Monday, August 14, 2017

Kratzer wins national 18s for spot in U.S. Open

Ashley Kratzer defeated Kelly Chen 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 to win the USTA
Girls 18 National Championships in San Diego. Kratzer, an 18-year-
old left-hander from Newport Beach, was the runner-up in last
month's $50,000 Stockton Challenger. Photo courtesy of USTA
   No Northern Californians won titles in last week's USTA National Championships for juniors at various sites around the country.
   But Ashley Kratzer, the runner-up in last month's $50,000 Stockton Challenger, captured the Girls 18s in San Diego to earn a wild card in the U.S. Open. The year's last Grand Slam tournament is scheduled for Aug. 28-Sept. 10.
   No. 3 seed Kratzer, an 18-year-old left-hander from Newport Beach, defeated No. 33 Kelly Chen of Cerritos 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in the final. Newport Beach and Cerritos are in the Los Angeles area.
   Kratzer eliminated No. 6 Michaela Gordon of Saratoga, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, 7-5, 7-5 in the quarterfinals. Kratzer turned pro late last year. Gordon will enroll at Stanford next month.
   No. 8 seed Whitney Osuigwe of Bradenton, Fla., defeated No. 17 Katie Volynets of Walnut Creek, Calif., 7-5, 7-6 (3) in the round of 16 in a battle of decorated 15-year-olds.
   Osuigwe won the French Open junior title in June. Volynets last December became the first girl to win the 16s in the Eddie Herr International Championships and Orange Bowl in the same year. The tournaments were held in consecutive weeks in Bradenton, Fla., on hardcourts and Plantation, Fla., on clay, respectively.
   In the Boys 18s in Kalamazoo, Mich., No. 1 seed Sam Riffice, who grew up in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville, lost to No. 5 JJ Wolf of Cincinnati 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 in the quarterfinals. Riffice, now based at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., has verbally committed to the University of Florida for next year.
   In the Girls 14s in Rome, Ga., No. 1 seed Vivian Ovrootsky of San Jose lost to No. 16 Bridget Stammel of Dallas 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in the round of 16. Ovrootsky swept the 12s singles and doubles titles at the USTA Winter Nationals in Tucson, Ariz., in January. She turned 13 on July 15.
   Other results of NorCal players who reached the later rounds:
BOYS
In Kalamazoo, Mich.
18-and-under
Doubles quarterfinals
   Nathan Perrone, Moorestown, N.J., and Jake Van Emburgh, Belleair Beach, Fla., def. Sam Riffice and Gianni Ross (4), Orlando, Fla., 6-4, 7-5.
   Oliver Crawford, Spartanburg, S.C., and Patrick Kypson (2), Greenville, N.C., def. Austen Huang, Elk Grove, Calif., and Sean Sculley (12), Hilton Head Island, S.C., 6-4, 6-4.
16-and-under
Doubles semifinals
   Will Grant, Boca Raton, Fla., and Tyler Zink (3), Bradenton, Fla., def. Robert Cash, New Albany, Ohio, and Ryder Jackson (1), Nicasio, Calif., 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.
In Mobile, Ala.
14-and-under
Singles quarterfinals
   Andrew Chang (17), Trophy Club, Texas, def. Luke Neal, Mill Valley, 6-2, 7-6 (4).
   Ben Shelton (17), Gainesville, Fla., def. Luke Casper (10), Santa Cruz, Calif., 6-4, 6-4.
Singles semifinals
   Saud Alhogbani (4), Alexandria, Va., def. Hugo Hashimoto (17), San Jose, Calif., 6-4, 6-0.
Doubles semifinals
   Connor Krug and Jake Krug (1), Lakewood Ranch, Fla., def. Alex Han, Tulsa, Okla., and Hugo Hashimoto (6), San Jose, Calif., 7-5, 7-6 (6).
12-and-under
Singles quarterfinals
   Aidan Kim (1), Milford, Mich., def. Kurt Miller, Los Gatos, Calif., 7-5, 6-2.
Doubles semifinals
   Lucas Brown, Plano, Texas, and Learner Tien (1), Irvine, Calif., def. Kurt Miller, Los Gatos, Calif., and Andrew Salu (3), Sarasota, Fla., 7-5, 6-3.
GIRLS
In San Diego
16-and-under
Singles semifinals
   Angelica Blake (9), Boca Raton, Fla., def. Connie Ma, Dublin, Calif., 6-2, 6-3.
In Rome, Ga.
14-and-under
Doubles quarterfinals
   Hibah Shaikh, Teaneck, N.J., and Madison Sieg (2), Greenwich, Conn., def. Kimberly Hance, Torrance, Calif., and Yuu Ishikawa (5), Los Altos, Calif., 7-6 (5), 6-2.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Bublik, 20, predicted to reach top 10 -- seriously

