Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dream arrives late, falls at Austin in WTT playoffs

Anabel Medina Garrigues, shown earlier this season,
of the California Dream was named the World Team-
Tennis Co-Female MVP. Photo by Darryl Henick
   The California Dream already faced a big challenge playing on the road against the team with the best record in World TeamTennis.
   Travel problems didn't help.
   After encountering flight delays and weather issues, California lost to the Austin Aces 25-14 tonight in the Western Conference Championship. The match began almost three hours late at 9:43 p.m. Central time and ended at 12:15 a.m.
   Austin, led by Teymuraz Gabashvili and Elina Svitolina, swept the five sets.
   Gabashvili received the WTT Male MVP award as a 30-year-old rookie at intermission. A native of Georgia in Asia who plays for Russia, he reached the fourth round of the French Open for the second time this year.
   Svitolina, from Ukraine, is ranked 20th in the world at only 20 years old. She advanced to the French Open quarterfinals this year.
   Two California players earned WTT awards. Anabel Medina Garrigues was named the Co-Female MVP with Anastasia Rodionova of the Washington Kastles, and Neal Skupski, a late substitute this season, was honored as the Male Rookie of the Year.
   The other two awards went to Austin's Alla Kudryavtseva (Female Rookie of the Year) and Rick Leach (Coach of the Year).
   The Dream, which had lost its two regular-season matches in Austin by one game and two games, ended its inaugural season at 9-6.
   Austin (13-2), in its second year in the league, will meet Washington (11-4) on Sunday in Washington, D.C., in the WTT Finals. The host Kastles demolished the Philadelphia Freedoms 25-9 in the Eastern Conference Championship.
   Washington seeks its fifth straight WTT title, which would break the now-defunct Sacramento Capitals' record (1997-2000), and sixth in seven years. A sixth overall title for the Kastles would tie the mark of the Capitals, who also won the crown in 2002 and 2007.  
AUSTIN ACES 25, CALIFORNIA DREAM 14
In Austin, Texas
   Mixed doubles -- Teymuraz Gabashvili and Alla Kudryavtseva (Aces) def. Neal Skupski and Anabel Medina Garrigues 5-2.
   Women's doubles -- Kudryavtseva and Elina Svitolina (Aces) def. Jarmila Gajdosova and Medina Garrigues 5-3.
   Men's doubles -- Gabashvili and Jarmere Jenkins (Aces) def. Tennys Sandgren and Skupski 5-4.
   Women's singles -- Svitolina (Aces) def. Gajdosova 5-1.
   Men's singles -- Gabashvili (Aces) def. Sandgren 5-4.

Skupski, Medina Garrigues form unlikely Dream team


Neal Skupski, a last-minute substitute this season, and Anabel Medina Garri-
gues, a two-time major champion (2008-09), of the California Dream led World
TeamTennis in mixed doubles. Photo courtesy of Phil Kemp/California Dream
   They weren't supposed to play together, had never met on or off the court and got off to a rocky start.
   Just over two weeks later, Neal Skupski and Anabel Medina Garrigues finished the World TeamTennis regular season as the top mixed doubles team in the league and helped the California Dream reach the playoffs with a 9-5 record in its inaugural season.
   Both players earned WTT season awards. Medina Garrigues (pronounced Ga-REE-gus), who will turn 33 on Friday, was named the co-Female MVP with Anastasia Rodionova of the Washington Kastles after being named last year's Female Rookie of the Year. Skupski, 25, was honored as the Male Rookie of the Year.
   California coach David Macpherson, a former Sacramento Capital in WTT who reached No. 11 in the world in doubles in 1992, said Skupski has been "sensational. He's been so clutch. He's stepped up night after night. Anabel the same thing. Most nights, I played I've played them fifth as a mixed doubles team because they've been so clutch. They've made a great team. Hopefully, they'll get to come back for years to come."
   Skupski was contacted only three days before the season began on July 12 after fellow doubles specialist Aisam Qureshi withdrew from the league because of a "technicality," Macpherson said without elaborating.
   "I didn't know any of the rules, so I had to learn them coming over on the plane," said Skupski of Liverpool, England, best known as the home of The Beatles. "Our first match was in San Diego; I had to fly straight there and meet up with the team. ... "
   Although Skupski lacks the credentials of Qureshi, who's 10 years older, he's no slouch, either.
   The 6-foot (1.84-meter) Skupski is ranked No. 119 in men's doubles, down from a career-high No. 69 early last year. He and his older brother, Ken, have reached one final on the ATP World Tour (the major leagues of men's tennis), in Moscow in 2013, and won seven titles on the Challenger circuit (equivalent to Triple A in baseball).
   Qureshi is No. 48 after climbing as high as No. 8 in 2011. He has won 11 ATP doubles titles and reached the 2010 U.S. Open doubles final with Rohan Bopanna of India.
   Playing for California attracted Skupski for several reasons. For one, Bob and Mike Bryan, who have won a record 16 Grand Slam men's doubles titles, would join the team for three of the Dream's 14 regular-season matches. In addition, Macpherson has coached the 37-year-old Bryan twins for the past 10 years.    
   "I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to be around Dave and pick his brain and to be around Bob and Mike," said Skupski, a former three-time All-American at LSU. "They're the best doubles team of all time. Also, I heard California is an unbelievable state. I (had) been here a couple of times with LSU, but never for a long period of time like this."
   In addition, WTT gives Skupski the chance to play more.
   "Sometimes you don't play as many matches on the tour," noted Skupski, who also played men's doubles with Tennys Sandgren, a former Southeastern Conference rival at Tennessee who turned 24 on July 22. "You could get one a week if you lose (in the) first round. It's not ideal for confidence or for match play. But playing World TeamTennis, if you lose, there's another match probably the next night. You can get back on it and try and build your confidence."
   Skupski sat out while the Bryans played for the Dream but practiced with them every day.
   "It was a really good three intense days," Skupski said. "They train at a high level every day. There are no minutes that they don't perform. If it's an hour, it's a full, intense hour. That's what I need to work to because sometimes I can drop my level for five minutes in practice, which maybe is why I'm not at the level they are.
   "Also, they said my level is good enough to be in the top 50 in the world. That gives me a lot of confidence coming from the best team that's ever played doubles. I'll take that onboard, and hopefully that'll pay off."
   There has been one drawback to playing for the Dream for Skupski, though.
   "It's the stifling heat that's been a killer," he said. "It's definitely not like this in England. I'm used to about high 70s, low 80s in the summers, but not into the 100s.
   "That's been the biggest problem for me. It's a lot of fluids, a lot of eating the right foods because it can be tough out here playing in such heat."
   Skupski also initially felt heat playing with Medina Garrigues, who won French Open women's doubles titles in 2008 and 2009 and the Olympic silver medal in doubles at Beijing in 2008, all with fellow Spaniard Virginia Ruano Pascual.     
   "Anabel is a feisty character," Skupski observed. "She's a Grand Slam winner, she's experienced, and my level's gone up since I started playing with her. There's no time not to concentrate or to miss any balls. She's always on my case. The first couple of matches I played with her, she kind of shouted at me because I had missed a ball I shouldn't have. I remember that ever since, and we've grown, and it's gone really well.
   "The first couple of matches, she didn't even understand what I was saying to her because she doesn't speak that much English. She didn't understand the signals I was giving to her in doubles, like what 'poach' means. Sometimes we were all over the place at the start, but now we're on the same wavelength."
   Indeed, Garrigues and Skupski beat Martina Hingis and Leander Paes 5-3 in a 19-17 loss to Washington, which has won the last four WTT titles and five of the last six, on Monday in Washington, D.C. Hingis, a 34-year-old International Tennis Hall of Famer, and Paes, a 42-year-old future Hall of Famer, won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title one day before the WTT season started.
   Skupski said playing WTT "is probably one of the best decisions I've ever made. I've made a lot of friends here, and hopefully I can come back next year if they want me in the draft. Hopefully, I've put on a good show here."
Skupski, from England, and Medina Garrigues,
a Spaniard, overcame initial communication
problems. Photo by Darryl Henick
   Medina Garrigues played for the Texas Wild last season before the team relocated to the Sacramento area and became the California Dream.
   "I saw team tennis on TV when I was playing Indian Wells and Miami," said Medina Garrigues, who now specializes in doubles. "I was really interested in how the rules are, so I told my manager, 'Look, I'm almost at the end of my career. I'm not playing singles anymore, so my schedule is relaxed. It's not that pressure from singles, and in the time that team tennis is playing there (are) no big tournaments for doubles.'  So I said, 'OK, let's try.' "
   The 5-foot-6 (1.69-meter) Medina Garrigues is another in a long line of Spanish stars. She has reached career highs of No. 16 in singles (2009) and No. 3 in doubles (2008), won 11 singles and 25 career WTA doubles titles, and earned $5.74 million in prize money.
   "She's got a lot of things going for her," Macpherson explained. "She's got an incredible backhand, and I think her forehand is really going well now. She's so confident with her forehand as well as her backhand. She's got great instincts at the net. She's one of the premier net women -- reflex volleys and making poaches and interceptions.
   "And she's able to produce her best tennis at the most important times. That's an intangible that all great champions have. You don't win two French Opens without that."
   Jarka Gajdosova, Medina Garrigues' doubles partner on the Dream, lost to her in the third round of mixed doubles at Wimbledon.
   "I'd rather play with her than against her," Gajdosova confessed. " ... She reads the game well. She knows what shots to use and when. She lobs very well. She's not afraid at the net, so she doesn't mind crossing and hitting volleys."
    Spain's success, Medina Garrigues said, starts with tradition.
   "We have very good history. We always have very good players since 15 years ago from (Carlos) Moya, (Juan-Carlos) Ferrero, Carlos Costa, Albert Costa. All these players (were) top 10, so kids saw them on TV. They really like the sport.
   "Girls also (saw) Arantxa Sanchez and Conchita Martinez. They were top 10 and won Grand Slams. It's very (popular) in Spain, the tennis. It makes all the young people (want) to play," Medina Garrigues said.
   She added that "the conditions (in Spain are) very good. Is good weather. We can play outside all the year. We have very good coaches. They know how to teach the (winning) style of tennis. Also the Latin mentality is very (good). We are always positive and fighting until the end of the match."
   Medina Garrigues has been unable to recapture the magic she had with Ruano Pascual, who retired in 2010. The closest Medina Garrigues has come is reaching the women's doubles semis in the 2012 U.S. Open with Su-Wei Hsieh of Taiwan and the mixed doubles semis at Wimbledon this year with Robert Lindstedt of Sweden. 
   "I didn't really find the best (women's doubles) partner to try to be in the top rounds of the Grand Slams," said Medina Garrigues, who recently began playing with Arantxa Parra Santonja, another 32-year-old Spaniard. "I keep trying. I didn't win (another) Grand Slam, but I win 25 doubles titles, so I think it's a good record."
    Medina Garrigues plans to play at least through next year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
    "After that, I will see if I continue to play or I just decide to stop," she said. "I have a new partner, and we won this year one tournament. We know each other, we are very good friends, and I feel very good with her."
   And with Skupski.

