Sunday, August 30, 2015

Players to watch in the U.S. Open

   The U.S. Open begins Monday (10 a.m. PDT on ESPN) and continues through Sept. 13. Here are players to watch (seedings in parentheses):
WOMEN
Serena Williams, shown in March, will try to achieve
the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf
in 1988. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Serena Williams (1) -- Seeks fourth straight U.S. Open title and record seventh overall, first calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988 and 22nd major singles titles (tying Graf for second on all-time list behind Margaret Court's 24). NorCal connection: Three-time Bank of the West Classic champion at Stanford (2011, 2012, 2014).
   Simona Halep (2) -- Last year's French Open runner-up has never reached U.S. Open quarterfinals in five attempts. NorCal connection: Lost in first round of 2011 Bank of the West Classic in only appearance at Stanford.
   Maria Sharapova (3) -- U.S. Open champion in 2006 has been sidelined since Wimbledon with muscle strain in right leg. NorCal connection: Runner-up to Victoria Azarenka in 2010 Bank of the West Classic.
   Caroline Wozniacki (4) -- Two-time U.S. Open runner-up (2009, 2014) and former world No. 1 hasn't beaten top-35 player on this summer's hardcourt circuit. NorCal connection: In Bank of the West Classic debut this month, lost to No. 60 Varvara Lepchenko in second round after receiving bye.
   Petra Kvitova (5) -- Two-time Wimbledon champion (2011, 2014), who has never reached U.S. Open quarterfinals in seven attempts, has been suffering from mononucleosis but won third New Haven title on Saturday. NorCal connection: None.
   Garbine Muguruza (9) -- This year's Wimbledon runner-up withdrew from Stanford with abdominal strain, then lost early in Toronto and Cincinnati. NorCal connection: Won doubles title in 2014 Bank of the West Classic with fellow Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.
   Belinda Bencic (12) -- Eighteen-year-old Swiss handed Williams second loss of year en route to Toronto title two weeks ago. NorCal connection: None.
   Victoria Azarenka (20) -- Two-time Australian Open champion and former world No. 1 gradually rebounding from foot and knee injuries last year. NorCal connection: Won Bank of the West Classic in 2010.
Prediction
   Williams will overcome her biggest obstacle, pressure, and earn a calendar-year Grand Slam.
MEN
Novak Djokovic, also shown in March, seeks
his first U.S. Open title in four years.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Novak Djokovic (1) -- Hasn't won U.S. Open since 2011; 1-4 in finals at Flushing Meadows. Northern California connection: None.
   Roger Federer (2) -- Five-time U.S. Open champion (2004-08) turned 34 this month. NorCal connection: None.
   Andy Murray (3) -- U.S. Open champion in 2012 finally returning to form after undergoing back surgery in September 2013. NorCal connection: Went 10-0 in now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose, winning title in 2006 at 18 years old and in 2007. Also won Aptos Challenger in 2005.
   Kei Nishikori (4) -- U.S. Open runner-up last year withdrew from Cincinnati last week with hip injury. NorCal connection: Played in SAP Open three times, losing in second round in 2008, 2009, 2011. Brad Gilbert of San Rafael coached Nishikori in 2011.
   Stan Wawrinka (5) -- Added this year's French Open title to 2014 Australian Open crown. NorCal connection: None.
   Tomas Berdych (6) -- Wimbledon runner-up in 2010 lost to qualifiers in Montreal (Donald Young in second round) and Cincinnati (Alexandr Dolgopolov in quarterfinals) this month. NorCal connection: Reached quarterfinals of 2009 SAP Open as fifth seed in only San Jose appearance.
   Rafael Nadal (8) -- Two-time U.S. Open champion (2010, 2013) has slumped after missing three months last summer with right wrist injury and undergoing appendectomy in November. NorCal connection: None.  
   Marin Cilic (9) -- U.S. Open defending champion played only one tournament in first three months of year because of right (serving) shoulder injury. NorCal connection: None.
Prediction
   Sorry, folks. I'm going to keep riding the Williams-Djokovic train until it goes off the tracks. Djokovic has a favorable draw given Nadal's loss of confidence and Cilic's struggles, but Murray and possibly Federer loom as big threats.

