Monday, January 30, 2012

New Zealand offers a world of variety

   AUCKLAND, New Zealand – Don’t have the time or money to travel around the world?
   Just come to New Zealand, an outdoor paradise that’s essentially the world’s biggest national park.
   In the past few days, I’ve crossed the alps (Switzerland), hiked in a rainforest (Brazil) and on a glacier (the Arctic), gazed at granite cliffs lining a valley (Yosemite National Park in California), marveled at waterfalls (Niagara Falls and Hawaii) and cruised on a fjord (Norway).
   New Zealand, an extension for part of our tour group after Australia, is most comparable to California. They are remarkably similar in size, shape and geographical diversity.
   Both are long and narrow with majestic mountains, fertile valleys and stunning ocean coasts. There are at least three major differences:
   --New Zealand consists of three main islands.
   --Mountains, rather than a valley, run down the middle of New Zealand.
   --New Zealand’s population of 4.4 million is about one-eighth of California’s.
   While driving for about 20 hours on the sparsely populated South Island over three days, I saw about three cars and a million sheep and lambs. For much of that time, I couldn’t go 100 yards without crossing a one-lane bridge over a crystal-clear river. Other than in a few cities, I’m not convinced that anyone actually lives in New Zealand.
   I saw virtually no “BLT” on the South Island – and I’m not talking about sandwiches. I mean billboards, litter and traffic. What’s not to like? All I saw was beautiful scenery. No wonder “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was filmed in New Zealand.
   The downside -- according to Ben, the guide on our glacier hike -- is one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world because of a thin ozone layer.
   New Zealand fiercely protects its otherwise pristine environment.
   “You can bring a bomb into the country, but if you bring in a rotten banana, watch out,” Ben joked.
   The fine for littering in a national park is $10,000, Ben said. Killing an endangered kea bird – a symbol of New Zealand, along with the omnipresent fern – is punishable by a $50,000 fine and six months in jail, he added.
   The kea, Ben said, is the world’s only Alpine parrot and the smartest. Although the kea doesn’t talk, it reputedly has the intelligence of a 4- or 5-year-old child. It can solve simple puzzles, such as putting different-shaped objects into corresponding holes.
   Saturday (Friday in the United States) – A few days after baking in the Melbourne, Australia, sun, three other members of our tour group and I went on a half-day hike on the Franz Josef Glacier on the western coast of the South Island.
   The Franz Josef Glacier and nearby Fox Glacier are unique because they descend to only 980 feet above sea level in a temperate rainforest. The area gets 260 to 280 days of precipitation a year and holds the world record of 2.4 meters (about 8 feet) of rain in 24 hours, Ben said.
   First, we were outfitted in rain pants, a raincoat, rubber boots, a ski cap, gloves and a fanny pack  with crampons inside. That’s CRAM-pons, metal contraptions with spikes that attach to the soles of the boots for walking on ice.  
   We were asked several times if we had any physical problems – including anterior cruciate ligament damage, to which I pleaded guilty – and I quickly discovered why.
   I had thought that glaciers (which Ben quaintly pronounced glay-see-ers) were flat sheets of white ice. Not so – at least not this one. It was labyrinthian with steep climbs and descents, crevices, caves, arches and holes.
   Steps had been carved in the ice and ropes attached to the side in the steepest areas. Periodically, Ben further cleared the path with his pickaxe. It was a good idea to keep your distance from him, unless you wanted to end up looking like Quasimodo.
   For much of the hike, it was – surprise – drizzling. When we reached the ice, we attached our crampons and split into two groups of 13 with one guide each. My group consisted of nine Europeans (from Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany), two Australians and two Americans.
   Much of the ice was dirty from falling rocks. Other parts were tinted blue. Ben explained the reason, which had something to do with short wave lengths. We didn’t see any chunks of ice fall, but when one does, it can sound like an explosion.
   I enjoyed the hike and, though I felt the steep areas in my right ACL, I managed fine. One Israeli women, though, recently “cried for two hours,” Ben said. “She had never seen snow or ice and freaked out when she put the crampons on. At the end, she said, ‘That was great.’ ”
   So now I have some mountaineering experience. I think I’ll hold off on climbing Mount Everest for a while, though.
   The four of us then drove five hours south to Queenstown, a resort town nestled in the – I’m not making this up – Remarkable Mountains on 52-mile-long Lake Wakatipu.
   Along the way, we made a stop for gas that almost caused cardiac arrest. The price meter moved at blinding speed, taking about three nanoseconds to reach 20 New Zealand dollars ($16.40 U.S.). When the pump mercifully stopped, my dazed friend staggered to the cashier to fork over 105 New Zealand dollars ($86 U.S.) for three-quarters of a tank in our rented Toyota Previa van.
   Sunday – I rode nine hours round-trip from Queenstown to take a 1-hour, 40-minute cruise on Milford Sound, but it was worth it.
   Milford Sound is the heart of 3 million-acre Fiordland National Park, more than double the size of the next-largest national park in New Zealand. Fiordland was designated a World Heritage Area in 1986 because of “its superlative natural features, its exceptional beauty and its role in demonstrating the earth’s evolutionary history,” according to a brochure by the tour group Real Journeys.
   Tree-covered mountains, most notably 1,692-meter (5,551-foot) Mitre Peak, rise straight out of the water in Milford Sound. It was named by a captain, John Grono, after his birthplace, Milford Haven in Wales.
   On our way back to the dock, the captain of our boat drove within a few feet of 146-meter (479-foot) Stirling Falls, soaking us on the deck.
   Monday – In the morning, we flew 90 minutes from Queenstown to Auckland on the North Island. Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand with 1.3 million people, has 31 percent of the country’s residents and the largest Polynesian population in the world. The Economist magazine ranks Auckland 10th on its list of the world’s most livable cities. Melbourne is No. 1 and Sydney, our first stop on this trip, No. 6.
   After checking into the Sky City Grand Hotel and having lunch on the pier, we rode up the Sky Tower, the tallest structure in New Zealand at 1,076 feet, for a breathtaking view of Auckland. The Sky Tower took two years and nine months to build at a cost of $85 million and opened in 1997. It can withstand an 8.0 earthquake.
   For a mere 220 New Zealand dollars ($180 U.S.), brave souls or lunatics – depending on your point of view – can jump 630 feet off the tower while connected to a wire. Call me a wimp, but you couldn’t pay me $180 to do it.
   On the last night of our two-week trip to Australia and New Zealand, we enjoyed a gourmet dinner on the pier. Before we leave, though, here’s a crash course on English in this part of the world:
    Motorway = freeway. Give way = yield. Car park = parking lot. Rubbish = garbage. Takeaway (restaurant) = take out. Mash = mashed potatoes. Chips = French fries.
   My favorite, though, is that "sultanas" means "raisins." I keep thinking of mini-Aladdins floating in my cereal.
    Australian Open – In an epic match, Novak Djokovic edged Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in Melbourne for his third straight Grand Slam title and fourth of the last five. At 5 hours, 53 minutes, it was the longest Grand Slam men’s singles final in history.
    Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka, playing in her first Grand Slam singles final, crushed three-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-0 for the women’s title. Azarenka, who replaced Caroline Wozniacki at No. 1, won the last nine games.
   Azarenka also beat Sharapova for the title in the 2010 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford and was taught as a junior by current Sacramento State men’s coach Slava Konikov.
   Unseeded Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek upset top-ranked Bob and Mike Bryan 7-6 (1), 6-2 for the men’s doubles title. Bob’s wife, Michelle, was due to give birth to the couple’s first child the following day.
   Paes completed a career Grand Slam in men’s doubles, and Stepanek, who won the singles and doubles crowns in the 2009 SAP Open in San Jose, captured his first Grand Slam title.
   The Bryans were denied their fourth consecutive Australian Open title and  sixth overall. They remain tied with International Tennis Hall of Famers Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde of Australia at 11 Grand Slam men’s doubles championships, the Open Era record

Friday, January 27, 2012

Crossing the alps, but not in Switzerland

   FRANZ JOSEF, New Zealand – We crossed the alps Friday.
   Not the Swiss Alps. The Southern Alps of New Zealand.
   Yes, it snows here. Even though it’s summer, the mountain peaks are covered with the stuff.
   New Zealand is 990 miles long and a maximum of 250 miles wide. It consists of the large South Island, where we are, a smaller North Island and many small islands. The highest peak is Mt. Cook at 12,316 feet. The Southern Alps divide the length of the South Island.
   Three other tour members and I drove from Christchurch on the eastern coast to Franz Josef on the western coast. The Franz Josef Glacier was named after Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria by German explorer Julius von Haast in 1865.
   We left Christchurch in our rented Toyota Previa van at 10:30 a.m., crossed Arthur’s Pass and arrived in Franz Josef at 6:30 p.m. In between, we stopped for two hours for hiking and lunch.
   Arthur’s Pass, the highest in New Zealand at 2,425 feet, was named after Sir Arthur Dudley Dobson, who in 1864 was assigned to find the best way to cross the alps.
   The eastern side of Arthur’s Pass National Park is characterized by wide, rock-filled river beds and vast beech forests. The western side, where wet weather is more common, has deeply gorged rivers flowing through dense rainforest.
   After checking in at the luxurious, rustic Westwood Lodge, we stuffed ourselves at the Alice May Bar & Restaurant, returned to the hotel and went to bed.
   It has been a long but enjoyable day, and Saturday promises to be even better. Stay tuned.  
   Australian Open – Mackenzie McDonald and Krista Hardebeck, both unseeded, lost in the junior singles semifinals at the Australian Open in Melbourne.
   McDonald, from Piedmont (near Oakland), fell to unseeded Filip Peliwo of Canada 6-4, 6-4, and the Stanford-bound Hardebeck, from Santa Ana in the Los Angeles area, succumbed to 14th-seeded Taylor Townsend of Stockbridge, Ga., 7-6 (3), 6-4.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I almost wound up in Dubai

   CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand – After the fastest nine days in history, our tour group split up Thursday morning in Melbourne, Australia.
   Some went on extensions to the Great Barrier Reef, New Zealand or islands off the coast of Australia; some flew back to California; and one couple stayed in Melbourne for the rest of the Australian Open.
   Our trip from Melbourne to Christchurch was an adventure. First, we spent an hour in the check-in line for Qantas instead of Jetstar at the Melbourne airport. We were on Jetstar flight 159, which is also Qantas 201. Fortunately, we still had plenty of time before departure.
   Unbeknownst to me, Jetstar then changed our gate from 5 to 8. It probably was not a good sign that an Emirates jet was parked at gate 5. Finally, a fellow group member set me straight. Otherwise, I  might have ended up in Dubai.
   Jetstar is a discount, Australia-based subsidiary of Qantas similar to jetBlue in the United States. I got stuck in an aisle seat, which I hate, and couldn't switch because the flight was full. While others gazed out their window at Rod Laver Arena and Melbourne, I had a wonderful view to my right of a guy's ear. To my left, flight attendants kept bumping me while they barged up and down the aisle.
   Wait, it gets better. In the middle of our three-hour flight, the flight attendant came by with the food and beverage cart. I requested a lemonade and received a can of Sprite. That was surprise No. 1. Then the attendant said, “Three dollars, please.”
   That was surprise No. 2. All I had was U.S. dollars, and the attendant said Jetstar accepted only Australian or New Zealand dollars.
   Suddenly, in yet another friendly gesture by an Australian, an older man across the aisle enthusiastically told the attendant, “I’ll pay,” fished $2 and $1 coins out of his pocket and gave them to her. That was surprise No. 3.
   Whether it’s paying for a stranger, volunteering to give directions to clueless foreigners like myself or soliciting money on flights for poor children around the world, Australians seem eager to help.
   They also like cricket – along with rugby, Australian rules football, soccer and tennis. Twice during the flight, the pilot breathlessly gave us an update on the cricket match between host Australia and India. I don’t understand cricket scoring – or anything else about the sport – but I gathered from the groan by my benefactor across the aisle that the Aussies were not doing well.
   After we landed in Christchurch, I actually got a luggage cart that worked. That was surprise No. 4. When we arrived in Sydney 10 days ago, the wheels stuck on mine, as usual. The cart must have been imported from my supermarket in Sacramento.
   Sydney and Melbourne are 19 hours ahead of California. As if that’s not enough, New Zealand is 21 hours ahead. In fact, I think it’s February here. Maybe March. It’s also chilly, a relief after hot and humid Melbourne.
    New Zealand has a population of 4.5 million, about equal to Melbourne's. Christchurch is on the eastern coast of the larger South Island. Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city with a population of 1.3 million, is on the North Island.
   My group of four is on its own here, although our tour guides in Australia gave us a detailed itinerary and driving directions for our five-day stay. We went to the Hertz counter and – after some confusion about our reservation, a one-hour delay to clean our Toyota Previa van and a check to make sure our life insurance policies were paid – we bravely set off. In Australia and New Zealand, the steering wheel is on the right side of the vehicle, and motorists drive on the left side of the road.
   With one passenger navigating, we somehow avoided any head-on collisions on our way to the Peppers Clearwater Resort. However, we kept using the wiper blades – which would have been fine, except that it wasn’t raining – instead of the turn signal.
   After checking in, we continued on to Pescatore, a finalist for the 2011 Restaurant of the Year in New Zealand, for an exquisite, five-course dinner. I didn’t realize that Pierce Brosnan moonlighted as a waiter. At least it appeared that way.
   Peppers, picturesquely located on a golf course and pond, is another immaculate, well-equipped hotel. But instead of being welcomed with a bottle of wine or bag of goodies on the desk, we were greeted by two rather disconcerting warnings on laminated sheets.
   One was procedures to follow in case of an earthquake, a common occurrence in New Zealand. Last February, a 6.3 temblor struck near Christchurch, the nation’s third-largest metropolitan area with a population 380,000, killing 181 people.
   The other concerned mayflies, “acquatic insects that frequent lakeside areas in the summer months. … No sooner are they cleared away than they quickly return in droves and are especially attracted to light.”
   I swatted a few last night. Otherwise, they weren’t a problem. Besides, we stayed at Peppers for only one night.
   Australian Open --  Top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan moved one step away from a record sixth Australian Open men's doubles title and fourth in a row. 
  The former NCAA champions from Stanford edged seventh-seeded Robert Lindstedt of Sweden and Horia Tecau of Romania 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), saving one match point in the third set.
   With a victory over unseeded Leander Paes of India and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic, the Bryans also can break the record of 11 Grand Slam men's doubles titles they share with International Tennis Hall of Famers Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde of Australia.
   Meanwhile, Stanford-bound Krista Hardebeck of Santa Ana in the Los Angeles area and Mackenzie McDonald of Piedmont, near Oakland, reached the girls and boys singles semifinals, respectively. Both players are unseeded.
   Hardebeck upset top-seeded Irina Khromacheva of Russia 6-3, 6-3, and McDonald ousted unseeded Robin Stanek of the Czech Republic 0-6, 6-4, 6-2.    

Tour group bids fond farewell to Melbourne

   CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand -- This was a difficult time for our tour group to leave Melbourne, Australia.
   Four blockbuster semifinals were set in the Australian Open, and Thursday (Wednesday in the United States) was Australia Day. Oh, well. I'll just have to suffer sightseeing in beautiful New Zealand for five days.
   On the men's side in the Australian Open, second-seeded Rafael Nadal upended No. 3 Roger Federer 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-4 Thursday night (early Thursday morning California time), and No. 1 Novak Djokovic will meet No. 4 Andy Murray on Friday night in a rematch of last year's final, won by Djokovic in straight sets.
   In the women's draw, No. 4 Maria Sharapova edged No. 2 Petra Kvitova 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in a matchup of Wimbledon champions (Kvitova last year and Sharapova in 2004), and No. 3 Victoria Azarenka outlasted No. 11 Kim Clijsters, the defending champion who battled injuries last year, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.
   The 22-year-old Azarenka, taught as a child in Belarus by Sacramento State men's coach Slava Konikov, reached her first Grand Slam final. The 28-year-old Clijsters, who has won the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford four times, played in her last Australian Open.
   Australia Day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships at Sydney Cove in 1788. The state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, published a 22-page booklet listing Australia Day events.
   On our last day at the Australian Open on Wednesday, I watched three quarterfinal matches at Rod Laver Arena in mercifully cooler weather. My seat during the tournament always has been in the shade in one corner of the court -- for which I'll be eternally grateful -- but other group members have not been as fortunate. One reported that sitting in the sun in the intimate, 14,820-seat facility, which has a retractable roof, can be unbearable because of a lack of circulation. And that's just watching the matches -- never mind playing in them.
   In all three matches Wednesday, the bigger, physically stronger player won.
   Kvitova, a 6-foot left-hander from the Czech Republic, made some ghastly errors, prompting shrieks of despair, against Sara Errani, a gritty 5-4 Italian. But Kvitova prevailed 6-4, 6-4, winning the last five games, to gain her first Australian Open semifinal.
   Similarly, the 6-2 Sharapova overpowered fellow Russian Ekatarina Makarova, a skinny, 5-11 left-hander, 6-2, 6-3. Sharapova, who has won every Grand Slam except the French Open on clay, displayed a devastating serve and forehand but an erratic two-handed backhand against Makarova, who had stunned five-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams in the previous round.
   The last match of the day session at Rod Laver Arena featured two players, Murray and Kei Nishikori, with ties to the San Francisco Bay Area. Brad Gilbert of San Rafael coaches Nishikori and formerly tutored Murray, who won the SAP Open in San Jose in 2006 at 18 years old and in 2007.
   Murray, a 6-3 Scotsman, frustrated the 5-10 Nishikori, the first Japanese man in 80 years to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal, with his power and incredible shotmaking in a 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 drubbing.
   In the first game of the third set, Nishikori ripped a deep return of serve for an apparent winner. But Murray, using his tremendous athleticism and reflexes, lunged and slapped a half-volley forehand cross-court passing shot. Shortly thereafter, it was sayonara, Nishikori.
   It was time for our group to leave the Australian Open, too. I took the 30-minute walk along the Yarra River back to our hotel to shower and change for our farewell dinner.
   Walking around Melbourne and Sydney is, shall we say, revealing. If some women's dresses and skirts get any tighter or shorter, their necklines any lower or their heels any higher, somebody is going to have to call the vice squad. Not that I'm complaining ...
   Other Australian Open matches -- Second-seeded Daniel Nestor of Canada and Max Mirnyi of Belarus, and unseeded Leander Paes of India and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic advanced to the men's doubles semifinals.
   Mirnyi, who formerly worked with Konikov, and Nestor, the World TeamTennis Male Rookie of the Year in 2003 for the Sacramento Capitals, defeated No. 12 Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico and Christopher Kas of Germany 6-1, 6-7 (4), 6-2.
   Paes and Stepanek beat No. 10 Eric Butorac of Rochester, Minn., and Bruno Soares of Brazil 6-4, 7-6 (2). Stepanek won the singles and doubles titles in the 2009 SAP Open. Butorac captured the 2007 doubles crown in San Jose and played for the Capitals in 2008. 
   In the juniors, Mackenzie McDonald of Piedmont (near Oakland) and Stanford-bound Krista Hardebeck of Santa Ana breezed past seeds in the third round of boys and girls singles, respectively.
   McDonald knocked off No. 6 Andrew Harris of Australia 6-2, 6-3, and Hardebeck drilled No. 8 Anna Schmiedlova of Slovakia 6-1, 6-2.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Decisions, decisions