Dream triumphs in tuneup for WTT playoffs

Tennys Sandgren, shown earlier this
season, preserved California's win on
Wednesday night by beating San Diego's
Daniel Nguyen 5-3 in men's singles.
Photo by Darryl Henick
   CITRUS HEIGHTS, Calif. -- The California Dream enters the World TeamTennis playoffs with momentum.
   The Dream will need it.
   California defeated the San Diego Aviators 20-15 on Wednesday night at Dream Stadium at Sunrise Mall to end the regular season with six victories in its last seven matches.
   San Diego's Chani Scheepers, who retired after the match at 31, didn't exactly go out on a high note. She lost 5-0 to Jarka Gajdosova in women's singles, dropping 20 of 24 points and all 12 on Gajdosova's serve, and fell 5-2 in women's doubles.
   California led the league in women's singles with Gajdosova (.566 winning percentage in games) and in mixed doubles with Anabel Medina Garrigues and primarily Neal Skupski (.587). Medina Garrigues played with Mike Bryan twice and Bob Bryan once. 
   It already had been determined that the Dream (9-5) would visit the Austin Aces, who finished with the league's best record (12-2), today in the Western Conference championships. The match will be streamed live on ESPN3 at 7:30 p.m. PDT.
   California is 0-3 against Austin this season, with all of the meetings taking place within four days in the first half of the season. The Aces won 20-19 and 20-18 in Austin, and 22-16 in the Sacramento area.
   "The close losses at Austin let our team know that if we play our best, if we bring our 'A' game, we can win," Dream coach David Macpherson, a former Sacramento Capital in WTT, said after Wednesday's victory over San Diego. "They're a very good team, and, of course, we have to travel and they're practicing on their home court.
   "Certainly, the advantage is with them, but we proved that we like their (indoor) court. It's a little bit slower than our (outdoor) court."
   California, meanwhile, will pray that the Philadelphia Freedoms (5-9) somehow upset the Washington Kastles (10-4), who have won the last four WTT titles and five of the last six, today in the Eastern Conference championships. The winner of that match will host the WTT Finals on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. PDT (live on ESPN3, with ESPN2 joining at 10 a.m.).
   The Kastles, with International Tennis Hall of Famer Martina Hingis and Sam Querrey, beat the Dream 19-17 in Washington, D.C., on Monday after trailing 10-4.
   Coming today: A profile of unlikely pair Skupski and Medina Garrigues.
CALIFORNIA DREAM 20, SAN DIEGO AVIATORS 15
In Citrus Heights, Calif.
   Men's doubles -- Raven Klaasen and Daniel Nguyen (Aviators) def. Tennys Sandgren and Neal Skupski 5-3.
   Women's singles -- Jarka Gajdosova (Dream) def. Chani Scheepers 5-0.
   Mixed doubles -- Darija Jurak and Klaasen (Aviators) def. Anabel Medina Garrigues and Neal Skupski 5-2 (Gajdosova substituted for Garrigues at 2-4).
   Women's doubles -- Gajdosova and Medina Garrigues (Dream) def. Jurak and Scheepers 5-2.
   Men's singles -- Sandgren (Dream) def. Nguyen 5-3.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dream falls to Kastles, will visit Austin in WTT playoffs

Hall of Famer Martina Hingis helped the Wash-
ington Kastles rally to beat the California Dream.
2014 photo by Paul Bauman 
   Pack your cowboy boots, pardner.
   The California Dream of World TeamTennis is heading back to Austin, Texas.
   California lost to International Tennis Hall of Famer Martina Hingis and the host Washington Kastles 19-17 on Monday, allowing the Austin Aces to clinch the top seeding in the Western Conference playoffs.
    The second-seeded Dream (8-5), whose winning streak ended at five matches, will play at Austin (10-2) on Thursday for the Western Conference championship.
   Washington (9-3), which has won the last four WTT titles and five of the last six, will host either the Philadelphia Freedoms (5-8) or Boston Lobsters (4-8) on Thursday for the Eastern Conference title.
   The Eastern Conference champion will host the WTT Finals on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. (California time). The match will be shown live on ESPN3, with ESPN2 joining at 10 a.m.
   California is 0-3 against Austin this season, with all of the meetings taking place within four days. The Aces won 20-19 in Austin, 22-16 in the Sacramento area and 20-18 in Austin.
   Washington, which already had clinched the top seeding in the Eastern Conference, had nothing riding on Monday's match.
   In the opening set, California's Neal Skupski and Anabel Medina Garrigues beat recent Wimbledon mixed doubles champions Leander Paes and Hingis 5-3. 
   Jarka Gajdosova then routed Hingis, who plays only doubles on the women's circuit at 34 years old, 5-1 in singles to give California a whopping 10-4 deficit after two sets. But Washington won the last three sets to overtake the Dream.
   Hingis and Anastasia Rodionova dominated Gajdosova and Medina Garrigues 5-1 to cut California's lead to 15-14 entering the last set, men's singles. Sam Querrey then defeated Tennys Sandgren 5-2 to lift Washington.
   California will end its regular season on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. against the San Diego Aviators (4-8) at Dream Stadium at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights, Calif.
WASHINGTON KASTLES 19, CALIFORNIA DREAM 17
In Washington, D.C.
   Mixed doubles -- Neal Skupski and Anabel Medina Garrigues (Dream) def. Leander Paes and Martina Hingis 5-3.
   Women's singles -- Jarka Gajdosova (Dream) def. Martina Hingis 5-1.
   Men's doubles -- Paes and Sam Querrey (Kastles) def. Skupski and Tennys Sandgren 5-4.
   Women's doubles -- Hingis and Anastasia Rodionova (Kastles) def. Gajdosova and Medina Garrigues 5-1.
   Men's singles -- Querrey (Kastles) def. Sandgren 5-2.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Kalinina overcomes big deficit for Challenger title

