Sunday, July 31, 2011

Serena tops ailing Bartoli for title

   STANFORD -- It was all so ironic.
   Serena Williams, who returned to the circuit in June after enduring serious health problems, benefited from Marion Bartoli's injury Sunday in the final of the Bank of the West Classic. Bartoli, in turn, had played only one set in the quarterfinals and semifinals combined because of her opponents' injuries.
   The unseeded Williams, playing in only the third tournament of her comeback, defeated
the third-seeded Bartoli of France 7-5, 6-1 for her first title since Wimbledon last year. It was also Williams' first crown at Stanford, first in a non-Grand Slam or season-ending tournament in more than three years and first on the U.S. summer circuit since 2000.
   After delivering a 113-mph service winner on her first match point, Williams joyously dropped her racket, put her head in her hands and raised her fists in triumph.
   "I'm really happy because I put a lot of work into this week," said the former world No. 1, who will rise from No. 169 to the top 80. "It was a relief because Marion is always coming back."
   Not this time. Pounding her serve and dominating rallies with her two-handed forehand and backhand, Bartoli led 4-2 in the first set. In the sixth game, however, the right-hander apparently jammed her right hand with her racket and bruised a bone. Williams won 10 of the next 11 games, including eight in a row after Bartoli served for the first set at 5-4.
   "I was not able to grip the racket on my serve and forehand," said Bartoli, who lost five straight service games, double-faulting six times in the first four, after the injury.
   Bartoli, ranked a career-high ninth, didn't want to use the injury as an excuse but admitted that it "disturbed me. I can still walk away saying I played some great tennis in the first seven games." She said she plans to practice this week and play in Toronto next week.
   Williams, meanwhile, reduced her errors and dominated on her serve, reputedly the best in the history of women's tennis, when the sun wasn't in her eyes. She finished with 11 aces.
   "(Bartoli) was playing really aggressively and well," Williams said of her early deficit. "I was not doing what I could have done. I had to bring up the level of my game. She's clearly a brilliant player."
   Bartoli appeared in the Bank of the West final for the third time in four years. Her only title came in 2009, when she upset Venus Williams in the final. Last month, Bartoli defeated Serena in straight sets in the fourth round at Wimbledon for her first career victory over the American star after two losses.
   Serena has improved since Wimbledon, Bartoli said.
   "Absolutely. I said it even before the match. She has improved from Monday to today, so you can imagine how much she has improved in one month," Bartoli said.    
   Shortly after winning Wimbledon last year for her 13th Grand Slam singles title, Williams stepped on broken glass at a restaurant and twice had surgery. Then she suffered life-threatening blood clots, extending her layoff to 11 months.
   "I love winning majors, obviously, but I feel so blessed to be out here," Williams said. "You never know what tomorrow brings."
   In the doubles final, second-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and Maria Kirilenko of Russia routed top-seeded Liezel Huber of Houston and Lisa Raymond of Wayne, Pa., 6-1, 6-3.
   Raymond, 37, leads active players with 70 career doubles titles. Huber, a 34-year-old American citizen originally from South Africa, ranks fourth with 44.

Serena, Bartoli have an easy time

   Fans didn't get to see much singles Saturday at Stanford.
   During the day session, third-seeded Marion Bartoli of France reached the final of the Bank of the West Classic without hitting a ball as eighth-seeded Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia defaulted because of a strained abdominal muscle.
   At night, Serena Williams of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., brushed aside Sabine Lisicki of Germany 6-1, 6-2 in 59 minutes in a matchup of unseeded players. Williams advanced to her first final since winning Wimbledon last year.
    "I have never played her before, so I did not know what to expect," said Lisicki, who reached her first Grand Slam semifinal recently at Wimbledon. "I’m not used to having the ball come back at me so hard. It was a new experience, a learning experience."
   Williams is 2-1 against Bartoli, who won the last meeting in straight sets in the fourth round at Wimbledon in June. It was Williams' second tournament since returning from an 11-month absence caused by an off-the-court foot injury and life-threatening blood clots in her lungs.
   "I’m a much better player now – I was really struggling there," Williams said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself, being the defending champ and having a lot to lose."
   This is the 26-year-old Bartoli's ninth consecutive year in the Bank of the West Classic. After failing to advance past the second round in the first five years, she has reached the final in three of the past four years. She upset Venus Williams for the 2009 title and was the runner-up to Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada in 2008.
   Serena Williams, 29, is playing in the Bank of the West Classic for only the third year. The former world No. 1 reached the semifinals in 2008 and the quarterfinals in 2009.
   Ranked No. 169, Williams will rise to the top 80 with a victory today and approximately  No. 110 with a loss.
   Both finalists will be fresh.
   Aside from her three-set victory over Maria Kirilenko in the second round, Williams has lost only seven games in three matches. She blanked former Sacramento Capital Anastasia Rodionova 6-0, 6-0 in the first round.
   Bartoli, ranked a career-high No. 9, has played only three sets in the tournament. After receiving a first-round bye, she won in straight sets in the second round and triumphed 6-1, retired in the quarterfinals before Cibulkova's default.
   "This has never happened to me, but there’s not much I can do about it," Bartoli said. "It’s a shame Dominika had to be put out. It will be an extremely tough match (today), and I need to get ready."

Results - Saturday, July 30, 2011
Singles - Semifinals
(3) Marion Bartoli (FRA) d. (8/WC) Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) w/o (left abdominal strain)
Serena Williams (USA) d. Sabine Lisicki (GER) 61 62
Doubles - Semifinals
(1) Huber/Raymond (USA/USA) d. Aoyama/Fujiwara (JPN/JPN) 61 62
(2) Azarenka/Kirilenko (BLR/RUS) d. (3) Goerges/Zahlavova Strycova (GER/CZE) 46 63 105 (Match TB)
Order Of Play - Sunday, July 31, 2011
Stadium (from 12.00hrs)
1. Singles Final: Marion Bartoli vs. Serena Williams
2. Doubles Final: Huber/Raymond vs. Azarenka/Kirilenko

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Serena aces test against Sharapova

   Look out, women's tennis.
   Serena Williams is returning to form quickly.
   In only her third tournament since an 11-month layoff, the unseeded Williams routed second-seeded Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-3 Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford.
   "I had a good start," Williams said of the matchup between former No. 1 players in the world. “You can’t go in against the fifth-ranked player with your mind everywhere. You have to be serious. It’s a great win for the hardcourt season."
      Added Williams: "I’m a better player this month than I was last month. I’ve put in a lot of work, and I hope it continues to pay off."
    Williams improved to 7-2 against Sharapova with six straight victories.
    "It certainly wasn’t my night," said Sharapova, who at 17 shocked two-time defending champion Williams to win the 2004 Wimbledon title. "She was serving and hitting so well, and I was extremely late in my reactions. I felt sluggish. It was a bad day, but it’s also a reminder that I need to step up."
   With Sharapova's loss, both of last year's Bank of the West finalists have been eliminated. Top seed and defending champion Victoria Azarenka fell to qualifier Marina Erakovic of New Zealand on Thursday.
   Erakovic, however, fell to eighth-seeded Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-1, 6-1 in the quarterfinals.
   In today's semifinals, third-seeded Marion Bartoli of France will meet Cibulkova at
1 p.m., and Williams will face unseeded Sabine Lisicki of Germany at 7 p.m.
   Bartoli won the Bank of the West in 2009 and reached the final in 2008. Lisicki, 20, recently reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon.
   Kendrick suspended -- Former top-100 player Robert Kendrick, a Fresno native, was suspended for one year by the International Tennis Federation after testing positive for a banned drug at the French Open.
   Kendrick, 31, said the drug came from a capsule he took to fight jet lag.
   Ranked a career-high No. 69 in 2009, Kendrick has fallen to No. 105. He reached the final of the Sacramento Challenger last October and in 2008, and he won the 2007 doubles title with Brian Wilson.
   Wayne Odesnik, the 2007 Sacramento Challenger singles champion, returned to action early this year after a one-year suspension for a doping violation.

Results - Friday, July 29, 2011
Singles - Quarterfinals
Serena Williams (USA) d. (2) Maria Sharapova (RUS) 61 63.
(3) Marion Bartoli (FRA) d. Ayumi Morita (JPN) 61 ret. (right ankle injury).
Sabine Lisicki (GER) d. (5) Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) 76(4) 26 62.
(8/WC) Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) d. (Q) Marina Erakovic (NZL) 61 61.
Doubles - Quarterfinals
(1) Huber/Raymond (USA/USA) d. Fichman/Pelletier (CAN/CAN) 62 64.

