
is the United States' best hope to end its
17-year Grand Slam title drought in men's
singles, ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert
said. 2018 photo by Paul Bauman

At this rate, Serena Williams will not tie, much less break, Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.

The third-seeded Williams lost to 13th-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-1 tonight in the third round of the Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

Williams, who will turn 39 next month, led 5-2 in the first set and served for the match at 5-3 in the second set against the 21st-ranked Sakkari on another muggy night. Williams played listlessly throughout the third set, shaking her right arm and holding her racket in her left hand between points late in the set.

Williams was coming off a grueling 7-6 (6), 3-6, 7-6 (0) victory over qualifier Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands in 2 hours, 49 minutes on Monday.

In two tournaments since the WTA tour resumed on Aug. 3 after a pandemic-induced hiatus of almost five months, Williams has failed to reach the semifinals. She lost to No. 116 Shelby Rogers 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) in the quarterfinals in Lexington, Ky., two weeks ago.

Williams can tie Court's record by winning the U.S. Open, which begins Monday. It will help that players have a day off between singles matches in Grand Slam tournaments, but Williams has lost her last four major finals in straight sets.

A part-time Silicon Valley resident, Williams won the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 20112012 and 2014

Sakkari advanced to the final of the inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, which replaced the Stanford tournament, in San Jose, Calif., in 2018, losing to Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania.

Earlier today, two Americans upset high-seeded Europeans to reach the biggest quarterfinals of their careers.

Reilly Opelka, 22, of Delray Beach, Fla., eliminated sixth-seeded Matteo Berrettini, an Italian who advanced to the U.S. Open semifinals last year, 6-3, 7-6 (4).

In the women's draw, qualifier Jessica Pegula, a 26-year-old native of Buffalo, N.Y., ousted fifth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. 

Opelka and Pegula are the only remaining Americans in the singles draws.

The 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Opelka belted 19 aces and committed only one double fault on the fast hardcourts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. He won 33 of 35 points (94%) on his first serve and 16 of 23 (70%) on his second delivery.

Opelka lost in the first round of the 2018 Stockton and Fairfield (Calif.) Challengers as the second and fourth seed, respectively.

ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert said Opelka is the United States' best hope to end its 17-year Grand Slam title drought in men's singles. 

"You can't coach height, and he moves very well for 7 feet," said Gilbert, a former top-five player who has coached Grand Slam singles champions Andre Agassi, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick (the last U.S. man to win a major title). "He has top-three potential." 

Pegula, the daughter of Buffalo Bills and Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, advanced to the final of the 2012 Sacramento (Calif.) Challenger at 18 and semifinals of the 2018 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger

Sabalenka reached the final in San Jose, Calif., last August, losing to Zheng Saisai of China, and won the U.S. Open doubles title with Elise Mertens of Belgium one month later in Flushing Meadows. 

Like Opelka, Milos Raonic has a big serve. The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Canadian dominated Murray, a 33-year-old wild card, 6-2, 6-2. Raonic, 29, pounded 10 aces in a rematch of the 2016 Wimbledon final, which Murray won 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2).

Both players have struggled with injuries since then. Murray, who captured the first of his three Grand Slam singles titles in the 2012 U.S. Open, is playing in his first tournament of the year as he continues his comeback from hip operations in 2018 and 2019.

Murray and Raonic combined to go 23-0 with five titles in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose.

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic improved to 20-0 this year with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over wild card Tennys Sandgren of Gallatin, Tenn. Djokovic showed no sign of the neck problem that nagged him in his 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory over qualifier Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania on Monday.

Sandgren, who had hip surgery in 2014, reached the final of the 2017 Tiburon (Calif.) Challenger and the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 2018 and 2020.  

Wednesday's quarterfinals are scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. on ESPN2. 

On the Grandstand, Pegula will face the 14th-seeded Mertens, followed by third seed and defending champion Daniil Medvedev against eighth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut, followed by Djokovic versus unseeded Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany. Eighth-seeded Johanna Konta is set to meet Sakkari not before 2 p.m. 

Raonic will play unseeded Filip Krajinovic not before 4 p.m. on Tennis Channel.

On Court 17 starting at 10 a.m. on ESPN2, fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka will meet 12th-seeded Anett Kontaveit, followed by Victoria Azarenka against Ons Jabeur in a matchup of unseeded players. Opelka will take on fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas not before 2 p.m. 

Azarenka and Konta won the Bank of the West Classic in 2010 and 2016, respectively. Osaka made her WTA main-draw debut at Stanford at 16 in 2014, stunning 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Serena survives, Thiem trounced in W&S Open

Serena Williams edged qualifier Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands 7-6 (6),
3-6, 7-6 (0) today in the second round of the Western & Southern Open
in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. 2018 photo by Mal Taam

The Western & Southern Open lost its top two women's seeds on Sunday and almost lost No. 3 today.

Serena Williams, ranked ninth, edged the Netherlands' Arantxa Rus, a qualifier ranked 72nd, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 7-6 (0) in the second round on a hot, humid day in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

Falling on Sunday were top-seeded Karolina Pliskova and second-seeded Sofia Kenin.