No. 8 seed Anhelina Kalinina, right, of Ukraine toppled No. 1
An-Sophie Mestach of Belgium for the Sacramento Challenger
title after trailing by a set and two breaks. Photo by Paul Bauman
   GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- An-Sophie Mestach was cruising.
   The Belgian, whose sculpted 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter) physique makes Jillian Michaels look like a couch potato, was scurrying around the court and outslugging lethargic Anhelina Kalinina on Sunday night.
   Leading by a set and two breaks, the top-seeded Mestach appeared to be minutes away from winning the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger.
   "The crowd was even (getting bored)," groaned Kalinina, 18, of Ukraine. "I was just, 'Oh my God, c'mon, you have to play for them, for you, for everybody who's supporting me in my country. They're watching online.' " 
   Finally playing her trademark aggressive game, the eighth-seeded Kalinina rallied to stun Mestach 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in 2 hours, 38 minutes at the Gold River Racquet Club in the Sacramento area.
   Kalinina earned $7,600 and Mestach $4,053 in the first final in the four-year history of the tournament without an American. Earlier, however, the U.S. team of Ashley Weinhold and Caitlin Whoriskey edged Nao Hibino of Japan and 16-year-old Rosie Johanson of Canada 6-4, 3-6 [14-12] for the doubles title in a matchup of unseeded teams.
   Weinhold and Whoriskey trailed 8-4 in the match tiebreaker and survived three championship points. They split $2,786.   
   There was more drama ahead in the singles final, although it took a while to materialize. Mestach, a 21-year-old Fed Cup veteran and former world No. 1 junior, served at 4-1 in the second set. As the lead slipped away, she put up a colassal fight in the epic last game of the set. Mestach saved six set points before Kalinina finally converted.
Kalinina's sensational backhand, along with her
excellent volley, helped her subdue Mestach.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   During the awards ceremony, Mestach's voice broke as she addressed an estimated crowd of 400.
   "It sucks to lose like this," lamented Mestach, drawing laughs from spectators. "I mean, 6-4, 4-1, so ... I'm not very happy at the moment, but OK. I want to congratulate her. She (had) a good week. ... "
   As if Sunday's loss wasn't agonizing enough, it was Mestach's second runner-up finish in two weeks. Also seeded first in the inaugural Stockton Challenger, she fell to the 20-year-old Hibino 6-1, 7-6 (6) in the final. In the second round, Mestach beat Kalinina 7-6 (3), 6-2.
   At least Mestach improved five spots in this week's world rankings to a career-high No. 99, surpassing her previous best by one notch.
   Kalinina also attained a career high, jumping 44 places to No. 148 with her third and biggest professional singles title. She won $25,000 Challengers in Jackson, Miss., and Pelham, Ala., both on clay, in consecutive weeks in April.
   The daughter of two teaching pros, Kalinina excelled in the juniors last year. She won the Australian Open doubles title with Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia and reached the U.S. Open singles final, losing to Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 7-6 (5).
   Kalinina has a big upside -- literally. Like many top players, she's tall (5-foot-10 or 1.79 meters) with a strong serve and punishing groundstrokes.
Mestach lost a Challenger final for the second
consecutive week. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Kalinina, though, is unusual in several ways. She's very quick at her size, her two-handed backhand is even better than her forehand, she has an excellent volley, and she's not afraid to use it. At least she wasn't in the last half of Sunday's match.
   On the other hand, the final marked Kalinina's second mental lapse in three matches. She was the one who blew a big second-set lead in the quarterfinals against third-seeded CiCi Bellis, 16, of Atherton in the San Francisco Bay Area, but she recovered to dominate the third set. 
   Kalinina knew early against Mestach that something was amiss.
   "Even 3-all in the first set, I realized I'm not there; I'm not fighting," she said. "I was not even ready to beat her right there. It's impossible to win (that way) against top players.
   "I don't know why I started that bad. Maybe I was a little bit nervous because I really want to show that (after) last week I'm going to win this match. (I made) too many mistakes in the first set. Main thing is I was not that aggressive. I was just pushing balls, and of course she was beating me every rally."
   After Mestach jumped to a 4-1 lead in the second set, Kalinina took the advice of her coach, Dmitry Mazur. Sitting at courtside with Kalinina's mother, Halyna, he spoke to Anhelina in their native language. (Never mind that coaching is prohibited in Challenger tournaments, although it's allowed on the elite WTA tour.)
   "He said, 'Play your game; go to the net,' " Kalinina said. "Especially, 'Go to the net.' And, 'Be aggressive. You (have nothing to lose), so just play. Just try.' "
Americans Ashley Weinhold, left, and Caitlin Whoriskey
won the doubles title, surviving three championship points.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Kalinina proceeded to reel off five straight games to steal the second set. But even after Kalinina pulled to 3-4 in the set, Mestach seemed to have the match in hand. She served at 40-0 in the next game but double-faulted on three of the next six points, including on break point.
   The last game of the second set was the highlight of the match -- and probably the tournament. Back and forth it went on Mestach's serve. Kalinina would rifle a shot into the corner, follow it to the net and put away the volley for set point. Mestach then would play spectacular defense and eventually crack a passing shot to stay alive.
   Finally, from deuce, Kalinina spanked a backhand winner and a backhand passing shot, both down the line, for the set.
   Kalinina secured the only break of the third set on a reflex forehand volley to lead 5-3. Serving for the title, she hammered a service winner down the middle on her second championship point.
   Mestach said Kalinina was the fresher player in the third set.
   "Let's be honest -- that's my 10th match in two weeks. I've been playing doubles as well," noted Mestach.
   Also, honestly, the singles final shouldn't have gone to three sets.  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Surging Dream clinches WTT playoff berth

   The California Dream, which was 2-3 at one point this season, today clinched a berth in the World TeamTennis playoffs with its fifth consecutive victory and sixth in seven matches.
   California defeated the host Philadelphia Freedoms 22-16 as Bob and Mike Bryan completed their three-match stint with the Dream. The 37-year-old Bryan twins won five of the six sets in which one or both of them played, including both today.
   "An awesome 4 days with the @CalDreamTennis! Proud to help their playoff run," Bob Bryan tweeted.
   California (8-4) will play the Austin Aces (9-2) for the Western Conference championship on Thursday, almost certainly in Austin, Texas. For California to host the match in the Sacramento area, the Dream would have to win both of its remaining regular-season matches, and the Aces would have to lose all three of theirs.
   If California and Austin tie for first place, the Aces own the tiebreaker by virtue of their 3-0 head-to-head record.
   The Dream will end its three-match road trip on Monday against International Tennis Hall of Famer Martina Hingis and the Washington Kastles (8-3), who already have clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Kastles have won four straight WTT titles and five of the last six.
   California will play its regular-season finale on Wednesday against the San Diego Aviators (4-7) at Dream Stadium at Sunrise Mall in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights. 
CALIFORNIA DREAM 22, PHILADELPHIA FREEDOMS 16
In Villanova, Pa.
   Men's singles -- Tennys Sandgren (Dream) def. Robby Ginepri 5-4.
   Women's singles -- Taylor Townsend (Freedoms) def. Jarka Gajdosova 5-2.
   Men's doubles -- Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan (Dream) def. Ginepri and Marcelo Melo 5-1.
   Women's doubles -- Gajdosova and Anabel Medina Garrigues (Dream) def. Abigail Spears and Townsend 5-4.
   Mixed doubles -- Garrigues and Bob Bryan (Dream) def. Townsend and Melo 5-2.