   MELBOURNE, Australia -- I was torn for months.
   Do I attend the Australian Open for an extra day on our group tour, or do I go to a nature reserve and winery outside of Melbourne?
   Tennis fanatic that I am, I chose the Australian Open. I got my first look at Kim Clijsters and witnessed another virtuoso performance by Roger Federer on Tuesday (Monday in the United States) at Rod Laver Arena. So I have no regrets.
   Clijsters, the defending champion seeded 11th following an injury-plagued year, eliminated top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the quarterfinals. Wozniacki, who's constantly reminded that she has never won a Grand Slam title, will fall to at least No. 3 next week. She will be replaced at the top by either Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova.
   The crowd was heavily pro-Clijsters, especially with all Australians having been knocked out of the tournament. The 28-year-old Belgian -- who has one child with her husband, former professional basketball player Brian Lynch of the United States -- long has been a local favorite because of her pleasant personality and former relationship with Aussie star Lleyton Hewitt. Additionally, Clijsters has said this will be her last Australian Open.
   Clijsters, who has won the Bank of the West Classic four times (2001, 2003, 2005 and 2006), showed no signs of a twisted ankle suffered in her fourth-round match against Li Na. Clijsters saved four match points in her 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory in a rematch of last year's Australian Open final.
   Clijsters, a great athlete with textbook groundstrokes, squandered a 5-2 lead in the second set before closing out the match. She will face Azarenka, the 2010 Bank of the West champion, in one semifinal. The other will be determined today. On tap are the second-seeded Kvitova of the Czech Republic against unseeded Italian Sara Errani, and the fourth-seeded Sharapova against fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova, who ousted Serena Williams in the fourth round.
   Federer, seeded third, dispatched Juan Martin Del Potro, seeded 11th, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals in one hour, 59 minutes. It was their first Grand Slam meeting since Del Potro's stunning five-set victory in the 2009 U.S. Open final. Federer had demolished Del Potro 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 in the Australian Open quarterfinals that year.
   Federer, a 30-year-old Swiss, has won a record 16 Grand Slam singles titles. What makes him great are his superhuman quickness, footwork and hand-eye coordination. Andre Agassi once paid him the ultimate compliment when he said, "This is a game with which I am not familiar."
   Del Potro, 23, of Argentina, underwent surgery on his right (playing) wrist in May 2010 and missed eight months. He was named the ATP World Tour's Comeback Player of the Year in 2011 after skyrocketing from No. 485 to No. 11.
   Players in the Australian Open must be in phenomenal shape. They run each other from side to side with pinpoint groundstrokes in brutal heat and humidity. It appears they will get a break today, though. It's overcast with a high of 78 degrees forecast.
   Melbourne Park, the site of the tournament, is picturesque with the city skyline in the background and very fan friendly. Security workers give bags and backpacks only a cursory look at the entrance. There are plenty of signs, scoreboards, TV screens, drinking fountains and grassy areas (some even with coveted shade), and the staff is cheerful and helpful. The Australian Open is not called the "Happy Slam" for nothing.
   In the evening, we played tennis and enjoyed a barbecue at Albert Reserve. Players in the Australian Open practice there because it has the same Plexicushion surface, similar to a fast hardcourt. Even at 10 p.m., it was hot and humid.
   Other matches -- Top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan stayed on course for their fourth consecutive Australian Open men's doubles title and sixth overall. The former NCAA doubles champions from Stanford outlasted sixth-seeded Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski of Poland 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-4 in a quarterfinal that ended after 2 a.m. Melbourne time.
   Thirteenth-seeded Scott Lipsky, a former Stanford All-American, and Rajeev Ram, a former Sacramento Challenger runner-up in singles and doubles, lost to seventh-seeded Robert Lindstedt of Sweden and Horia Tecau of Romania 6-4, 6-4. Lipsky and Ram won last year's SAP Open in San Jose.
   In the women's doubles quarterfinals, third-seeded Vania King of the Sacramento Capitals in World TeamTennis and Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan fell to seventh-seeded Andrea Hlvackova and Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic 7-5, 6-2.
   In the juniors, Mackenzie McDonald of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Stanford-bound Krista Hardebeck coasted to second-round singles victories.
   But Hardebeck, from Santa Ana, and Catherine Harrison of Memphis, Tenn., lost to top-seeded Irina Kromacheva of Russia and Danka Kovinic of Montenegro 2-6, 6-0, 10-4 match tiebreak in the second round.
   Third-seeded Connor Farren of Hillsborough in the San Francisco area and Frederico Ferreira Silva of Portugal fell to Alexandre Favrot and Quentin Halys of France 6-4, 6-4.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tour group's football luck runs out in Melbourne

   MELBOURNE, Australia -- The football gods giveth, and the football gods taketh away.
   Our tour group, many of whom are 49ers fans from Northern California, was blessed with two incredible strokes of luck Monday (Sunday in the United States).
   First, it happened to be our day in the "superbox" at Rod Laver Arena, and -- lo and behold -- the NFC Championship Game was available on the TV in the suite. We arrived by water taxi on the Yarra River at 10 a.m., the game started at 10:30 a.m., and the first match began at 11 a.m. (Melbourne is 19 hours ahead of California). So far, so good.
   I must admit that I was more focused on the 49ers-New York Giants game than No. 2 seed Petra Kvitova's  6-2, 7-6 (2) victory over No. 21 Ana Ivanovic in one hour, 25 minutes. In the next match, before I knew it, No. 4 Andy Murray had bolted to a 6-1, 6-1, 1-0 lead over Mikhail Kukushkin.
   Amazingly, with five minutes left in regulation in the 49ers game, Kukushkin retired with a hip injury. That led to a 30-minute delay before the next match, so now we could devote our full attention to football. Thank you, Mikhail. You will forever be one of my favorite players.
   Then the 49ers' Kyle Williams had to ruin everything by fumbling a punt return in overtime, leading to the Giants' game-winning field goal. After Stanford lost a heartbreaker to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2, this was almost too much to bear.
   Just after Williams' fumble, his second gaffe of the day, the match between five-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams, seeded 12th, and Ekaterina Makarova began at 2:28 p.m. Melbourne time. Williams, plagued by an ankle injury, committed seven double faults (including four at 2-2 in the second set) and 37 unforced errors in a stunning 6-2, 6-3 loss to the 23-year-old Russian left-hander, ranked 56th.
   During the afternoon, tennis commentators and former touring pros Patrick McEnroe and Justin Gimelstob visited our suite. McEnroe played for Dick Gould at Stanford, and Gimelstob played for UCLA against Gould's teams. Gould, now Stanford's director of tennis, and his wife, Anne, a former Cardinal women's tennis coach, are helping lead our tour group.
   McEnroe, also the general manager of USTA player development and a former United States Davis Cup captain (coach), popped in for only a few minutes to shake some hands before returning to his ESPN duties. The New Yorker said he's a Jets fan but was rooting for the Giants.
   Gimelstob, who works for Tennis Channel, had time to field questions from Gould and talk some tennis. Here are some highlights from the enthusiastic, outspoken New Jersey native:
   --On how he got into broadcasting: "As you know, I was talking even when I was playing. ... I had access (to players), and the desire to work and learn."
   --On why he went to UCLA: "I was out for myself. Stanford is team-oriented. Also, my coach was in Palos Verdes."
   --On his engagement: "She's a psychologist, which meshes well with my flaws."
   --On Murray and his new coach, International Tennis Hall of Famer Ivan Lendl: "Tennis has strange dynamics. The coach needs the job more than the player needs the coach. Murray has such a high tennis IQ that he runs his team. That's what's hurt him. He has unbelievable physical skills. Lendl will help in terms of accountability."
   --On Lendl's reputation for having a good sense of humor: "He has the worst sense of humor I've ever seen. I saw him in the gym, and he said, "Weird seeing you here." I said, "Really? I'm here every day. I'm five pounds under my playing weight, and you're 30 pounds overweight."    
   --On Kukushkin: "He's an interesting story. He's coached by his wife ('Isn't everyone?' a few wise guys cracked). It's working -- he's in the round of 16. He has a very pretty backhand. He's a good player."
   --On Gould: "He'd say, 'It's such an honor to compete against you.' Meanwhile, he's got 42 All-Americans, and our guys are throwing up in the bathroom.' "
   Other matches -- Three other players coached by Dick Gould, Bob and Mike Bryan and Scott Lipsky, are scheduled to play today in the men's doubles quarterfinals. The top-seeded Bryans face sixth-seeded Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski, and 13th-seeded Lipsky and Rajeev Ram meet seventh-seeded Robert Lindstedt and Horia Tecau.
   Lipsky, the reigning French Open mixed doubles champion with Casey Dellacqua of Australia, lost Monday in the second round with Vladimira Uhlirova. They fell to Colin Fleming of Great Britain and Liezel Huber of Houston 6-3, 6-2.
   Juniors Krista Hardebeck and Trey Strobel, both headed to Stanford, won their first-round doubles matches Monday. Also advancing were Connor Farren of Hillsborough, near San Francisco, and his Portuguese partner.
   In men's singles, Kei Nishikori, coached by Brad Gilbert of San Rafael, upset sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 2-6, 6-1, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to become the first Japanese man to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal in 80 years. 
   In today's women's doubles quarterfinals, third-seeded Vania King of the Sacramento Capitals and Yaroslava Shvedova take on seventh-seeded Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, the reigning French Open champions.
   Outrageous prices, continued -- The Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club charges $45 for a set of premium playing cards. An Australian Open T-shirt will set you back $40 and a program $20.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Grand Slam finally completed