Order Of Play - Saturday, July 30, 2011
Stadium (from 13.00hrs)
1. Dominika Cibulkova vs. Marion Bartoli.
2. Goerges/Zahlavova Strycova vs. Azarenka/Kirilenko.
3. Sabine Lisicki vs. Serena Williams (NB 19.00hrs).
4. Huber/Raymond vs. Aoyama/Fujiwara.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Date-Krumm makes great return

   STANFORD -- When Kimiko Date-Krumm retired from professional tennis in 1996, Bill Clinton had just defeated Bob Dole to earn his second term as president of the United States. Twitter was something birds did, and Steffi Graf was the No. 1 player in the world and single with no children.
   When Date-Krumm returned 12 years later, Hillary Clinton was running for president, Twitter was gaining popularity as a social neworking and microblogging service, and Graf was an International Tennis Hall of Famer and married with 6- and 4-year-old kids.
   Date-Krumm is to comebacks what John Isner and Nicolas Mahut are to marathon matches. Now 40, virtually unheard of for a pro tennis player, the Japanese veteran is ranked 52nd in the world. The next oldest player in the top 100 is another Asian, 34-year-old Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand at No. 79.
   In her first life on the pro tour, Date-Krumm climbed to No. 4, reached the semifinals once each at Wimbledon, the French Open and the Australian Open, and twice advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. But by 26, she was burned out.
  "It was difficult on the tour," Date-Krumm said in halting English after losing to eighth-seeded Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-2, 7-6 (7) Monday night in the first round of the Bank of The West Classic. "I felt stress from the Japanese media. It was the first time there was a top-10 player (from Japan), and there were not so many other (top) athletes. Now, there's baseball (Japanese players in the United States) and soccer. There was much media (attention on) me.
   "There were no (laptops) or mobile phones. I was always traveling far from Japan. I couldn't enjoy the tour."
   Date-Krumm enjoyed her retirement, working on projects, swimming, jogging, playing tennis with friends for fun, doing TV commentary at Grand Slam tournaments, working for a fashion magazine and getting engaged in 2000. She ran the 2004 London Marathon in 3 hours, 30 minutes. But her husband, German race car driver Michael Krumm, pleaded with her to return to the tour.
   "He likes sports, and we play(ed) tennis together," Date-Krumm said. "He always push me: 'Why don't you play (on the tour again)? I said, 'I don't want to. I was already successful. Enough.' He said, 'Please, I don't see your serious game.' I said, 'No, no, no' for many years."
   After playing an exhibition with Martina Navratilova and Graf in Tokyo, though, Date-Krumm decided to start training.
   "Then I start to enjoy tennis," she said. "At that time, I think about staying in Japan, but now I'm back on the WTA Tour."    
   Since returning, Date Krumm has become the:
   --Oldest player at 39 years, 7 months to beat a top-10 star with her first-round victory over Dinara Safina in the first round of last year's French Open. Date-Krumm surpassed that by beating Samantha Stosur in the quarterfinals at Osaka, Japan, at 40 years, 17 days in 2010.
   --Second-oldest player at 38 years, 11 months to win a WTA title when she triumphed at Seoul in 2009. Billie Jean King won at Birmingham, England, in 1983 at 39 years, 7 months.
   --Oldest player to rank in the top 50 since King was No.22 at age 40 in 1984. Date-Krumm rose from No. 54 to No. 50 last August.
   Date-Krumm, only 5-foot-4 and 117 pounds, plays as if she comes from another era, which she does. She uses touch and sharp angles and often charges the net. Naturally left-handed, she learned to play right-handed to follow Japanese custom. Her forehand, in fact, is unorthodox and appears stiff. Rather than using a customary looping backswing, she takes her racket straight back.
   In possibly the match of the year, Date-Krumm extended Venus Williams to 6-7 (6), 6-3, 8-6 last month in the second round at Wimbledon.
   "I've never played anyone who hits the ball like that," Williams, 31, told reporters afterward. "Nobody today comes to the net like she does. They don't play quirky. I thought she played unbelievable today, nowhere near her age."
   After Wimbledon, Date-Krumm returned to Japan and hit with juniors at a tournament in the area devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in March. The disaster killed more than 15,000 people.
   "Day by day, things are getting better," said Date-Krumm, who has raised or donated $64,000 for recovery efforts. "It's difficult for them to laugh. They were so happy to play with me. People don't have a house or clothes. It takes a long time (to recover)."
   Date-Krumm hopes her exploits on the pro tour at 40 inspire her country, much as the Japanese women's soccer team did with its recent Women's World Cup championship.
   "I believe sports has big power," she said. "During the clay-court season (in the spring), I lose many times, but I don't give up. Then I almost beat Venus. If you don't give up, maybe the light is coming."

Serena, Sharapova set to meet

   The dream matchup is set.
   Former world No. 1s Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will meet tonight at 8 in the quarterfinals of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford.
   The unseeded Williams advanced with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 victory over Maria Kirilenko of Russia on Thursday. Sharapova, the second seed and 2010 runner-up, had beaten Daniela Hantuchova on Wednesday night to reach the quarters.
   Williams is 6-2 against Sharapova with five consecutive victories. At 17 years old, Sharapova stunned Williams, the two-time defending Wimbledon champion, to win the 2004 title there.
   Both players have come back from extended layoffs. Sharapova missed almost 10 months in 2008 and 2009 because of chronic shoulder pain that required surgery. Williams returned in June after sitting out for 11 months because of foot injuries and life-threatening blood clots in her lungs.
   "You can never rest against Serena," Sharapova said. "She hasn’t played in quite a while, but she’s still a great competitor. At the end of the day, she has 13 Grand Slam (singles) titles, and I have three. That says a lot."
   Said Williams: "I’m sure we’ll both go out and do the best each of us can. It’s nothing personal. It’s my job, and I want to get paid. I leave it on the court."
   Another player climbing back up the rankings after a long absence, Marina Erakovic of New Zealand, stunned top seed and defending champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. Azarenka was playing her first singles match since reaching her first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon.
   Erakovic, a qualifier ranked No. 121, was sidelined for six months because of a left hip injury in 2009.
   "I went into a slump just before the injury and was beginning to question whether this tennis thing was for me," Erakovic said. "The injury made me realize how much I love tennis, and that’s when I committed myself. Coming back, I feel like I can  compete with the best."
   Unseeded German Sabine Lisicki, another first-time Grand Slam semifinalist at Wimbledon, knocked off fourth-seeded Samantha Stosur of Australia 6-3, 7-5. Stosur had reached the semifinals at Stanford in each of the past two years.     
   Second-round singles
   (Q) Marina Erakovic (NZL) d. (1) Victoria Azarenka (BLR) 46 75 62.
   Sabine Lisicki (GER) d. (4) Samantha Stosur (AUS) 63 75.
   Ayumi Morita (JPN) d. (Q) Urszula Radwanska (POL) 46 75 61 (saved 3mp).
   Serena Williams (USA) d. Maria Kirilenko (RUS) 62 36 62.
   Doubles quarterfinals
   (2) Azarenka/Kirilenko (BLR/RUS) d. Rodionova/Rodionova (AUS/RUS) 63 61.
   Aoyama/Fujiwara (JPN/JPN) d. Cibulkova/Date-Krumm (SVK/JPN) 36 64 10-6 (Match TB).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sharapova advances in Bank of the West

   Maria Sharapova did her part. Now it's up to Serena Williams.
   Sharapova, a Russian seeded second, outlasted Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 Wednesday night in the second round of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford.
   If Williams beats Maria Kirilenko of Russia on Thursday afternoon, she will meet Sharapova in Friday's quarterfinals in a matchup of former No. 1 players in the world.
   Williams is unseeded at No. 169 after missing 11 months because of foot injuries and life-threatening blood clots in her lungs. She returned to the circuit last month and is playing in her first tournament in the United States in almost two years.
   Also winning Wednesday were third-seeded Marion Bartoli of France, fifth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland and eighth-seeded Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia.
   The 5-foot-3 Cibulkova, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist this year, ousted 19-year-old American Christina McHale, the youngest player in the top 100, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.
   Bartoli won the Bank of the West Classic in 2009 and reached the final in 2008. Radwanska gained the semifinals last year and Cibulkova the quarterfinals in 2008.
   In the doubles quarterfinals Wednesday, Wimbledon runners-up Sabine Lisicki of Germany and Samantha Stosur of Australia lost to third-seeded Julia Goerges of Germany and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic 2-6, 6-4, 10-5 match tiebreaker.

Serena shuts out ex-Capital Rodionova

   Serena Williams apparently feels pretty good these days.
   The 13-time Grand Slam singles champion demolished Anastasia Rodionova, a former Sacramento Capital, 6-0, 6-0 in 47 minutes Tuesday night in the first round of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford.
   It probably didn't hurt that Williams played on the surface she grew up on, hard courts, in her home state. Serena and older sister Venus were raised in Compton in the Los Angeles area but now live in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
   Serena, who will turn 30 in September, is playing in only her third tournament since missing 11 months because of foot injuries and life-threatening blood clots. The Bank of the West Classic is her first tournament in the United States in almost two years.
   On Thursday, the 169th-ranked Williams will meet Russia's Maria Kirilenko, a quarterfinalist last year who beat sixth-seeded Julia Goerges of Germany 6-2, 6-3. Williams defeated Kirilenko 6-3, 6-2 last month in the third round at Wimbledon before losing to Marion Bartoli of France.
   In another upset Tuesday, Japan's Ayumi Morita knocked off seventh-seeded Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 6-3, 7-5.
   Second-seeded Maria Sharapova, last year's runner-up to Victoria Azarenka, opens against Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia tonight at 7.  The top four seeds -- No. 1 Azarenka of Belarus, Sharapova, No. 3 Bartoli and No. 4 Samantha Stosur of Australia -- received first-round byes.
   If Williams and Sharapova win, they will meet Friday night in the quarterfinals in a matchup of former No. 1 players. It would also be a rematch of the 2004 Wimbledon final, in which Sharapova, then 17, stunned the two-time defending champion for the first of her three Grand Slam singles titles.

