Saturday, December 31, 2011

Serena, bizarre incidents highlight 2011 Slammy awards

   It has been an eventful year featuring doubles excellence, a surreal experience, gratifying comebacks, stirring matches, bizarre incidents and even a wacky hairstyle.
   Presenting the first annual Slammys, highlighting 2011 in Northern California tennis:
   He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother Award (Male Players of the Year) -- Former Stanford All-Americans Bob and Mike Bryan continued to build a case as the greatest men's doubles team ever.
   The 33-year-old identical twin sons of Sacramento Capitals coach Wayne Bryan won the Australian Open and Wimbledon to give them 11 Grand Slam titles, tying them with International Tennis Hall of Famers Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde for the Open Era record.
   The Bryans won eight titles overall to boost their record total to 75. They also broke John McEnroe's record of 270 weeks at No. 1 and ended the year on top for a record seventh time.
   Yogi Berra "It's Like Deja Vu All Over Again" Award -- While we're on the subject of twins, Jacqueline Cako faced the Faceys back to back in singles qualifying at the Redding Challenger.
   Cako (pronounced KAY-ko), a sophomore at Arizona State seeded first in qualifying, beat the 18-year-old fraternal twins from the Sacramento suburb of Cameron Park by almost identical scores to advance to the main draw. Alexandra lost 6-2, 6-0 in the first round, and Kat fell 6-2, 6-2 the next day in the second round.
   "It was pretty funny," the 5-foot-10 Cako cackled. "It's never happened to me. I played on the same court, I warmed up with the same person, and I was following the same person as the day before. It was like the day before all over again."
   Still Not Too Shabby Award (Female Player of the Year) -- After winning the Wimbledon and the U.S. Open women's doubles titles in 2010, Vania King of the Capitals and Yaroslava Shvedova came up empty in Grand Slam tournaments this year.
   Not that they didn't come close, falling to fourth-seeded Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3) in the final at Flushing Meadows, N.Y. Shvedova, a Moscow native who plays for Kazakhstan, served for the match at 5-4 in the second set and at 5-4 in the second-set tiebreaker.
  King, a 22-year-old Long Beach product, and Shvedova did win two titles (Cincinnati and Moscow) and reached the semifinals of the French Open. The 5-foot-5 King dropped two spots to sixth in the year-end world doubles rankings and improved 10 places to 76th in singles, reaching the third round of the French Open and U.S. Open and recording her first victory over a top-10 player (No. 10 Marion Bartoli in the second round at Seoul).
   King, by the way, recently launched a new Web site at www.vania-king.com. 
   Tim Tebow Award (Comeback Players of the Year) -- Serena Williams won the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in only the third tournament of her comeback after an 11-month layoff caused by health problems. It was her first crown in the tournament, first outside of Grand Slam or season-ending tournaments in more than three years and first on the U.S. summer circuit since 2000.
   Shortly after winning Wimbledon last year for her 13th Grand Slam singles title, Williams stepped on broken glass at a restaurant and had surgery twice. Then she suffered life-threatening blood clots.
   Jimmy Wang, a former top-100 singles player from Taiwan who trains with Dmitry Tursunov in the Sacramento suburb of Granite Bay, soared from No. 797 to No. 274 in the year-end rankings after missing three years because of two operations on his right (playing) wrist. When asked how he hurt his wrist, the 26-year-old Wang mused, "I wish I knew."
   Honorable mention: Tursunov. The longtime Sacramento-area resident from Moscow continued his comeback from two operations on his left ankle and one on his left foot. He won his first singles title in two years at Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, and jumped from No. 197 to No. 40 in the year-end rankings.
   Tursunov, who turns 30 next December, will try to stay healthy and surpass his 2006 career high of No. 20.
   Stephen King Award (Most Suspenseful Match) -- It seemed nothing could top Daniel Nguyen's 7-5, 0-6, 6-4 victory over Sanam Singh in the deciding match to give USC a 4-3 victory over Virginia at Stanford for the Trojans' third consecutive NCAA Division I men's team title.
   But the battle between sophomores Lauren Embree of Florida and Mallory Burdette of Stanford later that day did. With the teams tied 3-3 in the NCAA women's final and Burdette leading 4-0 in the third set, it appeared certain that the Cardinal would win the title and earn its 185th consecutive home victory spanning 12 years. But Embree rallied to win 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (6), prevailing on her fifth match point.
   "I don't know what it looked like on TV or in the stands, but that took about 10 years off my life," Florida coach Roland Thornqvist said.
   Jeff Tarango "I'm Outta Here" Award --Senior Michael Shabaz of Virginia walked off the court in disgust during his NCAA men's singles semifinal at Stanford. Shabaz, ranked fifth nationally and a two-time NCAA doubles champion, trailed top-ranked Steve Johnson of USC 6-7 (4), 2-4 when he quit in protest of the officiating.
   "I'm in shock," Virginia coach Brian Boland confessed afterward. "I consider this the lowest point of my 15 years as a collegiate head coach. I've known Michael four years, and he's never quit on a match or walked off the court."
   Rumor has it that Shabaz recently quit a Monopoly game when his opponent landed on Boardwalk..
   John McEnroe "You Cannot Be Serious" Award -- Speaking of bizarre incidents, Daniel Kosakowski netted a volley on match point for him in the semifinals of the Sacramento Futures but won the point.    
    How is that possible? Chair umpire Brad Taylor ruled that opponent Antoine Benneteau had distracted Kosakowski during their exchange at the net by saying "No" when Benneteau thought Kosakowski had double-hit the ball. Therefore, Taylor awarded Kosakowski the point. Benneteau argued at the time but later said it was the right call.
   (I'd Rather Not) Meet the Press Award -- OK, one more wild occurrence.
   Forgive Lauren Davis if she's a little nervous around television cameras. It's not that the promising 18-year-old American is shy. Rather, in one of the strangest accidents in sports history, she suffered a concussion while filming a commercial at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, S.C., in April. The wind knocked over the camera, which fell on the 5-foot-2, 120-pound Davis' head. 
   "I blacked out for five or 10 seconds," the sixth-seeded Davis said after demolishing Katie Ruckert 6-0, 6-0 in 62 minutes in the first round of the Redding Challenger in September. "I didn't think it was too severe, but the pain was excruciating the next day. I got really nervous then. I felt like my head was g oing to explode. I had headaches for two months straight, but it was never that severe again."
   Don Henley/Glenn Frey "New Kid in Town" Award (Newcomer of the Year) -- Unseeded Milos Raonic, then 20, stunned top seed and defending champion Fernando Verdasco 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5) to win the SAP Open in San Jose. Raonic, 6-5, became the first player born in the 1990s to win an ATP World Tour singles title and first Canadian to capture an ATP title since Greg Rusedski in Seoul in 1995.
   Runner-up: Jack Sock. Three weeks after his stunning U.S. Open mixed doubles title with fellow American Melanie Oudin, the 19-year-old Sock reached the singles quarterfinals and doubles final of the $100,000 Sacramento Challenger.
   "He's a great player," veteran James Blake, a former top-five player, said after eliminating Sock in singles. "He has a lot of talent. He would have beaten the pants off me at 19. He has a lot to learn, for sure, but he's already done a lot at 19. I can see him being a completely different player next year at this time."
   Kim Clijsters Nice Guy Award --Sam Querrey, a San Francisco native trying to return to the top 20 after undergoing surgery on his right (playing) elbow in June, hit with ballboys and ballgirls after his matches in the Sacramento and Tiburon Challengers.
   After Blake was thanked for interviews during the Sacramento tournament, he invariably said, "My pleasure." The last time I heard an athlete say that was ... never.
   To learn more about Blake, a class act in the mold of Arthur Ashe, read his 2007 autobiography, "Breaking Back." You won't regret it.
  Odd Couple Award -- Croatia's Ivo Karlovic, the tallest player in the Sacramento Challenger at 6-10, beat Dominican Victor Estrella, the shortest at 5-8, in the second round 6-3, 6-2. Karlovic, who missed the last six months of 2010 after undergoing Achilles' tendon-related surgery, went on to win the title and repeat the following week in the Tiburon Challenger.
   Elle Woods Award -- With power and quickness, 6-2 Blake Strode appears to have a bright future in professional tennis. But don't feel too bad for him if he doesn't make it. The 24-year-old St. Louis product has deferred his acceptance to Harvard Law School, which Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) attended in the hilarious movie "Legally Blonde."    
   Emergency Medical Technician Award -- Former Capitals owner Ramey Osborne came to the rescue when the team appeared to be on its death bed. He repurchased World TeamTennis' longest-tenured franchise (26 years), assuring it would stay in Sacramento, after owner Bob Cook declared bankruptcy.
   Brian Wilson Incognito Award -- Doubles specialist John Paul Fruttero, a former All-American at Cal, showed up at the Sacramento Challenger in October with blue and gold spiked hair.
   "It started in April on my 30th birthday," he explained. "In the tennis world, that's pretty old. It's safe to say I was having a mid-life crisis. I lost in the first round four times in a row. I told the stylist in Tampa (Fla.) to do something crazy, change things up. ... It was light brown in Tampa, pretty tame. I asked for gray in China and got platinum blond."
   Fruttero switched to blue and gold in honor of his alma mater the week before the Sacramento tournament while he was at home in San Jose.
  "I'm very loyal to my school, and there are a lot of Cal supporters here," he said. "You can't wear a (school) logo in your matches, so why not do something different?"
   It worked. Fruttero skyrocketed from No. 359 in the world to a career-high No. 117 in 2011.
   All in all, it has been a hair-raising year.            

