Sunday, May 16, 2021

Volynets, 19, pulls off big comeback for first pro title

Katie Volynets, a 19-year-old wild card from Walnut Creek in the San Francisco
Bay Area, outlasted fifth-seeded Irina Maria Baria of Romania in 3 hours, 14 min-
utes. 2019 photo courtesy of JFS Communications
   Displaying her indomitable will, Katie Volynets wore down Irina Maria Bara physically and mentally for her first professional title.
   Volynets, a 19-year-old wild card from Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area, outlasted the fifth-seeded Bara, a 26-year-old Romanian, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-1 in 3 hours, 14 minutes today in the $100,000 Finemark Women's Pro Tennis Championship on green clay in Bonita Springs, Fla.
   Bara, who reached the third round of the French Open as a qualifier last October, led by two service breaks at 4-1 in the second set and was two points from the title while serving at 6-5, 30-30. But she committed two backhand errors to force a tiebreaker, and Volynets dominated the rest of the match. An incredibly hard worker, she never seemed to tire in the heat and humidity.
   Volynets pulled off a similar comeback in her 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 semifinal victory over Hanna Chang in 2 hours, 46 minutes. Chang had three break points to lead by two service breaks at 4-1 in the second set, but Volynets held. Volynets trailed 0-2 in the third set but reeled off the next four games.
   Volynets, who routed No. 6 seed Renata Zarazua in the second round and No. 1 seed Madison Brengle in the quarterfinals, skyrocketed 99 places to a career-high No. 200. Bara improved 12 spots to No. 121, six off her career high.
   It's no stretch to project the petite Volynets as a top-100 or even top-50 player. Top 10? Let's just say 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter) Sofia Kenin — who won Northern California Challengers as a teenager in 2016, 2017 and 2018 — has shown how far impeccable groundstrokes and fierce determination can take you. No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, No. 3 Simona Halep, No. 7 Bianca Andreescu and No. 9 Iga Swiatek are no giants, either. All have won at least one Grand Slam singles title, as has No. 5 Kenin.
  Volynets is following in the footsteps of CiCi Bellis, another undersized Bay Area product who skipped college. Hopefully, Volynets will avoid the injuries that have derailed the 22-year-old Bellis' promising career.
   Volynets pocketed $15,200 for the Bonita Springs title, and Bara earned $8,107.
   In the first round of qualifying for the $25,000 Legacy Pro Classic on green clay in Pelham, Ala., 18-year-old identical twins Allura and Maribella Zamarripa of St. Helena in the Napa Valley each advanced in straight sets.
   WTA Tour — Alternates Sharon Fichman of Canada and Giuliana Olmos — who was born in Austria, grew up in Fremont in the Bay Area and plays for Mexico — won twice to claim their first WTA 1000 title.
    In the Italian Open final on red clay in Rome, Fichman and Olmos saved two championship points in a 4-6, 7-5 [10-5] victory over Kristina Mladenovic of France and Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic. Mladenovic won the 2015 title with Timea Babos of Hungary.
   Earlier, Fichman and Olmos dispatched fourth-seeded Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara of Japan 6-3, 6-2 in a rain-delayed semifinal. Shibahara was born in Mountain View in the Bay Area and starred at UCLA.
   Four of Fichman and Olmos' five matches in the tournament went to match tiebreakers, including in the second round against Elise Mertens and Hsieh Su-Wei, ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.
   ATP Tour — Second-seeded Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic of Croatia beat fifth-seeded Rajeev Ram, a volunteer assistant coach at the University of California, Berkeley from Carmel, Ind., and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain 6-4, 7-6 (4) to win the Italian Open. 
   Mektic and Pavic collected their sixth doubles title of the year. Ram and Salisbury fell to 0-2 in 2021 finals, including the Australian Open as the defending champions.
   In the first round of singles qualifying for the Geneva Open on red clay, fifth-seeded Mackenzie McDonald, a 26-year-old product of Piedmont in the Bay Area, beat Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
   NCAA Tournament — The top-seeded North Carolina women (29-0) blanked 16th-seeded California (19-7) 4-0 in the round of 16 in Orlando, Fla. On Court 1, second-ranked Sara Daavettila defeated No. 31 Haley Giavara 6-4, 6-3.

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