Friday, September 14, 2012

'Late bloomer' scores huge upset in Redding

Qualifier Katie Le, a junior at Santa Clara, stunned
second-seeded Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay
6-2, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals of the $25,000
USTA Oak River Rehab Challenger in Redding.
Photos by Paul Bauman
   REDDING, Calif. -- In an upset-filled tournament, Katie Le pulled off the biggest one Thursday.
   It seemed nothing could top qualifier Kristie Ahn's straight-set victory over top-seeded Florencia Molinero on Wednesday in the first round of the $25,000 USTA Oak River Rehab Challenger.
   But the 6-2, 6-4 triumph by Le, another qualifier, over second-seeded Veronica Cepede Royg in the second round at Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness was even more stunning.
   Both Ahn and Le (pronounced Lee) will begin their junior year at universities in the San Francisco Bay Area this month. But Ahn is a high-profile, albeit injury-prone, player from powerful Stanford who qualified for the U.S. Open in women's singles at 16 years old and has won professional tournaments.
   Le, on the other hand, was lightly recruited out of high school in the Bay Area suburb of Milpitas and settled for a full scholarship at obscure Santa Clara, a few miles down the road from Stanford. She needed a wild card to get into the qualifying event for the Oak River Rehab Challenger, her first pro tournament. As amateurs, Le and Ahn can accept only expense money. 
   "I would have loved to (go to Cal or Stanford), but I wasn't good enough," the 5-foot-6 Le conceded. "You could say I'm a late bloomer."
   Also falling Thursday were No. 4 Chieh-Yu Hsu of San Antonio and No. 6 Rebecca Marino, a Canadian formerly ranked in the top 40 in the world. Only one seed, No. 7 Nicola Geuer of Germany, reached today's quarterfinals. But three qualifiers -- Le, Ahn and 2010 NCAA singles champion Chelsea Gullickson -- remain alive.
Qualifier Chelsey Gullickson, the daughter
of former major-league pitcher Bill Gullickson,
defeated fourth-seeded Chieh-Yu Hsu 6-4, 6-3.
   Last season, Le became the first player in Santa Clara history to earn a berth in the NCAA Division I Singles Championships, losing in the first round, and the second Bronco woman to be named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year in tennis.
   "I've improved a lot in college, maybe because of all the training and match play I got," said Le, who also was named to the WCC All-Academic team with a 3.81 grade-point average in computer engineering.
   Le now owns a victory over a top-200 player. Cepede Royg, a 20-year-old Paraguayan, is No. 188.
   Le was much fresher for the match, despite having played three matches to Cepede Royg's one in the tournament. Le lost only two games in two qualifying matches and dispatched Vojislava Lukic of Serbia 6-4, 6-3 Wednesday in the first round. 
   Cepede Royg, meanwhile, survived a draining 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (2) victory over Cal freshman Klara Fabikova of the Czech Republic on Wednesday. The match, played in 95-degree heat, lasted 3 hours, 7 minutes, but Royg said that wasn't a factor against Le.
   "I played some games OK and some not," said Cepede Royg, whose English is limited.
   The Fabikova match might have taken a mental, if not physical, toll on Cepede Royg.
   "She lost focus on some points, and I was able to take advantage," Le said. "She was still playing really well. She hit a lot of deep balls."
   Cepede Royg, only 5-foot-4, has a blistering forehand, but Le ran down a surprising number of shots.
   "On the first ball (back), she'll make it, but not the third or fourth," Le said.     
Unseeded Sachie Ishizu of Japan beat sixth-seeded Rebecca Marino,
a former top-40 player returning from a 6 1/2-month sabbatical, 6-2, 6-2.
   Gullickson, 5-foot-11, overpowered Hsu, a slightly built left-hander, 6-4, 6-3.
   "These courts fit my game well," said Gullickson, who completed her eligibility at Georgia in May. "They're fast. She hits with more spin, and the courts don't suit her game well.
   "She was getting to most of my balls. It couldn't have gone either way if a few points were changed."
   Gullickson's father, Bill, went 162-136 as a major-league pitcher for 14 years, and her older sister, Carly, won the 2009 U.S. Open mixed doubles title with Travis Parrott.
   "Carly gives me tips on how to handle pressure and how to play these girls," Chelsea said. "My dad didn't play tennis, but he helps me after the tough times he had. It's a good support system."
   Sachie Ishizu of Japan used her pinpoint groundstrokes to defeat the 6-foot Marino 6-2, 6-2.
   "She seemed to be teeing off on everything and not missing anything," said Marino, who was playing in her first tournament after taking 6 1/2 months off because of fatigue and personal matters. "It was hard to get into the rhythm of the match."
   Marino, who reached a career-high No. 38 in the world last year, played her second consecutive Japanese opponent.
   "It definitely wasn't my best match," said Marino, who beat Miki Miyamura 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 Wednesday in the first round. "I think I was a bit tired from yesterday. For sure, I'll improve over the next few weeks."

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