Monday, July 25, 2016

Kenin, 17, capitalizes on Min meltdown for title

Sofia Kenin, left, upset second-seeded Grace Min 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 on Sunday
night to win the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger in the
Sacramento area. Photo by Paul Bauman 
   GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- Evonne Goolagong Cawley famously called them "walkabouts."
   The International Tennis Hall of Famer from Australia was referring to her lapses of concentration during matches.
   Grace Min had a mysterious walkabout for the ages on Sunday night, and it likely cost her the title in the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger.
   Seventeen-year-old Sofia Kenin capitalized on Min's meltdown for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory in an all-American final at the Gold River Racquet Club in the Sacramento area.
   Min packs a punch at only 5-foot-4 (1.63 meters) and 140 pounds (64 kilograms). She outslugged Kenin -- no easy feat -- to lead 6-4, 1-1 in a baseline battle that began in 99-degree (37.2 Celsius) heat. Min, seeded second, was focused and pounding her groundstrokes into the corners.
   Then suddenly, the 22-year-old Min was listless and could hardly hit a ball in the court. The unseeded Kenin reeled off eight consecutive games to take the second set and lead 3-0 (two service breaks) in the third set.
   "I lost a bit of energy, pretty much a little of everything -- a little objective and purpose with what I was trying to accomplish in the point," said Min, who saved two match points in the second round against former top-30 player Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands. "Yeah, I lost my way."
   When asked why, Min mused, "I'm not sure."
   Fatigue? Unlikely. Both Min and Kenin train in the heat and humidity of Florida, Min's two previous matches were one-sided, and she regained her form after falling behind 3-0 in the third set.
   "I did everything I could to prepare (for the tournament)," Min said, "so I had that peace of mind, but conditioning is always something you can improve."
   Min broke Kenin at love for 1-3 in the final set and fought hard the rest of the match, but it was too late. Both players held serve from there, with Kenin converting her third championship point when a Min forehand sailed long.
    "I was just trying to ... control myself, move her and adjust to her game," Kenin said before rushing off to the airport for a flight to Lexington, Ky., for the $50,000 Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships. "She was playing really well in the first set, but I was able to regroup well."
   Whereas Min inexplicably took the middle of the 2-hour, 8-minute match off, Kenin fought for every point in each set like her idol, Russia's Maria Sharapova. Kenin, a Moscow native who moved to Florida as a baby with her family, even walks to the wall behind the baseline between points and faces it while collecting her thoughts like Sharapova.
   Kenin, who has long legs but stands only 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters), became the second 17-year-old in the five-year history of the Gold River Challenger to win the singles title. She hopes to fare better than the first one.
   Mayo Hibi, a longtime resident of Irvine in the Los Angeles area who plays for her native Japan, defeated an ill Madison Brengle in the 2013 final. Hibi, only 5-foot-5 (1.65 meters) and 121 pounds (55 kilograms), then skipped college and turned pro. She is ranked No. 205.
   Kenin, a home-schooled high school junior, remains an amateur for now. Splitting her time between professional and junior tournaments, she was ranked No. 332 in the world entering the Gold River Challenger. Kenin will jump to about No. 252 when the new rankings are released on Monday. She is ranked 10th among juniors (18 and under).
    Min said Kenin has "a great deal" of potential.
   "She's very young, and obviously she's got a great tennis mind, so I think the world is hers," Min added.
   Does Kenin have top-10 potential?
   "I think anyone can reach the top 10 if they work hard enough," said Min, a former top-100 player who will improve from No. 158 to about No. 144.
   Kenin, who won her second and biggest ITF (minor-league) singles title, could play in the main draw of the U.S. Open for the second consecutive year. By winning the Gold River title, she took the lead in the U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge. The American who earns the most points in two of the three participating tournaments -- Stockton two weeks ago, Sacramento and Lexington -- will receive a wild card into the U.S. Open, Aug. 29-Sept. 11 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
(Left to right) doubles runners-up Jamie Loeb and Chanel Simmonds,
Freight Solution Providers CEO Lielani Steers and doubles champions
Ashley Weinhold and Caitlin Whoriskey pose after the trophy presenta-
tion. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Kenin won the USTA Girls 18 National Championships last August in San Diego to earn an automatic wild card into the main draw of the U.S. Open. She lost to then-No. 96 Marina Duque-Marino of Colombia 6-3, 6-1 in the first round but reached the junior girls final.
   Min has played in the main draw of five Grand Slam tournaments but is still looking for her first victory in one. She won junior titles in U.S. Open singles and Wimbledon doubles (with Eugenie Bouchard) in 2011.
   Kenin and Min met in an official match for the first time, but they've played practice matches against each other at the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton, Fla., where both are based.
   This was the second all-American final in the Gold River Challenger. Maria Sanchez defeated Jessica Pegula in the inaugural tournament in 2012. Sanchez was born and raised in nearby Modesto. Pegula's parents, Terry and Kim, own the NFL's Buffalo Bills and NHL's Buffalo Sabres,
   Min, who played in the tournament for the first time this year, has an appropriate first name. During the awards ceremony, she warmly thanked the fans for attending and the club staff for making her feel at home. She then was cooperative in an interview with a reporter, to whom she had said "Nice to meet you" on Saturday.
   As for Min's walkabout, at least she's in good company.
   Second-seeded Ashley Weinhold of Spicewood, Texas, and Caitlin Whoriskey of East Sandwich, Mass., won the doubles title for the second consecutive year, beating third-seeded Jamie Loeb of Ossining, N.Y., and Chanel Simmonds of South Africa 6-4, 6-4.
   Loeb and Simmonds played together for the first time in the tournament. Loeb turned pro last year after winning the NCAA singles title as a North Carolina sophomore.
   Here are the complete Gold River Challenger singles and doubles draws.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Konta tops Venus for Bank of the West title