Roseville's Riffice gains semis in Winter Nationals

   Sam Riffice of Roseville, a suburb of Sacramento, on Friday reached the boys 12 singles and doubles semifinals of the USTA Winter Nationals in Tucson, Ariz.
   Riffice, seeded third in singles, defeated seventh-seeded Alexander Rushin of Rancho Santa Fe 6-2, 6-4. Riffice and Noah Schachter of Steilacoom, Wash., seeded first in doubles, beat eighth-seeded Roscoe Bellamy of Pacific Palisades and Keenan Mayo of Roseville 3-6, 6-3, 10-3.
   Seventh-seeded Paul Barretto of Bel Tiburon and Conrad Russell of Los Altos Hills advanced to the doubles semis in the other half of the draw.
   No. 22 seed Catherine Bellis, a resident of Atherton playing up in the girls 14s, lost to 11th-seeded Raquel Pedraza of Claremont 6-2, 6-1 in the quarterfinals.
   All Northern Californians have been eliminated in boys and girls 18 and 16 singles and doubles in Scotttsdale, Ariz. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Advantage, Serbia: Tiny nation becomes tennis power

   While training indoors during the winter at the Partizan Tennis Club in Belgrade, Serbia, in the early 1990s, Dusan Vemic couldn't help but notice a precocious 6-year-old on the next court.
   Vemic was 17 at the time. The boy's name was Novak Djokovic.
   "He was always an interesting little kid," recalled Vemic, who has played for the Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis for the past two seasons. "He was like a little professor. You could have a serious conversation with a 6-year-old. It doesn't happen that often.
   "He was talking about things he needed to work on and how to warm up. He was like a professional tennis player. He was not playing tennis; he was working tennis."
   Eight years later, Vemic played on the Davis Cup team when Djokovic was brought in as a hitting partner.
   "You could see he was a special talent," Vemic said. "He was a sponge as well. He would take all the advice we would give him. That's another quality he has. He will continue to get better and be a great champion when he looks back."
   Djokovic recently completed one of the greatest years in tennis history. He won three Grand Slam singles titles and 10 overall, rose to No. 1 in the world and went 70-6 (with two of the losses resulting from retirements), including 6-0 against Rafael Nadal (all in finals) and 4-1 against Roger Federer.
   And Djokovic is just the beginning for Serbia. Against all odds, the tiny country bombed by NATO forces in 1999 has produced four No. 1 players in the world in the past three years. Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic (both in women's singles) and Nenad Zimonjic (men's doubles) all climbed to the top in 2008.
   In the men's game, Serbia also has No. 9 Janko Tipsarevic and No. 22 Viktor Troicki. With Djokovic leading the way, nation won its first Davis Cup title last year.
   How has Serbia, smaller in area than South Carolina and somewhat larger in population than Dallas-Fort Worth, become a tennis power?
   "It's definitely the spirit," said Serbia's Ilija Bozoljac, the runner-up at Challengers in Aptos in July and Tiburon in 2009. "Kids are really competitive and hungry. That's the key. If you lose in Serbia a couple of times, you feel ashamed.
   "If you're 200 in the world, it means nothing in Serbia," continued Bozoljac, a flashy player who uses two hands on both sides. "In the States, everyone thinks you're really good, which you are. But (the Serbian) mentality makes you want to go for more. In the States, it's the opposite. You can get a sponsor and support, but players are getting spoiled."
   The poor economy in Serbia has a lot to do with the motivation of juniors and their parents. According to the U.S. Department of State, the official unemployment rate last April was 22.2 percent.
   "Serbian kids are fighting for their life," said Vemic, a crowd-pleaser with great athleticism who reached the doubles semifinals at the French Open in 2008 and Australian Open in 2010. "U.S. kids don't have that as the last option. They have education, a good lifestyle and many more opportunities. Serbian kids are a little more hungry. We've been struggling (economically) the last 20 years, that's for sure."
   Added Djokovic in the New York Times last September: "There is something in the mentality that obviously helps us, because we have all experienced the war, we have all experienced tough times, to have the right conditions to become a professional player."
   Jankovic agreed.
   "When you get used to (those) conditions and not-so-good facilities like some other countries have, I think it makes you stronger," she told espnW.com in September. "You feel good especially when you come to playing on those perfect courts like you have in the States. ... You feel like you're in heaven and you're ready for everything.
   "When it comes to our cases, we earned it the hard way. We came from a small country without really a tradition in tennis. We came a long way. It shows it doesn't matter where you come from, what kind of facilities you have. If you have the will and the desire and the motivation, the hunger to succeed, you can do it, so I think we showed that."
   Vemic said Serbia's rise to power in tennis has been "like a wave." On the men's side, he and Zimonjic, both 35, came first. Then came Tipsarevic, 27, Troicki, 25, and Djokovic, 24. On the women's side, Monica Seles, 38, paved the way for Jankovic, 26, and Ivanovic, 24.
   "There were a couple of good guys before Novak, Ana and Jelena became the best in the world," Vemic said. "Tipsarevic pulled everyone in the top 100. Novak was right behind at 16, 17 years old. Jelena was the No. 1 junior, and Ana also was good in the juniors. The whole timing of one of the veterans breaking through to the top level gave the others confidence. We all train together from time to time."
   Serbia's success, Vemic added, "makes me feel good. I enjoy every good result. I can only hope and believe that I contributed a little bit."
   Blake withdraws -- James Blake, the runner-up in the Sacramento Challenger in October, reportedly has withdrawn from the Brisbane International, which begins Sunday, and the Australian Open, Jan. 15-29, for personal reasons.
   Blake, 32, hopes to begin his year at the SAP Open in San Jose, where he reached the singles semifinals in 2009 and 2003 and won the doubles title in 2004 with Mardy Fish. Next year's tournament is set for Feb. 13-19.
   National junior tournament -- No. 22 seed Catherine Bellis of Atherton defeated Jaclyn Switkes of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 to reach the girls 14 quarterfinals at the USTA Winter National Championships in Tucson, Ariz.
   Also in the girls 14s, No. 31 Jenna Friedel of Mill Valley lost to top-seeded Emma Higuchi of Los Angeles 6-2, 6-1.
   In boys 12 singles, third-seeded Sam Riffice of Roseville beat No. 22 Jenson Brooksby of Sacramento 6-3, 6-0 to advance to the quarters. No. 21 Paul Barretto of Bel Tiburon fell to No. 1 Noah Makarome of Wesley Chapel, Fla., 6-3, 6-3.
   Results of the boys and girls 18s and 16s in Scottsdale, Ariz., were not available. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Year-end rankings released; junior Winter Nationals