U.S. Open TV schedule

(All times in California) 
Monday
   First round, 8-10 a.m., ESPN3 (streamed live).
   First round, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., ESPN (live).
   First round, 3-8 p.m., ESPN2 (live).
Tuesday
   First round, 8-10 a.m., ESPN3 (streamed live).
   First round, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., ESPN (live).
Wednesday
   Second round, 8-10 a.m., ESPN3 (streamed live).
   Second round, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., ESPN (live).
   Second round, 3-8 p.m., ESPN2 (live).
Thursday
   Second round, 8-10 a.m., ESPN3 (streamed live).
   Second round, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., ESPN (live).
   Second round, 2-8 p.m., ESPN2 (live).
Friday
   Third round, 8-10 a.m., ESPN3 (streamed live).
   Third round, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., ESPN (live).
   Third round, 3-8 p.m., ESPN2 (live).
Saturday  
   Third round, 8 a.m.-8 p.m., ESPN2 (live).
Sunday, Sept. 6
   Fourth round, 8 a.m.-8 p.m., ESPN2 (live).
Monday, Sept. 7
   Fourth round, 8 a.m.-8 p.m., ESPN2 (live).
Tuesday, Sept. 8
   Quarterfinals, 9 a.m.-8 p.m., ESPN (live).
Wednesday, Sept. 9
   Quarterfinals, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., ESPN (live).
   Men's quarterfinal, 5-8 p.m., ESPN2 (live).
Thursday, Sept. 10 
   Women's semifinals, 4-8 p.m., ESPN (live).
Friday, Sept. 11
   Mixed doubles final, 9-11 a.m., ESPN3 (streamed live).
   Men's semifinals, noon-8 p.m., ESPN (live).
Saturday, Sept. 12
   Men's doubles final, 9-11 a.m., ESPN3 (streamed live).
   Women's final, noon-3 p.m., ESPN (live).
Sunday, Sept. 13
   Women's doubles final, 9-11 a.m., ESPN3 (streamed live).
   Men's final, 1-4 p.m., ESPN (live).

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Bellis, 16, falls in last round of U.S. Open qualifying

CiCi Bellis, serving in last month's Sacramento Challenger, lost
to 11th-seeded Jelena Ostapenko, last year's Wimbledon girls
champion, 6-3, 6-2 on Friday. Photo by Paul Bauman
   CiCi Bellis, who pulled off a monumental upset in the 2014 U.S. Open, will not play in the main draw at Flushing Meadows this year.
   Bellis, 16, of Atherton in the San Francisco Bay Area lost to 11th-seeded Jelena Ostapenko, 18, of Latvia 6-3, 6-2 on Friday in the final round of qualifying. Ostapenko won the Wimbledon girls singles title last year.
   In the 2014 U.S. Open, Bellis became the youngest player to win a main-draw singles match since Anna Kournikova, also 15, in 1996.
   And Bellis didn't beat just anybody. She beat a seed. And not just any seed. She stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, last year's Australian Open runner-up to Li Na.
   Meanwhile, two former Sacramento Challenger finalists, Mayo Hibi and wild card Jessica Pegula, advanced to the main draw of the U.S. Open.
   Mayo Hibi, the 2013 Sacramento champion at 17, defeated former top-25 player Sorana Cirstea of Romania 6-4, 6-4.               
   Hibi plays for her native Japan but has lived in California since she was 2 1/2. She will face 16th-seeded Sara Errani of Italy on Monday or Tuesday in the first round. Errani reached the final of the 2012 French Open, losing to Maria Sharapova.
   Pegula, the runner-up to Maria Sanchez in the inaugural Sacramento Challenger in 2012, beat 2009 U.S. Open quarterfinalist Melanie Oudin 7-6 (8), 6-0 in a matchup of Americans. Pegula's billionaire father, Terry, owns the NFL's Buffalo Bills and the NHL's Buffalo Sabres.
    Both Hibi and Pegula will play singles in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. In doubles at the U.S. Open, Pegula reached the third round in 2011 at 17 with Taylor Townsend, then 15, and the second round in 2012 with Madison Keys, then 17.
   Two other U.S. women, 16th-seeded Anna Tatishvili and Shelby Rogers, and one American man, 18-year-old Tommy Paul, survived qualifying. In June, Paul joined John McEnroe (1977) and Bjorn Fratangelo (2011) as the only U.S. boys to win the French Open junior title in the Open era (since 1968).
   U.S. Open National Playoffs in New Haven, Conn. -- Top-seeded Julio Peralta of Chile and Matt Seeberger, a San Francisco native living in Vancouver, British Columbia, won the title to earn a wild card in the main draw of men's doubles at the U.S. Open.
   Peralta, 33, and Seeberger, 31, will make their Grand Slam debuts after defeating Australians Ashley Fisher and Nathan Healey 6-4, 6-3.
   Seeberger joined the pro circuit as a doubles specialist only last year. He won a record eight NCAA titles (three singles, three doubles and two team) at Division III UC Santa Cruz from 2004 to 2007.
   In Friday's women's final, Sacramento-area residents Yasmin Schnack and Katsiaryna Zheltova lost to University of Alabama stars Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe 6-4, 7-5.
   Jansen and Routliffe, the two-time reigning NCAA Division I doubles champions, will receive a wild card in the main draw of women's doubles at Flushing Meadows. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ex-Stanford star Gibbs faces tough road in U.S. Open