On the men's side today, Filip Krajinovic, a 28-year-old Serb ranked No. 32, thrashed Austria's Dominic Thiem, seeded second and ranked third, 6-2, 6-1 in 61 minutes. 

Krajinovic, the runner-up to Ryan Harrison in the 2009 Chico (Calif.) Futures at 17, won 32 of 34 points (94%) on his serve and never faced a break point. 

Williams, who will turn 39 next month, saved a set point in the first-set tiebreaker on the fast hardcourts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. 

Rus, a 29-year-old left-hander, rallied from 2-5 in the third set to serve for the match at 6-5 in the 2-hour, 49-minute battle. 

Williams, who won the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati in 2014 and 2015, had 14 aces and one double fault in her longest match since a first-round loss to Virginie Razzano in the 2012 French Open. Williams won 82 percent of the points on her first serve (47 of 57).

Williams, a part-time Silicon Valley resident, has struggled in her two tournaments since the WTA Tour resumed two weeks ago after a hiatus of almost five months because of the coronavirus pandemic. She fell to No. 116 Shelby Rogers 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) in the quarterfinals in Lexington, Ky., her first loss to a player ranked in triple digits since the match against No. 111 Razzano.

Williams is scheduled to meet Greece's Maria Sakkari, seeded 13th and ranked 21st, for the first time on Tuesday not before 4 p.m. (ESPN). Sakkari, the runner-up in the inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., in 2018, beat Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan 6-4, 7-6 (9) after dominating 16-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff 6-1, 6-3 on Saturday.

Also today, Marie Bouzkova upset sixth-seeded Petra Kvitova, who won Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2 in an all-Czech encounter.

Qualifier CiCi Bellis, a 21-year-old San Francisco native who grew up down the peninsula in Atherton, fell to second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 7-6 (1), 4-6, 7-5 in 2:20 in their first meeting. 

Bellis, a 5-foot-7 (1.68-meter) right-hander, missed 20 months from March 2018 to November 2019 while undergoing three operations on her right wrist and one on her right elbow. The powerful Sabalenka reached last year's final in San Jose, losing to Zheng Saisai of China. 

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic, in his first official match since February, beat veteran Ricardas Berankis, a 5-foot-9 (1.75-meter) qualifier from Lithuania, 7-6 (2), 6-4. Djokovic had his neck treated after the first set.

Djokovic, the 2018 champion in Cincinnati, improved to 19-0 this year. Berankis reached the quarterfinals of the 2010 SAP Open in San Jose, Calif., as a qualifier, losing to eventual champion Fernando Verdasco of Spain.

Andy Murray, a 33-year-old wild card, topped fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Zverev double-faulted three times while serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set at twice more at 5-6.

Murray, the Western & Southern champion in Cincinnati in 2008 and 2011, won the first of his three Grand Slam singles titles in the 2012 U.S. Open. The first of his 46 tour-level singles titles came at 18 in the 2006 SAP Open, and he repeated the following year. 

Third-seeded Daniil Medvedev began his title defense after receiving a first-round bye. Medvedev, last year's U.S. Open runner-up to Rafael Nadal in an epic at Flushing Meadows, defeated American qualifier Marcos Giron, the 2014 NCAA singles champion from UCLA, 6-4, 6-4.

Seventh-seeded Madison Keys, the women's defending champion, lost to Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 6-4, 6-1.  

Keys won the last Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2017 and reached the U.S. Open final one month later, losing to Fresno, Calif., product Sloane Stephens. Jabeur advanced to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in the Australian Open in January. 

Two American giants advanced in the men's draw. 

Reilly Opelka, 6-foot-11 (2.11 meters), beat ninth-seeded Diego Schwartzman, 5-foot-7 (1.70 meters), of Argentina 6-3, 7-6 (4). 

Sixteenth-seeded John Isner, 6-foot-10 (2.08 meters), blasted 35 aces in a 4-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) victory over John Millman of Australia. Millman, who won Northern California Challengers in 2010 and 2015, shocked Roger Federer in the 2018 U.S. Open to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Top seeds Pliskova, Kenin ousted in W&S Open

Second-seeded Sofia Kenin, who won the Australian
Open in January, lost to Alize Cornet of France 6-1,
7-6 (7) today in the second round of the Western &
Southern Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. 2018
photo by Paul Bauman 
The top two seeds lost today in the second round of the Western & Southern Open.

Not coincidentally, both were playing their first match since the WTA Tour shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Karolina Pliskova, seeded first at No. 3 in the world, fell to Veronika Kudermetova, a 23-year-old Russian ranked No. 41, 7-5, 6-4 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. 

Sofia Kenin, seeded second at No. 4, survived three match points before succumbing to Alize Cornet, a 30-year-old Frenchwoman ranked No. 60, 6-1, 7-6 (7). 

Cornet, who shocked Serena Williams in the third round at Wimbledon in 2014, had two match points serving at 5-2, 40-15 in the second set before Kenin, 21, reeled off four consecutive games. 