   MELBOURNE, Australia -- It took decades, but I completed a Grand Slam on Sunday.
   Not as a player, of course.
   I've now attended Wimbledon, the French Open, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open either as a journalist or spectator.
   The final and most difficult piece of the puzzle was the Australian Open -- not so much because of the distance but because of the timing.
    But about six months ago, I received an e-mail from Dick Gould, who led the Stanford men to 17 NCAA team titles in 38 years as head coach (1966-2004), and his wife, Anne, who coached the Cardinal to its first NCAA women's crown in any sport (1978), saying they were taking a group to this year's Australian Open. I knew both from covering their teams for the Stanford newspaper as a student there in the mid-1970s.
   The tour was organized by Tennis Ventures owners Chadwick and Camilla Byrd, our guides on this trip. Chadwick and Camilla met at Boise State, where Chadwick played strong safety for the 1994 team that lost to Youngstown State in the NCAA Division I-AA (now Football Championship Series) title game. Youngstown State was coached by Jim Tressel, who went on to glory and infamy at Ohio State. Chadwick is from Spokane, Wash., and Camilla from Norway.
   The trip -- three days in Sydney, five days in Melbourne (including playing tennis on various surfaces in both cities) and a five-day extension to New Zealand -- looked too good to pass up.
   So, 41 years after my first Grand Slam, Wimbledon, our group attended Sunday night's session at Rod Laver Arena. With a capacity of only 14,820, it doesn't seem to have a bad seat.
   From our perch only eight rows up at one corner of the court, we watched Swiss maestro Roger Federer dissect 19-year-old Australian sensation Bernard Tomic 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 and top-ranked Carolina Wozniacki hold off former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic 6-0, 7-5.
   Federer wields the racket like a baton, commanding the ball to do whatever he wants. He blasts serves to the corners, rifles forehands and one-handed backhands, hits feathery drop shots and effortlessly hits backhand overheads, the toughest shot in tennis. By the third set, Tomic was shaking his head in disbelief in his second career match against the 16-time Grand Slam singles champion. 
   Wozniacki, who has great offensive and defensive skills at 5-foot-11, had a game point for a 6-0, 5-1 lead. Jankovic leveled at 5-5, but Wozniacki broke back and closed out the match.
   Earlier Sunday, we played on clay and grass at the stately Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club, the former home of the Australian Open. We were required to wear predominantly white, the men with collared shirts, at the 8,000-member club. Kooyong -- with its remodeled clubhouse, rich history and manicured courts (26 grass, 22 clay and three Plexicushion) -- and Wimbledon are the nicest tennis clubs I've ever seen.
   So which Grand Slam is the best? They're all great, but I'll take Wimbledon. There's nothing like Centre Court, aptly called "the cathedral of tennis."

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tour group arrives in sports capital of Australia

   MELBOURNE, Australia -- Our tour group took a 65-minute flight from rainy Sydney to overcast Melbourne on Saturday morning (Friday afternoon PST) and checked into our hotel.
   The Crown Metropol is part of a huge, Las Vegas-style complex that includes a casino, an upscale shopping mall, a cinema and restaurants. You have to be careful, because seemingly every building in the area is Crown something or other.
   I got in a quick workout on the 27th floor of the hotel and showered before we had dinner on the charming Colonial Tramcar Restaurant while traveling the streets of Melbourne (pronounced MEL-bun) for two quick hours.
   Afterward, some of us walked 30 minutes to Federation Square to watch part of Lleyton Hewitt's four-set victory over Milos Raonic in the third round of the Australian Open on a big-screen TV. We joined perhaps 1,000 other fans on a cool, breezy night.
   Raonic, a 21-year-old Canadian, will defend his title in the SAP Open in San Jose next month. Hewitt, 30, of Australia, won the tournament in 2002.
   Earlier Saturday, 21st-seeded Ana Ivanovic of Serbia eliminated Vania King, who has played for the Sacramento Capitals in World TeamTennis for the past two seasons, 6-3, 6-4 in the third round.
   King and Yaroslava Shvedova, the third-seeded team in women's doubles, are scheduled to play Petra Martic and Kristina Mladenovic on Sunday in the third round.
   Melbourne bills itself as the sports capital of Australia. In addition to the Australian Open, it hosts a Formula One race, Australian rules football, the Australian Masters golf tournament and major cricket and horse racing events. The Melbourne Cricket Ground, more commonly known as MCG, has a capacity of 100,000. It is adjacent to Melbourne Park, the site of the Australian Open.
   No worries, mate -- Australians' reputation for friendliness appears to be well-deserved. Twice in Sydney, when I appeared lost, an Aussie volunteered to help.
   At a Sydney Airport shop, a cashier asked, "Where are you off to?" The next time that happens in the United States will be the first.
   Got a smoke? -- Many Aussies, however, apparently didn't get the memo that cigarettes can cause cancer.
   Outrageous prices, continued -- A glazed donut at the Krispy Kreme stand at Sydney Airport costs $2.50 Australian ($2.62 U.S.).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pass the caviar, lovey

   SYDNEY -- This is rough.
   After playing tennis for two hours Friday morning (Thursday afternoon in the United States) on grass back at White City in the Sydney suburbs, our tour group spent the afternoon cruising the nooks and crannies of the area's massive harbor on a 120-foot yacht.
   Nice? Let's put it this way. The two Australian owners, a shipping/aircraft-leasing magnate and an accountant, paid $22 million for the sleek Ghost II in 2009, according to captain Glen Gray. The owners began renting the yacht six weeks ago. The first customer, Gray said, was Al Pacino. The second was Kevin Spacey. They also rented the vessel for one afternoon.
   Chartering the yacht -- essentially a luxurious three-story house -- runs $2,500 per hour (plus food and drink), $15,000 per 24 hours and $100,000 for one week, Gray said.
   The lower deck features four cozy bedrooms (one with a small office), four full bathrooms, a kitchen, bunk beds for six crew members, a full bathroom for the crew, two washers and two dryers.
   The second deck consists of a living room with a large-screen TV, a dining room, the controls and outdoor seating in the front and back. Above is an observation deck.
   An eight-member crew attended to our every need. We were greeted with champagne, then feasted on appetizers; a lunch of beef, green salad, pasta salad, potato salad and rolls; with brownies, cheese and fresh fruit for dessert.           
  After lunch, many of us watched the Australian Open on TV. Others chatted, played cards or sunbathed. A few ended the cruise by taking a dip in the chilly (at first) ocean water.
  Some tour members commented, "I could get used to this." It definitely beats working in the office.
  After a pizza dinner, we returned to the hotel on our last night in Sydney. Here are some final observations before we leave tomorrow morning for Melbourne and the Australian Open:
   --Sydney is beautiful, prosperous, safe and clean. The harbor setting is spectacular, and I've seen no homeless people, police officers (except for a helicopter flying over the harbor) or litter (although one tour member said he saw -- gasp -- a broken bottle).
   What's not to like? Only one thing: the prices. Over $200 U.S. for a guided, two-hour climb on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Thirty-five dollars for an oversized paperback book on Rafael Nadal. Eight dollars for an ice cream cone. As Jerry Seinfeld says on his hilarious CD, "I'm Telling You for the Last Time," "Do they have any idea what the prices are everywhere ELSE in the world?"
   --I'm writing from the lounge on the 32nd (top) floor of the Intercontinental. Behind me is a stunning view of the harbor, landmark bridge and iconic Sydney Opera House.
   Getting into the lounge, however, is like getting into CIA headquarters. You hardly know it's there. You put your room key/card into a slot, a glass door slides open, and you climb a flight of stairs to the lounge. Then you expect to be greeted by a dapper man saying, "Bond ... James Bond."
   --Australian paper money is small and colorful with strange people on it. You could pay with Monopoly money, and no one would know the difference. The next time I come to Australia, I'll raid the game closet first. An Australian dollar, by the way, equals 96 cents.
   Newspaper pages, meanwhile, are gigantic -- seemingly twice the size of The Sacramento Bee or the San Francisco Chronicle. You need arms as long as those of Andrew Bogut, the Milwaukee Bucks' 7-foot center from Melbourne, to read the things.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