Nicole Gibbs, playing in last year's Sacramento Chal-
lenger, could meet fifth-seeded Petra Kvitova in the
second round of the U.S. Open.
   Nicole Gibbs collected $103,442 for reaching the third round of last year's U.S. Open as a wild card.
   The former Stanford star will be hard-pressed to repeat that performance this year.
   The men's and women's singles draws for the U.S. Open were conducted on Thursday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. The year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday.
   Gibbs, 22, likely will beat Lourdes Dominguez Lino, a 34-year-old Spaniard, in the first round. Gibbs is 1-0 against Dominguez Lino, having cruised 6-3, 6-3 in the second round of qualifying at New Haven, Conn., in 2012.
   Looming in the second round of the U.S. Open, however, is fifth-seeded Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion who drew a qualifier in the first round.
   Granted, the U.S. Open is Kvitova's worst Grand Slam tournament, and she revealed on Aug. 10 that she has been suffering from mononucleosis. But the 25-year-old left-hander defeated top-20 players Madison Keys and Agnieszka Radwanska back-to-back to reach today's semifinals at New Haven.
   It could be worse for Gibbs. She could have Jarmila Gajdosova's draw. Gajdosova, who starred for the Sacramento-based California Dream of World TeamTennis in July, will face 26th-seeded Flavia Pennetta of Italy in the first round.
   Pennetta, 33, leads the head-to-head series 2-1, but Gajdosova won the last meeting 6-1, 6-4 in the first round at Wuhan, China, last fall.      
   Gajdosova, ranked 75th to Pennetta's 26th, won't exactly enter the U.S. Open match full of confidence. She is 1-3 on the summer hardcourt circuit with no main-draw wins.
   On the men's side, San Francisco native Sam Querrey has a good chance to reach the third round, in which he could face sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.
   Querrey, ranked No. 38, will play No. 64 Nicolas Mahut of France for the first time in the opening round.
   Querrey, 27, has reached two finals this year, losing to countryman Jack Sock on clay in Houston in April and to Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan on grass in Nottingham in June.
   Mahut, 33, won the title on grass at s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, in June as a qualifier. He is best known for losing to John Isner 70-68 in the fifth set in the first round at Wimbledon in 2010 in the longest match in tennis history (11 hours, 5 minutes over three days). 
   The winner of the Querrey-Mahut match could play 31st-seeded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain in the second round. It would be the second straight year Querrey and Garcia-Lopez have met at that stage of the U.S. Open. Querrey won 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in 2014 before losing to top-ranked Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.        

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Bellis upsets seed in U.S. Open qualies; Novikov falls