   The year-end men's and women's world rankings feature three players with Northern California connections in the top 10 in doubles and three in the top 100 in singles.
   Former Stanford All-Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, the twin sons of Sacramento Capitals coach Wayne Bryan, ended the year No. 1 in doubles for the third straight year and record seventh overall. They also broke John McEnroe's record of 270 weeks at No. 1.
   Vania King of the Capitals slipped from fourth to sixth in women's doubles. She and Yaroslava Shvedova failed to win a Grand Slam title, falling 7-6 in the third set of the U.S. Open final to Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond, after winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year.
   Dmitry Tursunov, a Russian living in the Sacramento area, jumped from No. 157 to No. 40 in singles. The 29-year-old Moscow native had plunged from a career-high No. 20 in 2006 to No. 526 last year after undergoing three operations on his left ankle or foot between April 2009 and February 2010.
   Sam Querrey knows all about physical problems, too. The San Francisco native, 6-foot-6, fell through a glass table and gashed his right arm in 2009 and underwent operations for bone spurs in his elbow and an umbilical infection last summer. He plummeted from No. 18, one spot below his career high in January, to No. 93 this year.  
   King, who's listed at 5-5, improved from No. 86 in singles to No. 76.
   Following are the 2011 year-end world rankings of professional players with Northern California ties (change from last year in parentheses):
Great year
   Bob Bryan, 1998 NCAA doubles champion from Stanford -- No. 1 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   Mike Bryan, 1998 NCAA doubles champion from Stanford -- No. 1 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   John Paul Fruttero, Cal All-American in 2001 and 2002 -- Career-high No. 117 in doubles (+242), unranked in singles.
Good year
   Vania King, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 6 in doubles (-2), No. 76 in singles (+10).
   Dmitry Tursunov, Folsom resident -- No. 40 in singles (+157), No. 237 in doubles (-116).
   Scott Lipsky, 2002 NCAA doubles runner-up from Stanford -- No. 29 in doubles (+30), unranked in singles.
   Raquel Kops-Jones, 2003 NCAA doubles champion from Cal -- No. 37 in doubles (+26), No. 721 in singles (-45).
   Jimmy Wang, Folsom resident -- No. 274 in singles (+523), No. 522 in doubles (unranked at end of 2010).
   Yasmin Schnack, Elk Grove resident, Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis (2011) -- No. 181 in doubles (approximately No. 500 at end of 2010), No. 412 in singles (+180).
   Maria Sanchez, Modesto resident -- No. 268 in doubles (in college at end of 2010), No. 696 in singles (in college at end of 2010).
   Kiryl Harbatsiuk, three-time Big Sky Conference MVP (2009-11) at Sacramento State -- No. 763 in singles (+134), No. 1,245 in doubles (-626).
 Fair year
    David Martin, 2002 NCAA doubles runner-up from Stanford -- No. 105 in doubles (-3), No. 755 in singles (+138).
Bad year
   Sam Querrey, San Francisco native -- No. 93 in singles (-75), No. 38 in doubles (-8).
   Mark Knowles, Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis (2001-07, 2009-11) -- No. 58 in doubles (-30), unranked in singles.
   Conor Niland, 2006 Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year and two-time All-American at Cal -- No. 286 in singles (-157), unranked in doubles (No. 877 at end of 2010).
   Dusan Vemic, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 500 in doubles (-436), No. 1,510 in singles (no ranking at end of 2010).
   National junior tournament -- Three Northern Californians reached the third round of boys 18 singles Wednesday at the USTA Winter National Championships in Scottsdale, Ariz. Advancing were 11th-seeded Andrew Ball of Palo Alto, 17th-seeded Richard Pham of Saratoga and unseeded Michael Guzman of Napa.
   Also reaching the third round were:
   --Collin Altamirano (17) of Yuba City and Logan Staggs of Tracy in boys 16 singles.
   --Ayla Aksu of San Francisco and Paige Cline of Kentfield in girls 16 singles.
   Moving into the round of 16 in Tucson, Ariz., were:
   --Catherine Bellis (22) of Atherton and Jenna Friedel (31) of Mill Valley in girls 14 singles. 
   --Sam Riffice (3) of Roseville, Paul Barretto (21) of Bel Tiburon and Jenson Brooksby (22) of Sacramento in boys 12 singles.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

With clay court, California dreamin' becomes reality


Players warm up on the Har-Tru (green clay) court at Ben Combs' house in Orangevale.
   The players met for a coveted clay-court trophy, a tidy sum of money and bragging rights.
   But the hotly contested final -- which featured a paid chair umpire, ballgirls, sponsor banners, VIP seating and food for spectators -- did not take place in a packed stadium of raucous fans in Europe or South America. 
   It was held in front of 30 fellow competitors, family members and friends in the back yard of Ben Combs' home in bucolic Orangevale, a suburb of Sacramento.
  Jordan Boyls and Mark Tappan defeated Chris Evers and Dave Hagiwara 6-4, 6-4 last month to win the  Sacramento Clay Court League. Afterward, Boyls and Tappan received an envelope containing $1,200 in cash. Evers and Hagiwara split $500, and third-place finishers Mike Smith and Bryan Paveglio shared $300.  

Posing after the final of the Sacramento Clay Court League in November are, left to right, Har-Tru executive Tim Beyer,  runners-up Chris Evers and Dave Hagiwara, Commissioner Ben Combs and champions Jordan Boyls and Mark Tappan.