On the surface, it looks easy

   SYDNEY -- Another day, another tennis surface.
   After playing on real grass at White City in the Sydney suburbs Thursday (Wednesday in the United States), our 33-member tour group took a 30-minute ferry ride to Manly and tried synthetic grass at the Manly Tennis Centre,
   Like White City, the centre has a rich history. The former Manly Lawn Tennis Club opened in 1884 and has hosted the Seaside Championships for men and women since 1933. The honor roll includes Australian legends Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Frank Sedgman, Neale Fraser, Fred Stolle and Evonne Goolagong. The surface was changed to synthetic grass in 1984.
   Sand also is spread around the court. Otherwise, coaching director Scott Blackburn explained, the ball wouldn't bounce because the blades of artificial grass are too high. Why just not have shorter blades? That would work, Blackburn said.
   The good news was that, unlike on real grass, the bounces were consistent. The bad news was that the ball skidded off the surface. At times, I was able to capitalize on that with a deadly slice. But I also sprayed service returns all over the place.
   We played doubles for 90 minutes and did volley drills for 30 minutes. Our session ended with a fast-paced reflex volley drill with three players at each service line. Anyone missing a volley left the court and stood line and waited for his or her next turn.
   After sandwiches at the club, we were on our own. I walked along Manly Beach, took the ferry back to Sydney and shopped downtown for a rugby or Australian rules football jersey for my son. With the hotel concierge's help, I found the appropriate store.
   Once I got there, though, I was clueless and intimidated. I might as well have been shopping for sewing machines. Countless jerseys were displayed, and I had virtually no idea what teams were represented. The salesman wasn't much help. An Iranian who had been in Australia for only 10 months, he said he was "just learning (about the leagues) myself." Great.
   At that point, I was running out of time. I saw something I vaguely recognized, bought it and hurried back to the hotel to shower for dinner.
   It's now Friday morning and time to meet in the hotel lobby for our bus ride back to White City. As our tour guide says, "Be on time, or be left behind."  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

G'day from Sydney

   SYDNEY -- Tuesday did not exist for me.
   It was gone, kaput, history.
   I took off from Los Angeles at 10:45 p.m. Monday with a tennis group and landed at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday in Sydney, which is 19 hours ahead of California time. Meeting our 33-member group at Sydney Airport were tour guides Camilla Byrd of Tennis Ventures and Dick and Anne Gould, former Stanford men's and women's tennis coaches, respectively.
  Rather than go to the hotel to relax, we headed straight to Maccabi Tennis White City in the Sydney suburbs to play an hour of grass-court doubles and either a two-hour climb up the Sydney Harbour Bridge or a tour of the iconic Sydney Opera House.
   My first reaction when I saw this schedule -- and I was not alone -- was, "You must be kidding." But the organizers assured us that they knew what they were doing, and they were right. We got on Sydney time by staying active all day, and we made the most of our first day in Australia.
   We have only three days in Sydney, followed by five in Melbourne for the Australian Open. Then some of us, including me, are going to New Zealand for five days. Some head to the Great Barrier Reef for five days, and others return home.
  White City, now a private club, formerly hosted major professional tournaments and Davis Cup competitions. Playing on grass was a challenge for us, especially considering we had just stepped off a 14 1/2-hour flight -- almost as long as it takes to get through the line at the post office -- and had very limited or no experience on grass.
   The ball tends to stay low and skid because it doesn't bounce as high as on a hardcourt, and bad bounces are common. You have to be ready for anything. The keys are to move your feet, bend your knees and hit the ball out in front. Easier said than done.
   Better yet, volley as much as possible so the ball doesn't bounce. Also easier said than done for those of us who go to the net about as often as the Cubs win the World Series.
   The weather today was the opposite of California's, too. It was warm and muggy Down Under, where it's summer, instead of cool and dry.    
   Still, it was fun to play on grass. You feel like you're playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon, you can dive like Boris Becker without looking as if you had been in a cage fight, and it's easy on the knees.
   After a tasty chicken and avocado sandwich for lunch, we split up for the bridge climb and Opera House tour. I chose the climb.
   But you don't just pay your (outrageous) admission fee and stroll up the 440-foot-high structure, the fourth-longest single-span steel arch bridge in the world at 3,770 feet and the widest at 161 feet. It's a fairly involved process lasting either two hours, 15 minutes (express climb) or three hours, 30 minutes (discovery climb). They put you in gray and blue jumpsuits that make you look like a) an astronaut, b) a housepainter or c) an inmate, attach a walkie-talkie to the belt, put a headset on you and tether you to a wire for the entire climb so you don't plunge to an untimely death. 
   As you clutch the waist-high railings, Jerry Seinfeld's routine on skydiving -- in which he says his primary goal was "Don't die, don't die, don't die ... because living is good, and dying is not as good" -- comes to mind. Meanwhile, the tour leader gives you his spiel over the headset. The cost was $216 (express) or $206 (discovery). But it was included in our tour, so I didn't feel the pain.
   With its spectacular harbor, landmark bridge and opera house and gleaming skyscrapers, Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It's comparable to, and somewhat reminiscent of, San Francisco.  
   After a delicious Brazilian dinner across the wharf from the bridge and opera house, we returned to the 32-story Intercontinental downtown and went to bed. Finally.
  Australian Open -- Vania King of the Sacramento Capitals in World TeamTennis won her first-round singles and doubles matches in the Australian Open, but Dmitry Tursunov of Folsom was ousted in both events.
   Sam Querrey, a San Francisco native, lost to 19-year-old Aussie Bernard Tomic, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist last year, in four sets in the first round.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Karlovic defeats nemesis in Australian Open

   Ivo Karlovic picked a good time to earn his first career victory over Jurgen Melzer.
   Karlovic, who won the Sacramento and Tiburon Challengers last October, knocked off the 31st-seeded Melzer 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-3 Sunday in the first round of the Australian Open in Melbourne.
   Karlovic, a 6-foot-10 Croat, had been 0-4 against Melzer, an Austrian who has won two Grand Slam doubles titles (both with Philipp Petzschner of Germany).
   Meanwhile, Bernard Tomic outlasted 22nd-seeded Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2, 7-5. Tomic, a 19-year-old Australian, reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year. Verdasco, a Spanish veteran, won the 2010 SAP Open in San Jose and reached last year's final there.  
   Second-seeded Rafael Nadal dismissed American qualifier Alex Kuznetsov, a two-time Sacramento Challenger semifinalist, 6-4, 6-1, 6-1.
   Other first-round winners included:
   --San Francisco native Sam Querrey.
   --Third-seeded Victoria Azarenka, who won the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2010.
   --Eleventh-seeded Kim Clijsters, the defending champion and a four-time Bank of the West winner (2001, 2003, 2005 and 2006).        
   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. 113 in doubles (+2), unranked in singles.
    Kiryl Harbatsiuk, three-time Big Sky Conference MVP (2009-11) at Sacramento State -- No. 767 in singles (-1), No. 1,244 in doubles (-1).
   Mark Knowles, Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis (2001-07, 2009-11) -- No. 61 in doubles (-4), unranked in singles.
    Scott Lipsky, 2002 NCAA doubles runner-up from Stanford -- No. 28 in doubles (no change), unranked in singles.
    David Martin, 2002 NCAA doubles runner-up from Stanford -- No. 135 in doubles (-2), No. 760 in singles (-2).
    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. 95 in singles (-1), No. 36 in doubles (+1).
    Dmitry Tursunov, Folsom resident -- No. 43 in singles (-2), No. 203 in doubles (-20).
    Dusan Vemic, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 503 in doubles (-1), No. 1,513 in singles (-1).
    Jimmy Wang, Folsom resident -- No. 275 in singles (no change), No. 525 in doubles (-1).
Women
    Vania King, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 6 in doubles (no change), No. 66 in singles (-1).
    Raquel Kops-Jones, 2003 NCAA doubles champion from Cal -- No. 36 in doubles (no change), No. 723 in singles (no change).
    Maria Sanchez, Modesto resident -- No. 268 in doubles (no change), No. 696 in singles (no change).
    Yasmin Schnack, Elk Grove resident, Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis (2011) -- No. 181 in doubles (-1), No. 413 in singles (no change).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bryans win Sydney, seek fourth straight Aussie title

   On to Melbourne.
   Top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan tuned up for their Australian Open title defense by winning their second Sydney doubles championship and 76th title overall.
   The 33-year-old identical twins and former Stanford All-Americans, playing in their first tournament of the year, beat wild cards Matthew Ebden of Australia and Jarkko Nieminen of Finland 6-1, 6-4 in 53 minutes Saturday in the $434,250 Apia International.
   The Bryans also won Sydney in 2009 and reached the final there in 2004, 2008 and 2011.   
   "Thanks to everyone for another great event," Mike Bryan, who has teamed with Bob to win an Open Era record-tying 11 Grand Slam men's doubles titles, said on atpworldtour.com. "Sydney is a beautiful city, and we always enjoy starting the year here. We love this tourney, and we think it's the perfect springboard into the year's first Grand Slam. We're excited for Melbourne and the rest of 2012."
   This year's Australian Open begins today at 4 p.m. PST (ESPN2). The Bryans, ranked No. 1 in the world, seek their fourth straight Australian title and sixth in seven years. They also reached the final in 2004 and 2005, so they've appeared in the final in seven of the past eight years.
     The Sydney doubles final marked the 30-year-old Nieminen's 12th match of the week, the maximum possible in the tournament. In singles, he won three matches in qualifying and five in the main draw to win the title. Reaching the doubles final meant another four matches.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