Monday, July 25, 2011

U.S. teens McHale, Vandeweghe serve notice

   STANFORD -- Christina McHale and Coco Vandeweghe could have been playing low-level tournaments in the United States this summer and preparing for their sophomore year of college.
   Instead, the 19-year-old Americans are traveling around the world as professionals on the elite WTA Tour. Both have cracked the top 100 and beaten Russian stars for the biggest victories of their careers.
   "It's weird having a lot of friends in college while I'm doing this," McHale admittted Monday.
   McHale and Vandeweghe, a former Capital, had mixed results in the first round of the Bank of the West Classic. McHale crushed error-prone Mirjana Lucic of Croatia 6-1, 6-0, and Vandeweghe lost to Rebecca Marino of Canada 6-4, 6-4.
   The 5-foot-7 McHale, from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., is ranked No. 65 (third in the United States). She reached the third round at Indian Wells in March, stunning two-time Grand Slam singles champion Svetlana Kuznetsova along the way.
   The 6-1 Vandeweghe, from Rancho Santa Fe in the San Diego area, is No. 99 (fifth in the U.S.). At her hometown tournament last August, she won three qualifying matches and knocked off second-ranked Vera Zvonareva, the 2010 Wimbledon runner-up, en route to the quarterfinals.
   Another 19-year-old American, 100th-ranked Melanie Oudin, is playing in the inaugural Citi Open in College Park, Md., this week.
  McHale and Vandeweghe have earned $149,476 and $106,343, respectively, in prize money this year, although travel expenses have eaten up a significant percentage of that.
   McHale, the youngest player in the top 100, turned pro last year after much deliberation. She doesn't know where she would have gone to college but has been impressed by Stanford.
   "After being here, I definitely would have considered it," said McHale, who also reached the second round of the Bank of the West Classic last year.
   McHale said she's not surprised by her rapid rise in the rankings.
   "It's what I've been working hard for. I'm happy to see it happening," she said.
   McHale also doesn't mind being considered the next hope for the United States, whose top-ranked player is Bethanie Mattek-Sands at No. 30.
   "It's fine," McHale said. "All I can do is try my best and keep working hard."
   Venus and Serena Williams have dropped to No. 35 and No. 169, respectively, after long layoffs caused by injuries and health problems. They returned to the circuit last month.
   Serena Williams is scheduled to meet Anastasia Rodionova, another former Capital, on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the first round of the Bank of the West Classic. Venus, a two-time champion and five-time runner-up in the tournament, is not entered this year.
   Vandeweghe, the 2008 U.S. Open junior champion, urged patience for fans awaiting the next American stars.
   "It's not easy to get through the rankings," said Vandeweghe, the niece of former NBA star Kiki Vandeweghe. "The prize money in the U.S. Challengers is not as high as in Europe. It takes a little time.
   "I turned pro at 16 and made the top 100 at 18. The juniors to the pros is a big change. You have to find yourself on the pro tour."
   Vandeweghe and McHale are making progress.
        

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Analysis: Capitals make net gains

   Although the season still wasn't up to the Sacramento Capitals' lofty standards, they made progress in 2011.
   After suffering only the second and third losing seasons in their 26-year history, the Capitals went 8-6 in the regular season, returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and came within two games of reaching the WTT Finals.
   The Capitals lost to the St. Louis Aces 20-19 Saturday in the Western Conference finals in Charleston, S.C. The Washington Kastles (16-0)  beat St. Louis 23-19 in overtime in the WTT Finals on Sunday to become the first team in the league's 36-year history to complete an undefeated season.
   Sacramento owns WTT records of six league titles, 19 playoff appearances and seven consecutive playoff appearances. The Capitals went a combined 108-35 (.755) in the regular season with all six of their titles from 1997 through 2007. Since then, they are 28-28.
   Sacramento started this season 1-3, splitting two road matches and then losing at home to teams featuring future International Tennis Hall of Famers Martina Hingis and Serena Williams.
   But the Capitals won five of their next six matches to get back in the playoff race. Among the victories was a home contest against a Kansas City team featuring three reigning Wimbledon doubles champions (Bob and Mike Bryan and Kveta Peschke).
   Sacramento beat the Springfield (Mo.) Lasers in the regular-season finale for both teams to eke out a playoff berth.
   The Capitals were shut out of the WTT awards, but here are some unofficial team honors:
   MVP -- Vania King was the only regular to play three events for Sacramento, and she performed well in each. King, the WTT Female MVP in 2009 for Springfield Lasers, finished third (of nine players) in women's singles, third (of 19) in women's doubles and seventh (of 19) in mixed doubles. The two-time Grand Slam women's doubles champion missed the Capitals' first five matches while resting after Wimbledon. Sacramento native Christina Fusano replaced her in women's doubles, finishing 10th.
   Top newcomer -- OK, so Yasmin Schnack was the Capitals' only newcomer this season. Still, the rookie from the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove had remarkably little trouble adapting to WTT. Perhaps it was because of her experience playing for UCLA for four years (2006-10), which included the NCAA team title in 2008. Playing with her close friend King, Schnack finished fifth in women's doubles. She also filled in capably for King in singles and mixed doubles in the Capitals' first five matches. 
   Most disappointing -- Mark Knowles, a three-time WTT Male MVP (2001, 2005 and 2007), ranked 17th among 18 players in men's doubles. Knowles did better in mixed doubles, placing eighth. The four-time Grand Slam doubles champion, formerly ranked No. 1 in the world in men's doubles, will turn 40 in September.
   Most enigmatic -- Serbia's Dusan Vemic, who missed the Capitals' first two matches because of visa problems and was replaced by Nick Monroe,  finished third in men's singles and last in men's doubles. And he's a two-time Grand Slam semifinalist in men's doubles. Go figure.

Capitals ousted from WTT playoffs

   The Sacramento Capitals have a strong mixed doubles team.
   But the St. Louis Aces have a better one.
   Liezel Huber and Jean-Julien Rojer beat Vania King and Mark Knowles 5-3 in the final set Saturday to give St. Louis a 20-19 victory in the Western Conference finals of World TeamTennis in Charleston, S.C.
   The Aces (9-6) will meet the Washington Kastles (15-0) today for the WTT title. Washington will try to become the first team in the league's 36-year history to complete an undefeated season.
   St. Louis and Sacramento finished second and third, respectively, in mixed doubles in the regular season.
   Huber was named the WTT Female MVP this season and Rojer the Male Rookie of the Year. Knowles has won three WTT Male MVP awards (2001, 2005 and 2007), and King was named the league's Female MVP in 2009 as a member of the Springfield (Mo.) Lasers.
   The Capitals (8-7) won three of the five sets (men's singles, men's doubles and women's doubles), but St. Louis' Tamira Paszek dominated King 5-1 in women's doubles.
   Paszek, a 20-year-old Austrian who reached the Wimbledon singles quarterfinals early this month, did not play for St. Louis during the regular season. The Aces' Lindsay Davenport, the WTT Female MVP in 2010, missed the season because she is pregnant with her third child.
   Mark Philippoussis, who played part-time for St. Louis during the regular season, was not available Saturday. The powerful Australian, 34, reached two Grand Slam singles finals and a career-high No. 8 in the world before retiring from the circuit with bad knees in 2006.
   St. Louis 20, Capitals 19
   Men's singles -- Dusan Vemic, Capitals, def. Roman Borvanov, Aces, 5-3.
   Women's singles -- Tamira Paszek, Stl., def. Vania King, Capitals, 5-1.
   Men's doubles -- Mark Knowles and Vemic, Capitals, def. Borvanov and Jean-Julien Rojer, Stl., 5-3.
   Women's doubles -- Yasmin Schnack and King, Capitals, def. Liezel Huber and Paszek, Stl., 5-4.
   Mixed doubles -- Rojer and Huber, Stl., def. King and Knowles, Capitals, 5-3.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sharapova: From Russia with love

   At 7 years old, Maria Sharapova boarded an airplane with her father, Yuri, in Russia and headed to the United States. Maria's mother, Yelena, stayed behind to finish college and await a visa.
   Yuri had $700 in his pocket that he had borrowed from Maria's grandparents. Neither he nor Maria spoke English.    
   They were headed to the famed Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., to pursue Yuri's dream of stardom for Maria.
   "When they came, they had less than nothing," Bollettieri recalled. "They certainly didn't come from money, my  man. It was tough. Anytime you split up a family and don't have a pot to pee in, it's a big gamble. But it paid off."
   Figurately and literally. With her prodigious talent, towering height, cover-girl looks and Marine-like discipline, Sharapova has become the world's richest female athlete. She grossed $24.5 million last year, according to Forbes magazine. Only $651,279 came from prize money. Sharapova earned the rest from endorsements -- with companies such as Nike, Sony Ericsson and Tiffany -- and appearance fees.
   After a first-round bye, Sharapova is scheduled to play her opening match in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford on Wednesday at 7 p.m. She is seeded second behind Belarus' Victoria Azarenka, who beat Sharapova in a shriek-fest in last year's final. Unseeded Serena Williams, who returned in June after missing 11 months because of serious health problems, could meet Sharapova in the quarterfinals.
   A native of frigid, bleak Siberia, Sharapova lives in sunny, idyllic Manhattan Beach, Calif. The 24-year-old Russian citizen not only speaks English fluently, she has no accent. She is engaged to Slovenian Sasha Vujacic, who was traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the New Jersey Nets last December.
   Formerly ranked No. 1 in the world, the 6-foot-2 Sharapova has fought her way back to No. 5 after undergoing surgery on her right (serving) shoulder in October 2008 for chronic pain.
   "I'm very happy and proud to be where I'm from," Sharapova, an only child, told reporters last month at Wimbledon, where she reached the final after winning the 2004 title at 17. "I know that my family and I have been through many challenges."
   During a tough stretch in 2007, Sharapova wrote in a blog: "I know it's as tough for my fans to handle my losses as it is for me. But let me point something out. I didn't leave my mom at the age of seven for nothing. I didn't spend six hours a day practicing in the Florida sun at the age of nine for nothing. I didn't sleep in little cots for three years, eating oatmeal out of a packet while playing in the middle of nowhere for nothing. All this has helped me build character and there's no better asset than being able to stand up for yourself."
   It all began with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Sharapova's parents lived 100 miles away in Gomel, Belarus, and Yelena became pregnant with Maria three months after the explosion. Worried about radiation, the couple moved to the industrial town of Nyagan in western Siberia, and Maria was born the next year.
   Yuri worked in the oil fields for four years and saved enough money to move the family to the resort of Sochi, the hometown of former world No. 1 player Yevgeny Kafelnikov and site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, on the Black Sea.
   One day when Maria was 4, she got bored watching her father play tennis and picked up a racket. Veteran coach Yuri Yutkin was amazed by her hand-eye coordination and offered to work with her. Kafelnikov obtained a child-sized racket, not easy to come by during the breakup of the Soviet Union, for her.
   When Maria was 6, Martina Navratilova spotted her hitting balls at a clinic during the Kremlin Cup in Moscow. Impressed, Navratilova recommended that Maria train at the Bollettieri academy.
   Yuri worked odd jobs in Florida to pay for Maria's lessons until she was old enough to be admitted to the academy. It would be two years before Yelena could join them.
   At 9, Sharapova earned a scholarship to live and train at the academy. She endured constant teasing from roommates twice her age.
   "She was very thin and had something very few have," Bollettieri said. "She was a fierce competitor with tremendous focus. When she was 12, (Tatiana) Golovin, (Jelena) Jankovic and Sharapova were here at the same time. Maria scared the s--- out of them.
   "She is where she is because she's very disciplined. She doesn't pray for you to miss. She goes for her shot. She has had tremendous adversity with her shoulder injury, and she has fought her way through it."
   Bollettieri also credits Sharapova's father.
   "Her daddy did a great job. He didn't know his fanny from his elbow when he came here. But he was smart enough to listen to me and the other coaches. He knew when to get out," Bollettieri said.
   Sharapova won the girls 16-and-under title of the Eddie Herr Championships at 13, made her professional debut at 14 and won her first WTA tournament at 16.
   Showing uncommon poise, Sharapova upset top seed and two-time defending champion Serena Williams 6-1, 6-4 for the 2004 Wimbledon title. Sharapova added the 2006 U.S. Open and 2008 Australian Open crowns before having surgery and missing 10 months.
   Sharapova has struggled with her serve since then but pronounced her shoulder fit during a recent conference call. She was encouraged by reaching the Wimbledon final, in which she lost to Petra Kvitova, a 6-foot left-hander from the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-4.
   "It gives me a tremendous amount of confidence that I've been doing something right in the last few months and I've been getting better," said Sharapova, who also reached the French Open semifinals on clay, her worst surface, in June.
   Bollettieri was less sanguine.
   "Maria Sharapova got whacked (in the Wimbledon final)," he wrote in the London-based Independent newspaper. "I have never, ever seen that before, and this is a girl I've been watching since she was 9 years old. Kvitova absolutely knocks the stuffing out of the ball.
   "By the end of the match, Maria was five to eight feet behind the baseline. I've never seen her pushed like that before, and there was nothing she could do about it. We have seen a new power emerge in the women's game."
   It's not Sharapova's nature to give up, though. Reflecting at Wimbledon on her injury layoff, she said: "I've had many opportunities to say that I've had enough or that I've achieved plenty, more than I ever thought I would. Yet I still felt there was something missing. I still felt there was a lot more inside of me when I wanted to play.
   "I did many things," continued Sharapova, who enjoys reading and stamp-collecting in her spare time. "I worked on many projects, and I spent holidays with friends and family (whom) maybe I wouldn't get a chance to (see) in a regular tennis season. But at the end of the day, those didn't mean anything compared to what it means to win tennis matches."