   "I love playing on clay," said the 53-year-old Tappan, who won the NCAA Division III singles title in 1979 and led Redlands to the team championship. "It's easy on the body, and the pace is a little slower."   
   Clay courts are the norm in Europe and Latin America and common in the eastern and southern United States. But they're about as rare as hockey rinks in the western U.S. Tim Beyer, the new markets manager for Har-Tru  (American green clay), said less than 1 percent of all courts in California are clay versus more than 50 percent in Florida.
   The ratio is reflected on the ATP World Tour and the WTA tour, the major leagues of men's and women's tennis, respectively. Of the 124 tournaments combined this year, 41 were on clay. Thirty-one of those were in Europe, six were in Latin America, two were in Africa (Morocco), and two were in the United States.
   The U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship is held on maroon clay in Houston and the women's Family Circle Cup on green clay in Charleston, S.C., both in April.
   Since Combs, a 52-year-old former co-owner of the Sacramento Capitals in World TeamTennis, built his clay court in 2000, two other league members have followed suit. Combs said there's also one in Loomis, one in El Dorado Hills and perhaps two others in the Sacramento area.
   Why so few?
   "Good question," Beyer said. "A lot of people think they're hard to maintain. A lot of builders aren't familiar with (clay courts)."
   In contrast, "Two builders in Florida really embraced clay courts in the '70s," Beyer noted. "It's close enough to Virginia that shipping is not a big deal."
  Combs also suggested that "there's a perception of high maintenance" concerning clay courts. But isn't that true in Europe and Florida?
   "I don't get it," Combs confessed. "The truth is, it's not high maintenance. Maybe people in Europe are not as lazy."
   Beyer concedes that "you have to top-dress (a clay court) once a year in California and twice a year in Florida. The disadvantage is you have to take care of it. You can't leave it alone."
   But Beyer says it's worth it.
  "We believe clay helps develop your game -- the patience, the shot development, the spins," he said, adding that 88 percent of the top 10 players in the world in the year-end rankings since 1974 grew up on clay.
   Spain, where players grow up on clay, has three of the top 10 men in the world (No. 2 Rafael Nadal, No. 5 David Ferrer and No. 10 Nicolas Almagro), six of the top 30, eight of the top 50 and 13 of the top 100. Nadal, a 10-time Grand Slam singles champion, led Spain to its third Davis Cup title in four years this month.
  The United States, with more than six times Spain's population (313.2 million to 46.7 million), has one man in the top 10 (No. 8 Mardy Fish), three in the top 30, four in the top 50 and nine in the top 100.
  Is it any wonder that Patrick McEnroe, the general manager of USTA player development, is emphasizing more clay-court training and events for U.S. juniors? Nor does it hurt that Jose Higueras, the USTA director of coaching, is a former top-10 player from Spain.
   For the first time since 1998, the recent Orange Bowl junior tournament in Plantation, Fla., was held on clay.      
   " ... Higueras and I firmly believe that providing our juniors with more training and competition on clay will ultimately lead to more well-rounded players, and will better serve these players as their careers progress," McEnroe told usta.com. "Moving our largest and most prestigious international (junior) event back to clay will help teach our players more court awareness and better movement."
* * *
   Combs had planned to build a hard court, but Ramey Osborne, the Capitals' previous owner who re-purchased the team this month, urged his friend to put in a clay surface. Osborne lives in a planned development, featuring two hard courts, that his real estate company built 30 years ago in Fair Oaks. 
   "You know Ramey," Combs said. "That guy's a bulldog. I said, 'Ramey, I'm not going to put in clay.' He said: '(A clay court) is not much to maintain. If you put in a hard court, people won't play on it. They'll just meet at a club. But if you put in a clay court, you'll have something special. Everyone will want to come over and play.' He was right."   
    Combs chose Har-Tru over European-style red clay.
   "It's more suitable for California's climate," he explained. "It's not as dusty, and it doesn't stain clothes. It holds moisture better. You need something to retain moisture in a dryer climate. Moisture is important for the clay to stay compact and level so it doesn't dry up and blow away. Otherwise, it gets dusty."
   Har-Tru, actually composed of crushed stone, is made from billion-year-old Pre-Cambrian metabasalt found in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Forty tons, enough for a one-inch layer on one court, were transported from a quarry in Shadwell, Va., one mile from Har-Tru's headquarters in Charlottesville, by two flat-bed trucks, a train and then trucks again to Orangevale. Workers spread 3,000 bags of Har-Tru over a four-inch gravel base, weighing 150 tons, from a local quarry and a one-inch layer of rock dust.
   The court, including lights and an underground sprinkler system, took "seven or eight days" to build at a cost of $50,000, Combs said. The price today without lights is $80,000, about the same as a hard court, he added.
   Combs said he uses the sprinkler system up to four times a day in the summer but rarely in the winter. He does minor maintenance on the court annually and re-levels and re-rolls the court for $3,000 every three years. Combs said it costs approximately the same amount to resurface a hard court, which is recommended every five years.
   The biggest difference between playing on hard courts and clay, Combs said, is clay "is just slower. It's harder to put the ball away. I read that the average decrease in speed when a ball hits a hard court is 18 percent and that it's 43 percent on clay. You have more time to get to the ball. There are a lot of rallies. That's why a five-set match at the French Open is longer and more demanding."
   Boyls sees a "substantial difference" between playing on hard courts and clay.
   "On hard courts, you feel you can change direction at will," he said. "Here, you have to take (small) steps. My first season, I was all over the place falling down. You have to be more careful with your steps. You can't expect to make hard stops.
   "Movement is the biggest thing. You're going to get some different bounces. The ball is not always going to be where you think. You have to be able to adjust."
   David Floth, a 39-year-old league member who played at Iowa State, said "playing on clay is a blast. The points are longer, which makes it fun. I feel I can play a lot longer and play again the next day. The court is soft, so it's easier on the body." 
   Mike Norton, a 45-year-old league member and former Sac State player, said he prefers clay to hard courts.
   "It's fun sliding around. In the summer, (playing on clay) is huge. It can be 15 degrees cooler. You don't get the radiation from a hard court," Norton said.
   Clay also minimizes arguments over line calls because the ball leaves a mark where it bounces. According to league rules, the court is swept before a third set (to avoid confusion from multiple marks), and the losing team sweeps after the match.
* * *
   Combs began the league five years ago with an eight-player doubles round robin. Since then, it has grown into 24 doubles teams divided into four balanced divisions. Combs serves as the commissioner.
   The league did not offer singles this year, but Combs is contemplating a weekend tournament for next year.
   "It's easier to do a singles tourney and a doubles league," he said. "Not a lot of guys will play singles. It rains in the winter, and it's hot in the summer. We're experimenting."
   Most league members have a rating of 5.0 (very advanced) or higher, and the minimum is 4.5. Many, including all four finalists, played collegiately, and a few played professionally. Kelly (Pace) Wilson, 38, one of three women in the league, beat Lindsay Davenport in the juniors and reached the top 200 in the world in singles and doubles. Ages of league members range from 22 to 57, Combs said, with most in their 30s and 40s.
  Players paid an entry fee of $50 for the five-match, nine-week season, which lasted from Sept. 3 to Nov. 19. Matches were two out of three tiebreak sets with regular scoring. The top three teams in each division advanced to the single-elimination playoffs.
  Everything about the league -- from the caliber of play to the trappings of professional tournaments to the web site (www.sacramentoclaycourtleague.com) -- is first-class. No details are overlooked.
   The web site includes rules, standings, results, live scoring, a photo of the trophy (an acrylic tennis racket and ball on a base listing the past champions) and a countdown of the number of days until the 2012 season.
  League matches are "very serious," said Combs, a 5.0 player who reached the quarterfinals of the playoffs with Norton. "You watch someone try to serve out a match, and some good players can get tight and double-fault because they're close to winning.
   "It's not just the $1,200. It's nice to have a little pocket money, but it's not going to change anyone's life. People talk about (the league). It's special because there are a lot of good players."
   The "Wall of Shame" attests to the seriousness of the competition. Twenty-one smashed, weather-beaten rackets, each with a metal dog tag specifying the offender and date of the infraction, are attached to a waist-high fence on one side of the court. None, however, belong to Combs.
   "I'm not a racket thrower or breaker," he said. "We have plenty of guys that are, though. I saw a kid get hit in the teeth with a racket. I'll never forget it. His front teeth got knocked out. It was horrible.
   "A guy on my (high school) team threw his racket into the net. It caught the tape and bounced up. The match was over. I remember seeing blood going on the court."
* * *
   Combs' success on and off the court belies a difficult childhood, minimal tennis training as a junior and little college education.
   He owns Judi's Cleaners -- which has three stores, all in the Sacramento area -- and 20 percent of house2home Showcase, a home improvement publication based in Folsom. He and his wife, Mary, live in a four-bedroom, 3,800-square-foot California Spanish Style house. They have three children, all daughters in their 20s, and will celebrate their 30th anniversary in February.
   But Combs and his four siblings endured a rough upbringing. His mother was mentally ill, and his parents divorced when he was 11, throwing the family into poverty. He played competitive tennis for only one year in high school, and he did not even earn a two-year college degree.
   Two years after the divorce, Combs accidentally discovered tennis.
   "I saw some guys playing tennis in the park behind our house," he recalled. "I found a beat-up wood racket in the park, hit against the wall and got pretty good."
   Combs, the second of three children born in less than two years, played No. 3 singles as a sophomore in high school before his mother made him quit.
   "She thought it was frivolous," he said. "She had her own problems. She had five kids and no husband. She wanted me home. I had an interesting childhood."
   Combs' mother, Carmen, "struggled with what's now called bipolar disorder," he said. "Then, we just thought she was nuts. We didn't know why she said 'No' -- she just said it. She'd wake us up in the middle of the night to move furniture. We didn't know why. She had a hankering to get something done."
   Combs' younger sister Angela wrote and directed a movie loosely based on their mother's childhood, "Nothing Special," that premiered last month in Beverly Hills. Ben solicited almost all of the $300,000 budget for the film, starring Karen Black ("Easy Rider" with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, "Five Easy Pieces" with Jack Nicholson and "The Great Gatsby" with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow), from the Sacramento tennis community and contributed $15,000 himself.
   Combs' father, Charles, earned a master's degree in mathematics and worked as college professor and computer engineer. Ben described him as a "really smart guy" who "bounced around." After the divorce, Carmen and the kids went on welfare and food stamps.
   "If you don't think that's embarrassing for an 11- or 12-year-old ... " Combs lamented. "I remember trying to figure out how to pay at the supermarket without my friends seeing. That was my motivation. I thought about making money rather than going to school."
    Combs initially tried the conventional route, studying journalism at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, but did not graduate. 
   "I started making money," he said. "I (later) told my kids, 'You're not going to do that. You're going to go to college.' That's the smartest way to go. I got into the advertising business at 19. I made $4,000 in one month and thought I was set for life."
   Added Combs: "People are surprised when they find out I don't have a degree. But I was in a hurry. I wanted to make money. By following through and doing the right thing, I've been able to overcome not having a degree. You can learn a lot from attorneys, accountants and bankers. Trust me, I have a degree, just not a conventional one."
   Combs appears to have emerged from his childhood unscathed.
   "I work hard," he explained. "I'm kind of an overachiever. I enjoy business and productivity. That's one of the keys to coming out unscathed. I always remembered as a kid there would be a day when I'd control my own life. When I was 18, I moved out."
   Asked whether her husband has any emotional scars from his past, Mary said: "There are some issues, but even family members say they don't know how he came out of it. He's upbeat and doesn't dwell on it. He got past it. All the others have mental health issues and depression. He doesn't."
* * *
   Combs reluctantly picked up tennis again at 32 when he and Mary, then a 3.0 player and now a 3.5, went to a clay-court tennis resort at Hilton Head Island, S.C., in 1992 for their 10th anniversary. Mary wanted Ben to start playing with her.        
   "I didn't want to go to Hilton Head," Ben admitted. "She made me go."
   When they returned home, Mary began going to clinics at the Johnson Ranch Racquet Club in Roseville.
   "She said, 'You've got to see assistant pro Cris Bacharach,' Ben recalled. "I said, 'I'm not going to play. I'm too busy.' She made me: 'We're going to go to a drop-in drill.' That was the first time anyone helped me with instruction."
   Combs took a weekly private lesson from Bacharach, now the head pro at Johnson Ranch, for 10 years.
   "He started out as a "C" player, a garden-variety guy," Bacharach said. "He worked at it, and now he's one of the better men in town."
   And Bacharach plays in Combs' league.
   "He has a really good attitude," Bacharach said. "He enjoys himself all the time out there no matter now serious it gets."
   Especially on the clay court.
    "He's so happy," Osborne said. "He has friends he never would have had, he plays (three or four times a week), and he has the best players in Sacramento in his back yard. Dmitry Tursunov and other pros have played there, and up-and-coming juniors play there, too. Ben's the happiest guy in town."    