Third-seeded Johanna Konta, shown on Wednesday, beat
top-seeded Venus Williams 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 today for her first
WTA tour title. Photo by Paul Bauman
   The final of the Bank of the West Classic produced a milestone, but not for Venus Williams.
   Johanna Konta, seeded third, won her first WTA tour title with a 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 victory over the top-seeded Williams today at Stanford's Taube Family Tennis Stadium.
   Williams, 36, was seeking her 50th tour-level title in the tournament where she began her career 22 years ago. She ranks 11th in the Open Era, which began in 1968, behind 10th-place Monica Seles with 53 titles.
   Konta, 25, of Great Britain recovered after squandering a 4-1 lead (two service breaks) in the second set. She converted her third championship point on a service winner down the middle.
   The Sydney, Australia, native will improve from No. 18 in the world to a career-high No. 14 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
   Konta played in the Bank of the West Classic for the first time this year. She reached her first Grand Slam semifinal in the Australian Open in January, stunning Williams in the first round.
   Williams won the last of her seven Grand Slam singles titles at Wimbledon in 2008. She was diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome, a chronic energy-sapping disease, in 2011.
   In today's doubles final, No. 2 seeds Raquel Atawo (formerly Kops-Jones) of nearby San Jose and Abigail Spears of Colorado Springs, Colo., beat No. 3 Darija Jurak of Croatia and Anastasia Rodionova of Australia 6-3, 6-4.
   Atawo and Spears also won the title in 2013.
   Here are the complete singles and doubles draws.

Brooksby routed in boys 16 final at USTA Clay Courts

No. 14 seed Jenson Brooksby, above, lost to No. 7
Lukas Greif 6-1, 6-1. 2015 photo by Paul Bauman
   On Saturday, Jenson Brooksby routed his opponent to reach the boys 16 final in the USTA National Clay Court Championships.
   Today, though, the 15-year-old resident of Carmichael in the Sacramento area suffered the opposite fate.
   No. 7 seed Lukas Greif of Evansville, Ind., dominated No. 14 Brooksby 6-1, 6-1 in Delray Beach, Fla.
   In the semifinals, Brooksby demolished JanMagnus Johnson of Naples, Fla., 6-1, 6-0.
   Brooksby also was the runner-up in the 14s last year, falling to William Grant of Santa Barbara.
   Brooksby won the 12s in the 2013 USTA National Championships in Little Rock, Ark.
   In boys 16 doubles this week, Brooksby and Stevie Gould of Corte Madera in the San Francisco Bay Area reached the round of 16 before losing to Axel Nefve of Hinsdale, Ill., and William Woodall of Washington, D.C., 6-2, 6-3.

