Sunday, July 19, 2015

Hibino avenges one-sided loss to reach Stockton final

Nao Hibino beat Sanaz Marand after losing to her
6-1, 6-0 last September. Photo by Paul Bauman
   STOCKTON, Calif. -- So much for past results.
   Sanaz Marand crushed Nao Hibino in their only meeting before the semifinals of the inaugural $50,000 USTA Pro Circuit Challenger at the University of the Pacific.
   But the fifth-seeded Hibino outslugged the unseeded Marand 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) Saturday in a grueling baseline battle filled with breathtaking rallies and spectacular shotmaking.
   After Hibino, ranked No. 173 in the world at 20 years old, laced a crosscourt forehand just out of the reach of Marand, a 27-year-old left-hander ranked No. 270, at the net, the appreciative crowd heartily applauded the combatants. Hibino, from Japan, responded by bowing to each side of the court.
   It was a far cry from last September, when Marand demolished Hibino 6-1, 6-0 in the second round of qualifying in Quebec City on the WTA tour, the major leagues of women's tennis.
   "It wasn't her day," recalled the stocky Marand, a former All-American at North Carolina from Houston. "I played well, but she basically gave me the match. She made too many errors. I felt like I just put the ball in the court and she made errors.
Marand lost to Hibino in two tiebreakers
this time. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "Little different this time," Marand, who later won the doubles title with reigning NCAA singles champion Jamie Loeb of North Carolina, added with a laugh. "She made a lot more balls."
   Hibino, only 5-foot-4 (1.63 meters) and 132 pounds (60 kilograms), said winning a $50,000 Challenger in Kurume, Japan, on grass in May gave her confidence.
   "I don't care I lost to (Marand) in Quebec," Hibino said in halting English. "I don't really think about that. I just focus (on) today's match."
   It looked like more of the same when Marand took a 3-1 lead in the first set. But Hibino broke back for 4-4 on two forehand errors by Marand from deuce.  
   Both players then held serve to send the set to a tiebreaker. Hibino bolted to a 5-1 lead and had four set points at 6-2. Marand saved the first three before Hibino ripped a forehand winner.
   The second set was the reverse of the first with the same outcome. Hibino led 3-1, but Marand broke back for 4-4, and both held serve from there.
   This time in the tiebreaker, the players were tied 3-3. Hibino earned the decisive minibreak with a backhand crosscourt winner to lead 5-3. After Marand won the next point on her serve, Hibino held twice for the match. 
   "I was nervous in the ... beginning," Hibino said. "I get used to (playing), and I try to get ball in the court, hit more spin and try to make her move."
   Top-seeded An-Sophie Mestach, a 21-year-old Belgian ranked No. 111, prevented an all-Japanese final by defeating 44-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.
Top-seeded An-Sophie Mestach beat 44-year-old Kimiko Date-
Krumm in three sets to reach the final. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Date-Krumm, who's married to a German race car driver, reached the semifinals of the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon once each in the mid-1990s.
   Date-Krumm climbed to a career-high No. 4 in the world 20 years ago but retired in 1996 for 12 years. She cracked the top 50 in 2010 but has plunged to No. 198 because of injuries.
   Hibino had dinner with Date-Krumm for the first time on Friday night at a Korean restaurant.
   "I really want to play her because she's (a) legend," Hibino said before the second semifinal.
   It wasn't to be, but Hibino is familiar with Mestach. Also seeded first in Kurume, Mestach lost to Hibino 6-2, 6-2 in the quarterfinals in their only encounter.
   Then again, Hibino, of all people, knows past results sometimes mean nothing. 
At University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.
Singles semifinals
   Nao Hibino (5), Japan, def. Sanaz Marand, United States, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4).
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, def. Kimiko Date-Krumm, Japan, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.
Doubles final
   Jamie Loeb and Sanaz Marand (4), United States, def. Kaitlyn Christian and Danielle Lao, United States, 6-3, 6-4.
Today's schedule
(Starting at noon)
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, vs. Nao Hibino (5), Japan.

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