Pliskova, the runner-up in the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford and 2016 U.S. Open, and Kenin, who won Northern California Challengers in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and the Australian Open in January, received first-round byes.

Also today, one qualifier from the San Francisco Bay Area won but another lost.

CiCi Bellis, a 21-year-old San Francisco native who grew up down the peninsula in Atherton, edged qualifier Oceane Dodin of France 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (1) in the first round at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. 

Mackenzie McDonald, a 25-year-old product of Piedmont in the East Bay, fell to qualifier Marcos Giron of Thousand Oaks, Calif., in the Los Angeles area 7-6 (2), 7-5 in a first-round matchup of diminutive former NCAA singles champions from UCLA.

The Western & Southern Open, normally held in the Cincinnati area, moved to Flushing Meadows to form a bubble with the U.S. Open because of the COVID-19 pandemic. No fans are allowed at either tournament.

Both Bellis, the 2017 WTA Newcomer of the Year, and McDonald, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2018, are now based at the USTA National Campus in the Orlando, Fla., area and rebounding from surgery. 

Bellis, a 5-foot-7 (1.68-meter) right-hander, sat out for 20 months from March 2018 to November 2019 while undergoing three operations on her right wrist and one on her right elbow. McDonald had hamstring surgery in June 2019 and missed the rest of the year. 

Bellis is scheduled to face Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka, seeded fifth and ranked 11th, for the first time on Monday at about 2 p.m. PDT (Tennis Channel). Sabalenka, the runner-up to Zheng Saisai of China in San Jose, Calif., last August, received a first-round bye.

Sloane Stephens' slump continued as the 27-year-old wild card, who grew up in Fresno, Calif., lost to Caroline Garcia of France 6-3, 7-6 (4) in a matchup for former top-five players. Stephens, playing at the site of her 2017 U.S. Open title (although not the same court), fell to 1-7 this year.

Jessica Pegula, the runner-up in the 2012 Sacramento (Calif.) Challenger at age 18, eliminated Jennifer Brady, who won her first WTA title last week in Lexington, Ky., 7-6 (2), 6-4 in an all-American clash.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Sakkari stops Gauff, 16, in Western & Southern Open

Maria Sakkari, playing in San Jose, Calif., last year, dismissed
Coco Gauff 6-1, 6-3 in the first round of the Western & South-
ern Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. Photo by Paul Bauman 
Maria Sakkari did Coco Gauff a big favor by withdrawing from the WTA tournament in Linz, Austria, last October. 

That allowed Gauff to advance to the main draw as a lucky loser, and she went on to win her first WTA title at age 15. 

Gauff was not as fortunate today. Now 16, she lost to the 25-year-old Greek 6-1, 6-3 in 65 minutes in the first round of the Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

The tournament, normally held in the Cincinnati area, is being played at the site of the U.S. Open with no fans in attendance because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sakkari, seeded 13th at No. 21, won 84 percent of the points on her first serve (21 of 25) and saved the only break point against her.

It was Sakkari's second match since the WTA tour resumed after a hiatus of almost five months. She fell to 69th-ranked Kristyna Pliskova, the twin sister of No. 3 Karolina Pliskova, 6-4, 6-4 on clay in the first round in Palermo two weeks ago.

"I think I really played a good match," Sakkari, the runner-up in the inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., in 2018, said on-court after the match. "I played a match in Palermo, but for me, it doesn't count. It wasn't even a match (there), the way I played. Coming back the way I did, it's really important, and (I take) a lot of confidence from this." 

Sakkari is scheduled to play either No. 33 Yulia Putintseva or No. 36 Zhang Shuai on Monday. 

Former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, who won the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford 10 years ago, dispatched 15th-seeded Donna Vekic, a semifinalist in San Jose last year, 6-2, 6-3. 

Azarenka, the Australian Open champion in 2012 and 2013, will face either wild card Sloane Stephens, a Fresno, Calif., product who won the 2017 U.S. Open, or Carolina Garcia of France. 

Amanda Anisimova, 18, ousted 11th-seeded Alison Riske 6-3, 6-3 in an all-American encounter. 

Anisimova, who won her first professional title in the 2017 Sacramento, Calif., Challenger at 15 and reached the French Open semifinals last year, will face another American in the second round on Monday. She will take on either Jennifer Brady, coming off her first WTA title last week in Lexington, Ky., or qualifier Jessica Pegula, the runner-up in the 2012 Sacramento Challenger at 18.

No. 16 seed Dayana Yastremska, ranked 25th at age 20, eliminated 40-year-old Venus Williams, who has won seven Grand Slam and two Bank of the West singles titles, 7-5, 2-6, 7-5.

On the first day of ATP Tour matches since March, winners included wild card Andy Murray and Milos Raonic, who combined to go 23-0 and win five singles titles in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose.

Murray, 33, defeated American wild card Frances Tiafoe, who won the 2016 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-1. 

Murray, who captured the first of his three Grand Slam singles title in the 2012 U.S. Open, is playing in his first tournament of the year as he continues his comeback from hip operations in 2018 and 2019. He is set to play fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany on Monday.