Alexander Bublik, left, overpowered Liam Broady, right, 6-2, 6-3 today to win
the $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif. Photo by Paul Bauman
   APTOS, Calif. -- The term "wacky" generally is not associated with professional tennis players.
   "Serious," sure. "Dedicated," yes. "Resilient," check.
   But wacky? Not when only 100 men and 100 women on a planet of 7.5 billion people can make a comfortable living in the sport.
   Then there's Alexander Bublik.
   The 20-year-old Russia native confessed at Wimbledon this year that watching Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal can bore him.
   "It's interesting to see the highlights, how they're finishing (points), but when they're rallying for, like, 45 shots, you're sitting there thinking, Can I quit tennis please?"
   Playing Futures tournaments last year, the right-hander sometimes amused himself by hitting only trick shots or drop shots or, with a big lead, playing left-handed.
   At Indian Wells in March, Bublik interviewed Roger Federer and Andy Murray, among others, as part of a promotion for the inaugural Next Gen Finals, featuring the world's top 21-and-under men, in Milan in November.
   Some highlights:
   Bublik to Federer: "How can your hair be so perfect every time?"
   Federer: "It's not so perfect. It's a battle every day. Grow it out a little bit, and you'll see."
   Bublik to Murray: "What kind of advice can you give me to be as good as you are?"
   Murray: "A lot of training ... "
   Bublik: "Is that useful, training?"
   Having graduated to Challengers and some ATP and Grand Slam tournaments this year, Bublik is becoming more serious. It showed today as he overpowered qualifier Liam Broady of Great Britain 6-2, 6-3 in 62 minutes to win the $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger at the Seascape Sports Club.
   The Challenger, the oldest on the men's circuit in the United States, celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. Past competitors include International Tennis Hall of Famers Patrick Rafter and Michael Chang and future Hall of Famers Murray, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan.
   The unseeded Bublik had lost in the quarterfinals and second round of U.S. Challengers in the previous two weeks.
   "I just decided, OK, let's try to be serious," a bubbly Bublik, who switched his allegiance to Kazakhstan because it offered financial support, said after celebrating his title with a dip in the pool. "I need to find a balance between my jokes and serious tennis, so this week I was quite calm. I didn't mess around that much, so that's why I won the tournament."
   Broady predicts stardom for Bublik, who stands 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters) and weighs only 165 pounds (75.0 kilograms).
   "I think he has the potential to go all the way," the affable Broady, a 23-year-old left-hander, said after facing Bublik for the first time. "There's a reason he's ranked (125) already. He's very (flashy), and I'm sure he'll refine his talents as he gets older and gets more experience. He's going to be a scary prospect.
   " ... You see the way he's built. He's still not fully grown into his frame yet. He's got six, eight years before he reaches his peak. I don't see why he can't be top 10."
   Bublik improved to No. 104 in the world with the title, putting him on the verge of direct entry into the U.S. Open, and pocketed $14,400 for his second Challenger singles title.
   Bublik, who lost to world No. 1 and defending champion Murray 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in the first round at Wimbledon early last month as a lucky loser, is happy with his progress.
   "I feel great," he crowed. "It's my first year on tour. Last year I was playing Futures and I started, like, 900 (in the world), so it's been great. I had a rough clay-court season this year, but I'm getting back my rhythm after Wimbledon. The (match) I played with Andy gave me a lot of confidence. I improved a lot after that."
   There were glimpses of the old Bublik during the week in Aptos.
   While Dennis Novikov of Milpitas in the San Francisco Bay Area took a medical timeout in Friday's quarterfinals, Bublik entertained himself and the crowd by repeatedly bouncing a ball on the edge of his racket and off both feet.
   In the final, Bublik frequently hit drop shots and then became whimsical in the last game. Hitting his second serve as hard as his first, he double-faulted three consecutive times to give Broady a break point.
   "I just said, 'OK, everything or nothing,' " Bublik admitted.
   Bublik got back to deuce with a service winner, earned his third match point with a backhand volley winner and closed out the match with an ace down the middle.