Mestach overcomes bizarre injury, gains another final

Top-seeded An-Sophie Mestach beat fourth-seeded
Nao Hibino after losing to her in last week's Stock-
ton Challenger final. Photo by Paul Bauman
   GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- An-Sophie Mestach undoubtedly is the only player in tennis history to get injured from bouncing the ball before serving.
   Actually, it was from her habit of twirling the racket in her right hand while bouncing the ball about 25 times before every serve, first and second, during last week's inaugural $50,000 Stockton Challenger.
   Mestach advanced to the final, losing to Nao Hibino at the University of the Pacific.  
   "I got a wrist problem after bouncing so much," Mestach explained Saturday after beating Hibino 7-5, 6-4 in the semifinals of the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger. "I was turning my racket so much.
   "I was very nervous last week. I was trying to make the cut for U.S. Open, and that didn't really help me mentally. I fought my way through the tournament, but I didn't play well. This week I'm playing much better."
   Mestach has slashed her ball bouncing to three times before each serve. 
   "My boyfriend was making fun of me like I was a basketball player," she said. "The coaches weren't very happy with me because I had pain in my wrist because of doing that.
   "I was making it more difficult for myself. I practiced one day, and I just did every time three bounces, and now I'm doing much better in the matches."
   The top-seeded Mestach, a 21-year-old Belgian, will meet eighth-seeded Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine for the second straight week tonight at the Gold River Racquet Club in the Sacramento area. Kalinina outclassed wild card Brooke Austin of Indianapolis 7-5, 6-1 in a matchup of teenagers.
No. 8 seed Anhelina Kalinina outclassed
wild card Brooke Austin in a matchup
of teenagers. Photo by Paul Bauman
   The singles final, which will follow the 5 p.m. doubles final, will match Mestach's consistency and endurance against the 18-year-old Kalinina's firepower. Mestach beat her 7-6 (3), 6-2 in the second round at Stockton.    
   "I didn't play very aggressive," the 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter) Mestach recalled of the match. "I was playing very defensively, and she was having problems with it. She was missing a lot of shots.
   "I think it just depends on the day for her. If she has a good day, she can play very well, but she can also miss a lot of balls."
   Kalinina said "the match was very tough for me because she has unbelievable physical conditioning. She's so fit. She can run for I don't know how long.
   "I can't miss easy balls. I have to try to play a very solid game. That's the most important (thing) against her because if you miss a lot of balls, there is no chance to win. I'm not such an incredible runner like she."
   Still, Kalinina moves exceptionally well for a 5-foot-10 (1.79-meter) woman.
   As it turned out, the 104th-ranked Mestach missed the cutoff for the U.S. Open, Aug. 31 to Sept. 13 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., by three spots. Unless at least three players withdraw, she will have to win three qualifying matches to play in her second Grand Slam tournament. Mestach got straight into the main draw of the Australian Open -- barely -- in January and lost to 10th-seeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 6-2, 6-2 in the first round.
   Not only is there less pressure on Mestach in Sacramento, she likes the conditions better there than in Stockton.
Hibino looked nothing like the player who won
Stockton. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "I didn't like Stockton at all," groused Mestach, the world's top junior in 2011. "The balls were flying more than here. I don't know what it was; it was something weird with the courts, but it was (the same) for everyone. Who (handled it) the best (won) the matches.
   "This week (it's) much easier to play. (The ball is) flying less, and you have more control, but (it's) still bouncing. I think I just adjusted better this week than last week. I've been here a bit longer; it's my second week in the U.S., so (there's) also the time difference and everything."
   Mestach wasn't crazy about playing the fourth-seeded Hibino, though.
   "She's a tricky player on this surface," Mestach allowed. "The ball bounces high, and she has a slight loopy thing going on. It's quite annoying to play her."
   But Hibino, 20, of Japan was nothing like the player who won Stockton with pinpoint groundstrokes, a strong serve and exquisite touch.
   Serving at 5-5, 30-30 in the first set, Hibino committed two consecutive errors to lose her serve.  After netting a forehand return of a second serve in the next game to drop the set, she flung her racket on the ground in a rare display of temper from a Japanese player.
   In the second set, Hibino double-faulted three times at 2-2 to suffer the only break of the set. She did hit a perfect backhand lob in the next game for 0-40 but couldn't capitalize.
   Serving at 3-5, Hibino escaped a match point with an ace, but Mestach converted her next one.
Austin won four straight games to lead 5-4 in the first set
before Kalinina dominated. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "I made a lot of (errors wide in the match), and her defense (was) good today, so she made me (make) mistakes," Hibino, who hadn't lost a set in two career matches against Mestach, said in halting English. "Her serve (was) better than last week."
   Hibino, whose winning streak ended at eight matches, conceded that she "felt (a) little bit tired." 
   Kalinina overcame other issues in the second semifinal. She led 4-1 in the first set before Austin, 19, reeled off four straight games. Kalinina then won nine of the last 10 games. 
   "I lost my concentration (in the first set)," moaned the 192nd-ranked Kalinina, who last year in the juniors reached the U.S. Open singles final and won the Australian Open doubles title with Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia. "Then I (became) very angry (with) myself, so I just started to push myself, like, 'C'mon, just move, move, move and hit and don't miss.' That helped me a lot, and I tried to keep this focus to the end."
   Kalinina, according to Austin, "just played looser" after trailing 5-4 in the first set. "She hit a lot more winners and went for more, and they all just went in. There wasn't really much I could have done, I don't think."
   The match featured 21 double faults, 13 by Austin.
   "I just changed my serve -- literally the day before this tournament -- so I'm like all over the place," explained the 19-year-old Austin, an All-American in singles and doubles as a freshman at Florida this past season. "I'm still getting used to it."
   Austin, 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters), said she returned to a full motion instead of the half delivery that she had been using because of back trouble.
   "It's completely different. I'm actually surprised (the serve) went in as much as it did," conceded Austin, who wore Florida Gators orange and blue and plans to return to the school for at least one more season. 
   Austin and Sanaz Marand are tied for the lead in the U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge -- which consists of the $50,000 Challengers in Stockton, Sacramento and Lexington, Ky., in a three-week span -- with 30 points each.
   The American woman who earns the most WTA ranking points in two of the three tournaments will receive a wild card in the singles main draw of the U.S. Open.
$50,000 FSP GOLD RIVER WOMEN'S CHALLENGER
At Gold River Racquet Club in Gold River, Calif.
Singles semifinals
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, def. Nao Hibino (4), Japan, 7-5, 6-4.
   Anhelina Kalinina (8), Ukraine, def. Brooke Austin, United States, 7-5, 6-1.
Doubles semifinals
   Ashley Weinhold and Caitlin Whoriskey, United States, def. Eri Hozumi, Japan, and An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, 6-4, 6-2.
   Nao Hibino, Japan, and Rosie Johanson, Canada, def. Robin Anderson and Maegan Manasse, United States, 7-6 (3), 6-3.   
Today's schedule
Stadium
(Starting at 5 p.m.) 
   Nao Hibino, Japan, and Rosie Johanson, Canada, vs. Ashley Weinhold and Caitlin Whoriskey, United States.
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, vs. Anhelina Kalinina (8), Ukraine.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bryans routed, but Dream extends WTT win streak

   Despite a one-sided loss by Bob and Mike Bryan, the California Dream neared a playoff berth with their fourth straight victory on Saturday.
   Bolting to an early lead and then hanging on, visiting California defeated the Boston Lobsters 21-19.
   The 37-year-old Bryan twins fell to Jason Jung and Scott Lipsky 5-2 in men's doubles, cutting California's lead to 12-10 at intermission. All except Jung starred at Stanford.
   Mike Bryan rebounded to win 5-4 in mixed doubles with Anabel Medina Garrigues.
   The Bryans will play the last of their three matches for the Dream (7-4) on Sunday at Philadelphia (4-7).
   California can clinch the second and last playoff spot in the Western Conference with a win over the Freedoms and a loss by the San Diego Aviators (4-6) in Austin against the Aces (8-2).
   If California wins and Austin loses, the Dream will pull within one-half match of the first-place Aces.
   California has three matches left in the regular season.
CALIFORNIA DREAM 21, BOSTON LOBSTERS 19 (EP)
In Manchester by the Sea, Mass.
   Men's singles -- Tennys Sandgren (Dream) def. Jason Jung 5-3.
   Women's singles -- Jarka Gajdosova (Dream) def. Irina Falconi 5-2.
   Men's doubles -- Jung and Scott Lipsky (Lobsters) def. Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan 5-2.
   Mixed doubles -- Mike Bryan and Anabel Medina Garrigues (Dream) def. Arantxa Parra Santonja and Lipsky 5-4.
   Women's doubles -- Falconi and Parra Santonja (Lobsters) def. Gajdosova and Medina Garrigues 5-3.
   Extended play -- Gajdosova and Medina Garrigues (Dream) def. Falconi and Parra Santonja 1-0.

Serena to open Stanford title defense on Aug. 5

Serena Williams won her third Bank of the West Classic title
last year. Tri Nguyen/TriNguyenPhotography.com
   Serena Williams will open the defense of her Bank of the West singles title on Wednesday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m. at Stanford, tournament officials announced this week.
   Also, former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki will make her Stanford debut on Thursday, Aug. 6, at 7 p.m.
   The stars' opponents will be determined in Friday's draw.
   The top-ranked Williams, a three-time Bank of the West champion, will try to complete a calendar-year Grand Slam in the U.S. Open, Aug. 31-Sept. 13 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. No player has accomplished the feat since Steffi Graf more than a quarter century ago in 1988.
   Williams, who will turn 34 on Sept. 26, has won 21 career major singles titles to rank third on the all-time list behind Margaret Court (24) and Graf (22).
   Wozniacki, a 25-year-old Dane, has won 23 career WTA singles crowns. She is ranked fifth in the world.
   Also entered in the Bank of the West Classic are No. 7 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro, giving the tournament four of the top 10.
   Other entrants include No. 12 Karolina Pliskova, No. 13 Angelique Kerber (last year's runner-up), No. 16 Andrea Petkovic, No. 17 Elina Svitolina, No. 18 Madison Keys, No. 22 Sabine Lisicki and 16-year-old wild card CiCi Bellis of nearby Atherton.
   Keys reached her first Grand Slam semifinal in January at the Australian Open and turned 20 years old the following month.
   Lisicki set the record for the fastest women's serve, 131 mph (210.8 kph), in a first-round loss to  Ana Ivanovic in last year's Bank of the West Classic.
   Wimbledon runner-up Garbine Muguruza, the 2014 doubles champion in the Bank of the West with Suarez Navarro, withdrew from next month's tournament with an abdominal strain.
   Bank of the West tickets start at $33 for individual seats and $205 for tournament packages. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to bankofthewestclassic.com or call 866-WTA-TIXS (866-982-8497).