The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Raonic, who has struggled with injuries since reaching the 2016 Wimbledon final, hammered 19 aces in a 6-4, 6-4 victory over 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Sam Querrey, a 32-year-old San Francisco native.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Bay Area products advance to W&S main draw

Mackenzie McDonald edged Dominik Koepfer in three
tough sets in the first ATP tournament since the men's
and women's tours shut down in March because of the
coronavirus pandemic. File photo by Paul Bauman 

Mackenzie McDonald and CiCi Bellis, wild cards from the San Francisco Bay Area who are rebounding from surgery, won their final-round qualifying matches today in the Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

The 25-year-old McDonald, who was born and raised in the East Bay enclave of Piedmont, edged Dominik Koepfer of Germany 6-7 (0), 7-5, 7-6 (5) in 2 hours, 35 minute in the first ATP tournament since the men's and women's tours shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Both players have reached the fourth round of singles in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis, a 21-year-old San Francisco native who grew up down the peninsula in Atherton, defeated Ysaline Bonaventure of Belgium 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Losing today were 24th-seeded Kristie Ahn, a 28-year-old Stanford graduate from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., in the New York area, and wild card Katie Volynets, 18, of Walnut Creek in the Bay Area. 

The Western & Southern Open moved from the Cincinnati area for this year to form a three-week bubble with the U.S. Open, Aug. 31 to Sept. 13, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

CiCi Bellis defeated Ysaline Bonaventure in three sets in
the Western & Southern Open, which moved from the Cin-
cinnati area to the site of the U.S. Open because of the
pandemic. File photo by Paul Bauman

Both McDonald and Bellis are now based at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla. Also, both will rise at least 28 places in the world rankings, Bellis to No. 221 and McDonald to No. 243. 

McDonald evened his record against Koepfer, a 26-year-old left-hander ranked No. 92, at 1-1. Koepfer, a former All-American at Tulane in New Orleans, won 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals of the $108,320 Dallas Challenger in February.

McDonald made his ATP Tour debut at 18 in the 2013 Western & Southern Open, shocking No. 79 Nicolas Mahut and No. 128 Steve Johnson in qualifying before losing in the first round of the  main draw.

McDonald won his first Challenger title in Fairfield (Calif.), 40 miles (64.4 kilometers) north of Piedmont, in 2017. He advanced to the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2018 and climbed to a career-high No. 57 in April last year. 

Koepfer reached Northern California Challenger finals in 2018 and 2019. As a qualifier, he advanced to the fourth round of the U.S. Open last summer.

McDonald will face Marcos Giron, a qualifier ranked No. 102, for the second time. McDonald won 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-2 in the second round of a $25,000 Futures tournament in Los Angeles in 2017.

McDonald and Giron, 27, are virtual clones of each other. Both:

–Are California natives. Giron is from the Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks.

–Are small. McDonald is 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) and 160 pounds (73 kilograms); Giron is 5-11 (1.78) and 170 (77). 

–Won NCAA singles titles while playing for UCLA, Giron in 2014 and McDonald two years later. They were Bruins teammates in 2014.

–Have undergone surgery, McDonald in June last year (hamstring tendon) and Giron in 2015 (right hip) and 2016 (left hip).

Bellis was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year in 2017 after ascending to a career-high No. 35. But she sat out for almost two years, from March 2018 to November 2019, while undergoing three operations on her right wrist and one on her right elbow.

Bellis will face qualifier Oceane Dodin, a 23-year-old Frenchwoman ranked No. 118, for the first time. Dodin has had health issues of her own. After climbing as high as No. 46 in June 2017, she sat out from July 2018 to April 2019 because of vertigo.

The 97th-ranked Ahn, playing two miles (3.2 kilometers) from the hospital where she was born, fell to Leylah Fernandez, a 17-year-old Canadian ranked No. 111, 6-4, 6-1.

Fernandez, a 5-foot-4 (1.62-meter) left-hander, reached the Acapulco final in February, losing to Heather Watson of Great Britain.

Volynets, who won the USTA 18 National Championships last August and turned pro in December, succumbed to Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens, seeded 12th at No. 79, 6-1, 2-0, retired (apparent muscle strain). Flipkens advanced to the Wimbledon semifinals in 2013, vaulting her to a career-high No. 13. 

Volynets scored her first top-100 win on Thursday, shocking No. 91 Monica Puig, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist in singles rebounding from elbow surgery in December. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Volynets, 18, shocks Olympic gold medalist Puig

Katie Volynets, from Walnut Creek in the San
Francisco Bay Area, beat 19th-seeded Monica
Puig 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the first round of quali-
fying for the Western & Southern Open in Flush-
 ing Meadows, N.Y. 2019 photo by Paul Bauman 

Katie Volynets scored her first victory over a top-100 player today.

The 18-year-old wild card from Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area stunned Puerto Rico's Monica Puig, seeded 19th at No. 91 in the world, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the first round of qualifying for the Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. 

The tournament moved from the Cincinnati area this year to form a bubble with the U.S. Open, Aug. 31 to Sept. 13, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Volynets, who won the USTA 18 National Championships last August and turned pro in December, pounded three aces and committed 11 double faults in the 2-hour, 24-minute battle. Puig had zero and six, respectively.