Bay Area's Bellis falls in Junior Orange Bowl final

   Claire Liu of Thousand Oaks defeated Catherine Bellis of Atherton 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 Friday to win the girls 12 title at the Junior Orange Bowl in Coral Gables, Fla.
   Many of the top boys and girls 14 and 12 players in the world competed in the singles-only tournament. Here are the results of the other finals:
   Boys 14 -- Seongchan Hong (9), South Korea, def. Stefan Kozlov (4), Pembroke Pines, Fla., 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-4.
   Girls 14 -- Katerina Stewart (6), Miami, def. Tornado Ali Black (1), Boca Raton, Fla., 6-1, 6-3.  
   Boys 12 -- Artem Dubrivnyy (1), Russia, def. Albert Lim, Philippines, 7-6 (3), 6-1.
 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bellis reaches girls 12 final in Junior Orange Bowl

   Catherine Bellis of Atherton defeated Nicole Conard of Tyler, Texas, 7-5, 6-2 Thursday in the girls 12 semifinals at the Junior Orange Bowl in Coral Gables, Fla.
   Bellis will face Claire Liu, a Thousand Oaks resident who crushed Riley McQuaid of Tustin 6-0, 6-0, in Friday's final.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bay Area's Bellis gains Junior Orange Bowl semis

   Catherine Bellis of Atherton routed Sofya Zhuk of Russia 6-1, 6-0 Wednesday in the girls 12 quarterfinals at the Junior Orange Bowl in Coral Gables, Fla.
   Bellis, the only Northern Californian left in the prestigious tournament, will meet Nicole Conard of Tyler, Texas, in Thursday's semifinals. Conard defeated Andreea Rosca of Romania 6-4, 7-6 (4).
   Second-seeded Cameron Klinger of San Jose lost to seventh-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany 6-1, 6-4 in the boys 14 quarterfinals, and ninth-seeded Sam Riffice of Roseville fell to Noah Makarome, a resident of Wesley Chapel, Fla., also seeded ninth, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 in the boys 12 quarters.   

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

NorCal trio reach quarters in Junior Orange Bowl

   Second-seeded Cameron Klinger of San Jose outlasted Basil Khuma of India 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 in the boys 14s Tuesday to reach the quarterfinals of the Junior Orange Bowl in Coral Gables, Fla.
   Also advancing to the quarters were Sam Riffice of Roseville in the boys 12s and Catherine Bellis of Atherton in the girls 12s. Riffice, seeded ninth, ousted Nicolas Mejia of Colombia 6-3, 6-1, and the seeded Bellis dismissed Shweta Sangwan of India 6-3, 6-2.

NorCal players advance in Junior Orange Bowl

   Three Northern Californians reached the round of 16 Monday at the Junior Orange Bowl in Coral Gables, Fla.
   Second-seeded Cameron Klinger of San Jose had the toughest time, downing Karlo Lozic of Croatia 6-4, 6-4 in the boys 14s.
   Ninth-seeded Sam Riffice of Roseville pounded Andrew Fenty of Washington, D.C., 6-1, 6-1 in the boys 12s, and seed Catherine Bellis of Atherton crushed Meredith Jones of the Philippines 6-1, 6-0 in the girls 12s.
   New rankings -- Following are this week's world rankings of professional players with Northern California ties (change from last week in parentheses):
Men
   Bob Bryan, 1998 NCAA doubles champion from Stanford -- No. 1 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   Mike Bryan, 1998 NCAA doubles champion from Stanford -- No. 1 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   John Paul Fruttero, Cal All-American in 2001 and 2002 -- Career-high No. 117 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   Kiryl Harbatsiuk, three-time Big Sky Conference MVP (2009-11) at Sacramento State -- No. 763 in singles (-1), No. 1,246 in doubles (+1).
   Mark Knowles, Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis (2001-07, 2009-11) -- No. 58 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   Scott Lipsky, 2002 NCAA doubles runner-up from Stanford -- No. 29 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   David Martin, 2002 NCAA doubles runner-up from Stanford -- No. 105 in doubles (no change), No. 754 in singles (-1).
    Conor Niland, 2006 Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year and two-time All-American at Cal -- No. 286 in singles (no change), unranked in doubles.
   Sam Querrey, San Francisco native -- No. 93 in singles (no change), No. 38 in doubles (no change).
   Dmitry Tursunov, Folsom resident -- No. 40 in singles (no change), No. 237 in doubles (-1).
   Dusan Vemic, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 499 in doubles (-1), No. 1,511 in singles (+2).
   Jimmy Wang, Folsom resident -- No. 274 in singles (+1), No. 521 in doubles (+3).
 Women
   Vania King, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 6 in doubles (no change), No. 76 in singles (no change).
   Raquel Kops-Jones, 2003 NCAA doubles champion from Cal -- No. 37 in doubles (no change), No. 718 in singles (+2).
   Maria Sanchez, Modesto resident -- No. 268 in doubles (+1), No. 694 in singles (+1).
   Yasmin Schnack, Elk Grove resident, Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis (2011) -- No. 180 in doubles (-1), No. 409 in singles (+5). 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Levine routs Ginepri for Aussie Open berth

   Second-seeded Jesse Levine crushed fourth-seeded Robby Ginepri 6-0, 6-2, 6-1 Sunday in the final of the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoff in Norcross, Ga., to earn a berth in next month's Grand Slam tournament.
   Levine reached the final of the 2009 Sacramento Challenger, losing to Santiago Giraldo of Colombia, and Ginepri advanced to the semifinals of the 2008 SAP Open in San Jose.
   Levine, a 24-year-old native of Canada from Boca Raton, Fla., needed only 1 hour, 24 minutes to dispatch the 29-year-old Ginepri, who was playing near his home in Kennesaw, Ga.
   "I was just in the zone today," Levine, a left-hander listed at 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds, told usta.com. "I was just wondering after the first set if I could really stay with it. I wasn’t expecting to come out like that. I know Robby’s fit."
   Sixth-seeded Madison Keys also is headed to the Australian Open. The 16-year-old resident of Boca Raton beat fifth-seeded Gail Brodsky of Brooklyn, N.Y., 6-3, 6-4 in the women's final.
   Junior Orange Bowl -- Second-seeded Cameron Klinger (boys 14s) of San Jose, ninth-seeded Sam Riffice (boys 12s) of Roseville and seed Catherine Bellis (girls 12s) of Atherton breezed into the third round of the Junior Orange Bowl in Coral Gables, Fla.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Levine, Ginepri to meet for Aussie Open wild card