Capitals' playoff opponent has plenty of Aces

   Now that the Sacramento Capitals have reached the World TeamTennis playoffs for the first time since 2008, they face a daunting challenge.
   Sacramento faces the star-studded St. Louis Aces in the Western Conference finals today at 2 p.m. in Charleston, S.C.
   Both teams finished the regular season 8-6, but St. Louis will have part-time marquee player Mark Philippoussis and new addition Tamira Paszek, according to Capitals coach Wayne Bryan.
   Philippoussis, a 34-year-old Australian, reached two Grand Slam singles finals and a career-high No. 8 in the world before retiring five years ago with bad knees. Paszek, a 20-year-old Austrian, advanced to her first Grand Slam singles quarterfinal at Wimbledon this month.
   St. Louis also features this year's WTT Female MVP, Liezel Huber, and Male Rookie of the Year, Jean-Julien Rojer. The awards were announced Friday.
   The Aces lost Lindsay Davenport, last year's WTT Female MVP, just before their season opener because she's pregnant with her third child. Her doctor told her to skip the 2011 campaign.
   Leading the Capitals is Vania King, who ranked third among nine WTT regulars in women's singles and third among 19 in women's doubles. She was named the 2009 WTT Female MVP for Springfield (Mo.) and won two Grand Slam women's doubles titles last year.
   Awaiting the winner of today's match is the Washington Kastles, who improved to 15-0 with a 25-13 victory over the Boston Lobsters on Friday in the Eastern Conference final in Charleston. In Sunday's WTT Finals, the Kastles will try to become the first undefeated team in WTT's 36-year history.
   Washington swept the other three WTT awards this season. Leander Paes was named the Male MVP for the second time in three years, Arina Rodionova was chosen as the league's Female Rookie of the Year, and Murphy Jensen received Coach of the Year honors.
   Rodionova is the younger sister of ex-Capital Anastasia Rodionova.
  
  
 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Capitals end drought, reach playoffs

   The drought is over.
   In a tense match, the host Sacramento Capitals beat the last-place Springfield (Mo.) Lasers 21-17 Thursday night to reach the World TeamTennis playoffs for the first time since 2008.
   That's an eternity for Sacramento. The Capitals hold WTT records for most league titles (six), most playoff appearances (18) and most consecutive playoff appearances (seven).
   Sacramento will face the St. Louis Aces on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Western Conference finals in Charleston, S.C. Both teams finished 8-6 as the Capitals ended their streak of two consecutive losing seasons, a first in their 26-year history.
   In today's Eastern Conference finals, the Washington Kastles (14-0) will play the Boston Lobsters (7-7) at 4 p.m. in Charleston. Washington became the second team in WTT's 36-year history to go undefeated in the regular season. The other was the Newport Beach Dukes in 1994.
   The winners will meet Sunday at 2 p.m. in Charleston for the WTT title.
   For the second consecutive match, Sacramento led by two games entering the last set (mixed doubles with Mark Knowles and King) on Thursday night.
   The Capitals had lost the set and match to Boston on Wednesday night. This time, though, Knowles and King beat Rik de Voest and Carly Gullickson 5-3 to preserve Sacramento's victory. Springfield ended its season 4-10.
   The Capitals and Aces split their two regular-season matches, both in St. Louis.
   The Aces won 26-21 in the season opener for both teams. Half of the Capitals' roster missed the match because Vania King rested after Wimbledon and Dusan Vemic encountered visa problems in Serbia.  
   In its seventh match of the season, Sacramento edged St. Louis 20-19 in a Supertiebreaker.
   Capitals 21, Springfield 17
   Men's singles -- Dusan Vemic, Capitals, def. Greg A. Jones, Spr., 5-4.
   Women's doubles -- Vania King and Yasmin Schnack, Capitals, def. Carly Gullickson and Lilia Osterloh, Spr., 5-0.
   Men's doubles -- Jones and de Voest, Spr., def. Mark Knowles and Vemic, Capitals, 5-4.
   Women's singles -- Osterloh, Spr., def. King, Capitals, 5-2.
   Mixed doubles -- King and Knowles, Capitals, def. Gullickson and de Voest, Spr., 5-3.
 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Capitals suffer key loss

   Despite suffering a heartbreaking loss Wednesday night, the Sacramento Capitals can earn their first berth in the World TeamTennis playoffs since 2008 tonight.
   Former Capitals Coco Vandeweghe and Eric Butorac won 5-2 in the final set to give the Boston Lobsters a 22-21 victory over Sacramento at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights.
   Sacramento (7-6) dropped into a second-place tie with the St. Louis Aces in the Western Conference. They trail the Kansas City Explorers (8-5).
   The Capitals end the regular season tonight at home against the Springfield (Mo.) Lasers (4-9). St. Louis, meanwhile, hosts Kansas City.
   The top two teams in each conference advance to the WTT playoffs, Friday through Sunday in Charleston, S.C. The Eastern Conference finals are scheduled for Friday night, and the Western Conference finals set for Saturday night.
   Boston (6-7) was trying to keep its slim playoff hopes alive. Each of the first four sets went to tiebreakers, with the Capitals leading 19-17. Vandeweghe, 19, and Butorac then dominated Vania King and Mark Knowles in mixed doubles to pull out the match.
   Boston 22, Capitals 21
   Men's singles -- Dusan Vemic, Capitals, def. Jan-Michael Gambill, Bos., 5-4.
   Women's doubles -- Mashona Washington and Coco Vandeweghe, Bos., def. Vania King and Yasmin Schnack, Capitals, 5-4.
   Men's doubles -- Mark Knowles and Vemic, Capitals, def. Eric Butorac and Gambill, Bos., 5-4.
   Women's singles -- King, Capitals, def. Vandeweghe, Bos., 5-4.
   Mixed doubles -- Vandeweghe and Butorac, Bos., def. King and Knowles, Capitals, 5-2.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

King, Capitals crush Springfield

   For the second time in three matches, Vania King was almost unbeatable Tuesday night.
   The World TeamTennis veteran won her three sets by a combined score of 15-1 to lead the visiting Sacramento Capitals over the Springfield (Mo.) Lasers 25-7.
   King, the 2009 WTT Female MVP for Springfield, accomplished the same feat in the Capitals' 22-11 overtime victory at Newport Beach on Saturday.
   Sacramento won all five sets for the first time in 2011 and tied the biggest winning margin in WTT this season. The Kansas City Explorers -- featuring reigning Wimbledon doubles champions Bob and Mike Bryan and Kveta Peschke -- demolished the New York Sportimes by the same score Saturday.
   The Capitals (7-5) remained in a three-way tie with Kansas City and the St. Louis Aces for first place in the Western Conference with two matches left in the regular season. The top two teams in each conference advance to the WTT playoffs, Friday through Sunday in Charleston, S.C.
   Sacramento, which has won six of its last eight matches after starting the season
1-3, is in the best position of the three teams. The Capitals host Boston (5-7) tonight and Springfield (4-8) on Thursday, while Kansas City and St. Louis face each other in a home-and-home series.
   The Bryans completed their regular-season stint for the Explorers. The Aces, meanwhile, have 2003 Wimbledon runner-up Mark Philippoussis, who has won 10 of his 13 singles games (.769) this season.
   Capitals 25, Springfield 7
   Mixed doubles -- Mark Knowles and Vania King, Capitals, def. Carly Gullickson and Rik de Voest, Spr., 5-1.
   Women's singles -- King, Capitals, def. Lilia Osterloh, Spr., 5-0.
   Men's doubles -- Knowles and Dusan Vemic, Capitals, def. de Voest and Doug Elly, Spr., 5-3.
   Women's doubles -- King and Yasmin Schnack, Capitals, def. Gullickson and Osterloh. Spr., 5-0.
   Men's singles -- Vemic, Capitals, def. de Voest, Spr., 5-3.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Kastles rout Capitals, remain unbeaten