   Bublik, who finished with six aces, still likes to have fun on the court.
   "That's my way of playing," he said. "It's a game. Of course, it's a great sport and you need to work hard, but you need to enjoy enjoy every moment of it. Tennis careers are not that (long)."
   Off the court, Bublik enjoys rap music. He has two Eminem quotes tattooed on his arms: "You won't break me; you just make me stronger than I was," and "Always be a leader and not a follower."
   Bublik already has beaten two top-20 players, No. 13 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain and No. 16 Lucas Pouille of France, and it's easy see why. Power.
   Bublik crushed his serve and groundstrokes against Broady. After the 6-foot (1.83-meter) Broady held for 2-2 in the first set, Bublik reeled off the next seven games to lead 3-0 in the second set. 
   Broady took the next two games, breaking serve for the only time in the match, but Bublik broke right back with a perfect lob. In the next-to-last game, Bublik unleashed a cross-court forehand passing shot so hard that Broady could only flail helplessly at it.
    "Sasha played really good today," said Broady, who had lost in the first round in Aptos in each of the past two years. "He's obviously got a fantastic serve, which in finals and big moments really helps. I don't think I served as well today as I have during the week. I was a little bit nervous, but that doesn't usually stop me from playing well. It was more Sasha's fault today that I didn't play very well. I'll learn from it and come back stronger."
   Broady played his seventh match in nine days.
   "I said to my coach in the quarterfinals I started to feel little bit fatigued," he conceded. "By then, it was my fifth match, so it was like I was making the finals of a tournament. Then the semifinals ... I was a little bit sluggish (today), just one or two percent.
   "I'd have loved to come out here and been fresh as a daisy, but I think in the finals, no one is ever going to be completely fresh. I gave it the best I could with the situation, and he was too good on the day anyway."
   Broady became the third British singles finalist, and second to emerge from qualifying, in Aptos in the past two years. Dan Evans beat qualifier Cameron Norrie, who was born in South Africa to British parents and grew up in New Zealand, last year. Also, Scotland's Murray won the Aptos title in 2005 at age 18.
   Evans, 27, faces a suspension of up to four years after testing positive for cocaine in April.
   Broady, who fell to 0-2 in Challenger finals, jumped from No. 336 to No. 256 and collected $8,480. He's fighting his way back after climbing to a career-high No. 158 two years ago at age 21.
   "I was saying this to a friend the other day: I didn't really know why I got to (158)," mused Broady, whose older sister, 6-foot-2 (1.89-meter) Naomi, is ranked No. 127 after reaching a career-high No. 76 last year in March. "I was quite young, just playing tennis and playing well. I was on a wave of confidence, and before I knew it, the results stopped coming a little bit, and I didn't really know how to get them back.
   "I split from my coach (David Sammel) and didn't have one for about nine months. I just did what any young guy would do. I enjoyed myself and went out with my friends. I played tennis to the best of my ability, but I had no direction.
   "As I'm sure anyone can relate in any walk of life, it's very difficult to do things when you have no direction, but I called my coach at the end of November last year and said, 'Look, I want to sort things out. I'm hungry; I want to play tennis again.' I hope we're going to start seeing dividends for the last eight months of hard work."  
Neal Skupski, left, and Jonathan Erlich won the doubles title in their first
tournament together. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Broady's countryman, Neal Skupski, teamed with Jonathan Erlich of Israel to win the doubles title in their first tournament together. Seeded third, they edged fourth-seeded Alex Bolt and Jordan Thompson of Australia 6-3, 2-6 [10-8].
   On the last point, Bolt and Thompson had a sitter in the middle of the court at the service line but let the ball go between them for a winner.
   Both Erlich, 40, and Skupski, 27, said they had never had a match end that way.
   "We don't mind," Skupski cracked. "We're happy with the result."
   Erlich and Skupski, who split $6,200, saved five match points combined in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
   Erlich also paired with countryman Andy Ram to win the Aptos Challenger in 2013 and the Australian Open in 2008.
   Here are the complete Nordic Naturals Challenger singles and doubles draws.    