   Second-seeded Jesse Levine, the runner-up in the 2009 Sacramento Challenger, will meet fourth-seeded Robby Ginepri, a semifinalist in the 2008 SAP Open in San Jose, today for a berth in next month's Australian Open.
   Levine, a 24-year-old left-hander from Boca Raton, Fla., topped third-seeded Denis Kudla, 19, of Arlington, Va., 7-5, 6-2 Saturday in the semifinals of the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoff in Norcross, Ga.
   Ginepri, 29, of nearby Kennesaw, Ga., beat eighth-seeded Rhyne Williams of Knoxville, Tenn., by the same score. Williams, the runner-up to Steve Johnson in the NCAA Men's Singles Championships at Stanford in May, had defeated Ginepri, a semifinalist in the 2005 U.S. Open, 6-2, 6-4 in the first round of the Aptos Challenger in July.
   On Friday, Levine defeated Daniel Kosakowski, who won the Sacramento Futures in June, 6-2, 6-4.
   The top two women's seeds lost Saturday. No. 5 Gail Brodsky of Brooklyn, N.Y., edged No. 1 Coco Vandeweghe, a former Sacramento Capital living in Newport Beach, 6-3, 3-6, 9-7, and No. 6 Madison Keys, 16, of Boca Raton, outlasted No. 2 Alison Riske of McMurray, Pa., 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.
   Junior Orange Bowl -- Scoring straight-set victories in the first round of the Junior Orange Bowl in Coral Gables, Fla., were second-seeded Cameron Klinger (boys 14s) of San Jose, ninth-seeded Sam Riffice (boys 12s) of Roseville and top-seeded Catherine Bellis (girls 12s) of Atherton.
   But Keenan Mayo (boys 12s) of Roseville and Michaela Gordon (girls 12s) of Los Altos Hills fell in the opening round.
   Klinger and Bellis won singles titles in the USTA National Championships in August, and Klinger and Riffice captured doubles crowns. Gordon lost to Bellis in the singles final.
 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bryans break McEnroe record; new rankings released

   Bob and Mike Bryan achieved another milestone Monday.
   The former Stanford All-Americans are ranked No. 1 for the 271st week, breaking John McEnroe's record.
   "To achieve this record and surpass John McEnroe, who we've always looked up to, is awesome," Mike said on the ATP World Tour's Web site. "This ranks up with our record of most team titles (75). It shows we were consistent throughout our whole career and we didn't want to relinquish the top spot."
   Bob, whose first wedding anniversary is Tuesday, had a different perspective on the record than his 33-year-old twin, who's still single.
   "It is number two, right below getting married, and will soon be number three, after my wife gives birth to our daughter in January," he said.
   The Bryans, Southern California-born sons of longtime Sacramento Capitals coach Wayne Bryan, are tied with Australians Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde for the most Grand Slam men's doubles titles in the Open Era (11).
   Pete Sampras holds the mark for the most weeks at No. 1 in singles at 286. Roger Federer, ranked No. 3 behind Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, trails by one.
   New rankings -- Following are this week's world rankings of professional players with Northern California ties (change from last week in parentheses):
Men
   Bob Bryan, 1998 NCAA doubles champion from Stanford -- No. 1 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   Mike Bryan, 1998 NCAA doubles champion from Stanford -- No. 1 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   John Paul Fruttero, Cal All-American in 2001 and 2002 -- Career-high No. 117 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   Kiryl Harbatsiuk, three-time Big Sky Conference MVP (2009-11) at Sacramento State -- No. 763 in singles (-1), No. 1,246 in doubles (+1).
   Mark Knowles, Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis (2001-07, 2009-11) -- No. 58 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   Scott Lipsky, 2002 NCAA doubles runner-up from Stanford -- No. 29 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   David Martin, 2002 NCAA doubles runner-up from Stanford -- No. 105 in doubles (no change), No. 754 in singles (-1).
    Conor Niland, 2006 Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year and two-time All-American at Cal -- No. 286 in singles (no change), unranked in doubles.
   Sam Querrey, San Francisco native -- No. 93 in singles (no change), No. 38 in doubles (no change).
   Dmitry Tursunov, Folsom resident -- No. 40 in singles (no change), No. 237 in doubles
(-1).
   Dusan Vemic, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 499 in doubles (-1), No. 1,511 in singles (+2).
   Jimmy Wang, Folsom resident -- No. 274 in singles (+1), No. 521 in doubles (+3).
Women
   Vania King, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 6 in doubles (no change), No. 76 in singles (no change).
   Raquel Kops-Jones, 2003 NCAA doubles champion from Cal -- No. 37 in doubles (no change), No. 720 in singles (+1).
   Maria Sanchez, Modesto resident -- No. 269 in doubles (-3), No. 695 in singles (+1).
   Yasmin Schnack, Elk Grove resident, Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis (2011) -- Career-high No. 179 in doubles (no change), No. 414 in singles (no change). 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Capitals' sale leads to many happy returns

   Thursday's announcement of the Sacramento Capitals' sale to a group led by Ramey Osborne has something for everyone.
   Fans get their World TeamTennis franchise back for its 27th season and an owner who launched the team to a glorious 11-year run.
   Osborne, a tennis fanatic who owned the Capitals from 1988 through 1999, gets his team back.
   Matt McEvoy, the Capitals' 27-year-old general manager, keeps his job.
   And WTT not only is spared the embarrassment of losing its longest-running team and holder of a record six league titles, it gets an experienced, passionate owner who knows the market intimately.
   Previous owner Bob Cook, a local real estate developer, filed for personal bankruptcy in August with debts of $48 million. His financial woes stem largely from the development of Le Rivage, a struggling luxury hotel on the banks of the Sacramento River two miles south of downtown Sacramento.
   The Capitals' future was in doubt until Osborne came to the rescue.
   "I love tennis, and I've enjoyed it from the day (the Capitals) came, and so I want to keep it going," Osborne, the president of a real estate company in Gold River and member of the Sacramento Tennis Hall of Fame, told The Sacramento Bee. "It's been on my mind for quite a while, and when I realized or saw that there were some problems with the past ownership, I thought that somebody needed to step up, and so I did."
   Terms were not disclosed. The team will continue to play at a temporary facility, which now will be called Sunrise Marketplace Stadium, in the parking lot at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights.
   "Ramey played a major role in building the winning tradition and success of the Capitals both on and off the court," WTT CEO/Commissioner Ilana Kloss said in a statement. "We are fortunate to have him back leading their franchise along with general manager Matt McEvoy."
   Under Osborne's ownership, the Capitals won the first three of their four straight WTT titles (1997-2000). The initial crown was based on the team's regular-season record because the final was rained out in Orlando, Fla., and the next two came on the Capitals' home court.
   From 1997 through 2007, Sacramento compiled a record of 108-35 (.755) in the regular season and won all six of their WTT crowns.
   When Osborne -- whose wife, Jayna, also was active in the Capitals' operations -- sold the team to Lonnie Nielson in March 2000, the outgoing owner told The Bee: "What better time to get out than right now after the success we have had the last three years. Besides, I haven't had a summer vacation with my family in 13 years. This job really took over our lives.
   "And it wasn't as much fun as it used to be. Owners used to be able to go out and talk to players, recruit them for their teams and sign them. But now we have to deal with agents and the politics of the league, both of which make it harder to get players."
  But Osborne added: "It's going to be tough sitting back and watching. Just announcing this has made me happy one minute, sad the next."
  Since 2007, the Capitals have gone 30-30 in the regular season, including two of the three losing seasons (all at 6-8) in team history. Retirements and aging have been major reasons.
   Russian star Elena Likhovtseva quit at 33 at the end of 2008 after playing on four WTT championship teams in her nine seasons with the Capitals. Sam Warburg, a Sacramento native and key member of the Capitals' 2007 title team, retired at 26 in September 2009. Mark Knowles, a three-time WTT Male MVP for Sacramento and former world No. 1 in doubles, turned 40 last September but remains active.
   In addition to Cook's problems, Nielson pleaded guilty last year to grand theft related to his real estate business and is serving a seven-year prison sentence.
   After Nielson's plea and Cook's declaration of bankruptcy, WTT briefly revoked Sacramento's franchise.
   The Capitals went 8-6 in the regular season last year and returned to the playoffs for the first time in three years, losing to the St. Louis Aces 20-19 in the Western Conference final.
   This year's roster consisted of Knowles; Dusan Vemic, playing his sixth WTT season; Vania King, a two-time Grand Slam champion in women's doubles; and Yasmin Schnack, a WTT rookie who lives in the Sacramento area.
   The Capitals' roster for next season will be formed during the WTT draft in March.
   Orange Bowl -- All remaining players with Northern California ties were eliminated from the Orange Bowl, featuring many of the world's top juniors, Friday on clay in Plantation, Fla.
   In the girls 16 doubles final, the unseeded San Francisco Bay Area team of Hadley Berg (Greenbrae) and Mary Closs (Menlo Park) lost to fifth-seeded Charlotte Petrick and Erin Routliffe of Canada 6-3, 6-4.
   Also falling were:
   --Unseeded Krista Hardebeck, a Santa Ana resident who will enroll as a freshman at Stanford next fall, and Chalena Scholl of Pompano Beach, Fla., in the girls 18 doubles quarterfinals.
   --Sixth-seeded Connor Farren of Hillsborough and Marco Aurelio Nunez of Mexico in the boys 18 doubles quarters. Unseeded Markos Kalovelonis of Greece and Trey Stobel, a Bradenton, Fla., resident who is headed to Stanford, lost in a separate match in the same event.
    The Orange Bowl boys and girls 14s and 12s are scheduled for Dec. 17-23 Coral Gables, Fla.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Stanford-bound Hardebeck, Scholl beat top seeds