  Entering Monday night's match, the Washington Kastles led the Eastern Conference of World TeamTennis, and the Sacramento Capitals were tied for first place in the Western Conference.
   Don't be deceived, though. Washington was 10-0 and Sacramento 6-4.
   As the records suggested, the host Kastles proved far superior, rolling to a 25-14 victory. For the first time this season, Sacramento lost all five sets (two in tiebreakers).
   WTT rookie Arina Rodionova, the younger sister of former Capital Anastasia Rodionova, crushed Vania King 5-0 in the fourth set to give Washington a 20-10 lead.
   The Kastles' full-time roster also features Leander Paes, who has won 12 Grand Slam doubles crowns (six men's and six mixed); Rennae Stubbs, who has captured six Grand Slam doubles titles (four women's and two mixed); and Bobby Reynolds, last season's WTT Male Rookie of the Year after leading the league in men's singles.
   Washington's part-time marquee players? Venus and Serena Williams. 
   Sacramento remained tied for first place, but now there's a three-way logjam with the Kansas City Explorers and St. Louis Aces. The top two teams in each conference advance to the WTT playoffs, Friday through Sunday in Charleston, S.C.
   The Capitals probably must win two of their three remaining regular-season matches, all against losing teams, to reach the postseason for the first time since 2008.
   Sacramento visits the Springfield (Mo.) Lasers (4-7) on Tuesday night before hosting the Boston Lobsters (5-7) Wednesday night and Springfield on Thursday night. 
   Washington 25, Capitals 14
   Mixed doubles -- Rennae Stubbs and Leander Paes, Wash., def. Vania King and Mark Knowles, Capitals, 5-4.
   Women's doubles -- Arina Rodionova and Rennae Stubbs, Wash., def. King and Yasmin Schnack, Capitals, 5-3.
   Men's doubles -- Paes and Bobby Reynolds, Wash., def. Knowles and Dusan Vemic, Capitals, 5-3.
   Women's singles -- Rodionova, Wash., def. King, Capitals, 5-0.
   Men's singles -- Reynolds, Wash., def. Vemic, Capitals, 5-4.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lithuanian teen wins Aptos Challenger

   APTOS -- When Laurynas Grigelis arrived at the $100,000 Comerica Bank Challenger, his chances of winning the title were about as good as Arnold Schwarzenegger's of being named Husband of the Year.
   After all, Grigelis was ranked No. 373 in the world and had won one match in a month.
   Following two straight-set victories at the Seascape Sports Club, the 19-year-old Lithuanian barely survived against third-seeded Matthew Ebden and top-seeded Igor Kunitsyn to reach his first Challenger final.
   Grigelis completed his improbable run Sunday with a 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory over seventh-seeded Ilija Bozoljac of Serbia.
   "When I came here, I didn't expect to win the tournament," conceded Grigelis, who earned $14,400 and soared to No. 240. "I came from two bad tournaments. I just wanted to have fun and play."
   Grigelis was coming off qualifying losses in the Winnetka, Ill., Challenger and at Newport, R.I., on the ATP World Tour, hurting his fragile confidence.
   "Before (Sunday), sometimes he said, 'I can't play. I'm not good,' " said his coach, Andrea Stoppini of Italy. "He didn't believe in himself. He arrived here just to play."
   Grigelis' improved attitude paid off with easy victories over South Korea's Daniel Yoo and Taiwan's Jimmy Wang (who had beaten Grigelis on grass in Newport). Grigelis then outlasted Ebden 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 in the quarterfinals and saved six match points in a 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (8) victory over the 62nd-ranked Kunitsyn.
   The finalists contrasted sharply with each other on a breezy, 66-degree day.
   Bozoljac, a 25-year-old Serb, was flashy, powerful and easily distracted. Wearing sunglasses, small gold earrings, a backward cap and black wrist bands, the 6-foot-4, 189-pounder played aggressively.
   Bozoljac blasted his serve and groundstrokes (hit with two hands on both sides) and often ventured to the net. At various points in the match, he complained about the balls, the wind and the sun reflecting off a woman's watch.
   Grigelis, despite his youth, was far more businesslike and focused. Except for his yellow tennis shoes, there was nothing flamboyant about him. He didn't even wear a cap or wristbands. At 6-0 and 157 pounds, he relied on his consistency and pinpoint passing shots. Significantly, he remained stoic throughout the match.
   "He was very positive," said Stoppini, a 31-year-old touring pro filling in for Grigelis' regular coach, Giuseppe Menga. "He never said anything. He just played. That's the way to be a good player."
   Placing his serve well, Grigelis never faced a break point. After holding serve for 1-1 in the first set, he won 12 consecutive points and four straight games to take control against the erratic Bozoljac. There were no breaks in the second set as Bozoljac reduced his errors.
   The only minibreak in the tiebreaker came at 4-4. Bozoljac hit a booming serve down the middle and followed it to the net. Grigelis lunged to hit a backhand lob that Bozoljac watched land inside the baseline. Grigelis, who moved with his parents to Italy to train when he was 13, then served out the match.
   "He was just the better player today," Bozoljac said. "I was fighting to stay in the match the whole second set. I'm happy I got to the final but disappointed I didn't finish the way I wanted. I go for all or nothing."
   Against the steady Grigelis, it wasn't good enough.
   Notes -- Top-seeded Carsten Ball and Chris Guccione of Australia won their third consecutive Comerica doubles title, beating third-seeded John Paul Fruttero of the United States and Raven Klaasen of South Africa 7-6 (5), 6-4. Fruttero starred at Cal. ...
   The Comerica Bank Challenger, in its 24th straight year, is the second-longest-running men's tournament on the USTA Pro Circuit. The event in Little Rock, Ark., has been held for 31 years. ...
   Past Comerica singles champions include International Tennis Hall of Famer Patrick Rafter (1993) and three-time Grand Slam runner-up Andy Murray (2005). Past doubles winners include 11-time Grand Slam men's doubles titlists Bob and Mike Bryan (1998 and 2000).

King stars in Capitals' easy win

   This time, there was no suspense.
   Vania King helped see to that.
   One night after eking out a one-point victory over Newport Beach, the Sacramento Capitals dominated the host Breakers 22-11 in overtime Saturday night.
    King won her three sets by a combined score of 15-1. She breezed 5-1 in the opening set (mixed doubles with Mark Knowles), 5-0 in the next set (women's doubles with Yasmin Schnack) and 5-0 in the fourth set (women's singles).
    King, who rested during the week after Wimbledon and joined the Capitals in their fifth match, ranks second among 10 WTT players in women's singles (21-14, .600), third among 19 in women's doubles (21-12, .636) and fourth among 18 in mixed doubles (21-16, .568).
   The Capitals led 19-6 after four sets Saturday, but the Breakers' Lester Cook beat Dusan Vemic 5-2 in the last set to send the match to overtime. Vemic won the first game to end it.
   First-place Sacramento (6-4) leads the Kansas City Explorers (5-4) by one-half match and the St. Louis Aces (5-5) by one match in the Western Conference of World TeamTennis. The top two teams in each conference after the 14-match regular season advance to the WTT playoffs, Friday through next Sunday in Charleston, S.C.
   After starting the season 1-3, the Capitals have won five of their last six matches. They have a rare day off today before facing the host Washington Kastles (10-0) Monday in a showdown of conference leaders.  
   Capitals 22, Newport Beach 11 (OT)
   Mixed doubles -- Mark Knowles and Vania King, Capitals, def. Travis Rettenmaier and Marie-Eve Pelletier, NB, 5-1. 
   Women's doubles -- King and Yasmin Schnack, Capitals, def. Pelletier and Anne Keothavong, NB, 5-0.
   Men's doubles -- Lester Cook and Trevor Kronemann, NB, def. Dusan Vemic and Knowles, Capitals, 5-4.
   Women's singles -- King, Capitals, def. Keothavong, Breakers, 5-0.
   Men's singles -- Cook, NB, def. Vemic, Capitals, 5-2.
   Overtime -- Vemic, Capitals, def. Cook, NB, 1-0.