Puig, a singles gold medalist in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, was competing in her first tournament since reaching the quarterfinals in Luxembourg last October, although she played World TeamTennis for the Las Vegas Rollers last month. Puig underwent elbow surgery in December.

Volynets also defeated Shelby Rogers, a 2016 French Open quarterfinalist, in Acapulco in February for her first win on the WTA Tour. Rogers had knee surgery in May 2018 and missed the rest of the season.

Volynets, who will rise at least 23 places in the world rankings to a career-high No. 328 on Monday, is scheduled to meet 12th-seeded Kirsten Flipkens, 34, of Belgium for the first time on Friday at 8 a.m. PDT in the final round of qualifying.

The 79th-ranked Flipkens, a Wimbledon semifinalist in 2013, outlasted Katarina Zavatska of Ukraine 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (2) in 3 hours, 13 minutes.

Also advancing today were 24th-seeded Kristie Ahn, a 28-year-old Stanford graduate from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., in the New York area, and wild card CiCi Bellis, a 21-year-old San Francisco native who grew up in nearby Atherton.

The 97th-ranked Ahn, who reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open last year, defeated Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany 7-5, 6-0. 

Ahn, playing two miles (3.2 kilometers) from the hospital where she was born, is set to face Leyla Fernandez, a 17-year-old Canadian left-hander, for the first time on Friday at about 10 a.m.

Fernandez, the Acapulco runner-up to Heather Watson of Great Britain as a qualifier, ousted second-seeded Anna Blinkova of Russia 6-1, 6-4.

Bellis outplayed 13th-seeded Madison Brengle, 30, of Bradenton, Fla., 6-3, 7-6 (4). Brengle won Northern California Challengers in Stockton (2018) and Berkeley (2019). She has beaten Serena Williams once and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova three times, including at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

Both Bellis, ranked No. 249, and Brengle, ranked No. 82, own career highs of No. 35. 

Bellis is playing in her sixth tournament since undergoing three operations on her right wrist and one on her right elbow. She is scheduled to play Ysaline Bonaventure, a 25-year-old left-hander from Belgium at about 10 a.m.

 Bonaventure, ranked No. 121, eliminated eighth-seeded Nao Hibino, a Japanese player who won the 2015 Stockton title, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-3. 

Bellis and Bonaventure have met once. At age 15 in 2014, Bellis coasted to a 6-2, 6-1 victory in the final of a $25,000 tournament in Florence, S.C.

In the first ATP tournament since the tours shut down in March, wild card Mackenzie McDonald, a 25-year-old product of Piedmont in the Bay Area, topped 24th-seeded Yuichi Sugita of Japan 7-6 (3), 6-3 at Flushing Meadows.

McDonald won his first Challenger title in Fairfield (Calif.) in 2017, advanced to the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2018 and climbed to a career-high No. 57 in April last year. He had hamstring tendon surgery in June 2019 and missed the rest of the year.

McDonald, who will improve at least 14 spots to No. 257, will meet Dominik Koepfer, a 26-year-old German left-hander. Koepfer, ranked No. 92, beat fifth-seeded Juan Ignacio Londero of Argentina 6-4, 7-6 (0).

Koepfer reached NorCal Challenger finals in 2018 and 2019. As a qualifier, he advanced to the fourth round of the U.S. Open last summer

Koepfer defeated McDonald 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals of the $108,320 Dallas Challenger in February in their only previous meeting.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Halep to skip U.S. Open due to coronavirus concerns

Simona Halep, who won her 21st career singles title on
Sunday in Prague, tweeted that she prefers "to stay and
train in Europe." File photo by Paul Bauman

Second-ranked Simona Halep, a two-time Grand Slam singles champion, said Monday that she will skip the U.S. Open because of coronavirus concerns.

Halep, formerly ranked No. 1, won her 21st career singles title on Sunday in Prague.

"After weighing up all the factors involved and with the exceptional circumstances in which we are living, I have decided that I will not travel to New York to play the @usopen," tweeted Halep, a 28-year-old Romanian. "I always said I would put my health at the heart of my decision and I therefore prefer to stay and train in Europe."

Halep won the French Open in 2018 and Wimbledon last year. Her best result in the U.S. Open is a semifinal appearance in 2015. She has not advanced past the second round at Flushing Meadows since reaching the 2016 quarterfinals.

Six of the top eight women have withdrawn from the U.S. Open, Aug. 31 to Sept. 13. Also opting out were No. 1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia, No. 5 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, No. 6 and reigning champion Bianca Andreescu of Canada, No. 7 Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands and No. 8 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland. The exceptions are No. 3 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic and No. 4 Sofia Kenin of the United States.

Also planning to play are No. 9 Serena Williams, seeking her record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, and No. 10 Naomi Osaka, the 2018 champion. Both are former world No. 1s.

Men who have chosen not to compete in the U.S. Open include No. 2 Rafael Nadal, who won his fourth singles title at Flushing Meadows last year; No. 9 Gael Monfils, a 2016 semifinalist; No. 17 Stan Wawrinka, the 2016 champion; and No. 40 Nick Kyrgios

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic, a three-time U.S. Open champion, has said he will play. Five-time champ Roger Federer, who has had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee twice this year, is out for the rest of the season.

