Saturday, October 2, 2021

Clones Arconada, Zacarias to meet in Berkeley final

Unseeded Usue Arconada topped seventh-seeded
 Mayo Hibi in 3 hours, 10 minutes. Photo by
Paul Bauman
   BERKELEY, Calif. — Fans at the Berkeley Tennis Club on Sunday might have trouble telling the singles finalists apart.
   Usue Arconada and Marcela Zacarias look and play alike. Both are small, aggressive yet steady baseliners with Hispanic backgrounds. Both are unseeded. Both even wear shorts rather than skirts. 
   "Yes, I think we are (similar players)," Zacarias allowed with a laugh. "Totally."
   The biggest difference between Arconada and Zacarias (pronounced Za-ca-REE-us) is age. Zacarias is five years older at 27.
   Arconada — a 5-foot-4 (1.63-meter), 125-pound (57-kilogram) Argentina native who represents the United States — and Zacarias — a 5-foot-3 (1.59-meter), 110-pound (50-kilogram) Mexican — advanced in contrasting fashion today.
   Arconada, who's based in Orlando, Fla., outdueled seventh-seeded Mayo Hibi, a longtime Southern California resident who plays for her native Japan, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-4 in a grueling baseline battle that lasted 3 hours, 10 minutes.
   Zacarias trailed fourth-seeded Kurumi Nara of Japan 5-7, 3-0 when the 29-year-old Nara, ranked No. 178 after reaching a career-high No. 32 in 2014, retired with a right groin injury after 1:24. Nara's first-round and quarterfinal victories each spanned more than three hours.
   Arconada reached her first final since losing to then-No. 84 Anna Blinkova of Russia in the $162,480 Oracle Challenger in New Haven, Conn., in September 2019. Two months earlier, Arconada won the $60,000 Honolulu Challenger for the biggest title of her career.
Unseeded Marcela Zacarias serves during her victory over fourth-seeded
Kurumi Nara, who retired while leading 7-5, 0-3. Photo by Paul Bauman
  Arconada's first name (pronounced EW-sway) is Basque because her father's side of the family is from Spain. She lived in Argentina for seven or eight years before moving to Puerto Rico for two years and then to Florida to train for tennis.
   Zacarias advanced to her first final since winning a $15,000 hardcourt tournament in Cancun in December 2019. Earlier that year, she won four consecutive $15,000 hardcourt tourneys in Mexico. Zacarias has never played in the final of a tourney above $25,000. 
   Arconada, ranked No. 238, and Zacarias, ranked No. 306, are scheduled to meet for the first time, although they have practiced with each other frequently, on Sunday after the 11 a.m. doubles final. Both matches will be broadcast on  
   The Arconada-Hibi match was filled with deuces, service breaks and clutch shots in 81-degree (27 Celsius) heat. It was exhausting just to watch.
Mayo Hibi prepares to hit her trademark backhand
slice. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Hibi, the runner-up in the last (2019) Berkeley Challenger, has an old-school game that her father, Soichi, taught her. She relies on consistency and finesse in an era of power, has a one-handed backhand that she usually slices, isn't afraid to come to the net and shows no emotion on the court. 
   Arconada, meanwhile, is exceptionally fast and shows her frustration under duress. She flung her racket after blowing a high volley on break point for 0-2 in the second set and hit a ball against the back fence after getting broken while serving for the match at 6-5 in the set. 
   Arconada basically willed herself to victory. After dropping the second-set tiebreaker, she trailed 1-3 in the third set but reeled off the next four games to serve for the match again. Arconada was called for a foot fault on her first serve at 15-40, was broken two points later and broke back at 15 for the match.
   "It was definitely tough after being up 6-5 in the second (set) and not being able to close it out," Arconada said. "She played a good tiebreaker, and I was kind of rushing my game a little bit. 
   "I started the (third) set a little slowly with my physicality, but I tried to push myself. I told myself I can stay out there all day, as long as I need to, to bring it, and I'm not leaving without a fight. That really helped me and pumped me up. I started taking it point by point and not concentrating so much on the end goal, just competing."
Kurumi Nara has reached the third round of the U.S. Open twice and
of the Australian Open once. Photo by Paul Bauman 
   Nara's retirement was welcome for Zacarias, whose three previous matches this week, all three-setters, averaged 2:55 in length. 
   "I'm really sorry for her," Zacarias lamented. "She was in pain; she couldn't run. But yes, it's nice to finish earlier. I was not going to go until I won, so that would have been three hours," she quipped.
   Nara, who reached the third round of the U.S. Open in 2013 and 2017 and of the Australian Open in 2014, bolted to a 4-1 lead with one service break. After Zacarias won the next two games, Nara took a medical timeout to have her upper right thigh taped. Zacarias saved a set point while serving at 4-5, but Nara eventually broke for the set.
   Zacarias changed her racket and strategy after the first set and was a new player.
   "I thought my (strings were) loose," she said. "I started the second set more confident, and I had to come in (to the net). I was really far behind (the court) and waiting for her to come in. I need to change something, (so I said) I'm going to be aggressive. That's what I did, and it worked." 
   Zacarias rolled her right ankle at 5-5 in the first set but quickly recovered. 
   "It was painful but all good," she said.
   Here are the updated Berkeley singles and doubles draws and Sunday's schedule.

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