Saturday, October 24, 2020

Bellis gains 1st final in 4 years as Lepchenko quits match

CiCi Bellis reached her first final since winning a $125,000 tournament
in Honolulu in November 2016. 2017 photo by Mal Taam
   Varvara Lepchenko figured to have a tough time against CiCi Bellis today.
   As it turned out, Lepchenko couldn't make it through the match.
   Bellis led 6-3, 1-0, 0-40 on Lepchenko's serve in the semifinals of the $80,000 Mercer Tennis Classic on hardcourts in Macon, Ga., when Lepchenko retired with an upper leg injury. No ballkids are being used in the first USTA Pro Circuit tournament after the long COVID-19 break.
   Lepchenko, a 34-year-old American qualifier from Uzbekistan, was coming off a 3-hour, 15-minute victory over American Sachia (pronounced SAH-shuh) Vickery on Friday. Lepchenko, a left-hander who reached a career-high No. 19 in 2012, also needed 3 hours, 33 minutes to oust second-seeded Nina Stojanovic of Serbia in the first round.
   Bellis, a 21-year-old wild card who was born in San Francisco and grew up down the peninsula in Atherton, reached her first final since winning a $125,000 tournament in Honolulu in November 2016.
   After climbing to a career-high No. 35 in 2017 and being named the WTA Newcomer of the Year, Bellis had three surgeries on her right wrist and one on her right elbow in 2018-19 and missed 19 months.
   Lepchenko played in the main draw of 31 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments from 2011 to 2018, reaching the fourth round of the 2012 French Open and 2015 U.S. Open.
  Lepchenko and Bellis combined for three semifinal appearances in the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, a five-minute drive from Bellis' childhood home. Lepchenko advanced to the final four in 2014 and 2015, Bellis in 2017.
   Bellis, who's projected to rise at least 22 places to No. 151 on Monday, is scheduled to face sixth-seeded Marta Kostyuk, 18, of Ukraine for the first time on Sunday at 10 a.m. PDT. The intriguing match will be streamed live.
   Kostyuk, who will improve at least eight spots to No. 105, dispatched Magdalena Frech, a 22-year-old qualifier from Poland, 6-3, 6-2.
    Neither finalist has lost a set in the tournament. Kostyuk hasn't lost more than five games in a match, and Bellis has dropped more than three games only once. Given all she has been through, Bellis could come out nervous.
   Kostyuk won a $60,000 hardcourt tournament in Cairo in February without losing a set and reached the third round of the U.S. Open last month, losing to eventual champion Naomi Osaka in three sets.
   Bellis, now based at the USTA National Campus near Orlando, Fla., used her impeccable groundstrokes to bolt to a 5-1 lead today, holding serve from 0-40 for 3-1 and from 15-40 for 5-1.
   "Look at her," veteran commentator Ken Thomas marveled early in the match. "She's what, 5-6 (1.68 meters) and 125 pounds (56.7 kilograms)? But she gets it done. (She has) perfect technique and timing. If she has a weakness, it's maybe her second serve."  
   Lepchenko saved two set points to hold for 2-5 and broke for 3-5, but Bellis broke back, converting her fifth set point. Lepchenko took a medical timeout after the first set and, hobbling, lost seven of the eight points in the second set.
   In the doubles final, Frech and countrywoman Katarzyna Kawa beat Americans Francesca Di Lorenzo and Jamie Loeb 7-5, 6-1 in a matchup of unseeded teams. Frech and Kawa's compatriot, 19-year-old Iga Swiatek, shockingly won the French Open two weeks ago.
   ATP Tour —Unseeded Raven Klaasen and Ben McLachlan (University of California, Berkeley, 2011-14) will play the two-time reigning French Open champions in Sunday's final in Cologne, Germany.
   Third-seeded Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies of Germany advanced with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over unseeded Marcus Daniell of New Zealand and Philipp Oswald of Austria.
   Klaasen, a 38-year-old South African, and McLachlan, a 28-year-old New Zealand native who plays for his mother's native Japan, beat unseeded Max Purcell and Luke Saville of Australia 7-5, 6-4 in a Friday semifinal. Klaasen seeks his 17th ATP Tour title and McLachlan his sixth.

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