In defense of World TeamTennis

   It's fashionable to belittle World TeamTennis.
   The refrain goes something like this: WTT is a circus. It's not real tennis. The players don't care who wins because their world rankings (which determine tournament entries and seedings) are unaffected.
   WTT's critics probably have rarely, if ever, attended a match. The league actually works on many levels and complements tournament tennis well. There are reasons WTT has lasted 36 years. It has much to offer, such as:
   --Variety. In one night, fans see everything tennis offers: men's singles and doubles, women's singles and doubles, and mixed doubles.
   --Societal benefits. WTT promotes gender equality because men and women work together for a common goal, with their results counting equally. This sets a good example for children -- and adults, for that matter -- in the stands.
   "We're teaching them without them realizing it, which makes it even more fun," WTT co-founder Billie Jean King said in an interview last year. "They're learning through experience."     
   --A fast pace. To ensure that matches finish in 2 1/2 or three hours, the first team to reach five games instead of six wins each set. There are no deuces, and players don't have to win by two games in a set or two points in a tiebreaker.
   If a set is tied 4-4, the first team to win five points in a tiebreaker prevails. If a match is tied after regulation play, the first team to win seven points in a Supertiebreaker earns the overall victory.
   No lead is insurmountable. The team that's ahead must win the last set, or play continues until 1) the leading team wins one game, or 2) the trailing team ties the match score, in which case a Supertiebreaker is played.
   --High drama. Every point is critical. Games, sets and even matches can be decided by one point. The latter occurred Friday night as the host Sacramento Capitals edged the Newport Beach Breakers 19-18.
   With the overall score tied 18-18, the last set (mixed doubles) tied 4-4 and the tiebreaker tied 4-4, Sacramento won the final point and the match. Had Newport Beach won the last point, the Breakers would have prevailed.
   Fans love the tension, and the heightened pressure helps players when they return to their respective international circuits. What's not to like?
   --A rooting interest. Fans have an emotional stake because players represent their city.
   --Promotional and health benefits. WTT brings superstars and legends to cities such as Sacramento, Kansas City, Mo., Springfield, Mo., Boston and Philadelphia that wouldn't otherwise wouldn't attract them. For example, Serena Williams, Martina Hingis and Bob and Mike Bryan have played in Sacramento this season. The pros, including the lesser-known players, inspire children and adults to take up a sport they can play for the rest of their lives.
    --Young and old players. Fans can see everyone from teenage prospects to players in their 50s, such as the temperamental but supremely gifted John McEnroe.
   In an effort to prevent burnout and injuries, the WTA Tour limits the number of tournaments that girls aged 14 to 17 can play. Team tennis gives them a chance to gain experience, play in front of crowds and learn from their coach and veteran teammates.
   Legends, meanwhile, can remain in the game because they play less than one set per event, perhaps only doubles, rather than two out of three sets.
    --Hometown players. Competitors such as Yasmin Schnack of Sacramento can play for their hometown team, and youngsters can dream of doing the same.
   As for players not caring, granted, WTT isn't Wimbledon. But they're professionals. They're being paid well, they receive performance bonuses, they're playing in front of paying fans, WTT helps them compete under pressure, and the will to win is ingrained in them.
   Furthermore, players sign up for WTT because it's a refreshing break in their predominately individual sport. They do not want to let their cities or their teammates down.
   If the players don't care, why do the better ones usually win? The Washington Kastles, who are loaded with talent, are 10-0. True, Venus Williams stunk up Allstate (now Capitals) Stadium in the Sacramento area in 2005 shortly after winning Wimbledon, but that's an exception.
   Are there problems with WTT? Sure.
   The biggest one was solved, at least for this season. The playoffs will be held at a neutral site, Charleston, S.C., named the "Best Tennis Town" in America by the United States Tennis Association last year.
   In past years, the playoffs have been held in a league city to try to capitalize at the gate on that team's following. WTT has chosen a city with a strong team, which has usually made the playoffs and then gained a huge advantage. In three of the past four years, a team has won the league title on its home court.
   Also, teams sometimes sacrifice winning for money by using retired, ineffective marquee players (hello Anna Kournikova), and playing "let" serves is awkward and unnecessary.
   But let's look at the big picture. The WTT season lasts only three weeks. Fans have the rest of the year to follow tournament tennis.
     

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Capitals nip Breakers in thriller

   Mark Knowles wasn't even sure he would be able to play Friday night.
   The three-time World TeamTennis MVP not only played, he practically willed the Sacramento Capitals to a critical victory.
   In a match that came down to the last point, Sacramento rallied for a 19-18 victory over the rival Newport Beach Breakers at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights.
   At 4-4 in the decisive tiebreaker, Knowles put away a volley in mixed doubles to end the thriller before a delirious announced crowd of 2,112 at 2,500-seat Capitals Stadium.
   Facing Travis Rettenmaier and Marie-Eve Pelletier, Knowles and Vania King overcame deficits of 0-2 in the set and 1-3 in the tiebreaker.
    Sacramento, which started the season 1-3, moved back into first place in the Western Conference at 5-4. St. Louis (5-5) and Kansas City (4-4) trail by one-half match.
   With the Capitals' next three matches on the road, including Monday night at 9-0 Washington, they needed a victory over Newport Beach  (3-6). Realistically, Sacramento must finish at least 8-6 in the regular season to reach the playoffs.
   Knowles, who will turn 40 in September, was questionable for Friday's match after hurting his right (playing) shoulder Thursday night at Kansas City.
   Mardy Fish, the top American among men or women at No. 9 in the world in singles, had been scheduled to join the Capitals for the match and could have substituted for Knowles. But Fish withdrew Thursday morning because of an abdominal muscle injury.
   As a precautionary measure, Sam Warburg came out of retirement for one night. The 28-year-old Sacramento native played for the Capitals from 2005 through 2009, helping them win their record sixth WTT title in 2007.
   Warburg, however, remained on the bench. Knowles lost 5-3 in his other set, men's doubles with Dusan Vemic.
   Sacramento led 10-4 behind Vemic (men's singles) and King and Yasmin Schnack (women's doubles), but Newport Beach came back to tie the score 14-14 entering the last set before nearly pulling out the match.
    The Breakers won't have to wait long for a chance at revenge. They host the Capitals tonight at 7:15.
  
   Capitals 19, Newport Beach 18
   Men's singles -- Dusan Vemic, Capitals, def. Lester Cook, NB, 5-3.  
   Women's doubles -- Vania King and Yasmin Schnack, Capitals, def. Marie-Eve Pelletier and Anne Keothavong, NB, 5-1.
   Men's doubles -- Cook and Travis Rettenmaier, NB, def. Vemic and Mark Knowles, Capitals, 5-3.
   Women's singles -- Keothavong, NB, def. King, Capitals, 5-1.
   Mixed doubles -- Knowles and King, Capitals, def. Rettenmaier and Pelletier, NB, 5-4.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Junior champions span West Coast

   The USTA West Coast Junior Championships lived up to its name in boys and girls 18 singles.
   Emmett Egger of Issaquah, Wash., near Seattle, and Christina Makarova of San Diego, took the titles Tuesday at the Rio del Oro Racquet Club in Sacramento. Both players were seeded No. 1.
   Egger, ranked fourth nationally in the 18s, wore down his good friend, second-seeded Connor Farren of Hillsborough, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the final. Farren is No. 2 in the United States in the boys 16s.
   Egger and Farren recently returned to the United States after traveling to European tournaments together for seven weeks.
   In the first set of the final, "there was a little nervous tension after spending that much time together," said Egger, 18. "I hit some key serves at good times (in the match), which helped me because Connor has such good returns."
   Makarova, ranked second nationally in the girls 16s, outsteadied unseeded Alison Ho, a left-hander from Thousand Oaks, 6-4, 6-3 for the title.
   "She gave me a lot of free points by hitting too hard," said Makarova, 15.
   Like Egger, Makarova admitted to being nervous in the first set, which had been tied 4-4. She resorted to hitting moonballs.
   "I was trying to be aggressive, but I guess I got tight because it was a final and fell into that," she said.
   Egger's parents, recreational players, introduced him to tennis when he was 7. He said growing up in the rainy Pacific Northwest did not hurt his tennis development because he has spent most of his time at academies in Florida, Texas and California since he was 14.
   Egger, who studied at an online high school, will play on scholarship at the University of Washington in Seattle beginning in the fall.
   "I liked the coach, Matt Anger," Egger said of the former touring pro who reached a career-high No. 23 in the world in 1986. "That's what sold me. I like the way he coaches and what he thought about my game. He changes (his style according) to the player. He's definitely not 'one size fits all.' He (talked about) mixing it up and keeping it deep, and he's helping me with my volley."
   If Egger becomes a successful pro player, as he hopes, he will not be the first from Washington.
   Tom Gorman of Seattle reached the semifinals at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the French Open in the early 1970s and coached the U.S. Davis Cup team to titles in 1990 and 1992.             
   Patrick Galbraith of Tacoma reached No. 1 in the world in doubles in 1993, and Jan-Michael Gambill of the Spokane area in eastern Washington climbed to No. 14 in singles 10 years ago.
   Makarova was born in Montreal to Russian parents and moved with her family to San Diego when she was 4 because of her father's job. Michael Popkov is a scientist. Christina's mother and coach, Luda, was once the highest-ranked woman in the Soviet Union.
   Makarova, who will be a sophomore at an online high school in the fall, will either turn pro in the next few years or attend college.            
   "It depends on how things go," she said.
   Champions from Northern California in the West Coast Junior Championships were:
   --Eighth-seeded Sarah Hu of Oakland in girls 16 singles.
   --Unseeded Katya Tabachnik of San Francisco in girls 14 singles.
   --Second-seeded Richard Pham of Saratoga and Brandon Sutter of El Dorado Hills in boys 18 doubles.
   --Unseeded Kristy Jorgensen of San Carlos and Christi Tain of Milpitas in girls 16 doubles.
   --Top-seeded Grace Lin of South San Francisco and Karina Vyrlan of Sacramento in girls 14 doubles.
       