CiCi Bellis, shown during this month's Bank of the West Classic
at Stanford, reached the final round of qualifying for the U.S. Open.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   San Francisco Bay Area residents CiCi Bellis and Dennis Novikov faced seeds today in the second round of qualifying for the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Only the 16-year-old Bellis survived.
   Bellis, who lives in Atherton, upset 22nd-seeded Romina Oprandi of Switzerland 7-5, 7-5.
   Novikov, 21, of Milpitas, lost to 26th-seeded Matthew Ebden of Australia 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-2.
   "Unfortunately couldn't pull it out today," Novikov tweeted. "Live and you learn."
   Bellis will play 11th-seeded Jelena Ostapenko, 18, of Latvia on Friday for a berth in the main draw, which begins Monday. Ostapenko, who won the 2014 Wimbledon girls singles title, outlasted Julia Glushko of Israel 2-6, 6-0, 6-4.
   Bellis received a wild card in last year's U.S. Open and shocked 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, the 2014 Australian Open runner-up, in the first round. Bellis became the youngest player to win a match at Flushing Meadows since Anna Kournikova, also 15, in 1996.
   U.S. Open National Playoffs in New Haven, Conn. -- Sacramento-area residents Yasmin Schnack and Katsiaryna Zheltova demolished Americans Josephine Cao and Dilara Spicer 6-1, 6-0 to reach the doubles final.
   Schnack and Zheltova will meet University of Alabama stars Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe on Friday for a wild card in the main draw of women's doubles in the U.S. Open.
   Jansen and Routliffe, who have won the last two NCAA doubles titles, outclassed Americans Alexandra Anghelescu and Caroline Price 6-2, 6-2. 
   Schnack retired from the pro tour in 2012 at age 24 after winning 11 doubles titles on the ITF women's circuit and reaching a career-high No. 140 in women's doubles.
   Zheltova, a Belarus native, earned All-America honors at Sacramento State in 2008 by reaching the Sweet 16 in singles at the NCAA Championships. Also that year, Schnack helped UCLA win the team title.
   In the men's doubles semifinals of the U.S. Open National Playoffs, top-seeded Julio Peralta of Chile and Matt Seeberger of Vancouver, British Columbia, edged Americans Vahid Mirzadeh and Jesse Witten 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4).
   Peralta and Seeberger will face Ashley Fisher and Nathan Healey in Friday's final.
The Australian pair defeated Daniel Cochrane of Great Britain and Phillip Simmonds of the United States 6-4, 6-3.
   Seeberger was born in San Francisco and won a record eight NCAA titles (three singles, three doubles and two team) at Division III UC Santa Cruz.
   The champions will earn a wild card in the main draw of men's doubles in the U.S. Open.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sanchez loses in first round of U.S. Open qualifying

Maria Sanchez, playing in last month's Stock-
ton Challenger, fell to 19-year-old Ipek Soylu
of Turkey in the first round of U.S. Open
qualifying. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Ipek Soylu, 19, of Turkey beat Modesto product Maria Sanchez 5-7, 7-5, 6-1 today in the first round of qualifying for the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Sanchez, a 25-year-old USC graduate, made her fourth appearance in the U.S. Open main draw or qualifying. She lost to Daniela Hantuchova in the opening round of the main draw in 2013 and fell in the final round of qualifying in 2012 and 2014.
   Sanchez has played in the doubles main draw at Flushing Meadows for the past three years. She reached the second round in 2012 with Irina Falconi and lost in the first round with Shelby Rogers in 2013 and ex-Stanford star Nicole Gibbs last year.
   Sanchez is ranked No. 172 in singles and No. 89 in doubles. She won the doubles title in the $100,000 Vancouver Challenger for the second straight year last week, this time with Johanna Konta of Great Britain.
   Soylu won last year's U.S. Open girls doubles title with Jil Teichmann of Switzerland.
   U.S. Open National Playoffs in New Haven, Conn. -- Sacramento-area residents Yasmin Schnack and Katsiaryna Zheltova moved into the semifinals with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Americans Rima Asatrian and Katharine Fahey.
   Schnack, who has won 11 doubles titles on the ITF women's circuit, and Zheltova, a former Sacramento State All-American from Belarus, will meet Josephine Cao and Dilara Spicer. They outclassed fellow Americans Brittany Collens and Michelle Fuca 6-1, 6-3.
   Advancing to the men's semifinals were top-seeded Matt Seeberger of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Julio Peralta of Chile. They defeated Ace Matias of the United States and Denys Pume of Ukraine 6-4, 6-4.
   Seeberger, 31, was born in San Francisco and starred at UC Santa Cruz.
   The men's and women's champions will receive wild cards into the main draws of the U.S. Open.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bellis, Novikov advance in U.S. Open qualifying