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Qualifier Broady to face Bublik, 20, in Aptos final

   Qualifier Liam Broady of Great Britain upset wild card Taylor Fritz, a top U.S. prospect, 7-6 (3), 6-3 today to reach the final of the $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif.
   Throughout the match at the Seascape Sports Club near the Pacific Ocean, the 23-year-old Broady served his way out of trouble and outsteadied the 19-year-old Fritz from the backcourt.
   Broady, a 6-foot (1.83-meter) left-hander, won 84 percent of the points on his first serve (41 of 49) and saved all six break points against him.
   Fritz is ranked No. 131, down from a career-high No. 53 one year ago. Broady is No. 336 after climbing as high as No. 158 two years ago.
   Broady is the third British finalist, and second to emerge from qualifying, in Aptos in the past two years. Dan Evans defeated qualifier Cameron Norrie, a South Africa native, last year. Also, current world No. 1 Andy Murray of Scotland won the Aptos title in 2005 at age 18.
   Evans, 27, faces a suspension of up to four years after testing positive for cocaine in April.
   Broady's older sister, 6-foot-2 (1.89-meter) Naomi, is ranked No. 127 after reaching a career-high No. 76 in March last year.
   Liam Broady will face Alexander Bublik, who was born in Russia but changed his allegiance to Kazakhstan after being offered financial support, for the first time on Sunday after the 1 p.m. doubles final. The matches will be streamed live.
   Bublik, 20, defeated Sam Groth, a 29-year-old Australian with a booming serve, 7-6 (2), 6-3. The 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter), 165-pound (75-kilogram) Bublik won 82 percent of the points on his first serve (31 of 38).
   Groth set an unofficial record with a 163.7-mph (263.4-kph) serve in the 2012 Busan (South Korea) Challenger.
   Bublik already has beaten two top-20 players in his career: No. 13 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain to reach the quarterfinals in Moscow on the ATP World Tour last October and No. 16 Lucas Pouille of France in the first round of the Australian Open in January as a qualifier.
   Both Bublik, ranked No. 125, and Broady will play in their second Challenger singles final. Bublik won a $50,000 hardcourt tournament in Morelos, Mexico, in February. Broady was the runner-up in Charlottesville, Va., also a $50,000 hardcourt tourney, in 2014.
   The Aptos Challenger, the oldest on the men's circuit in the United States, is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Past competitors include International Tennis Hall of Famers Patrick Rafter and Michael Chang, as well as future Hall of Famers Murray, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan.
   Here are the Nordic Naturals singles and doubles draws and Sunday's schedule.

Friday, August 11, 2017

U.S. sensation Fritz reaches semis at 100K Aptos

After practicing, Taylor Fritz glances at a match
on Center Court in Aptos, Calif., on Wednesday.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Wild card Taylor Fritz, one of the United States' top prospects, defeated sixth-seeded Tennys Sandgren of Gallatin, Tenn., 6-5, 7-6 (1) today in the quarterfinals of the $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger at the Seascape Sports Club in Aptos, Calif.
   Fritz, 19, of Palos Verdes in the Los Angeles area, saved three sets points while serving at 5-6 in the second set.
   Fritz made his Challenger debut two years ago in Aptos, losing to veteran Mischa Zverev, now ranked 26th, in the first round. Two months later, Fritz won the Sacramento and Fairfield Challengers, also in Northern California, back to-back at 17.
   He became the second-fastest American man to reach an ATP World Tour final last year at Memphis and stunned then-No. 7 Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, at Indian Wells in March.
   Ranked a career-high No. 53 one year ago, Fritz has tumbled to No. 131 because of knee problems.
   Fritz's mother (Kathy May), father (Guy Fritz) and uncle (Harry Fritz) all played professionally.  May peaked at No. 10 in the world in 1977 and played in three career Grand Slam quarterfinals.
   Taylor Fritz will meet qualifier Liam Broady of Great Britain in today's second semifinal. Broady, a 23-year-old left-hander, beat Raymond Sarmiento of Los Angeles 6-4, 6-4. Sarmiento, a 25-year-old former USC All-American, played in the Aptos quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
    In the first semifinal, which will follow an 11 a.m. doubles semi, Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan will face Sam Groth of Australia.
   Bublik, a 20-year-old Russia native, eliminated wild card Dennis Novikov of Milpitas in the San Francisco Bay Area 6-1, 6-4 in 64 minutes. Milpitas is a one-hour drive north of Aptos.
   Bublik, 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters) and only 165 pounds (75 kilograms), qualified for the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year. He shocked France's Lucas Pouille, then ranked 16th, in the first round in Melbourne before losing to Malek Jaziri of Tunisia. Bublik fell to top-ranked Andy Murray 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in the opening round at Wimbledon.
   Groth held off countryman Akira Santillan, a 20-year-old Tokyo native, 7-5, 7-6 (4). Groth pounded 17 aces, and Santillan had 15.
   Groth, 29, set an unofficial record with a 163.7-mph (263.4-kph) serve in the 2012 Busan (South Korea) Challenger and climbed to a career-high No. 53 in 2015.
    Both semifinals will be first-time meetings.
    The Aptos tournament, the oldest men's Challenger in the United States, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Past competitors include International Tennis Hall of Famers Patrick Rafter and Michael Chang, as well as future Hall of Famers Andy Murray, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