Kenin, 17, hopes to rocket to vicinity of Venus

Sofia Kenin, above, will face Grace Min in
an all-American final in the FSP Gold River
Women's Challenger. Photo by Paul Bauman 
   GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- Sofia Kenin is unlikely to reach the heights of Venus Williams -- literally and figuratively.
   Kenin could, however, succeed Williams as a U.S. tennis star. They will play a 2 1/2-hour drive apart today in Northern California finals.
   The 36-year-old Williams will seek her 50th career singles title at the top level of women's tennis in the Bank of the West Classic, where she made her WTA tour debut 22 years ago, this afternoon at Stanford in the San Francisco Bay Area.
   In the evening, the 17-year-old Kenin will try to win her second ITF (minor-league) singles crown in the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger at the Gold River Racquet Club in the Sacramento region.  
   The top three Americans in the world rankings are No. 1 Serena Williams, who will turn 35 in September; No. 7 Venus Williams; and No. 11 Madison Keys, who's 21.
   "There's such good players, and I have so much respect for them," said the unseeded Kenin, who will meet second-seeded Grace Min for the first time in an all-American final after today's 5 p.m. doubles title match (live streaming at usta.com). "It would be really good for the U.S. to have another player. My friends and I are trying to battle and get to the top. I look up to a lot of those Americans, and I really want to be in a position like them."
   Kenin's idol, though, is Maria Sharapova.
   "She's such a great fighter; she fights for every ball," explained Kenin, who won the USTA Girls 18 National Championships last summer to earn an automatic berth in the main draw of the U.S. Open (losing to Mariana Duque-Marino of Colombia in the first round). "I really like her game. She's got the big serve, she's aggressive, and that's how I want to play -- aggressive. I feel like her game matches well with mine."
   Like Sharapova, Kenin was born in Russia and moved to Florida. Kenin, however, came as a baby with her family and plays for the United States. Sharapova arrived at age 9 to train at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and competes for Russia.
   The big difference between Sharapova, who is serving a two-year suspension for using meldonium after it was banned as of Jan. 1, is height. The 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Sharapova, who owns a career Grand Slam in singles and five major singles titles overall, is eight inches (20.3 centimeters) taller than Kenin.
   Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion, is 6-foot-1 (1.85 meters).
   Still, Kenin has pop on her serve and laser groundstrokes on both sides. She also has a strong return of serve and good form at the net. In short, the Pembroke Pines, Fla., resident is supremely gifted.
Second-seeded Grace Min, shown Saturday,
saved two match points in the second round
in Gold River. Photo by Paul Bauman
   But Kenin, an amateur ranked No. 332 in the world among women (up from No. 620 at the end of last year) and No. 10 in the juniors, said her biggest strength is "just the fact that I'm fighting on court, and I see the game really well. When I'm playing well, I feel like I'm attacking."
   Kenin's competitiveness was evident in her 6-4, 6-4 semifinal victory over qualifier Valeria Solovyeva of Russia in 100-degree (37.8 Celsius) heat. Serving for the match for the second time, Kenin overcame a 0-40 deficit and saved a fourth break point with a service winner. Solovyeva then slugged two consecutive backhands long to end the match.
   "I have to give her credit," said Solovyeva, a semifinalist in the inaugural 2012 Gold River Challenger at 19 who returned in May from knee surgery. "She played a really good, solid match. She was tough today out there. Definitely, she was fresher, but it's part of the game. I had to play through qualies, so that's how it is."          
   Min, a compact 5-foot-4 (1.63 meters), led eighth-seeded Sabina Sharipova of Uzbekistan 6-0, 3-0 in the first semifinal when the 21-year-old Sharipova retired with nausea.
   Sharipova, on the verge of tears, later said she began feeling sick after her 6-4, 6-4 victory over Elizaveta Ianchuk of Ukraine on Friday afternoon in 95-degree (35.0 Celsius) heat.
   Min, 22, of Boca Raton, Fla., saved two match points in her second-round victory over Dutch veteran Michaella Krajicek, a former top-30 player. Min then routed her doubles partner, former Stanford star Kristie Ahn, 6-1, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.
   "With each match, I've been getting better, and that's been the most positive for this week," said Min, who's ranked No. 158 after cracking the top 100 in March 2015.
   Both Min and Kenin have extra incentive in the final. The winner will take the lead in the U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge. The American who earns the most points in two of the three participating tournaments -- Stockton, Sacramento and Lexington, Ky., in consecutive weeks -- will receive a wild card into the U.S. Open, Aug. 29-Sept. 11 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Kenin will attempt to become the second 17-year-old in the five-year history of the Sacramento Challenger to win the title. Mayo Hibi, a longtime resident of Irvine, Calif., who plays for her native Japan, defeated an ill Madison Brengle in the 2013 final.
   Hibi, 5-foot-5 (1.65 meters) and 121 pounds (55 kilograms), then skipped college and turned pro. She is now ranked No. 205.
   This will be the second all-American final in the Sacramento Challenger. Maria Sanchez, who was born and raised in nearby Modesto, defeated Jessica Pegula, whose parents own the NFL's Buffalo Bills and NHL's Buffalo Sabres, in the inaugural tournament in 2012.
   Here are links to the singles and doubles draws and today's schedule.