CiCi Bellis, above, playing in last month's Sacramento
Challenger, and Dennis Novikov, below, won in strikingly
similar fashion today. Photo by Paul Bauman
   San Francisco Bay Area residents CiCi Bellis and Dennis Novikov won in eerily similar fashion today in the first round of qualifying for the U.S. Open.
   Both lost the first set. Both trailed by an early break in the third set. Both battled back for 4-4, and both prevailed 6-4 in the third set within minutes of each other in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Bellis, 16, of Atherton outlasted 44-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. Novikov, a 21-year-old Milpitas resident, topped Gastao Elias of Portugal 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-4.
   Date-Krumm reached a career-high No. 4 in the world in 1995, four years before Bellis was born, and retired in 1996 for 11 1/2 years.
   “I definitely cannot imagine myself playing at 44 years old,” Bellis, who will play No. 22 seed Romina Oprandi of Switzerland on Thursday in the second round, said on usopen.org. "I don’t understand how her body is still going. She’s still so flexible and fast and keeps her body in such great shape. I can’t look at her age when I’m out there.”
   Bellis initially struggled with Date-Krumm's flat groundstrokes.
   “I was scrambling in the first set," Bellis said. "She hits the ball so low, and it barely goes over the net, so you literally have to be on the ground to hit it back.
   "A couple of my friends have struggled against her, too, so I knew it could definitely go three sets. I think I figured it out toward the end and realized I had to be the aggressor, because when she’s the aggressor, it’s tough to beat her.”
   Bellis received a wild card in last year's U.S. Open by winning the USTA Girls 18 National Championships in San Diego. She stunned No. 12 seed and 2014 Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova in the first round at Flushing Meadows before losing to Kazakhstan's Zarina Diyas, now ranked 34th, in three sets.
   Bellis avenged the loss by whipping Diyas 6-2, 6-1 in the second round at Miami in March. Diyas was seeded 29th in the prestigious tournament.
   “I think it’s actually better for me that I’m in qualifying this year,” admitted Bellis, ranked No. 161. “I can work my way through the matches. I’ll have three matches under my belt if I make it into the main draw, and if not, it’s still really good practice because everyone here is hungry to win.”
Novikov competed in the Aptos Challenger two weeks ago.
Photo by Paul Bauman 
   Novikov, ranked No. 204, has a booming serve at 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters) and 200 pounds (91 kilograms).
   “I thought I played pretty well overall,” said Novikov, who will face No. 26 seed Matthew Ebden of Australia on Thursday in the next round. “A very close match and a couple points decided it, but I thought I was a little more consistent than he was today. I knew I had a couple chances (in the tiebreak) when I was serving for the first set, so I just kept playing and I took my opportunities.
   “The main thing for me is to serve well and just be aggressive on every ball. If I do that, the match is in my hands. I had a solid hardcourt season, I’m playing well, and I’m getting better at each tournament, so hopefully this is the tournament I peak at.” 
   Novikov won the singles and doubles titles in the USTA Boys 18 National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 2012 to earn wild cards for both main draws in the U.S. Open. 
   Amazingly, Novikov reached the second round in each event at Flushing Meadows. He shocked 86th-ranked Jerzy Janowicz, a 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) Pole and 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist, in singles and teamed with Michael Redlicki to knock off U.S. veterans Bobby Reynolds and Michael Russell in doubles.
  Novikov turned pro last year after leading UCLA to the NCAA final as a sophomore.  
   U.S. Open National Playoffs in New Haven, Conn. -- Sacramento-area residents Yasmin Schnack and Katsiaryna Zheltova upset top-seeded Jacqueline Cako and Keri Wong, both of the United States, 6-1, 2-6 [10-8] in the first round. 
   Schnack, who helped UCLA win the 2008 NCAA title, and Zheltova, a former Sacramento State All-American from Belarus, will play Rima Asatrian of Tenafly, N.J., and Katharine Fahey of Fair Haven, N.J., in the quarterfinals.
   Asatrian, a sophomore at Columbia University in New York, and Fahey edged Ketevan Okruashvili and Magda Okruashvili of Georgia 4-6, 6-1 [10-8].
   In the first round of men's doubles, top-seeded Julio Peralta of Chile and Matt Seeberger of Vancouver, British Columbia, defeated Jordan Kerr of Australia and Travis Parrott of the United States 6-3, 7-6 (4).
   Seeberger, 31, was born in San Francisco and starred at UC Santa Cruz. Parrott won the 2009 U.S. Open mixed doubles title with fellow American Carly Gullikson.
   UC Davis senior Brett Bacharach and Aggies assistant coach Michael Meyer lost to Ace Matias of the United States and Denys Pume of Ukraine 2-6, 7-6 (3) [11-9].
   The men's and women's champions will receive wild cards into the main draws of the U.S. Open.