  

Capitals fall out of first place; Fish withdraws

   The Sacramento Capitals have had better days.
   Their marquee player, Mardy Fish, on Thursday withdrew from tonight's match with an abdominal muscle injury. They lost to the host Kansas City Explorers 20-15, ending their three-match winning streak. And they dropped out of first place in the Western Conference of World TeamTennis.
   The good news for Sacramento is that none of the setbacks is serious.
   Fish, the highest-ranked American among men or women at No. 9 in the world, was scheduled to make his only appearance of the season for Sacramento at 7:30 p.m. against rival Newport Beach at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights.
   The Capitals (4-4) are fully capable of beating Newport Beach (3-5) without Fish, especially at home, although the Breakers will be more rested. They played at home Wednesday night and were off Thursday. Sacramento, in contrast, will fly home today.
   Against Kansas City, Sacramento's Dusan Vemic won 5-2 in men's singles to tie the overall score 15-15 entering the last set. Then Bob and Mike Bryan, the identical twin sons of Capitals coach Wayne Bryan and probably the greatest men's doubles team ever, stepped on the court.
   So much for any notions of victory for Sacramento. The Bryans crushed Mark Knowles and Vemic 5-0 in 13 minutes to help Kansas City avenge a 23-12 loss to the host Capitals on Tuesday.
   In that match, newly crowned Wimbledon women's doubles champion Kveta Peschke of the Explorers lost her two sets by a combined score of 10-2. This time, she won her two sets by a combined 10-5.
   Still, Sacramento trails first-place St. Louis (5-4) by only one-half match with six matches left in the regular season for the Capitals.  
   Kansas City 20, Capitals 15
   Women’s singles -- Vania King, Capitals, def. Madison Brengle, Kansas City, 5-3.
   Women’s doubles -- Kveta Peschke and Brengle, Kansas City, def. Yasmin Schnack and King, Capitals, 5-3.
   Mixed doubles -- Bob Bryan and Peschke, Kansas City, def. Mark Knowles and King, Capitals, 5-2.
   Men’s singles -- Dusan Vemic, Capitals, def. Alex Kuznetsov, Kansas City, 5-2.
   Men’s doubles -- Mike Bryan and Bob Bryan, Kansas City, def. Knowles and Vemic, Capitals, 5-0.
    

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Capitals midseason analysis

   Against all odds, the Sacramento Capitals sit atop the Western Conference midway through their World TeamTennis season.
   The Capitals (4-3) should not get too giddy, though. They came within a Supertiebreaker on Wednesday of being 3-4 and trailing by 1 1/2 matches in the conference.
   After losing three of its first four matches, Sacramento has won three in a row.
   The Capitals opened the season with two road matches, then faced future International Tennis Hall of Famers Martina Hingis and Serena Williams in consecutive matches. Also, half of Sacramento's full-time roster joined the team late.
   Vania King, a two-time Grand Slam women's doubles champion and the 2009 WTT Female MVP for the Springfield (Mo.) Lasers, sat out the Capitals' first five matches to rest after Wimbledon. Dusan Vemic, who plays men's singles and doubles for Sacramento, missed the first two matches because of visa problems in Serbia.
   With a full roster for the first time, the Capitals routed the WTT defending champion Kansas City Explorers 23-12 in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights on Tueday night. Kansas City's roster featured three reigning Wimbledon doubles champions (Bob and Mike Bryan and Kveta Peschke).
   Less than 24 hours later, Sacramento met the Aces in St. Louis with first place on the line. The Capitals prevailed in a thriller, 20-19 (7-2 Supertiebreaker).
   Fortunately for Sacramento, St. Louis' Lindsay Davenport, the reigning WTT Female MVP and a former Capitals star, announced on the day of the Aces' opener that she's pregnant with her third child and under doctor's orders to skip the season.
   Meanwhile, WTT rookie Yasmin Schnack and substitutes Christina Fusano and Nick Monroe filled in capably for King and Vemic. Schnack, in her first full year as a professional after an All-America career at UCLA, and Fusano, a 30-year-old doubles specialist, are from the Sacramento area and part-time doubles partners on the women's circuit.
   Schnack, who now plays women's doubles only for the Capitals, ranks fourth among 10 WTT players in women's singles and ninth among 17 in mixed doubles.
   Overall, the Capitals rank second in the nine-team league in women's singles, third in women's doubles, third in mixed doubles, sixth in men's singles and a surprisingly low eighth in men's doubles.
   The latter figured to be one of Sacramento's strongest events with Mark Knowles and Vemic. Although Knowles will turn 40 in September, he is a three Grand Slam men's doubles champion (most recently in 2007) and former world No. 1 in men's doubles. Vemic, 35, has reached two Grand Slam semifinals in the event (most recently in January 2010).
   Knowles and Vemic ended a four-set losing streak with a 5-1 victory against St. Louis on Wednesday.
   It doesn't get any easier for Sacramento. Four of the Capitals' next five matches are on the road, beginning tonight against the Bryan brothers in Kansas City and including Monday's contest at 7-0 Washington. Sacramento ends the regular season with two home matches.
   The top two teams in each conference advance to the WTT playoffs, July 22-24 in Charleston, S.C.
   Sacramento figures to lose to Kansas City and Washington, so the Capitals probably must win four of their other five remaining matches to have a chance of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The winners of a record six WTT titles will face Newport Beach (3-5) twice, Springfield (2-5) twice and Boston (4-4) once.
   The Capitals conceivably could reach the WTT Finals, but they would be heavy underdogs to Washington or New York (6-2).
  
  
  
  
                     

Capitals edge St. Louis, take conference lead

   After starting 1-3, the Sacramento Capitals find themselves in first place in the Western Conference halfway through the World TeamTennis regular season.
   Sacramento beat host St. Louis 20-19 in a Supertiebreaker on Wednesday night for its third straight victory and wrested the conference lead from the Aces.
   Mark Knowles and Dusan Vemic won 5-1 in men's doubles, ending a four-set losing streak, to give the Capitals (4-3) a 13-9 lead at intermission. But St. Louis (4-4) won 5-3 in women's doubles and mixed doubles to tie the score 19-19 after regulation.
   Knowles and Vania King then beat Jean-Julien Rojer and Liezel Huber 7-2 in the Supertiebreaker.  
   Knowles, a 39-year-old Bahamian, and Huber, a 34-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen from South Africa, formerly were ranked No. 1 in doubles. All but Rojer have won Wimbledon doubles titles.
   Huber and Rojer served for the match at 4-2 in the final set, but Knowles and King broke serve to give Sacramento a 19-18 overall lead. Huber and Rojer then held serve to force the Supertiebreaker.
    King, the 2009 WTT Female MVP as a member of the Springfield (Mo.) Lasers, was playing in her second match since joining the Capitals on Tuesday for her second season with the team. She rested the week after Wimbledon.
   St. Louis suffered a blow on the day of its season opener when reigning WTT Female MVP Lindsay Davenport, 35, announced she was pregnant with her third child and under doctor's orders to skip the season.
   Sacramento will face identical twins Bob and Mike Bryan, the No. 1 doubles team in the world, and WTT defending champion Kansas City (3-4) for the second time in three days tonight in Kansas City, Mo.
   The Explorers will try to avenge a 23-12 loss Tuesday night to the host Capitals, coached by Wayne Bryan, Bob and Mike's father.

Capitals 20, St. Louis 19 (STB)
   Men’s singles – Roman Borvanov (Aces) def. Dusan Vemic (Capitals) 5-3.
   Women’s singles – Vania King (Capitals) def. Maria Sanchez (Aces) 5-3.
   Men’s doubles – Mark Knowles and Dusan Vemic (Capitals) def. Roman Borvanov and Jean-Julien Rojer (Aces) 5-1.
   Women’s doubles – Liezel Huber and Sanchez (Aces) def. King and Yasmin Schnack (Capitals) 5-3.
   Mixed doubles – Rojer and Huber (Aces) def. Knowles and King (Capitals) 5-3.
   Supertiebreaker – Knowles and King (Capitals) def. Huber and Rojer (Aces) 1-0 (7-2).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

King leads Capitals over Bryans, Kansas City

   In a matchup of players making their World TeamTennis season debuts, Vania King upstaged Bob and Mike Bryan on Tuesday night.
   King won all three of her sets as the Sacramento Capitals routed the Kansas City Explorers, featuring three reigning Wimbledon doubles champions, 23-12 before an announced sellout crowd of 2,500 at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights.
   King, the 2009 WTT Female MVP as a member of the Springfield (Mo.) Lasers, took the week after Wimbledon off while the Bryans increased their U.S. Davis Cup record to 17 men's doubles victories in a loss to Spain in Austin, Texas.
   After starting the season 1-3, Sacramento (3-3) can move into first place in the Western Conference with a victory tonight in St. Louis (4-3).
   The Bryans, the identical twin sons of Capitals coach Wayne Bryan and probably the greatest men's doubles team ever, took the opening set against Kansas City 5-3. But Sacramento won the last four sets by a combined score of 20-7 to rout the WTT defending champions.
   The Bryans recently won their second Wimbledon men's doubles title, giving them 11 in Grand Slam tournaments to tie the Open Era (since 1968) record of Australians Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde.
   Also playing for Kansas City was Kveta Peschke, who won the Wimbledon women's doubles crown with Katarina Srebotnik. But Jarmila Gajdosova, ranked 29th in the world in women's singles, did not return to WTT this season. Madison Brengle, ranked  No. 222, replaced her for Kansas City.
   King won 5-1 in mixed doubles with Mark Knowles, 5-1 in women's doubles with close friend and WTT rookie Yasmin Schnack and 5-3 in women's singles. King and Schnack have known each other since meeting at a tournament in Costa Rica when they were 11 and 12, respectively.
   Four Wimbledon champions graced the court in mixed doubles, the second set of the night, as King (2010 women's doubles) and Knowles (2009 mixed doubles) faced Peschke and Mike Bryan. Peschke, though, lost both of her sets 5-1.
   The Capitals' Dusan Vemic, playing against his former team, cut his double faults from five in men's doubles to two in men's singles. That helped him beat Ricardo Mello 5-2 to give Sacramento a 13-8 lead at intermission, and the Capitals' women took over from there.    
   When King was asked if she was surprised by the one-sided victory, she said: "Yes and no. We're always capable of it as a team. I have a lot of faith in Yasmin. I'm surprised we won the mixed doubles so easily, but Mark and I played really well. In women's doubles, (Brengle and Peschke) don't know each other as well as Yasmin and I."
   Wayne Bryan improved to 3-1 against his sons even though Bob and Mike have won in men's doubles each time. The twins said the meetings are harder on their father than on them.
   "We're just playing the ball and two guys on the other side of the net," Bob said. "Our dad is our biggest fan and supporter. He's never rooted against us in his life. He's rooting for a great serve out of me and a great return out of Mike. He's relieved when the match is over."
   Bob, who married Florida attorney Michelle Alvarez in December, said he and Mike, who remains single but has a longtime girlfriend, "are best friends. We do fight, but we have a loyal bond that's never going to break. Twins have that special connection other people can't understand unless they're twins."
   It also helps make them a great doubles team.
   "Communication is huge, knowing your partner," Mike said. "We've played thousands matches together since we were 6. We complement each other well. He's left-handed, and I'm right-handed. He has a big serve, and I have a pretty good return."
   The Bryans, 33, have no plans to retire soon.
   "One thing we have not done is win a gold medal (in the Olympics)," said Bob, who earned a bronze medal with Bob in the 2008 Games in Beijing. "We're shooting for that next year (in London). We still love what we do. There are guys still playing great tennis at 39 and 40. This is something we'll probably do for the next four or five years."
   With that, Kansas City owner Jeff Launius pleaded, "The real question is, how long will both of you keep playing for the Kansas City Explorers?"
   Cracked Bob Bryan, "You guys have wheelchair tennis?"     