American qualifier to face Nadal in Australian Open

   Congratulations, Alex Kuznetsov.
   After 12 consecutive unsuccessful attempts to qualify for a Grand Slam tournament, the two-time Sacramento Challenger semifinalist advanced to the main draw of the Australian Open in Melbourne.
   His first-round opponent? Rafael Nadal, a 10-time Grand Slam champion.
   Kuznetsov, a 24-year-old American born in Ukraine, defeated Yuichi Sugita of Japan 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 Friday to reach his first Grand Slam since 2007. He received a wild card in the U.S. Open that year and lost in the first round to 28th-seeded Nicolas Almagro of Spain.
   Earlier in 2007, Kuznetsov qualified for the Australian Open and reached the second round before losing to countryman James Blake, seeded fifth.
   Kuznetsov, a Sacramento semifinalist in 2006 and last year, has never faced Nadal, the 2009 Australian Open champion and No. 2 seed this year.
   Advancing to the main draw on the women's side was Jamie Hampton, who won the 2010 Redding Challenger. The 22-year-old American will face Mandy Minella of Luxembourg in the opening round.
   Falling in the last round of qualifying were 11th-seeded Rik de Voest, a South African who won the inaugural Sacramento Challenger in 2005, and unseeded Michelle Larcher de Brito, who  five years ago at 14 helped the Sacramento Capitals win the World TeamTennis title.
   ATP World Tour -- Top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan, the 1998 NCAA doubles champions from Stanford, are scheduled to face wild cards Matthew Ebden of Australia and Jarkko Nieminen of Finland early Saturday morning (California time) in the doubles final of the $434,250 Apia International Sydney.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bryans advance to fifth Sydney doubles final

   Bob and Mike Bryan have made a habit of winning doubles titles all over the world.
   But aside from their native California, perhaps no place feels as comfortable as Australia.
   The top seeds and former NCAA champions from Stanford defeated the unseeded British pair of Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins 6-4, 6-2  Thursday to reach the final of the $434,250 Apia International in Sydney for the fourth time in five years and fifth overall Thursday.
   The Bryans, who won Sydney in 2009, will seek their second title in the tournament when they meet wild cards Matthew Ebden of Australia and Jarkko Nieminen of Finland. Nieminen also will play for the singles title against Julien Benneteau of France.
   Beginning next week, the Bryans will try to win their fourth straight Australian Open crown in Melbourne and sixth in seven years.
   Australian Open draw -- Sacramento-area resident Dmitry Tursunov will face ninth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia in the first round of the Australian Open.
   It will be their third meeting in four months, with Tursunov winning in the first round at Tokyo in early October and Tipsarevic avenging the loss two weeks later in the quarterfinals at Moscow, Tursunov's hometown, en route to the title. Overall, the series is tied 2-2.
   Tipsarevic came within a third-set tiebreaker of winning last week's Aircel Chennai (India) Open.
   Vania King of the Sacramento Capitals in World TeamTennis drew Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine in the opening round. In their only previous match, King, then 18, won 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in the first round at Indian Wells in 2007.
   King could face 15th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a former Capital from Russia, in the second round.
   Australian Open qualifying -- Advancing to the final round of men's qualifying for the Australian Open was 11th-seeded Rik de Voest, a South African who won the inaugural Sacramento Challenger in 2005. But Taiwan's Jimmy Wang, a former top-100 player based in the Sacramento area, lost in the second round.
   In women's qualifying, the last two Redding Challenger champions, Julia Boserup (2011) of Newport Beach and 23rd-seeded Jamie Hampton of Auburn, Ala., advanced to the last round.
   Michelle Larcher de Brito, a former Capital from Portugal, played fourth-seeded Arantxa Parra Santonja of Spain in the second round early Friday morning.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bryans reach Sydney doubles semifinals

   Former Stanford All-Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, playing in their first tournament of the year, continued their quest Wednesday for a second Sydney doubles title.
   The top seeds, who won the 2009 tournament, defeated unseeded Leander Paes of India and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic 7-6 (5), 7-6 (7) in the quarterfinals of the $434,250 Apia International.
   Paes and Stepanek had beaten Fabio Fognini of Italy and Dmitry Tursunov, a Russian living in the Sacramento area, 7-6 (3), 6-3 in the first round. 
   The Bryans have won 11 Grand Slam doubles titles, tying the Open Era record of International Tennis Hall of Famers Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, and Paes has won six. Stepanek won the 2009 SAP Open doubles crown in San Jose with Tommy Haas of Germany.
   The Bryans will face the unseeded British pair of Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins in the semifinals.
   In women's doubles at Sydney, unseeded Raquel Kops-Jones, an ex-Cal All-American from Fresno, and Abigail Spears of San Diego lost to top-seeded Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic and Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia 6-7 (2), 6-3, 10-5 tiebreak in the semifinals.
   Peschke and Srebotnik won Wimbledon last July and were named the WTA Doubles Team of the Year.
   In Auckland, New Zealand, Treat Conrad Huey, a Washington, D.C., native who plays for the Philippines, and Scott Lipsky, a former Stanford All-American living in the Los Angeles area, lost to New Zealand wild cards Daniel King-Turner and Michael Venus 4-6, 7-5, 10-8 tiebreak in the first round of the $398,250 Heineken Open.
   Venus won the Futures singles title in Loomis, a Sacramento suburb, in 2010.
   Australian Open -- Reaching the second round of men's qualifying for the Australian Open in Melbourne were Jimmy Wang, a former top-100 player from Taiwan based in the Sacramento area, and 11th-seeded Rik de Voest, a South African who won the inaugural Sacramento Challenger in 2005.
   Falling in the first round were Australian John Millman, the 2010 Sacramento Challenger champion; 21st-seeded Rajeev Ram, an American who reached the final of the 2006 Sacramento Challenger; American Michael Yani, who won the 2008 Yuba City Challenger as a qualifier; and Lithuanian Laurynas Grigelis, last year's Aptos Challenger titlist.
   Advancing to the second round of women's qualifying were Portugal's Michelle Larcher de Brito, who five years ago at 14 helped the Sacramento Capitals win the World TeamTennis title; Americans Julia Boserup and Jamie Hampton, who won the 2011 and 2010 Redding Challenger titles, respectively; and Olga Puchkova, the runner-up in Redding last year and a part-time Capital in 2008.
   Former Capitals Coco Vandeweghe (2009) and Tammy Hendler (2008) fell in the opening round of qualifying.
   The men's and women's main draws for the Australian Open, which begins Sunday (California time), will be conducted later today.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ex-Cal star Kops-Jones scores big doubles win

   Raquel Kops-Jones, a former NCAA doubles champion from Cal, and Abigail Spears upset the reigning Australian Open champions Tuesday.
   Kops-Jones, from Fresno, and Spears, from San Diego, knocked off third-seeded Gisela Dulko of Argentina and Flavia Pennetta of Italy 6-4, 7-5 in the first round of the $637,000 Apia International in Sydney.
   The winners, who reached the final of last week's Brisbane International, improved to 4-1 this year. They will face either unseeded Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania and Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands or wild cards Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden and Jelena Dokic of Australia in the quarterfinals.
   In Sydney men's doubles, top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan opened their year with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over the new pairing of Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan and Jean-Julien Rojer of Netherlands Antilles.
   The Bryan twins, ex-NCAA doubles champions from Stanford, will meet either Leander Paes of India and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic or Fabio Fognini of Italy and Sacramento-area resident Dmitry Tursunov in the quarters.
    Beginning next week, the Bryans will seek their fourth consecutive Australian Open title and sixth in seven years.

Tursunov, Querrey fall to 0-2 entering Aussie Open

   Dmitry Tursunov will not exactly be filled with confidence when he plays next week in the Australian Open.
   The longtime Sacramento-area resident fell to 0-2 in singles this year with a 6-4, 6-4 loss Monday to Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus in the first round of the $434,250 Apia International in Sydney. Baghdatis won the tournament in 2010 and Tursunov in 2008.
   Tursunov, a 29-year-old Moscow native, lost to Albert Ramos of Spain 7-5, 6-2 in the opening round at Doha, Qatar, last week.
   Sam Querrey also dropped to 0-2 entering the Australian Open. In a clash of American wild cards in Auckland, New Zealand, the 24-year-old San Francisco native lost to Ryan Harrison, 19, of Bradenton, Fla., 6-4, 6-3 in the first round of the $398,250 Heineken Open.
   Both players have had extensive success in Northern California.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Raonic tunes up for San Jose defense with title