   Krista Hardebeck, a Stanford-bound resident of Santa Ana, and Chalena Scholl of Pompano Beach, Fla., upset top-seeded Ellen Allgurin of Sweden and Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 6-4, 6-4 Wednesday in the first round of girls 18 doubles at the prestigious Orange Bowl in Plantation, Fla.
   Hardebeck, the top female recruit in the nation, and Scholl are scheduled to meet Peggy Porter of Dallas and -- take a deep breath -- Clementina Eugenia Riobueno de Paola of Venezuela on Thursday. Porter and Riobueno de Paola advanced by a walkover from Katy Dunne of Great Britain and Deborah Kerfs of Belgium.
   Meanwhile, three players from the San Francisco Bay Area reached the girls 16 doubles semifinals.
   Unseeded Caroline Doyle of San Francisco and Kimberly Yee of Las Vegas, who stunned top-seeded Katie Boulter of Great Britain and Alexandra Morozova of Plantation in the first round, routed eighth-seeded Alexandra and Madison Bourguignon of Issaquah, Wash., 6-1, 6-2.
   Unseeded Hadley Berg of Greenbrae and Mary Closs of Menlo Park downed third-seeded Rasheeda McAdoo, a Palmetto Bay, Fla., resident and the daughter of basketball Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo,  and Johnnise Renaud of North Miami, Fla., 6-1, 7-6 (5).
   Doyle, the reigning Easter Bowl champion in girls 16 singles, also advanced to the third round of that event with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over -- what is it with these names? -- Tornado Ali Black of Boca Raton, Fla.
   Hillsborough's Connor Farren, the last remaining player in boys or girls 18 singles, lost to 16th-seeded Hassan Ndayishimye of Burundi 6-3, 6-3 in the second round.
   But Farren, Mackenzie McDonald of Piedmont and Stanford-bound Trey Strobel of Bradenton, Fla., moved into the second round of boys 18 doubles with separate partners.
   Farren is seeded sixth with Marco Aurelio Nunez of Mexico. McDonald is playing with Filip Peliwo of Canada, and Strobel is teaming with Markos Kalovelonis of Greece.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Czar's schedule includes trip to Australian Open

   Coming soon to NorCal Tennis Czar:
   This month
   1. A big feature story on the Sacramento Clay Court League, clay courts in general and league Commissioner Ben Combs.
   2. Serbs Dusan Vemic, a member of the Sacramento Capitals in World TeamTennis for the past two seasons, and Ilija Bozoljac, the runner-up in the Aptos Challenger in July, discuss countryman Novak Djokovic and their country's unlikely rise to power.
   3. The first annual Slammies: 2011 awards in Northern California tennis.
This month or early next year
   1. Why tennis is better than golf (unless I sell this puppy to a major publication or national Web site for big bucks).
   2. The fate of the Capitals following owner Bob Cook's declaration of bankruptcy.  
   3. Photos with stories. 
January
   1. Preview of the Stanford, Cal, Sacramento State, UC Davis and Pacific men and women.
   2. Tennis Down Under: Playing in Sydney and attending the Australian Open. 
February
   1. Milos Raonic of Canada defends his stunning title in the SAP Open in San Jose.
Meanwhile
   After the first round of the prestigious Orange Bowl on clay in Plantation, Fla., unseeded Connor Farren of Hillsborough is the only player with Northern California ties left in boys or girls 18 singles.
   Farren, who beat Vlad Victor Cornea of Romania 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 Monday, is scheduled to face 16th-seeded Hassan Ndayishimiye of Burundi on Wednesday. Ndayishimiye advanced with a 6-0, 6-4 victory Tuesday over John Harrison Richmond of Pawleys Island, S.C.
   (If tennis doesn't work out for Cornea, there's always ophthalmalogy.) 
   Trey Strobel, a Bradenton, Fla., resident headed to Stanford, and Piedmont's Mackenzie McDonald lost to seeds  Tuesday. Strobel fell to No. 5 Kyle Edmund of Great Britain 6-2, 7-5, and McDonald succumbed to No. 7 Patrick Ofner of Austria 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.
   Top seeds Dominic Thiem of Austria and Eugenie Bouchard of Canada won their first-round matches in straight sets Tuesday.
   Farren, Strobel, McDonald and Stanford-bound Krista Hardebeck, who lost to third-seeded Indy De Vroome of the Netherlands 7-5, 6-3 Monday, are scheduled to play their first-round doubles matches in the 18s Wednesday.
   (If tennis doesn't work out for De Vroome, there's always auto racing.)
   The unseeded team of Hadley Berg, from Greenbrae, and Mary Closs, from Menlo Park, are set for their second-round match in girls 16 doubles after advancing by walkover.
   Closs lost to eighth-seeded Anna Maria Heil of Austria 6-3, 6-2 Monday in the first round of 16 singles. Berg is playing doubles only.

Farren advances, Hardebeck ousted in Orange Bowl

   Connor Farren of Hillsborough defeated Vlad Victor Cornea of Romania 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 Monday in the first round of boys 18 singles at the prestigious Orange Bowl in Plantation, Fla.
   Farren will meet the winner of today's match between 16th-seeded Hassan Ndayishimiye of Burundi, a nation of 10 million people in south central Africa, and qualifier John Harrison Richmond of Pawleys Island, S.C.
   Krista Hardebeck, a wild card from Santa Ana who will be a freshman at Stanford next fall, lost to third-seeded Indy De Vroome, a 15-year-old Dutch player with the perfect name for a race car driver, 7-5, 6-3 in opening round of girls 18 singles.
   Mary Closs of Menlo Park fell to eighth-seeded Anna Maria Heil of Austria 6-3, 6-2 in the first round of girls 16 singles.
   Scheduled to play first-round singles matches today are top-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria, Mackenzie McDonald of Piedmont and Stanford-bound Trey Strobel of Bradenton, Fla., in boys 18 singles and No. 1 seed Eugenie Bouchard of Canada in girls 18 singles.
   Thiem, 18, reached the final of this year's French Open boys tournament and beat former world No. 1 Thomas Muster, 44, in the first round at Vienna on the ATP World Tour in October. Bouchard, 17, won the 2011 Wimbledon girls doubles title with Grace Min of Lawrenceville, Ga.
   The Orange Bowl, in its 65th year, is being played on clay for the first time since 1998. Former champions include Roger Federer, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jim Courier, Andy Roddick, Chris Evert, Gabriela Sabatini, Vera Zvonareva and Anna Kournikova.
   New rankings -- Following are this week's world rankings of professional players with Northern California ties (change from last week in parentheses):
Men
   Bob Bryan, 1998 NCAA doubles champion from Stanford -- No. 1 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   Mike Bryan, 1998 NCAA doubles champion from Stanford -- No. 1 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   John Paul Fruttero, Cal All-American in 2001 and 2002 -- Career-high No. 117 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   Kiryl Harbatsiuk, three-time Big Sky Conference MVP (2009-11) at Sacramento State -- No. 762 in singles (no change), No. 1,247 in doubles (+8).
   Mark Knowles, Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis (2001-07, 2009-11) -- No. 58 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   Scott Lipsky, 2002 NCAA doubles runner-up from Stanford -- No. 29 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
   David Martin, 2002 NCAA doubles runner-up from Stanford -- No. 105 in doubles (no change), No. 753 in singles (no change).
    Conor Niland, 2006 Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year and two-time All-American at Cal -- No. 286 in singles (+1), unranked in doubles.
   Sam Querrey, San Francisco native -- No. 93 in singles (no change), No. 38 in doubles (no change).
   Dmitry Tursunov, Folsom resident -- No. 40 in singles (no change), No. 236 in doubles
(+1).
   Dusan Vemic, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 498 in doubles (+3), No. 1,513 in singles (+1).
   Jimmy Wang, Folsom resident -- No. 275 in singles (-1), No. 524 in doubles (-1).
Women
   Vania King, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 6 in doubles (no change), No. 76 in singles (no change).
   Raquel Kops-Jones, 2003 NCAA doubles champion from Cal -- No. 37 in doubles (no change), No. 721 in singles (no change).
   Maria Sanchez, Modesto resident -- No. 266 in doubles (-1), No. 696 in singles (-2).
   Yasmin Schnack, Elk Grove resident, Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis (2011) -- Career-high No. 179 in doubles (no change), No. 414 in singles (-3).