Kei Nishikori, the runner-up to Marin Cilic in the 2014 U.S. Open, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday and said he will pull out of the Western & Southern Open, which begins Saturday at Flushing Meadows. He did not discuss his plans for the U.S. Open.

"I am feeling well and have very little symptoms but will obviously be in complete isolation for the safety of everyone," Nishikori told The Associated Press.

A non-player who has been granted access to the USTA National Tennis Center, the site of the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, also has tested positive. The individual, who is asymptomatic, has been advised to self-isolate for at least 10 days. The USTA did not divulge the person's identity or role.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

American Brady bags first WTA title with win over Swiss

Jennifer Brady, playing in the 2017 Sacramento (Calif.) Challenger, rose
to a career-high No. 40 by winning the inaugural Top Seed Open in Lex-
ington, Ky. Photo by Rob Vomund 
U.S. women, unlike the men, have made big news in the past few years.

Serena Williams has lost her last four Grand Slam finals in straight sets in an attempt to equal Margaret Court's record of 24 major singles titles.

Sofia Kenin, who stunned top-ranked Ashleigh Barty en route to the Australian Open title in January, has skyrocketed to No. 4 in the world at age 21.

Sloane Stephens in 2017 became the second unseeded woman to win the U.S. championships in the Open Era, which began in 1968, and advanced to the French Open final in 2018.

Amanda Anisimova shocked defending champion Simona Halep to reach the semifinals of last year's French Open at 17.

Coco Gauff became a worldwide sensation by reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon last year, upsetting five-time champion Venus Williams in the first round, as a 15-year-old qualifier.

Lost amid all the hoopla, Jennifer Brady is quietly rising in the rankings. 

The 25-year-old product of the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Fla., overpowered Jil Teichmann of Switzerland 6-3, 6-4 today in the inaugural Top Seed Open on hardcourts in Lexington, Ky., for her first WTA title.

"There's nothing better than playing at home in America," Brady, who improved to 2-1 against Teichmann and collected $25,000, crowed during the awards ceremony. "Every person loves to play in their country. To win a title on home soil is a great achievement for me and something that I'm going to be very happy about."

Both players were unseeded in the first WTA tournament in North America in almost one year. In fact, two of the three champions since the tour resumed on Aug. 3 after being shut down for almost five months because of the COVID-19 pandemic were unseeded. Also winning titles were unseeded Fiona Ferro of France in Palermo last week and the top-seeded Halep in Prague today.

"I didn't have my coach (Michael Geserer) or trainer with me during the lockdown because they're both based in Germany," Brady said on wtatennis.com. "We had great communication over the past four, five months. They sent me a plan every day. Over the past few months, I've been going nonstop, working and training really hard. Some days were tough, but through most of it, I was pretty motivated and knew what I was doing would help in the long run."

Brady, one of the few Americans whose favorite surface is clay, was playing in her first WTA final. Teichmann, a 23-year-old left-hander, had been 2-0 in WTA title matches, winning on clay in Prague and Palermo last year. 

Neither player had lost a set in the tournament entering the final. Brady surrendered only 25 games in five matches, dropped her serve only three times and saved all four break points against her in the final. Brady faced only one seed, No. 6 Magda Linette, ranked 36th, in the second round.

Both finalists rose nine places in the rankings, Brady to a career-high No. 40 (seventh in the United States) and Teichmann to a career-high-tying No. 54 (second in Switzerland behind No. 8 Belinda Bencic).

Because of Brady's success in Lexington and several U.S. Open withdrawals due to coronavirus concerns, she will be seeded at Flushing Meadows, Aug. 31 to Sept. 13.

Brady has needed time to harness her power and tame her emotions. She played at UCLA for two years (2014-15), helping the Bruins win the NCAA title as a freshman. In Northern California Challengers, she won the singles and doubles title in Redding ($25,000) in 2014 at age 19 and reached the quarterfinals as the top seed in Sacramento ($60,000) in 2017, losing to defending champion Kenin.

Also in 2017, Brady advanced to the fourth round of the Australian Open at age 21 and U.S. Open at 22. She became the first American female qualifier to advance to the last 16 in Melbourne in the Open Era.

Brady recorded her first two top-10 wins this year before the women's and men's tours shut down in March. As a qualifier, she knocked off Barty to reach the quarterfinals in Brisbane in January and No. 6 Elina Svitolina en route to the Dubai semifinals in February. Brady then played 19 exhibition matches during the hiatus.

The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Brady converted only 33 percent of her first serves in the first set against the 5-foot-6 (1.70-meter) Teichmann, who was born in Barcelona and lived there until she was 14, and 44 percent overall. But Brady won 81% of those points (25 of 31) and 62% on her second serve (24 of 39).

Brady broke serve on Teichmann's mis-hit forehand to lead 5-3 in the first set, then capitalized on her fifth set point. Brady earned the only break of the second set in the opening game on Teichmann's long forehand.

