Friday, December 31, 2021

Brooksby breakthrough highlights top stories of 2021

Jenson Brooksby waits to return serve during practice at the BNP Paribas Open
in Indian Wells in October. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Amid the ongoing pandemic, it was a banner year in Northern California tennis.
   Two players won prestigious ATP awards, and a former Sacramento Capital in World TeamTennis reached the French Open final.
   A coach with strong NorCal ties helped a WTA player soar into the top 10 and reach the title match in the WTA Finals, and two doubles stars qualified for the season-ending tournament for the first time.
   A Sacramento native helped his team win the NCAA team championship, then snagged the singles title.
   And more.
   Here are my picks for the top 10 stories of 2020 with 10 honorable mentions:
   1. Brooksby voted ATP Newcomer of Year Jenson Brooksby, a lifelong Sacramento-area resident who turned 21 in October, skyrocketed from No. 307 to No. 56 in 10 months. He reached his maiden ATP Tour final in Newport, R.I., in his first tournament ever on grass, losing to two-time Grand Slam runner-up Kevin Anderson, and the round of 16 in the U.S. Open, steamrolling Novak Djokovic 6-1 in the first set before falling in four sets.
   Fifteen days after the Newport final, Brooksby beat the 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) Anderson en route to the semifinals in Washington, D.C. Brooksby also advanced to the Antwerp semis in October as a qualifier.
Mackenzie McDonald lines up a forehand during his first-
round victory over James Duckworth in the BNP Paribas
Open. Photo by Paul Bauman
   2. McDonald voted ATP Comeback Player of YearMackenzie McDonald, a 26-year-old product of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, underwent right hamstring surgery in June 2019 and fell as low as No. 272 in March 2020.
   This year, McDonald reached the round of 16 in the Australian Open, advanced to his first ATP final in Washington, D.C., and climbed to a career-high No. 54 on Nov. 1.
   3. Ex-Capital reaches French Open final — Unseeded Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic outlasted No. 31 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 in the first Grand Slam final for both players.
   Pavlyuchenkova, who played for the Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis as the world's top junior at 15 in 2006, hurt her left leg late in the second set.
   4. Kontaveit cracks top 10, reaches WTA Finals title match under Tursunov — After hiring coach Dmitry Tursunov in August, Anett Kontaveit of Estonia won four titles, jumped from No. 30 to No. 7 and advanced to the WTA Finals for the first time.  
   Garbiñe Muguruza, seeded sixth, defeated Kontaveit, seeded eighth, 6-3, 7-5 in the final of the season-ending tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico. Tursunov, a 39-year-old Moscow native, trained in Northern California as a junior and professional. 
   5. Shibahara, Olmos qualify for WTA Finals — Doubles specialists Ena Shibahara, who was born in the Bay Area, and Giuliana Olmos, who grew up there, qualified for the season-ending tournament for the first time separately. Second-seeded Shuko Aoyama and Shibahara advanced to the semifinals, while eighth-seeded Sharon Fichman and Olmos were eliminated in round-robin play. 
   Aoyama and Shibahara won a tour-leading five titles, including the Miami Open, in 2021. They also reached the Wimbledon semifinals and Australian Open quarterfinals. Fichman and Olmos won the Italian Open, gained the Australian Open quarterfinals and advanced to the round of 16 at Wimbledon.
Sam Riffice, far left, poses 10 years ago at age 12 with Roger
Federer at the La Quinta Resort in the Palm Springs area. Also
shown are Riffice's coach, Amine Khaldi (second from left), and
Khaldi's friend Steve Mohibi. Photo courtesy of Amine Khaldi
   6. Riffice helps Florida win NCAA title, adds singles crown — Sam Riffice, who was born in Sacramento and grew up in suburban Roseville, won at No. 2 singles and doubles as the top-seeded Gators beat second-seeded Baylor 4-1 in Orlando, Fla., for the NCAA championship. 
   The sixth-seeded Riffice then topped second-seeded Daniel Rodrigues of South Carolina 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 for the singles title.
   7. Wimbledon champ commits to Stanford — Samir Banerjee, who won the Wimbledon boys singles title in July, verbally committed to Stanford.
   Banerjee, from Basking Ridge, N.J., defeated Victor Lilov of Raleigh, N.C., 7-5, 6-3 in the Wimbledon final. Both players were unseeded.
   8. Cal men's coach retires after 29 years — Peter Wright, a Berkeley native who turned 58 on Dec. 8, amassed a 383-256 record at Cal. He guided the Bears to the NCAA Championships 25 times, including a semifinal berth in 2016, and four appearances in the top 10.
   USC associate head coach Kris Kwinta, a 41-year-old Poland native, was chosen as Wright's replacement.
Fiery Danielle Collins exults after winning a point during the final of the
Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif. Photo by Mal Taam
   9. Collins claims crown in San Jose — No. 7 seed Danielle Collins of St. Petersburg, Fla., defeated No. 4 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia 6-3, 6-7 (10), 6-1 to win the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif.
   Collins, who turned 28 on Dec. 13, won her second consecutive title and the second of her career. She had surgery for endometriosis, a painful disorder in which tissue inside the uterus grows outside of it, in early April. Doctors removed a cyst the size of a tennis ball from her ovary.
Emon van Loben Sels poses with his trophy
at the USTA Level 1 Spring Individual Cham-
pionships in Mobile, Ala. Photo courtesy of
Emon van Loben Sels
   10. van Loben Sels ranked No. 1 nationally in 16s — The pandemic gave Emon van Loben Sels of Sacramento a needed break last year. He won a USTA Level 2 tournament in Newport Beach, Calif., in February and the Level 1 Spring Individual Championships in March in Mobile, Ala.
   Van Loben Sels' biggest asset is his passion for tennis, according to Kiryl Harbatsiuk, one of his coaches. The high school junior has verbally committed to UCLA.
   Honorable mention — Cameron Norrie, who won back-to-back Northern California Challengers in Tiburon and Stockton in 2017, won the prestigious BNP Paribas Open as the No. 21 seed.
   —Qualifier Mariia Kozyreva, a fifth-year senior at Saint Mary's College in Moraga in the Bay Area, shocked top-seeded Zheng Saisai, ranked No. 75, in the first round of the $60,000 Berkeley (Calif.) Challenger.
   —Katie Volynets, a resident of Walnut Creek in the Bay Area who turned 20 today, won her first professional title to crack the top 200.
   —Former Stanford star Nicole Gibbs retired at 27. The three-time NCAA champion (twice in singles and once in doubles) reached a career-high No. 68 in the world in 2016.
   —Unseeded Usue Arconada won the Berkeley Challenger.
   —The Stanford women ended their longest losing streak in 40 years, three matches, with a 6-1 victory over USC in Los Angeles. 
   —Ethan Quinn of Fresno, Calif., reached the doubles final in the USTA Boys 18 National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich., with Sebastian Gorzny and in the Orange Bowl in Plantation, Fla., with Nicholas Godsick.
   —Van Loben Sels advanced to the singles quarterfinals and doubles semifinals (with Dylan Tsoi of El Dorado Hills in the Sacramento area) in the USTA Boys 16 National Championships in Kalamazoo.
   —Wayne Thiebaud, a world-renowned artist from Sacramento who played tennis until just after his 100th birthday, died on Christmas at 101.

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