Venus, Konta to meet in Bank of the West final

   Venus Williams will seek her 50th career tour-level title today in the tournament where she began her career 22 years ago.
   Johanna Konta, meanwhile, will play in her first such final.
   But the final of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford is no mismatch. Konta stunned the eighth-seeded Williams 6-4, 6-2 in their last meeting in the first round of the Australian Open in January en route to her first Grand Slam semifinal.
   Williams, seeded No. 1 in the Bank of the West Classic, held off unseeded Alison Riske 6-1, 7-6 (2) in an all-American semifinal on Saturday night.
   Earlier, No. 3 Konta of Great Britain defeated No. 2 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-4, 6-2. Cibulkova, the 2013 champion, played in her first tournament since getting married on July 9 in Bratislava.
   Williams, 36, is 1-1 against Konta, 25. They will meet at 2 p.m. PDT in a match televised by ESPN2.
   Afterward, No. 2 seeds Raquel Atawo (formerly Kops-Jones) of San Jose and Abigail Spears of Colorado Springs, Colo., will try to win their second Bank of the West title. The 2013 champions will face No. 3 seeds Darija Jurak of Croatia and Anastasia Rodionova of Australia.
   Jurak and Rodionova topped unseeded Konta and Maria Sanchez, who was born and raised in Modesto, 6-4, 6-2.
   Here are links to the singles and doubles draws and today's schedule.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Brooksby reaches boys 16 final in USTA Clay Courts

   No. 14 seed Jenson Brooksby of Carmichael in the Sacramento area demolished unseeded JanMagnus Johnson of Naples, Fla., 6-1, 6-0 today to reach the boys 16 final in the USTA National Clay Court Championships in Delray Beach, Fla.
   Brooksby, 15, will face seventh-seeded Lukas Greif of Evansville, Ind., on Sunday at 7:45 a.m. PDT. Greif beat fifth-seeded Jared Pratt of Daniel Island, S.C., 6-4, 6-2.
   Brooksby reached the 14s final in last year's USTA National Clay Court Championships in Delray Beach, losing to William Grant of Santa Barbara, and won the 12s title in the 2013 USTA National Championships in Little Rock, Ark.

Bellis, 17, eclipsed by Venus in Bank of the West

CiCi Bellis, shown Tuesday after upsetting No. 6 seed
Jelena Ostapenko, said she "can take so many positives
away from this week." Photo by Paul Bauman
   CiCi Bellis fared better against a Williams sister this time.
   Not well enough to win, but, hey, one step at a time.
   Bellis, a 17-year-old wild card playing five minutes from home, battled Venus Williams in the first set before falling 6-4, 6-1 in one hour in the quarterfinals of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford.
   "I learned a lot; it was a lot better than when I played Serena," Bellis, referring to her 6-1, 6-1 loss in 41 minutes in the third round at Miami last year, told reporters. "I just have to focus on the key points; there were a couple in the first set that, had I played more aggressively, I might have won them. But she's the No. 1 seed here and No. 7 in the world, so it's unbelievable getting to play someone like her.
   "Playing a tournament like this is such a great opportunity for me ... I can take so many positives away from this week. I won two matches and reached my first quarterfinal of a Premier. I'm really happy about that."
   Bellis, a home-schooled high school senior from Atherton, said she verbally committed to Stanford on Thursday. She can sign a letter-of-intent in November, but that only means she couldn't play for another school. 
   Bellis still could turn pro, which she has said she will if she cracks the top 100 in the world by the fall of 2017. By reaching the Bank of the West quarters, she will jump from No. 203 to about No. 156. Bellis also could attend Stanford for one year and then turn pro.
   "I think she has a good head on her shoulders for her age," said Venus Williams, 36. "She has a weapon, tries to control the point with her forehand. She only has room to grow; you can imagine that she's going to get a lot better."
   Williams will play American Alison Riske in today's second semifinal at 7 p.m. (ESPN2). Riske, ranked 79th, led No. 4 seed CoCo Vandeweghe 6-3, 0-1 when Vandeweghe, the 2012 Bank of the West runner-up to Serena Williams, retired with an ankle injury and left the court in a wheelchair.
   Williams defeated Riske 6-4, 6-2 on clay in the second round at Charleston in April in their only previous meeting.   
   In today's first semifinal at 2 p.m. (ESPN2), No. 2 seed and 2013 champion Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia will face No. 3 Johanna Konta of Great Britain.
   Cibulkova defeated No. 5 Misaki Doi of Japan 7-5, 6-0, winning the last 11 games after trailing 5-2 in the first set. Cibulkova, who got married on July 9 in Bratislava, will return to the top 10 for the first time in more than 18 months on Monday.
   Konta, playing in the Bank of the West Classic for the first time this year, beat Zheng Saisai of China 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.
   Cibulkova is 1-0 against Konta, winning 7-6 (6), 7-5 in the first round at Hobart in January.  
   In the women's doubles quarterfinals, No. 2 seeds and 2013 champions Raquel Atawo (formerly Kops-Jones) of San Jose, Calif., and Abigail Spears of Colorado Springs, Colo., edged Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia and Arina Rodionova of Australia 2-6, 7-5 [10-7].