Monday, December 5, 2011

Motevassel wins national 40s; amazing streak ends

   Oren Motevassel was determined that this year would be different.
   After losing to Jeff Tarango in three sets in last year's final, Motevassel beat him 6-4, 6-3 Sunday to win the men's singles title of the USTA National 40 Hard Court Championships in La Jolla.
   Tarango, a former Stanford All-American from Manhattan Beach, was seeded first and Motevassel of Sunnyvale second. Both are left-handed former touring professionals.
   "After last year, I was kind of upset," Motevassel admitted in a news release. "I had the match. I was up a set, and I was up a break. I just lost a little focus. I was playing too defensive from the back and allowed him to dictate. I played too tentative last year.
   "I was focused today. I had a good game plan, and it worked fine. I took the ball a little earlier. I put him on the defense more. Getting the ball more on the rise helped me a lot today."
   In father-son doubles, top seeds and eight-time defending champions Brian and Brett Joelson of Beaverton, Ore., lost to fourth-seeded Peter and Tanner Smith of Los Alamitos 6-7 (9), 7-6 (5), 7-5 in the semifinals.
   Brett Joelson played for the Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis last year. Peter Smith is the head coach of the USC men, who have won the last three NCAA team titles.
   In the father-son final, third-seeded Tom Rettenmaier of Fountain Valley and Travis Rettenmaier, a touring pro living in Las Vegas, outlasted the Smiths 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tarango to play Motevassel in national 40 final again

   For the second straight year, Jeff Tarango and Oren Motevassel will meet in the men's singles final of the USTA National 40 Hard Court Championships in La Jolla.
   The top-seeded Tarango, a former Stanford All-American from Manhattan Beach, advanced when his boss, fourth-seeded Peter Smith of Los Alamitos, retired at 6-2, 5-7 because of illness. Smith is the head coach of the USC men, and Tarango is a Trojans assistant.
    The second-seeded Motevassel, a Sunnyvale resident, defeated third-seeded Jeff Greenwald of Corte Madera 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.
   Tarango, who reached No. 42 in the world in singles in 1992 and No. 10 in doubles in 1999, beat Motevassel in three sets in last year's final.
   Second-seeded Jennifer Dawson, a Carlsbad resident and last year's runner-up in women's singles, took the title when unseeded Dina McBride of Woodland Hills retired at 3-3 in the first set with an Achilles tendon injury.
   Second-seeded Alissa Finerman of Santa Monica and Erika Smith of Oakland won the women's doubles title with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over top-seeded Gretchen Magers of San Diego and Ros Nideffer of Poway.
   Magers reached the singles quarterfinals at Wimbledon (1989), the U.S. Open (1982) and the French Open (1983). Nideffer, born Rosalyn Fairbank in South Africa, won the French Open women's doubles title in 1981 with Tanya Harford and in 1983 with Candy Reynolds.
   No. 3 seeds Brian Cory of Salinas and Rick Kepler of Aptos lost to second-seeded Neel Grover and Richard Leach, both of Laguna Beach, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 in the men's doubles semifinals.
   Second-seeded Kepler and Smith, meanwhile, lost to top-seeded Leach and Patricia Tarabini of Carlsbad 6-0, 6-0 in the mixed doubles final. Tarabini won the 1996 French Open mixed doubles title with fellow Argentine Javier Frana and a bronze medal in women's doubles with Paola Suarez in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
   No. 1 seeds Brian and Brett Joelson, residents of Beaverton, Ore., seeking their ninth consecutive father-son doubles title, won two matches to reach the semifinals. Brett played for the Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis in 2009.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Joelsons seek ninth straight father-son title

   Roger Federer hasn't done it. Rafael Nadal has a shot.
   Some of the greatest teams in sports history -- Casey's Stengel's New York Yankees, Chuck Noll's Pittsburgh Steelers, Red Auerbach's Boston Celtics, Toe Blake's Montreal Canadiens and John Wooden's UCLA Bruins -- couldn't pull it off, either.
   Winning nine consecutive titles in anything -- Parcheesi, Tiddlywinks, rock/paper/scissors -- is virtually impossible. Something is bound to go wrong in the interim. Skill declines. Interest wanes. Competitors get hurt. Rosters change. Luck runs out. Or, if you're an NFL player, you get busted.
   Brian and Brett Joelson, however, are on track for their ninth straight crown in father-son doubles at the USTA National Hard Court Championships in La Jolla.
   The top seeds coasted in two matches Friday to reach the round of 16. Brian, a 50-year-old stockbroker from Beaverton, Ore., and Brett, a 26-year-old assistant coach at Davidson College in North Carolina who played for the Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis last year, defeated James and Billy Rowe of Coronado 6-2, 6-1 and Scott and Jake Douglas of Rolling Hills by the same score.
   "I’ve got a good son," Brian said in a news release. "One thing about doubles: Always make sure you’ve got a good partner. We’ve played a lot together. Our games really mesh together well. We get a little lucky here and there. Brett is one of the best doubles players in the tournament. I just kind of hold my own.”
   Nadal, who can clinch Spain's third Davis Cup title in four years Sunday against visiting Argentina (live at 4 a.m. PST on Tennis Channel), has won the Monte Carlo Masters on clay for the past seven years.
   Joining the Joelsons in the round of 16 were ninth-seeded Douglas and Andrew Carlisle of Portola Valley and unseeded Michael Fischer and Michael Fischer Jr. of Fairfield.
   In today's women's 40 singles final, second-seeded Jennifer Dawson of Carlsbad will play unseeded Dina McBride of Woodland Hills. McBride knocked off top seed, defending champion and five-time winner Gretchen Magers of San Diego in the semifinals.
   In the men's 40 singles semifinals, top seed and defending champion Jeff Tarango of Manhattan Beach will face fourth-seeded Peter Smith of Los Alamitos, and second-seeded Oren Motevassel of Sunnyvale will meet third-seeded Jeff Greenwald of Corte Madera.
   Smith is the head coach of the USC men, and Tarango is an assistant coach for the Trojans and a former Stanford All-American.
   USC is on a streak of its own with three consecutive NCAA team championships. The Trojans still have a long way to go to catch the Joelsons, though.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tarango to face his boss in USTA 40 Hard Court semis

   Jeff Tarango might want to go easy on Peter Smith on Saturday.
   After all, Smith is Tarango's boss.
   The top-seeded Tarango, an assistant coach for the USC men, will meet the fourth-seeded Smith, the Trojans' head coach, in the semifinals of the USTA National Men's and Women's Hard Court Championships in La Jolla. USC has won the last three NCAA team titles.
   Tarango, a former Stanford All-American from Manhattan Beach who reached the top 50 in the world in singles, eliminated unseeded John Saviano of Los Altos Hills 6-4, 6-1 Thursday. Smith, from Los Alamitos, defeated ninth-seeded Andy Stewart of Huntington Beach 6-3, 6-3.
   Saturday's other semifinal features two players from the San Francisco Bay Area. Second-seeded Owen Motevassel of Sunnyvale will take on third-seeded Jeff Greenwald of Corte Madera.
   In the women's singles semifinals, unseeded Dina McBride of Woodland Hills stunned No. 1 seed Gretchen Magers of San Diego 6-4, 6-1, and second-seeded Jennifer Dawson of Carlsbad blitzed fourth-seeded Kim-Trang Nguyen of Santa Ana 6-0, 6-0. Magers, a five-time titlist and the defending champion, reached No. 13 in the world in the 1980s.
   Top-seeded Magers and Ros Nideffer of Poway, meanwhile, will face second-seeded Alissa Finerman of Santa Monica and Erika Smith of Oakland in the women's doubles final Saturday.
   Third-seeded Brian Cory of Salinas and Rick Kepler of Aptos advanced to the men's doubles semifinals, and second-seeded Kepler and Smith moved into the mixed doubles semis.