   Milos Raonic could be very tough to beat in next month's SAP Open.
   The 21-year-old Canadian tuned up for the Australian Open, which begins next Monday, and his title defense in San Jose with a thrilling 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4) victory Sunday over top-seeded Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia in the $398,250 Aircel Chennai (India) Open.
   Raonic, 6-foot-5, pounded 35 aces in the match and 76 in the hard-court tournament for his second career ATP World Tour title. He won all 48 of his service games in four matches, saving 14 break points.
    "My serve is a big factor in my game ... in 99 percent of my matches," Raonic, seeded fourth, said on atpworldtour.com after the three-hour, 14-minute final. "My job is to take care of my serve."
  Raonic became the first player to win an ATP title without dropping his serve since Roger Federer (49 games) at the 2008 Gerry Weber Open on grass in Halle, Germany.     
  "Guys like Milos are special players," Tipsarevic observed on atpworldtour.com. "It was a great game of tennis. Nobody knew till the end who would win. Unluckily for me, it was I who lost. It was just a matter of a few points here and there. Hopefully, next time I will get the better of him."
   Raonic, last year's ATP Newcomer of the Year, climbed six places in the world rankings to a career-high-tying No. 25. Tipsarevic, only 5-foot-11, remained No. 9.
   In Auckland, New Zealand, two former Sacramento Challenger champions played separate matches in the first round of the $398,250 Heineken Open.
   Colombia's Santiago Giraldo (2009) beat wild card Michael Venus, an Auckland native who won the 2010 Loomis Futures near Sacramento, 6-4, 6-3. Seventh-seeded Donald Young (2008), an Atlanta resident who finally began to fulfill his vast potential last year, lost to Alejandro Falla of Colombia 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
   Germany's Tobias Kamke, the No. 7 qualifying seed and 2010 Tiburon champion, advanced to the main draw with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Flavio Cipolla of Italy.
   WTA -- Thirteenth-seeded Vania King, a member of the Sacramento Capitals in World TeamTennis, withdrew from her final-round qualifying match against Urszula Radwanska of Poland at the $637,000 Apia International Sydney in Australia with a thigh strain.
   King, ranked sixth in the world in doubles, is not entered in that event.
   New rankings -- Folsom resident Dmitry Tursunov soared 54 places in doubles to No. 183 after reaching the semifinals with Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia in the $1.024 million Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha. Tursunov had ascended to a career-high No. 36 in doubles in 2008 before injuries derailed his career.
   David Martin, a former Stanford All-American, plunged 28 spots in doubles to No. 133 after advancing to last year's final in Chennai with Robin Haase of the Netherlands and not playing last week.
   King improved 10 notches in singles to No. 65 after gaining the second round of the $655,000 Brisbane (Australia) International as a qualifier.
   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. 115 in doubles (+2), unranked in singles.
   Kiryl Harbatsiuk, three-time Big Sky Conference MVP (2009-11) at Sacramento State -- No. 766 in singles (-1), No. 1,243 in doubles (+3).
   Mark Knowles, Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis (2001-07, 2009-11) -- No. 57 in doubles (+1), unranked in singles.
   Scott Lipsky, 2002 NCAA doubles runner-up from Stanford -- No. 28 in doubles (+1), unranked in singles.
   David Martin, 2002 NCAA doubles runner-up from Stanford -- No. 133 in doubles (-28), No. 758 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. 94 in singles (-1), No. 37 in doubles (+1).
   Dmitry Tursunov, Folsom resident -- No. 41 in singles (-1), No. 183 in doubles (+54).
   Dusan Vemic, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 502 in doubles (-2), No. 1,512 in singles (-1).
   Jimmy Wang, Folsom resident -- No. 275 in singles (-1), No. 524 in doubles (-2).
 Women
  Vania King, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 6 in doubles (no change), No. 65 in singles (+10).
  Raquel Kops-Jones, 2003 NCAA doubles champion from Cal -- No. 36 in doubles (+1), No. 723 in singles (+1).
   Maria Sanchez, Modesto resident -- No. 268 in doubles (no change), No. 696 in singles (+1).
   Yasmin Schnack, Elk Grove resident, Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis (2011) -- No. 180 in doubles (+2), No. 413 in singles (+2).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Ex-Cal star, partner blow it (twice) in Brisbane final

   Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears apparently didn't learn their lesson.
   The unseeded California pair not only blew a 5-2 lead in the first set of the doubles final in the Brisbane (Australia) International, they did it again in the second set.
   The lapses proved fatal as Kops-Jones, a former Cal All-American from Fresno, and Spears, from San Diego, lost to fourth-seeded Nuria Llagostera Vives and Arantxa Parra Santonja of Spain 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2) today in the $655,000 tournament.
   Kops-Jones, 29, had sought her fifth career WTA doubles crown and third with Spears, 30. They won Estoril in 2009 and Quebec City last September.
   Llagostera Vives has 15 WTA doubles titles and Parra Santonja five.
   ATP World Tour -- Top-seeded Andy Murray, the 2006 and 2007 SAP Open champion in San Jose, routed third-seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-1, 6-3 to win the men's singles title in Brisbane.
   Murray, a 24-year-old Scotsman, captured his 22nd career singles crown on the ATP Tour and first in front of his new coach, former world No. 1 Ivan Lendl.
   Top-seeded Max Mirnyi of Belarus and Daniel Nestor of Canada took the doubles title with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over second-seeded Jurgen Melzer of Austria and Philipp Petzschner of Germany.
   Mirnyi once worked with Sacramento State men's coach Slava Konikov, and Nestor was named World TeamTennis' Male Rookie of the Year in 2003 as a member of the Sacramento Capitals. Melzer and Petzschner won last year's U.S. Open.
   In Chennai, India, fourth-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada will meet top-seeded Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia in the singles final.
   Raonic, the reigning SAP Open champion and 2011 ATP Newcomer of the Year, beat second-seeded Nicolas Almagro of Spain 6-4, 6-4, and Tipsarevic ousted Japanese qualifier Go Soeda, the 2009 Tiburon Challenger champion, 6-1, 6-4.
   Second-seeded Scott Lipsky and Rajeev Ram, last year's SAP Open doubles champions, lost to third-seeded Leander Paes of India and Tipsarevic in the doubles semifinals 6-2, 6-7 (1), 10-7 tiebreak.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ex-champions highlight SAP Open entry list

   Four former SAP Open singles champions are on the entry list announced Friday for next month's tournament in San Jose.
   Set to play in the Feb. 13-19 tournament at HP Pavilion are Andy Roddick (2004, 2005 and 2008) of Austin, Texas, Radek Stepanek (2009) of the Czech Republic, Milos Raonic (2011) of Canada and Lleyton Hewitt (2002) of Australia.
   Roddick, who turns 30 in August, and Hewitt, who turns 31 on Feb. 24, formerly were ranked No. 1 in the world. Raonic, who celebrated his 21st birthday on Dec. 27, was named the 2011 Newcomer of the Year on the ATP World Tour.
   Roddick skipped the tournament last year for the first time since 2003 so he could accompany his wife, model-actress Brooklyn Decker, to appearances for Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue and her feature film debut in "Just Go With It."
   Entrants in this year's SAP Open also include:
   --Six-foot-eight Kevin Anderson, the 2007 Sacramento Futures champion.
   --James Blake, the 2011 Sacramento Challenger runner-up and 2004 SAP Open doubles winner (with Mardy Fish).
   --Donald Young, the 2008 Sacramento Challenger champion who made his ATP World Tour debut in San Jose at 15 years old in 2005.
   --Sam Querrey, a San Francisco native and the 2010 SAP Open doubles titlist with Fish.
   --Tommy Haas, the 2009 SAP Open doubles winner with Stepanek.
   Conspicuously absent from the entry list is Spain's Fernando Verdasco, the 2010 champion and 2011 runner-up in singles in San Jose.
   On Raonic's third match point in last year's final, the 6-5 right-hander pounded a 138-mph serve to Verdasco's forehand. Suddenly, a fan shouted "Yes," and the distracted Verdasco netted the return. The chair umpire refused to replay the point, and Raonic walked off with a 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-5) victory for his first ATP World Tour title.
   John McEnroe and Raonic will face Gael Monfils of France and Blake on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. in a doubles exhibition. McEnroe, who will turn 53 on Feb. 16, won five SAP Open and seven Grand Slam singles titles during his International Tennis Hall of Fame career.
   The 32-year-old Blake, formerly ranked No. 4 in the world, is scheduled to play his first singles match on Feb. 14 at 7 p.m., followed by Querrey's opener. Roddick and Raonic highlight the Feb. 15 schedule with consecutive night matches.
   Tickets are available at HP Pavilion, ticketmaster.com, (800) 745-3000 or http://www.sapopentennis.com/.
   Following are the 24 entrants for the SAP Open with world rankings in parentheses:
   Andy Roddick (14), Austin, Texas
   Gael Monfils (16), France
   Radek Stepanek (28), Czech Republic
   Milos Raonic (31), Canada
   Kevin Anderson (32), South Africa
   Donald Young (39), Atlanta
   Bernard Tomic (42), Australia
   Xavier Malisse (49), Belgium
   Julien Benneteau (52), France
   Gilles Muller (54), Luxembourg
   James Blake (59), Tampa, Fla.
   Olivier Rochus (67), Belgium
   Ryan Sweeting (72), Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
   Denis Istomin (73), Uzbekistan
   Alejandro Falla (74), Colombia
   Grigor Dimitrov (76), Bulgaria
   Ryan Harrison (79), Bradenton, Fla.
   Dudi Sela (83), Israel
   Matthew Ebden (86), Australia
   Steve Darcis (88), Belgium
   Sam Querrey (wild card), United States
   Lleyton Hewitt (wild card), Australia
   Jack Sock (wild card), Overland Park, Kan.
   Tommy Haas (injury protected ranking), Germany
   ATP World Tour -- Raonic, seeded fourth, and Japanese qualifier Go Soeda, who won the 2009 Tiburon Challenger, reached the semifinals of the $398,250 Aircel Chennai (India) Open. Raonic will face second-seeded Nicolas Almagro of Spain, and Soeda will meet top-seeded Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia.
   Top-seeded Andy Murray, the SAP Open champion in 2006 and 2007, will play third-seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine in the final of the $434,250 Brisbane (Australia) International.
   WTA -- Fifth-seeded Kim Clijsters, a four-time Bank of the West Classic titlist at Stanford, retired from her semifinal match against unseeded Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia with a left hip injury while leading 7-6 (4), 1-3 in the $655,000 Brisbane International. Clijsters hopes to play in the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 16. Hantuchova will face unseeded Kaia Kanepi of Estonia for the Brisbane title.
   Thirteenth-seeded Vania King of the Sacramento Capitals moved into the final round of qualifying for the $637,000 Apia International Sydney.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Former Cal star reaches Brisbane doubles final