Teichmann, who earned $14,000 as the runner-up, also lost in the doubles final. Fourth-seeded Hayley Carter, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Luisa Stefani of Brazil beat unseeded Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic and Teichmann 6-1, 7-5 for their second WTA title. The winners split $9,000, and the runners-up shared $5,040.

Carter and Stefani starred at North Carolina and Pepperdine, respectively. Carter won the doubles title in the 2018 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger with Ena Shibahara, a native of Mountain View in the San Francisco Bay Area and former UCLA standout who plays for Japan.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Brady beats Gauff, 16, to reach first WTA final

Jennifer Brady, playing in the 2017 Sacramento (Calif.) Challenger, will face
Jil Teichmann of Switzerland in the final of the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky.
 Both players are unseeded. Photo by Rob Vomund
This week's Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., featured plenty of star power.

Four Grand Slam singles champions — Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Sloane Stephens — inhabited the top quarter of the draw, and 16-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff occupied the bottom quarter.

Meeting in Sunday's final (8 a.m. PDT, Tennis Channel), however, will be two rising unseeded players.

Jennifer Brady, a 25-year-old former UCLA star from Boca Raton, Fla., overpowered Gauff 6-2, 6-4 to reach her first WTA final. 

Gauff had ousted second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, the runner-up in San Jose, Calif., last August, in the second round and eighth-seeded Ons Jabeur, an Australian Open quarterfinalist in January, in the quarters.

Jil Teichmann, a 23-year-old left-hander from Switzerland, dismissed Shelby Rogers, a 27-year-old wild card from Charleston, S.C., 6-3, 6-2. Rogers was coming off a three-set victory over top-seeded Serena Williams, who has a residence in Silicon Valley, on Friday.

Teichmann, who was born in Barcelona and lived there until she was 14, is 2-0 in WTA finals, winning on clay in Prague and Palermo last year, and 1-1 against Brady.

Neither finalist has lost a set in four matches in the first WTA tournament in North America in almost one year. Brady has dropped 17 games and Teichmann 22. 

"I don't have an answer for that, why I don't lose any sets," Teichmann, who also reached the doubles final, said in an on-court interview. "I just feel very good. I'm playing very consistent, and I feel great on court. I guess that's the main reason."

Brady played at UCLA for two years (2014-15), helping the Bruins win the NCAA title as a freshman. She won the singles and doubles titles in the 2014 Redding (Calif.) Challenger and reached the fourth round of the 2017 Australian Open and U.S. Open.

Brady won 85 percent of the points (22 of 26) on her first serve in her first career match against Gauff and faced only one break point, which she saved. Brady had eight aces and two double faults. 

Both Brady, a semifinalist in Dubai as a qualifier in February, and Gauff, who won the title in Linz, Austria, last October as a lucky loser, will ascend to career-high rankings on Monday. Brady is guaranteed to rise six places to No. 43, and Gauff will improve five notches to No. 48.

In another first-time matchup, Teichmann converted only 46% of her first serves (to Rogers' 74%) but won 80 percent of those points (20 of 25). She will jump at least nine places in the rankings to tie her career high of No. 54.

Rogers made numerous unforced errors in the match but will return to the top 100 for the first time since April 2018, vaulting 21 places to No. 95. 

Rogers reached the quarterfinals of the 2016 French Open and climbed to a career-high No. 48 the following January. However, she hurt her left knee in a first-round loss at Indian Wells in March 2018, had surgery and sat out for one year.

In the doubles semifinals, unseeded Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic and Teichmann edged top-seeded Alexa Guarachi, a native of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., who plays for Chile, and Desirae Krawczyk, a left-hander born in Palm Desert, Calif., 6-2, 3-6 [10-4].

Bouzkova and Teichmann will play fourth-seeded Hayley Carter, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Luisa Stefani of Brazil after the singles final. Carter and Stefani starred at North Carolina and Pepperdine, respectively. 

Carter won the doubles title in the 2018 Stockton, Calif., Challenger with Ena Shibahara, a native of Mountain View in the San Francisco Bay Area who plays for Japan.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Serena falls to No. 116 Rogers; Gauff, 16, rallies; Bellis out

Serena Williams lost to wild card Shelby Rogers 1-6, 6-4,
7-6 (5) today in the quarterfinals of the inaugural Top Seed
Open in Lexington, Ky. File photo by Paul Bauman

Serena Williams lost to a player ranked in triple digits for the first time in more than eight years today.

Of course, Shelby Rogers is not really that caliber.

Rogers, a wild card ranked No. 116, stunned Williams, seeded first and ranked ninth, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) in an all-American quarterfinal in the inaugural Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky.

"It's every kid's dream when they're growing up watching her play to do something like that," the 27-year-old Rogers, a former top-50 player rebounding from knee surgery, said in an on-court interview. "Weird circumstances, weird setting, but a win is a win, and I know that we're all just happy to be back playing. It's great to see everyone fit and playing well." 

There is little seating at the site, which isn't a problem because no fans are allowed at the tournament, the first on the WTA tour in North America in almost one year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tournament featured four Grand Slam singles champions (Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Fresno, Calif., product Sloane Stephens), all in Rogers' quarter of the draw.

