Friday, October 1, 2021

Mexican sobs after another three-set win in Berkeley

Marcela Zacarias, shown today, pondered retirement after a discouraging
loss last week. Photo by Mal Taam
   BERKELEY, Calif. — After Marcela Zacarias' victory today, she put her head in her hands, found a chair in a shady corner of the court, sat down and sobbed.
   That type of reaction normally is reserved for winning a Slam. But the 27-year-old Mexican had just beaten a qualifier in the quarterfinals of a $60,000 International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournament.
   What gives?
   Seeded fifth in last week's $25,000 tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, Zacarias lost 6-0 in the third set in the first round.
   "It's not really what I do, so I was really surprised," the unseeded Zacarias explained after topping Emma Navarro, a University of Virginia sophomore who won the NCAA singles title in May, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 in 2 hours, 47 minutes today on a hot, sunny day at the venerable Berkeley Tennis Club. "I told myself, I think I'm done with tennis. Maybe I will play a few more (tournaments) and retire next year.
   "I can't believe how after last week and all the thoughts, I trust in myself again this week, and this is what I can do. I was just really happy that I came. I was brave to come again, and I was really proud of myself."
Emma Navarro, the reigning NCAA singles champion, lost
to Marcela Zacarias in three sets. Photo by Paul Bauman 
   Zacarias' expectations entering this week were rather low.
   "The first round, I won in three sets, and the only thing I was thinking was, I just want to win one game," she said. "I don't want to lose 6-0. After that, I played good, and I was mentally really strong, and that helped me in every match."
   Zacarias' three victories this week, all three-setters, have averaged 2:55 in length. Her 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-2 victory over Katie Volynets, 19, of nearby Walnut Creek in the opening round lasted 3:38. The first set was a match in itself, spanning 1:41. 
   Zacarias, only 5-foot-3 (1.59 meters) and 110 pounds (50 kilograms), attributes her endurance to a heavy dose of Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) tournaments in the United States. The events feature a round-robin format until the quarterfinals, guaranteeing all players at least three matches, but no ranking points.
   "It's amazing how many matches I've played," said Zacarias, ranked No. 306 in the world and No. 4 in Mexico. "It's like six matches every week, and I've been playing UTRs back-to-back, so I've played maybe 12 matches in two weeks. Sometimes in ITFs, you lose in the first round and don't do anything for a week. That helped me keep my fitness really good."
   The UTRs also have helped Zacarias mentally.
   "It's been rough," Zacarias admitted of life on the circuit. "I don't have any sponsors, it's been really difficult with COVID, and I didn't have any money to travel. So it's like, I'm going to play some UTRs, and actually I've won seven UTRs this year. I've made good money, I've played good matches, and it gave me confidence. I'm more relaxed about the money and traveling. I think that also helped me. It took off some pressure about ITFs." 
Kurumi Nara, only 5-foot-1 (1.55 meters), of Japan reached a career-
high No. 32 in 2014. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Serving at 5-4 in the second set against Navarro, Zacarias made a sensational backhand get to give her a match point but squandered it by slugging a short forehand long.
   "It was actually a really easy forehand," Zacarias said. "I just got a little emotional instead of just hitting another ball. When I went to the restroom (after the second set), I just told myself I needed to forget about the match point. I've been playing better and winning, so if I keep doing my thing and forget about the match point, I was going to be OK."
   Navarro, who lost to Leylah Fernandez in the 2019 French Open girls singles final and won the doubles crown with Chloe Beck, made Zacarias' job easier by committing 10 double faults in the match. 
   Zacarias is scheduled to meet fourth-seeded Kurumi Nara, 29, of Japan for the first time on Saturday at about 3 p.m. ( The 5-foot-1 (1.55-meter) Nara, ranked No. 178 after reaching a career-high No. 32 in 2014, outlasted qualifier Sophie Chang, a 24-year-old native of Havre de Grace, Md., 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-4 in 3:12. 
   Nara, who has reached the third round of the U.S. Open twice and of the Australian Open once, served for the match at 5-3 in the second set. Chang, tall and powerful but erratic, had 12 aces and a whopping 21 double faults.
Unseeded Usue Arconada serves during her 6-3, 6-1 victory over eighth-
seeded Liang En Shuo. Arconada lost the first three games of the match
and won the next 11. Photo by Paul Bauman
   In Saturday's first semifinal, seventh-seeded Mayo Hibi of Japan is set to play unseeded Usue (pronounced EW-sway) Arconada of Orlando, Fla., after a 10 a.m. doubles semi. 
   Hibi, the runner-up in the last (2019) Berkeley Challenger, eliminated unseeded Louisa Chirico, a former top-60 player from Westchester, N.Y., 6-2, 6-3.
   "I feel like my slice works really well on this court and she couldn't really adapt to it," said Hibi, a longtime Southern California resident who has not lost a set this week. "She hit a lot of unforced errors off of it."
   Hibi, ranked No. 207, led 4-1 in the second set, but Chirico won the next two games.
   "I was a bit shaky at the end of the second set," Hibi conceded. "I'm happy I was able to finish it off because yesterday I had five match points at 5-4 (in the second set against wild card Victoria Duval) and couldn't finish it off. I had to go to a tiebreak and didn't want to do that again. I'm happy I finished it in straight sets."
   Arconada, ranked No. 238, dispatched Liang En Shuo, seeded eighth and ranked No. 228, of Chinese Taipei 6-3, 6-1. Arconada, only 5-foot-4 (1.63 meters) and 125 pounds (57 kilograms), lost the first three games of the match and won the next 11.
   "I just started finding my groundstrokes and took it a point at a time," Arconada said. "I was just trying to be consistent and pushing her back. After that, it was just staying in the moment, staying mentally strong and taking care of every game."  
   Arconada defeated Hibi 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the $60,000 Honolulu Challenger in 2019 en route to the title in their only previous meeting.
   Here are the updated Berkeley singles and doubles draws and Saturday's schedule.

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