   Unseeded Raquel Kops-Jones, a former Cal All-American from Fresno, and Abigail Spears of San Diego edged Australian wild cards Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua 5-7, 7-6 (3), 10-7 tiebreak today to reach the doubles final of the $655,000 Brisbane (Australia) International.
   Barty, 15, and Dellacqua, 26, won their first Grand Slam titles last year. Barty triumphed in Wimbledon girls singles and Dellacqua in French Open mixed doubles (with Scott Lipsky, the 2002 NCAA men's doubles runner-up from Stanford).
   Kops-Jones, who won the 2003 NCAA women's doubles title with Sacramento native Christina Fusano, and Spears will meet fourth-seeded Nuria Llagostera Vives and Arantxa Parra Santonja of Spain for the title.
   Kops-Jones, 29, will seek her fifth career WTA doubles crown and third with Spears, 30. They won Estoril in 2009 and Quebec City last September.
   ATP World Tour -- Sixth-seeded Radek Stepanek, a Czech who won singles titles at Brisbane and San Jose in 2009, fell to third-seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the $434,250 Brisbane International.
   In Chennai, India, Lipsky and fellow American Rajeev Ram, the No. 2 seeds and reigning San Jose doubles champions, nipped unseeded Colombians Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah 6-3, 4-6, 10-7 tiebreak to gain the semifinals.
   In Doha, Qatar, Sacramento-area resident Dmitry Tursunov and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia came up just short against Filip Polasek of Slovakia and Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic, 6-2, 3-6, 13-11 tiebreak, in a battle of unseeded teams in the doubles semifinals.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Serena withdraws from Brisbane with injury

   Fourth-seeded Serena Williams, who won the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford last July, withdrew Wednesday from the $655,000 Brisbane (Australia) International with a sprained left ankle.
   The 13-time Grand Slam singles champion, who sat out from July 2010 until June 2011 because of a serious foot injury and blood clots in her lungs, rolled the ankle during her 6-2, 6-4 victory over Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia in the second round.
   Williams hopes to play in the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 16. She has won the tournament five times (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2010).
   In doubles at Brisbane, former Cal All-American Raquel Kops-Jones of Fresno and Abigail Spears of San Diego edged Nina Bratchikova of Russia and Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-4, 6-7 (4), 10-7 in the quarterfinals.
   ATP World Tour -- Ivo Karlovic, a 6-foot-10 Croat who won the Sacramento and Tiburon Challengers last October, lost to seventh-seeded Mikhail Youzhny of Russia 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-3 in the second round of the $1.024 million Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha.
   Dmitry Tursunov, a Russian living in Folsom, and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia defeated Spaniards Marc Lopez and Albert Ramos 6-3, 6-3 in the doubles quarterfinals. Ramos had beaten Tursunov in the first round of singles.
   In Chennai, India, fourth-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada opened his year with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Victor Hanescu of Romania in the second round of the $398,250 Aircel Chennai Open. Raonic, 6-5, won the 2011 SAP Open in San Jose and was named the ATP World Tour's Newcomer of the Year.
   In the $434,250 Brisbane International, Colombia's Santiago Giraldo, the 2009 Sacramento Challenger champion, fell to second-seeded Gilles Simon of France 7-6 (2), 6-4 in the quarterfinals.        
   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. 765 in singles (-2), 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. 757 in singles (-2).
    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 (no change).
   Dusan Vemic, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 500 in doubles (-1), No. 1,511 in singles (-1).
   Jimmy Wang, Folsom resident -- No. 274 in singles (no change), No. 522 in doubles (no change).
 Women
  Vania King, Capitals (2010-11) -- No. 6 in doubles (no change), No. 75 in singles (-1).
  Raquel Kops-Jones, 2003 NCAA doubles champion from Cal -- No. 37 in doubles (no change), No. 724 in singles (-3).
   Maria Sanchez, Modesto resident -- No. 268 in doubles (no change), No. 697 in singles (-1).
   Yasmin Schnack, Elk Grove resident, Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis (2011) -- No. 182 in doubles (-1), No. 415 in singles (-3).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

ATP schedule features last three Sacramento champs

   The winners of the last three Sacramento Challengers played today, two of them against each other, on the ATP World Tour.
   Ivo Karlovic (2011), a 6-foot-10 Croat, opened his year with a 6-7 (1), 6-2, 7-6 (3) victory over Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine in the first round of the $1.024 million Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha.
   In Brisbane, Australia, Santiago Giraldo (2009) dispatched qualifier and hometown favorite John Millman (2010) 6-3, 6-3 in the opening round of the $434,250 Brisbane International.
   Also, sixth-seeded Radek Stepanek, a 33-year-old Czech who won the 2009 SAP Open in San Jose, beat Finnish veteran Jarkko Nieminen 7-6 (3), 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals. Stepanek captured the inaugural Brisbane tournament in 2009 and reached last year's final, losing to Andy Roddick.
   In Chennai, India, San Francisco native Sam Querrey lost to Romanian veteran Victor Hanescu 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of the $398,250 Aircel Chennai Open. Hanescu will meet fourth-seeded Milos Raonic, last year's SAP Open champion, in the second round.
   Meanwhile, doubles specialist Scott Lipsky, a former NCAA finalist from Stanford, ended a six-match losing streak. Lipsky and fellow American Rajeev Ram, seeded second, eliminated Indian wild cards Sriram Balaji and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan 7-5, 6-4 in the opening round at Chennai.
   Lipsky won the doubles crown in the 2005 (inaugural) Sacramento Challenger with former Stanford teammate David Martin, and Ram gained the Sacramento final in singles in 2006 and doubles in 2008 with John Isner.
   In Qatar doubles, Sacramento-area resident Dmitry Tursunov of Russia and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia beat second-seeded James Cerretani of Reading, Mass., and 6-8 Dick Norman of Belgium 6-1, 6-4 in the first round.
   WTA -- Qualifier Vania King of the Sacramento Capitals fell to Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the second round of the $655,000 Brisbane International. At 5-11, Hantuchova is six inches taller than King.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Roseville junior falls short in two national finals

   Twice on Sunday, Sam Riffice came within one set of winning a national title.
   And twice the Roseville resident came up short.
   Riffice, seeded third, lost to top-seeded Noah Makarome of Wesley Chapel, Fla., 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 in the boys 12 singles final at the USTA Winter National Championships in Tucson, Ariz.
   Riffice and Noah Schachter of Steilacoom, Wash., seeded first in doubles, then fell to fifth-seeded Ryan Seggerman of Coronado and Ivan Thamma of San Diego 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
   WTA --Qualifier Vania King of the Sacramento Capitals defeated Melinda Czink of Hungary 6-3, 6-4 today in the first round of the $655,000 Brisbane (Australia) International.
   King, a 22-year-old Long Beach product, will meet Daniela Hantuchova, who upset sixth seed and fellow Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
   In the opening round of doubles, King and Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands lost to second-seeded Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic 6-7 (6), 6-4, 11-9 tiebreak. King has won two Grand Slam doubles titles, both with regular partner Yaroslova Shvedova.
   In Auckland, New Zealand, Aravane Rezai of France outplayed former Capital Coco Vandeweghe 6-4, 6-4 in the final round of qualifying for the $220,000 ASB Classic.
   ATP World Tour -- Russian Dmitry Tursunov, a longtime Sacramento-area resident, lost to Albert Ramos of Spain 7-5, 6-2 in the first round of the $1.024 million Qatar Open in Doha.
   It was the second career meeting between the 29-year-old Tursunov, ranked 40th, and Ramos, a 23-year-old left-hander ranked 66th. Tursunov won 7-6 (5), 6-4 in the first round at Moscow, his hometown, in October en route to the quarterfinals.     
   The $434,250 Brisbane International will feature a first-round matchup between Colombia's Santiago Giraldo and Australian qualifier John Millman, the winners of the 2009 and 2010 Sacramento Challengers, respectively.
   Jesse Levine, whom Giraldo beat for the Sacramento title, remained red hot by advancing to the main draw in Brisbane as the No. 8 qualifying seed. The Canadian-born American beat top-seeded Tobias Kamke, a German who won the 2010 Tiburon Challenger, 7-4, 6-4 in the final round.  

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Roseville's Riffice reaches two finals in Winter Nationals

   Sam Riffice of Roseville reached today's boys 12 singles and doubles finals at the USTA Winter National Championships in Tucson, Ariz.
   Riffice, seeded third in singles, breezed past second-seeded Noah Schachter of Steilacoom, Wash., 6-3, 6-1 Saturday to set up a title match against top-seeded Noah Makarome of Wesley Chapel, Fla.
   Seeded first in doubles, Riffice and Schachter received a walkover from sixth-seeded Boris Kozlov of Pembroke Pines, Fla., and Axel Nefve of Hinsdale, Ill.
   In the other doubles semifinal, fifth-seeded Ryan Seggerman of Coronado and Ivan Thamma of San Diego ousted Paul Barretto of Bel Tiburon and Conrad Russell of Los Altos Hills 6-1, 6-2.
   WTA -- Raquel Kops-Jones, a former NCAA doubles champion from Cal, and Abigail Spears of San Diego opened the year with a 6-4, 6-7 (1), 10-7 tiebreak victory over wild cards Jelena Jankovic of Serbia and Andrea Petkovic of Germany in the first round of the $655,000 Brisbane (Australia) International.
   Sacramento Capitals veteran Vania King, seeded first in Brisbane singles qualifying, reached the main draw with a 7-5, 4-6, 6-0 decision over Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland.
   Former Capital Coco Vandeweghe advanced to the final round of qualifying for the $220,000 ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, by upsetting fifth-seeded Romina Oprandi of Italy 7-5, 6-2.