Capitals 23, Explorers 12
   Men's doubles -- Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan (Explorers) def. Mark Knowles and Dusan Vemic (Capitals) 5-3.
   Mixed doubles -- Vania King and Knowles (Capitals) def. Kveta Peschke and Mike Bryan (Explorers) 5-1.
   Men's singles -- Vemic (Capitals) def. Ricardo Mello (Explorers) 5-2.
   Women's doubles -- King and Yasmin Schnack (Capitals) def. Peschke and Madison Brengle (Explorers) 5-1.
   Women's singles -- King (Capitals) def. Brengle (Explorers) 5-3.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bryan brothers fulfill father's dream

   Long before Bob and Mike Bryan were born on April 29, 1978 -- exactly eight years after their biggest idol, Andre Agassi -- their father had two goals.
   "My high school annual had a thing called 'senior prophecies,' said Sacramento Capitals coach Wayne Bryan, who graduated from Hawthorne High in the Los Angeles area. "In it, you predicted what you would be doing in 20 years. I said I'd be living in San Francisco and my son would be the No. 1 (tennis) player in the world. Had I known I'd have (identical) twins, I would have said the No. 1 doubles team in the world."
   Well, one out of two isn't bad. Bryan settled in Camarillo, between Los Angeles and Santa  Barbara, rather than San Francisco, where he had dated a girl in high school. Bob and Mike, meanwhile, have become not only the top men's doubles team in the world but arguably the greatest ever.
   The Bryan brothers will make their season debut for the Kansas City Explorers, the defending champions of World TeamTennis, against their father's team Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights.
   Bob and Mike Bryan recently won Wimbledon for their 11th Grand Slam men's doubles title, tying the Open era record of Australians Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde.
   "This is as special as it gets," Mike told reporters at Wimbledon. "I always thought we'd play our best at Wimbledon, and we've lost three heartbreaking finals. To get on that board again, to have two Wimbledon titles, is really special.
   "And then to equal the Woodies -- a team that we idolized, the greatest team in our mind -- is unbelievable. To get their (ATP World Tour) title record (the Bryans have 73 vs. the Aussies' 61) and get the Grand Slam record, I'm trying to figure out what's left."
  Two things come to mind. One is the all-time record of 12 Grand Slam men's doubles titles held by Australians John Newcombe and Tony Roche. The other is an Olympic gold medal. The closest the Bryans have come is a bronze in 2008 in Beijing. Their best, though probably not last, shot at gold will come in London next year, when they will be 34. Bob said at Wimbledon that he and Mike anticipate playing "five or six more years."
   Bob and Mike seem genetically engineered to be the perfect doubles team. In addition to having played with each other all their lives, they're big (Bob is listed at 6-foot-4, 202 pounds and Mike at 6-3, 192), feature a right-hander (Mike) and left-hander (Bob), and comprise a big server (Bob) and a big returner (Mike).
   "I love size in a doubles team," Wayne Bryan said. "Bigger guys can eat up the court. And (Bob and Mike) have a lefty-righty situation. The best doubles teams in history have been lefty-righty: Newcombe-Roche, the Woodies, (John) McEnroe-(Peter) Fleming, (Rick) Leach-(Jim)  Pugh. ... You never serve into the sun. If there's a slight cross breeze, both balls are enhanced by the wind."
   The Capitals' Mark Knowles, formerly ranked No. 1 in men's doubles, said the Bryans are the best doubles team he has faced in his 20 years on the circuit.
  "They're more of a power team, but they also do the small things well," Knowles, 39, said at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in March. "They play very good strategic doubles, and they're in sync all the time. That's the key to doubles -- communication not only verbally but in movement and knowing where your partner is going to go, closing gaps and adjusting to your partner's movements. They do it better than anybody."
   Actually, Wayne Bryan said his main goal was for his sons "to love the great game of tennis, love music, do well in school and be good kids. But it had to be their goal, not mine. I just set the table."
   He apparently did a good job.
   Concerning Bob and Mike having played together from the beginning, tennis journalist and historian Bud Collins said in Indian Wells with a chuckle: "That's helpful. On the other hand, it might not be helpful. A lot of brothers hate each other. They have had battles between themselves. They readily admit that, but they found something they love, and they're lucky. Most people don't find something they love."
   Mike Bryan insisted he and Bob, both of whom play with their father in the Bryan Bros. Band, get along fine.
   "We walk in the house, we go into the music room, and we're jamming at night for a half hour," Mike said at Wimbledon. "First thing in the morning, I hear Bob on the piano, and I go down there, and I plug in my guitar. We have a blast together. We share the same DNA."
     

Capitals earn key victory; Kunitsyn heads Aptos

   Even though the Sacramento Capitals' 16-day regular season seemingly whizzes by faster than Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash, it's a bit early to label any match as critical.
   But Sunday's night's came close for the World TeamTennis franchise.
   Playing at home against a team with no marquee stars, Sacramento knocked off the rival Newport Beach Breakers 22-19 in overtime before an announced crowd of 1,721 at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights, Calif.
   A loss would have dropped the Capitals (2-3) three matches behind first-place St. Louis and 2 1/2 behind second-place Newport Beach (3-3) in the Western Conference. The top two teams in each conference after the 14-match regular season advance to the playoffs.
   Furthermore, Sacramento next faces a monumental challenge against another Western Conference team. Although the WTT defending champion Kansas City Explorers are only 2-3, they will bring three reigning Wimbledon doubles champions to Tuesday's 7:30 p.m. match at Sunrise Mall.
   Bob and Mike Bryan, who recently won their second men's doubles crown at the All England Club, will make their season debut for Kansas City. The identical twin sons of Capitals coach Wayne Bryan will join Kveta Peschke, who captured her first Wimbledon women's doubles title (with Katarina Srebotnik).
   Sacramento then plays five of its next six matches on the road before ending the regular season with two home contests.
   WTT rookie Yasmin Schnack keyed Sunday's victory over Newport Beach. Still filling in for Vania King, who's resting after Wimbledon, the local product won 5-2 in women's singles and 5-3 in mixed doubles and lost 5-4 in women's doubles. 
   Schnack had faced future International Tennis Hall of Famers Martina Hingis and Serena Williams in women's singles the previous two nights, losing by a combined score of 10-1. This time, Schnack beat journeywoman Anne Keothavong to give the Capitals a 19-13 lead entering the final set.
   But the Newport Beach pair of Lester Cook and Travis Rettenmaier beat Mark Knowles and Dusan Vemic 5-2 to send the match to overtime. After the Breakers held serve to cut Sacramento's lead to 21-19, Vemic won his serve to end the match.                    
   Capitals 22, Breakers 19 (OT)
   Mixed doubles -- Yasmin Schnack and Mark Knowles, Capitals, def. Marie-Eve Pelletier and Travis Rettenmaier, Breakers, 5-3.
   Women's doubles -- Pelletier and Anne Keothavong, Breakers, def. Christina Fusano and Schnack, Capitals, 5-4.
   Men's singles -- Dusan Vemic, Capitals, def. Lester Cook, Breakers, 5-3.
   Women's singles -- Schnack, Capitals, def. Keothavong, Breakers, 5-2.
   Men's doubles -- Cook and Rettenmaier, Breakers, def. Knowles and Vemic, Capitals, 5-2.
   Overtime -- Knowles and Vemic, Capitals, tied Cook and Rettenmaier, Breakers, 1-1.
   Aptos Challenger -- Russia's Igor Kunitsyn heads the field in the $100,000 Comerica Bank Challenger, today through Sunday at the Seascape Sports Club in Aptos, Calif.
   Kunitsyn, who's ranked 62nd in the world, trains at the Gorin Tennis Academy in Granite Bay, Calif., outside of Sacramento.
   Donald Young, the 2007 Aptos champion and 2010 runner-up from Atlanta, is seeded second and Matthew Eben of Australia third.
   Ebden reached the singles quarterfinals and won the doubles title with American Ryan Harrison at last week's Hall of Fame Championships in Newport, R.I., on the ATP World Tour.
   The Comerica main draw also includes former top-15 player Robby Ginepri, the last two NCAA singles champions  (USC's Steve Johnson this year and Stanford's Bradley Klahn), and last year's U.S. Open junior titlist (Jack Sock).
   Devin Britton, the 2009 NCAA champ for Mississippi, lost to fellow American Chris Kearney in the second round of qualifying Sunday.