Kalinina blows big lead but beats Bellis in Challenger

No. 8 seed Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine was two points
from beating No. 3 CiCi Bellis of Atherton 6-3, 6-2 but
settled for a three-set victory. Photo by Paul Bauman
   GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- Anhelina Kalinina put it succinctly when asked about blowing a big lead in the second set of her quarterfinal against CiCi Bellis on Friday in the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger.
   "Shit happens sometimes," Kalinina declared with a chuckle.
   But with maturity belying her age, the eighth-seeded Kalinina of Ukraine quickly recovered to defeat the third-seeded Bellis of Atherton in the San Francisco Bay Area 6-3, 5-7, 6-1 in a battle of teenagers at the Gold River Racquet Club in the Sacramento region.
   Kalinina is a little older (18), significantly bigger (5-foot-10 or 1.79 meters) and only slightly more powerful than the 16-year-old Bellis, who hits surprisingly hard at 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters) and 110 pounds (50 kilograms).
   It's rare for a player to win two pro tournaments in two weeks, but both Kalinina and Bellis already have done it in $25,000 Challengers. Kalinina's titles came in April on clay in Jackson, Miss., and Pelham, Ala. Bellis, who remains an amateur, pulled off the feat last October on hardcourts in Rock Hill, S.C., and Florence, S.C.
   Those results have helped Bellis and Kalinina attain world rankings of No. 167 and No. 192, respectively, and they engaged in numerous breathtaking rallies on Friday.
   Kalinina was two points from an easy victory while serving at 5-2, 30-30 in the second set. But Bellis proceeded to break serve three straight times, with the help of two double faults and two ill-advised drop shots by Kalinina, while holding her own and stole the set.
Bellis reacts after holding her serve in the first
game of the third set. She did not win another
game. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "She was 2-5 down, then I give her some chances," Kalinina admitted. "She felt that she can win, so she started playing much more aggressive with, 'C'mon,' and 'C'mon, you can do it,' so it's always tough when your opponent is on fire. 
   "But it was my fault. I was playing until it was 6-3, 5-2, then I stopped, like maybe mentally. I didn't push her at the finish of this match, so that's why it was like this -- three sets, not two sets."
   While the players took a bathroom break after the second set, Kalinina regained her intensity. After Bellis saved a break point and held serve in the opening game of the third set, Kalinina reeled off six consecutive games for the match.
   "I was trying to push myself, like, 'C'mon, c'mon, you can do it. C'mon, Anhelina, move,' " Kalinina said. "Because when I stop moving my legs, my game is just nothing. When I move good, I can hit the ball and do good rallies."
   Kalinina combines power and quickness, allowing her to play outstanding offense and defense. Her forehand is excellent, her two-handed backhand even better.
   "I love playing forehands (on) high balls, backhand every ball," the colorful, endearing Kalinina cracked with a laugh.
   Kalinina will meet another teenager, 19-year-old Brooke Austin of Indianapolis, for the first time in today's second semifinal.
   Austin beat 5-foot-3 (1.61-meter) Robin Anderson of Matawan, N.J., 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 in a matchup of wild cards and 2015 college All-Americans. Austin starred this year as a freshman at Florida and Anderson as a senior at UCLA.
   Austin has the added incentive of the U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge, which consists of the $50,000 Challengers in Stockton, Sacramento and Lexington, Ky., in a three-week span. The American woman who earns the most WTA ranking points in two of the three tournaments will receive a wild card in the singles main draw of the U.S. Open, Aug. 31 to Sept. 13.
   By reaching the Sacramento semifinals, Austin tied Sanaz Marand for the lead in the race with 30 points. Austin, the only American left in the Gold River Challenger, can earn 19 more points by advancing to the final and 51 more points by winning the title.
   Marand defeated Austin in the first round at Stockton and lost to fourth-seeded Nao Hibino, the Stockton champion, in the first round in Sacramento.
   In today's first semifinal at 4 p.m., top-seeded An-Sophie Mestach of Belgium will play Japan's Hibino in a rematch of the Stockton final. Hibino, 20, won that encounter 6-1, 7-6 (6) to improve to 2-0 against Mestach, 21.
   Hibino also beat Mestach, a Fed Cup veteran and former world No. 1 junior, 6-2, 6-2 in the quarterfinals of the $50,000 Challenger in Kurume, Japan, on grass in May en route to the title.
   Mestach dispatched fourth-seeded Mayo Hibi of Japan 6-4, 6-1 on Friday. Hibi, who was born in Japan but has lived in California since she was 2 1/2, won the Gold River Challenger two years ago at 17.
   Hibino beat 44-year-old countrywoman Kimiko Date-Krumm, seeded seventh, 6-3, 4-1, retired (thigh) to reach the Sacramento semifinals for the second year in a row. Date-Krumm ascended to a career-high No. 4 in the world 20 years ago but retired at age 26 for 12 years.
$50,000 FSP GOLD RIVER WOMEN'S CHALLENGER
At Gold River Racquet Club in Gold River, Calif.
Singles quarterfinals
   Nao Hibino (4), Japan, def. Kimiko Date-Krumm (6), Japan, 6-3, 4-1, ret.
   Anhelina Kalinina (8), Ukraine, def. CiCi Bellis (3), Atherton, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1.
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, def. Mayo Hibi (6), Japan, 6-4, 6-1.
   Brooke Austin, United States, def. Robin Anderson, United States, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Doubles quarterfinals
   Ashley Weinhold and Caitlin Whoriskey, United States, def. Alexandra Facey and Kat Facey, Cameron Park, 6-1, 6-2.
   Nao Hibino, Japan, and Rosie Johanson, Canada, def. Naomi Cavaday, Great Britain, and Alexandra Stevenson, United States, 6-1, 6-3.
   Eri Hozumi, Japan, and An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, def. Jovana Jaksic, Serbia, and Anhelina Kalinina, Ukraine, 3-6, 6-0 [10-5].
   Robin Anderson and Maegan Manasse, United States, def. Mayo Hibi, Japan, and Jessica Pegula, United States, walkover.   
Today's schedule
Stadium
(Starting at 4 p.m.) 
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, vs. Nao Hibino (4), Japan.
   Anhelina Kalinina (8), Ukraine, vs. Brooke Austin, United States.
   Eri Hozumi, Japan, and An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, vs. Ashley Weinhold and Caitlin Whoriskey, United States.
Court 3
(After rest, time TBA)
   Robin Anderson and Maegan Manasse, United States, vs. Nao Hibino, Japan, and Rosie Johanson, Canada.