Rogers is scheduled to face unseeded Jil Teichmann of Switzerland for the first time on Saturday at 8 a.m. PDT (Tennis Channel). Teichmann, 23, needed seven match points to subdue CiCi Bellis, a 21-year-old San Francisco native who grew up in nearby Atherton, 6-2, 6-4.

Teichmann, who has not lost a set in three matches, will be Rogers' third left-handed opponent this week.

"I'm not sure I've ever done that before," said Rogers, who beat lefties Misaki Doi of Japan in the first round and Leylah Fernandez, a 17-year-old qualifier from Canada, in the second round. "It's definitely rare."

After the Rogers-Teichmann match, Coco Gauff will meet Jennifer Brady for the first time in a showdown of unseeded Americans.

Gauff, a 16-year-old phenom ranked No. 53, defeated Tunisia's Ons Jabeur, seeded eighth and ranked a career-high 39th, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. Gauff trailed 2-4 in the second set but won 10 of the last 11 games.

Brady, ranked No. 49, drubbed unseeded Marie Bouzkova, a Czech ranked one notch higher, 6-1, 6-2. Brady, who reached the Dubai semifinals as a qualifier in February, has lost only 11 games in her three matches this week.

Williams, a 38-year-old part-time resident of Silicon Valley, suffered her first loss to a player ranked No. 100 or below since falling to No. 111 Virginie Razzano of France in the first round of the 2012 French Open.

Rogers, meanwhile, recorded her third victory over a top-10 player. She defeated No. 8 Eugenie Bouchard of Canada in the second round at Montreal in 2014 and ousted No. 4 Simona Halep in the first round of the 2017 Australian Open.

Rogers reached the quarterfinals of the French Open in 2016 and climbed to a career-high No. 48 the following January. However, she suffered a knee injury in a first-round loss at Indian Wells in March 2018, had surgery and sat out for one year.  

All three of Williams' matches in the tournament went to three sets, including her emotional win over Venus Williams on Thursday.

Against Rogers, Serena Williams led 3-1 in the tiebreaker and netted a putaway forehand that would have made it 4-1. Rogers won the next three points to lead 5-3. 

Williams made it 4-5 with a swinging forehand volley but netted a backhand to give Rogers two match points. Williams saved the first one with a service winner but then slugged a backhand long. 

"I was definitely a little bit overwhelmed in the first set with the pace, heavy spin and serve," Rogers admitted after playing Williams for the first time and reaching her first WTA semifinal in more than four years. "I just tried to make a few more balls, make one more, one more, run down a few more."

Rogers converted only 45 percent of her first serves in the match.

"The serve was a struggle for me today, but the second serve came through when I needed it," she said. "Then (on the second) match point, I made a first serve, so that's all that matters, I guess."

Gauff, coming off a three-set victory over second-seeded and 11th-ranked Aryna Sabalenka on Wednesday, reached her second WTA semifinal. She won the title in Linz, Austria, last October as a lucky loser.

Gauff, who advanced to the fourth round at Wimbledon last year and the Australian Open in January, is guaranteed to rise to a career-high No. 48 on Monday. 

Jabeur won the French Open girls singles title in 2011 and reached her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal in the Australian Open in January, ending former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki's career in the third round.

Bellis survived all six match points with Teichmann serving at 5-3 in the second set and finally broke on a double fault. But Teichmann, who has one of the best returns-of-serve in women's tennis, broke serve for the sixth time to close out the match. 

"That was tough," Teichmann said of the next-to-last game. "I was serving very well from this side, but obviously when you serve for the match, it's a bit different. You start thinking a bit, and she was starting to play a bit more aggressive. She hit a few lines, and I was hitting a little bit out, so it was a very close game. I'm happy to close it in the next game."

Teichmann lost the first two games of the match but won the next nine en route to her first WTA hardcourt semifinal. Bellis converted only 22 percent of her first serves in the first set and 43 percent overall.

"I started a little bit slow, and CiCi started very well," said Teichmann, who will rise at least five places to No. 58, four spots off her career high in July 2019. "I just knew I had to get into a rhythm, and I was lucky to get it in the third game. After that, I played very consistent." 

Teichmann, who was born in Barcelona and lived there until she was 15, and Bellis met for the first time as professionals. Bellis routed Teichmann 6-2, 6-1 in the 2015 French Open girls quarterfinals. 

Curiously, Teichmann decided to play in Lexington rather than defend her title on clay, her favorite surface, in Prague. Her other WTA singles title also came last year on clay, in Palermo.

Bellis was seeking her first WTA semifinal since the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, a five-minute drive from her childhood home, in August 2017. The 5-foot-7 (1.68-meter) right-hander missed almost two years, from March 2018 to November 2019, while undergoing three operations on her right wrist and one on her right elbow.

Lexington was the fifth tournament of Bellis' comeback. Ranked a career-high No. 35 in August 2017, she will jump from No. 302 to No. 250 after reaching her first WTA quarterfinal since Doha in February 2018.

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