NorCal's Novikov upsets seed, gains Aptos quarters

   Dennis Novikov, playing near home, upset fifth-seeded Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3), 6-3 in 2 hours, 40 minutes today to reach the quarterfinals of the $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif.
   Novikov, a 23-year-old wild card from Milpitas in the San Francisco Bay Area, converted only 42 percent of his first serves but saved 12 of 13 break points against him at the Seascape Sports Club.
   Milpitas is a one-hour drive north of Aptos.
   Novikov, who reached his first ATP World Tour quarterfinal last month on grass in Newport, R.I., will play another Kazakh, Alexander Bublik, on Friday at 11 a.m. It will be the first match between Bublik, ranked No. 125, and Novikov, ranked No. 216.
   Bublik, 20, routed third-seeded Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 6-1, 6-1 in 45 minutes.
   Both Bublik and Kukushkin were born in Russia.
   Bublik, 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters) and only 165 pounds (75 kilograms), qualified for the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year. He stunned France's Lucas Pouille, then ranked 16th, in the first round in Melbourne before losing to Malek Jaziri of Tunisia. Bublik fell to top-ranked Andy Murray 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in the opening round at Wimbledon.
   Only one seed reached the Aptos quarterfinals. No. 6 Tennys Sandgren will face wild card Taylor Fritz for the first time in an all-American showdown not before 6 p.m.
   Sandgren, 26, played in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in May. He lost to Kukushkin in the first round of the French Open.
   Fritz, 19, shocked Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, at Indian Wells in March. Cilic was ranked seventh at the time.
   In Friday's other quarterfinals, Raymond Sarmiento of Los Angeles will play qualifier Liam Broady of Great Britain not before 1:30 p.m., and Sam Groth will take on fellow Australian Akira Santillan not before 4 p.m.
   Sarmiento, a 25-year-old former USC All-American and a quarterfinalist in Aptos last year, will try to reach a Challenger semifinal for the second consecutive week. He lost to eventual champion Michael Mmoh, a 19-year-old American, in three sets in Lexington, Ky., last week.
   Groth, 29, set an unofficial record with a 163.7-mph (263.4-kph) serve in the 2012 Busan (South Korea) Challenger and climbed to a career-high No. 53 in 2015. Santillan, a 20-year-old Tokyo native, won his first Challenger title last month in Winnetka, Ill.
    The Aptos tournament, the oldest men's Challenger in the United States, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Past competitors include International Tennis Hall of Famers Patrick Rafter and Michael Chang, as well as future Hall of Famer Andy Murray, Tommy Haas, James Blake, John Isner, Milos Raonic, Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson, Jack Sock, Bob and Mike Bryan, Mardy Fish, Marcos Baghdatis and Radek Stepanek.
   Here are the Nordic Naturals Challenger singles and doubles draws and Friday's schedule. Live streaming is available.

Bellis, 18, loses to Garcia in Toronto

   CiCi Bellis' run in the Rogers Cup in Toronto ended today with a 6-4, 6-2 loss to Caroline Garcia of France in the third round.
   The 18-year-old Bellis, who grew up in Atherton in the San Francisco Bay Area, had defeated 35th-ranked Julia Goerges of Germany and eighth-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia.
   Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam singles champion, was the second top-10 player Bellis has beaten. She knocked off then-No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round at Dubai in February.
   Bellis, the youngest player in the top 40, will improve approximately three places to No. 33. She could be seeded in the U.S. Open, Aug. 28-Sept. 10, after reaching the third round at Flushing Meadows as a qualifier last year. Bellis then turned pro.
   Garcia, five years older than Bellis and ranked 21st, will play second-ranked Simona Halep in the quarterfinals.

Bellis beats another top-10 player

   CiCi Bellis racked up another big win on Wednesday, upsetting No. 8 seed and two-time Grand Slam singles champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia 6-4, 7-5 to reach the round of 16 in the Rogers Cup in Toronto.
   "I think I played really well today," Bellis, an 18-year-old product of Atherton in the San Francisco Bay Area, said on wtatennis.com. "Obviously I told myself I had to because she's unbelievable, so I'm really happy with it."
   Bellis recorded her second victory over a top-10 player. She knocked off then-No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round at Dubai in February.
   The 36th-ranked Bellis will face Caroline Garcia, a 23-year-old Frenchwoman ranked 21st, for the first time today at 8 a.m. PDT. The winner likely will play second-ranked Simona Halep.
   A victory over Garcia could ensure a U.S. Open seeding for Bellis, the youngest player in the top 40 and one of four teenagers in the top 100. She reached the third round at Flushing Meadows last year as a qualifier, then turned pro.
   This year's U.S. Open is scheduled for Aug. 28-Sept. 10.