Friday, July 24, 2015

No. 2 seed Hozumi falls in Sacramento Challenger

American wild card Brooke Austin, 19, eliminated
No. 2 seed Eri Hozumi to reach the quarterfinals of
the Gold River Challenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   GOLD RIVER, Calif. --The $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger was due for some upsets, and it got a big one Thursday.
   Brooke Austin, a wild card ranked No. 566, ousted second-seeded Eri Hozumi, ranked 165th, 7-5, 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals at the Gold River Racquet Club in the Sacramento area.
   Austin's victory wasn't a complete surprise, though. After earning All-America honors as a freshman at Florida, the 19-year-old Indianapolis resident was the runner-up to fellow American Danielle Lao as a qualifier in last month's $25,000 Baton Rouge Challenger on hardcourts.
   Also falling Thursday was No. 5 Jennifer Brady to wild card and former UCLA teammate Robin Anderson, 6-3, 6-2.
   Each of the other six seeds won.
   No. 3 CiCi Bellis, a 16-year-old resident of Atherton in the San Francisco Bay Area, defeated Asia Muhammad of the United States 2-6, 6-1. 6-1.
   No. 4 Nao Hibino, a 20-year-old Japanese standout who won last week's Stockton Challenger, topped former Stanford All-American Kristie Ahn 2-6, 6-3, 6-0.
   And No. 7 Kimiko Date-Krumm, 44, of Japan outplayed wild card Jamie Loeb, who won this year's NCAA title as a sophomore at North Carolina, 6-3, 7-5. 
   Of the quarterfinalists, three in the top half of the draw are Japanese, and three in the bottom half are American.
   Today's matchups are No. 1 An-Sophie Mestach of Belgium vs. No. 6 Mayo Hibi of Japan, Hibino vs. Date-Krumm, Bellis vs. No. 8 Anhelina Kalinina and Austin vs. Anderson.
   Hibi, who was born in Japan but grew up in Irvine, won the 2013 Gold River Challenger at 17 years old.
   Hibino is looking forward to playing Date-Krumm, who climbed to a career-high No. 4 in the world 20 years ago but retired at age 26 for 12 years, for the first time. They were denied a chance to meet  in the Stockton final.
   "It's so exciting because last week she lost in (the) semis, so we (couldn't) play against each other," said Hibino, who went out to dinner with Date-Krumm for the first time in Stockton. "I'm so happy."
$50,000 FSP GOLD RIVER WOMEN'S CHALLENGER
At Gold River Racquet Club in Gold River, Calif.
Second-round singles
   Kimiko Date-Krumm (7), Japan, def. Jamie Loeb, United States, 6-3, 7-5.
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, def. Jan Abaza, United States, 6-3, 6-0.
   Anhelina Kalinina (8), Ukraine, def. Jovana Jaksic, Serbia, 6-4, 6-2.
   Nao Hibino (4), Japan, def. Kristie Ahn, United States, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0.
   Mayo Hibi (6), Japan, def. Ashley Weinhold, United States, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2.
   Brooke Austin, United States, def. Eri Hozumi (2), Japan, 7-5, 6-2. 
   Robin Anderson, United States, def. Jennifer Brady (5), United States, 6-3, 6-2.
   CiCi Bellis (3), Atherton, def. Asia Muhammad, United States, 2-6, 6-1, 6-1.
First-round doubles
   Ashley Weinhold and Caitlin Whoriskey, United States, def. Jan Abaza and Melanie Oudin (3), United States, walkover.
   Eri Hozumi, Japan, and An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, def. Manon Arcangioli and Clothilde De Bernardi, France, 6-2, 6-2. 
Friday's schedule
Stadium
(Starting at noon)
   Nao Hibino (4), Japan, vs. Kimiko Date-Krumm (7), Japan.
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, vs. Mayo Hibi (6), Japan.
   Ashley Weinhold and Caitlin Whoriskey, United States, vs. Alexandra Facey and Kat Facey, Cameron Park.
   Eri Hozumi, Japan, and An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, vs. Jovana Jaksic, Serbia, and Anhelina Kalinina, Ukraine (possible court change).
(Not before 6:30 p.m.)
   Robin Anderson, United States, vs. Brooke Austin, United States.
   Mayo Hibi, Japan, and Jessica Pegula, United States, vs. Robin Anderson and Maegan Manasse (Cal), United States.
Court 3
(Starting at noon)
   CiCi Bellis (3), Atherton, vs. Anhelina Kalinina (8), Ukraine.
   Nao Hibino, Japan, and Rosie Johanson, Canada, vs. Naomi Cavaday, Great Britain, and Alexandra Stevenson, United States (after rest, time TBA).

Bryans lift Dream to dramatic win in WTT

   This was a tall order, even for the Bryan brothers.
   The California Dream trailed the San Diego Aviators by three games entering the final set, men's doubles, in a World TeamTennis match on Thursday night.
   But Bob and Mike Bryan, making their debut for California, pounded Raven Klaasen and Taylor Fritz, a top 17-year-old prospect playing for his hometown team, 5-1 to give the Dream a dramatic 20-19 victory at Sunrise Mall in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights.
   Mike Bryan, who has teamed with Bob for a record 16 Grand Slam men's doubles titles, also won 5-3 in mixed doubles with Anabel Medina Garrigues.
   The match was televised live on Tennis Channel and ESPN3.
   Second-place California (6-4) pulled within 2 1/2 matches of the Austin Aces (8-1) in the Western Conference with its third straight win and fourth in its last five contests.
   More importantly, the Dream extended its lead over San Diego (3-6) to 2 1/2 matches for the last playoff spot in the conference. California has four matches left in the regular season.
   The Bryans will play two more matches for the Dream, on Saturday night at Boston (4-6) and on Sunday night at Philadelphia (4-6). California is off today to travel.
CALIFORNIA DREAM 20, SAN DIEGO AVIATORS 19
In Citrus Heights, Calif. 
   Men's singles -- Taylor Fritz (Aviators) def. Tennys Sandgren 5-4.
   Women's singles -- Chani Scheepers (Aviators) def. Jarka Gajdosova 5-3.
   Mixed doubles -- Mike Bryan and Anabel Medina Garrigues (Dream) def. Raven Klaasen and Daruja Jurak 5-3.
   Women's doubles -- Jurak and Scheepers (Aviators) def. Gajdosova and Garrigues 5-3.
   Men's doubles -- Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan (Dream) def. Klaasen and Fritz 5-1.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Oudin tries to bounce back from health woes

Melanie Oudin lost to No. 1 seed An-Sophie Mestach 6-4, 6-4
in the first round of the Gold River Women's Challenger.
Photo by Paul Bauman

   GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- She was once America's sweetheart.
   Melanie Oudin, a 17-year-old pipsqueak with "Believe" printed on her shoes, knocked off four towering Russians in a row to reach the quarterfinals of the 2009 U.S. Open.
   U.S. fans went crazy.  
   Eventual runner-up Caroline Wozniacki ended Oudin's fairytale run in the quarters, but the 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter), 130-pound (59-kilogram) upstart climbed to No. 31 in the world the following April. Her future seemed unlimited.
   Then she put too much pressure on herself, and the losses mounted. Aside from winning the mixed doubles title in the 2011 U.S. Open with Jack Sock, there were few highlights.
   But the worst was yet to come as a bizarre series of health problems struck.
   Oudin was diagnosed in November 2012 with a debilitating muscle condition that caused her arms to swell "like balloons," she told the Associated Press at the time. However, she recovered in time to play a full season in 2013.  
   Last November, Oudin had a procedure for an accelerated heart rate and a growth removed her left eye that was caused by excessive exposure to the sun. (She now wears sunglasses while playing in an effort to prevent the growth from returning.)
   The heart procedure didn't work, so she had another one by a different doctor in April.
   "He did a great job, and I haven't had any problems since then," Oudin, a 23-year-old resident of Marietta, Ga., in the Atlanta area, said during last week's inaugural $50,000 Stockton Challenger. "I'm pretty sure I'm fixed and good to go."
Mestach led 5-1 in the second set against Oudin.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Oudin advanced to the Stockton quarterfinals in the third tournament of her comeback but drew top-seeded An-Sophie Mestach of Belgium in the first round of this week's $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger in the Sacramento area.
   Mestach, the No. 1 junior in the world in 2011, won 6-4, 6-4 on Wednesday night at the Gold River Racquet Club in the first meeting between the undersized Fed Cup veterans.
   But it wasn't that close. The 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter) Mestach, ranked No. 104 after reaching the Stockton final, led 5-1 in the second set and served for the match at 5-2. She double-faulted twice, though, and lost her serve.
   After the right-handed Oudin held serve for 4-5, she took a dubious medical timeout for a right shoulder injury. While Oudin, lying on a towel on her stomach, received treatment near her chair, the 21-year-old Mestach tried to stay warm by practicing her serve.
   It worked. After a 10-minute break, Mestach held serve for the match.
   Oudin is mystified by the decline early in her career.
   "I honestly can't tell you," she said after beating eighth-seeded Naomi Broady of Great Britain in the second round of the Stockton Challenger. "The heart thing I've had since I was 19 or 20. I just didn't know what it was. I'm not making an excuse, but it definitely happened in a ton of matches, and I didn't really know what it was.
No. 4 seed Nao Hibino, who won last week's Stockton Chall-
enger, dominated Sanaz Marand. Photo by Mal Taam
   "A lot of people go up when they're young and go back down the rankings, and it just takes time to get back up again."
   Oudin's health problems have changed her perspective.
   "I've had some pretty crappy luck over the past two years, but I'm really happy," said the 270th-ranked Oudin. "I feel I'm almost playing a little better now (with) a little less pressure because I've gone through so much and realize there's way more to life than just tennis.
   "I feel like it's good not putting pressure on myself, because a lot of times I will put way too much on myself. Just starting back, no one expects me to win. I shouldn't expect right away to be winning tournaments, so every match (I win) is definitely a good thing."
   Broady can see how Oudin got to the U.S. Open quarterfinals.
   "She's a really good mover," said the 6-foot-2 (1.89-meter) Broady, who won the doubles title in the 2013 Gold River Challenger with Storm Sanders of Australia. "She's really quick. She hit a really good ball the first few games of the match. She was actually more aggressive than I was.
   "She's a little 'pocket rocket,' really. She's a great player, and I think her ranking will get back up there soon."
   It appears, though, that Oudin needs to lose weight.
No. 7 Kimiko Date-Krumm, 44, overcame a slow
start to beat Jessica Pegula. Photo by Mal Taam
   After the first round of the Gold River Challenger, all eight seeds remain -- a rarity in professional tennis. The biggest surprise Wednesday was Jan Abaza, 20, ousting fellow American Julia Boserup, last year's runner-up to Olivia Rogowska of Australia, 6-3, 6-3. Rogowska did not return this year.
   Half of the seeds are Japanese. Joining No. 2 Eri Hozumi, who won on Tuesday, in the second round were No. 4 Nao Hibino, No. 6 Mayo Hibi and No. 7 Kimiko Date-Krumm, a 44-year-old marvel.
   Hibino, the Stockton champion, dominated American left-hander Sanaz Marand 6-2, 6-3 after beating her 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) in the Stockton semifinals.
   "The court is a little bit different from last week," said Hibino, 20. "It's faster, and the bounce is a little bit low. She hits a lot of spin, and I think it doesn't work (on this court)."
   Hibi, who won the Gold River Challenger two years ago at 17, dismissed American qualifier Nicole Frenkel 6-3, 6-3. Hibi was born in Japan but moved to Foster City in the San Francisco Bay Area at 2 1/2 and to Irvine, her current residence, a few years later.
   Date-Krumm topped Jessica Pegula, the runner-up to Maria Sanchez in the inaugural Gold River Challenger three years ago at 18, 1-6, 6-4 6-2. Pegula's billionaire father, Terry, owns the NFL's Buffalo Bills and the NHL's Buffalo Sabres.
   It took Date-Krumm one set to start moving her feet and get in a rhythm after reaching the Stockton semifinals, in which she lost to Mestach in three sets.
   "After Stockton, I took one day off and had two days of easy practice but still (didn't have) confidence  in my legs," said Date-Krumm, who ascended to No. 4 in the world 20 years ago but retired at age 26 for 12 years. "In practice, I was OK, but in the match, moving is different, so I was worried too much.
   "Also, in the beginning ... (my) moving (was) not good because she has big power, so we have no (rallies). If I start moving, I'm getting better, but in the beginning, I was still sleeping," Date-Krumm added with a laugh.
   Hibino will play Kristie Ahn, a 23-year-old former Stanford star. Date-Krumm will face Jamie Loeb, who won the NCAA title in May as a sophomore at the University of North Carolina.
   Watching Jovana Jaksic's first-round victory were fellow Serbians and former Sacramento Kings stars Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic.
   Qualifier Michaela Gordon, a resident of Saratoga in the Bay Area who will turn 16 on Sunday, lost to wild card Brooke Austin, an All-American as a freshman at the University of Florida this year, 6-2, 6-4. 
$50,000 FSP GOLD RIVER WOMEN'S CHALLENGER
At Gold River Racquet Club in Gold River, Calif.
First-round singles
   Asia Muhammad, United States, def. Naomi Cavaday, Great Britain, 6-2, 6-2.
   Kimiko Date-Krumm (7) def. Jessica Pegula, United States, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2.
   Nao Hibino (4), Japan, def. Sanaz Marand, United States, 6-2, 6-3.
   Mayo Hibi (6), Japan, def. Nicole Frenkel, United States, 6-3, 6-3.
   Jan Abaza, United States, def. Julia Boserup, United States, 6-3, 6-3.
   Robin Anderson, United States, def. Lauren Embree, United States, 6-2, 6-4.
   Jovana Jaksic, Serbia, def. Manon Arcangioli, France, 6-2, 6-4.
   Kristie Ahn, United States, def. Chanel Simmonds, South Africa, 7-5, 6-2.
   Brooke Austin, United States, def. Michaela Gordon, Saratoga, 6-2, 6-4.
   Ashley Weinhold, United States, def. Mari Osaka, Japan, 6-4, 6-2.
   Jamie Loeb, United States, def. Kelly Chen, United States, 6-3, 6-4.
   Jennifer Brady (5), United States, def. Clothilde De Bernardi, France, 7-6 (7), 5-7, 6-4.
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, def. Melanie Oudin, United States, 6-4, 6-4.   
First-round doubles
   Naomi Cavaday, Great Britain, and Alexandra Stevenson, United States, def. Samantha Crawford and Asia Muhammad, United States, 7-6 (5), 4-6 [12-10].
   Jovana Jaksic, Serbia, and Anhelina Kalinina, Ukraine, def. Usue Maitane Arconada and Kylie McKenzie, United States, 6-7 (5), 6-1 [10-8].
   Alexandra Facey and Kat Facey, Cameron Park, def. Jillian Taggart, Fair Oaks, and Karina Kristina Vyrlan, Sacramento, 7-5, 1-6 [10-6].
Thursday's schedule
Stadium
(Starting at 10 a.m.)
   Kimiko Date-Krumm (7), Japan, vs. Jamie Loeb, United States.
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, vs. Jan Abaza, United States.
   Anhelina Kalinina (8), Ukraine, vs. Jovana Jaksic, Serbia.
   Jan Abaza and Melanie Oudin (3), United States, vs. Ashley Weinhold and Caitlin Whoriskey, United States.
Court 3
(Starting at 10 a.m.)
   Mayo Hibi (6), Japan, vs. Ashley Weinhold, United States.
   Eri Hozumi (2), Japan, vs. Brooke Austin, United States.
   CiCi Bellis (3), Atherton, vs. Asia Muhammad, United States.
   Eri Hozumi, Japan, and An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, vs. Manon Arcangioli and Clothilde De Bernardi, France.
Court 4 
(Starting at 11 a.m.)
   Nao Hibino (4), Japan, vs. Kristie Ahn, United States.
   Jennifer Brady (5), United States, vs. Robin Anderson, United States.

Dream routs San Diego, prepares to welcome Bryans

The Dream's Jarka Gajdosova, shown earlier this
season, blitzed San Diego's Chani Scheepers 5-0
in women's singles tonight. Photo by Darryl Hen-
ick. www.drhphotos.com
   Suddenly, things are looking up for the California Dream.
   California routed the San Diego Aviators 25-11 tonight for its first road win of the season as the teams battle for the second and last playoff spot in the Western Conference of World TeamTennis behind the Austin Aces (8-0).
   The Dream (5-4) has won two straight matches and three of its last four. With five regular-season contests remaining, California leads San Diego (3-5) by 1 1/2 matches and last-place Springfield (2-7) by three.
   There's more good news for the Dream. Bob and Mike Bryan, the top men's doubles team in the world, will play the first of their three matches for the team on Thursday night.
   California will face San Diego again at 7:30 at Dream Stadium at Sunrise Mall in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights. The match will be televised live on Tennis Channel and ESPN3.
   But the arrival of the Bryans, who have won a record 16 Grand Slam men's doubles titles but only one of the last eight majors, will send Neal Skupski to the bench in mixed doubles.
   Skupski -- a late substitute for Aisam Qureshi, who withdrew from WTT shortly before the season began -- and Anabel Medina Garrigues continued their outstanding play in mixed doubles tonight with a 5-1 victory in the last set.
   California, in fact, won all five sets against San Diego -- a rarity in WTT. Jarka Gajdosova blitzed Chani Scheepers 5-0 in women's singles to give the Dream a 10-3 lead after two sets.
   Seventeen-year-old Taylor Fritz, one of the United States' top male prospects, played two sets for San Diego in his hometown. He lost 5-3 with Raven Klaasen in men's doubles and 5-4 to Tennys Sandgren in men's singles.
CALIFORNIA DREAM 25, SAN DIEGO AVIATORS 11
In Carlsbad, Calif.
   Men's doubles -- Tennys Sandgren and Neal Skupski (Dream) def. Raven Klaasen and Taylor Fritz 5-3.
   Women's singles -- Jarka Gajdosova (Dream) def. Chani Scheepers 5-0.
   Men's singles -- Sandgren (Dream) def. Fritz 5-4.
   Women's doubles -- Jarka Gajdosova and Anabel Medina Garrigues (Dream) def. Darija Jurak and Scheepers 5-3.
   Mixed doubles -- Garrigues and Skupski (Dream) def. Jurak and Klaasen 5-1.    

Bellis returns to NorCal roots in Challenger win

Third-seeded CiCi Bellis of Atherton beat friend and former
junior rival Karina Kristina Vyrlan, a wild card, in the first
round of the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- It was like old times for CiCi Bellis on Tuesday.
   She was playing Karina Kristina Vyrlan again in a Northern California tournament.
   "I played her a bunch in NorCal juniors when I was younger, so it was crazy to see her name in the draw and play her," Bellis said. "I hadn't seen her in a while, either, so it was good to see her. We've been friends for a while."
   This wasn't the juniors, though. This was the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger.
   In a matchup of 16-year-old Northern Californians, the third-seeded Bellis dispatched Vyrlan, a wild card, 6-4, 6-1 at the Gold River Racquet Club.
   An even younger Northern Californian, Michaela Gordon of Saratoga in the San Francisco Bay Area, ousted fifth-seeded Jacqueline Cako, a 23-year-old American, 6-2, 6-3 in the final round of qualifying. Gordon, who recently reached the Wimbledon girls quarterfinals for the second straight year, will turn 16 on Sunday.
   The 1,091st-ranked Vyrlan, playing at home in the Sacramento area, led 4-3 in the first set, but Bellis, a resident of Atherton in the Bay Area ranked No. 167, used her punishing forehand to reel off the next seven games and nine of the last 10.
   "I was a little nervous in the beginning," Bellis admitted. "Then I started to relax."
Bellis won the girls 18 title in the NorCal
Junior Sectionals at Sacramento State three
years ago. 2012 photo by Paul Bauman
   Players, especially seeds, often get nervous in the first round as they adjust to new conditions. Bellis, though, faced added pressure after losing to Jovana Jaksic of Serbia in the first round of last week's inaugural Stockton Challenger.
   The Stockton match was Bellis' first in seven weeks because of age restriction rules. She no longer plays junior tournaments.
   Tuesday's victory marked Bellis' first appearance in the Sacramento area since she won the girls 18 title in the NorCal Junior Sectional Championships at Sacramento State three years ago.
   "It feels like yesterday," Bellis said wistfully. "I still remember every single match I played there. It feels like no time has passed."
   Yet so much has happened since then. Bellis had a better year in 2014 than Chevron. In chronological order, she:
   --Won the girls 18 singles title in the prestigious Easter Bowl in Indian Wells.
   --Reached the French Open girls doubles final with Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.
   --Became the youngest winner of the USTA Girls 18 National Championships since Lindsay Davenport, also 15, in 1991. The title gave Bellis an automatic wild card in the women's main draw of the U.S. Open.
   --Became the youngest player to win a main-draw match in the U.S. Open since Anna Kournikova, also 15, in 1996. And Bellis didn't beat just anyone. She shocked 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, the runner-up in the Australian Open that year.
   --Helped the United States win the Junior Fed Cup in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, in September.
   --Won back-to-back $25,000 Challenger singles crowns in Rock Hill, S.D., and Florence, S.C., in October as an amateur.
   --Ended last year as the No. 1 junior in the world.
Vyrlan, playing at home in the Sacramento area, led 4-3 in the first set
before Bellis reeled off seven straight games and nine of the last 10.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   This year, Bellis won a $25,000 Challenger in Rancho Santa Fe in the San Diego area in February and reached the third round at Miami on the elite WTA tour in March. In Miami, Bellis whipped then-No. 32 Zarina Diyas, who had beaten her in three sets in the second round of the U.S. Open, 6-2, 6-1 in the second round before losing to someone named Serena Williams 6-1, 6-1.
   Beating Cibulkova was a mixed blessing, Bellis revealed.
   "It helped me in a way -- it was my first big match and first big win. But in the tournaments following that, it put more pressure on me. Even after that, the tournaments I won and Miami, it's put me in a place where people expect me to win most of the matches I play. That's one of the down sides of it, but once you get better and better, that always happens, so you just get used to it," Bellis said.
   Playing Williams was "pretty scary," Bellis continued.
   "My coach (Tom Gutteridge) and I were talking today and joking, and I said, 'I'm probably never going to play anyone ever again that's as good as her,' " Bellis said with a laugh. "She's probably the best player to ever pick up a racket. To play her was unbelievable for me and a good experience. I think it will help me to play players like that."
Saratoga's Michaela Gordon, who will turn 16 on Sun-
day, ousted fifth-seeded Jacqueline Cako, 23, in the
final round of qualifying. Photo by Paul Bauman
   August will be another big month for Bellis. She received a wild card to play in the Bank of the West Classic on the WTA tour at Stanford, 5-10 minutes away from her home, for the first time.
   "It means everything to me," Bellis said. "Every year I've gone, I've been thinking about how long it'll take for me to be able to play in that tournament, and I never thought it would be this soon.
   "It's basically in my back yard. I played there so many times when I was younger in clinics and practices. It's one of my favorite places to play, and it's such a beautiful campus, so I think it's going to be amazing to play there."
   Bellis could play Williams again in the Bank of the West, which Williams won for the third time last year. Bellis said she's OK either way.
   "If I play her again, I won't be nervous because I've already played her once," Bellis declared.
   After the Bank of the West, Bellis plans to get her driver's license.
   "I'm so excited," she gushed. "I was supposed to get it earlier this year, but I haven't had time."
   Then comes the U.S. Open, which begins in late August. Bellis expects to get another wild card, if necessary, at Flushing Meadows.
   The home-schooled Bellis said if she cracks the top 100, her goal, she'll turn pro. And if she doesn't, there's always the possibility of attending that school down the road.
   Lele Forood, the Stanford women's coach, probably could make room for Bellis on the roster.      
   Notes -- Maria Sanchez, who won the inaugural Gold River Challenger three years ago, withdrew Monday without giving a reason, according to USTA supervisor Missy Malool.
   Sanchez, a 25-year-old USC graduate, suffered an agonizing first-round loss in Stockton, about a 30-minute drive from where she grew up in Modesto. She fell to Jessica Moore of Australia 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 after serving for the match at 6-3, 5-4, leading 4-2 in the third set and getting broken in the final game. ...
   Mayo Hibi and Jessica Pegula beat fourth-seeded Jamie Loeb and Sanaz Marand 7-6 (4), 6-1 in the first round. All except Hibi are American, and even though the 19-year-old Hibi plays for her native Japan, she grew up in Irvine in the Los Angeles area.
   Loeb and Marand won the Stockton Challenger.
   Both Hibi and the 21-year-old Pegula, whose billionaire father owns the NFL's Buffalo Bills and the NHL's Buffalo Sabres, have had singles success in the Gold River Challenger. Hibi won the title two years ago, and Pegula was the runner-up to Sanchez in 2012.
$50,000 FSP GOLD RIVER WOMEN'S CHALLENGER
At Gold River Racquet Club in Gold River, Calif.
Final-round qualifying
   Ashley Weinhold, United States, def. Renata Zarazua (7), Mexico, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.
   Nicole Frenkel (8), United States, def. Kelly Chen, United States, 6-4, 6-3.
   Michaela Gordon, Saratoga, def. Jacqueline Cako (5), United States, 6-2 6-3.
   Mari Osaka (6), Japan, def. Alexandra Stevenson (1), United States, 6-3, 7-5.
First-round singles
   Anhelina Kalinina (8), Ukraine, vs. Samantha Crawford, United States, 7-6 (4), 6-1.
   CiCi Bellis (3), Atherton, def. Karina Vyrlan, Sacramento, 6-4, 6-1.
   Eri Hozumi (2), Japan, def. Caitlin Whoriskey, United States, 6-4, 6-2. 
First-round doubles
   Mayo Hibi, Japan, and Jessica Pegula, United States, def. Jamie Loeb and Sanaz Marand (4), United States, 7-6 (4), 6-1.
   Robin Anderson and Maegan Manasse, United States, def. Jacqueline Cako, United States, and Chanel Simmonds, South Africa, 4-6, 6-3 [10-6].
   Nao Hibino, Japan, and Rosie Johanson, Canada, def. CiCi Bellis, Atherton, and Rianna Valdes, United States, 3-6, 6-2 [10-8].
Today's schedule
Stadium
(Not before 1 p.m.)
   Asia Muhammad, United States, vs. Naomi Cavaday, Great Britain.
   Kimiko Date-Krumm (7) vs. Jessica Pegula, United States.
   Nao Hibino (4), Japan, vs. Sanaz Marand, United States.
   Samantha Crawford and Asia Muhammad, United States, vs. Naomi Cavaday, Great Britain, and    Alexandra Stevenson, United States (possible court change).
(Not before 6:30 p.m.)
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, vs. Melanie Oudin, United States.
   Alexandra Facey and Kat Facey, Cameron Park, vs. Jillian Taggart, Fair Oaks, and Karina Kristina Vyrlan, Sacramento.
Court 3
(Starting at noon)
   Ashley Weinhold, United States, vs. Mari Osaka, Japan.
   Jamie Loeb, United States, vs. Kelly Chen, United States.
   Jennifer Brady, United States, vs. Clothilde De Bernardi, France. 
   Jovana Jaksic, Serbia, and Anhelina Kalinina, Ukraine, vs. Usue Maitane Arconada and Kylie McKenzie, United States.
Court 4 
(Starting at noon)
   Mayo Hibi (7), Japan, vs. Nicole Frenkel, United States.
   Julia Boserup, United States, vs. Jan Abaza, United States.
   Robin Anderson, United States, vs. Lauren Embree, United States.
Court 5
(Starting at noon) 
   Jovana Jaksic, Serbia, vs. Manon Arcangioli, France.
   Kristie Ahn, United States, vs. Chanel Simmonds, South Africa.
   Brooke Austin, United States, vs. Michaela Gordon, Saratoga.