Monday, July 25, 2016

Kenin, 17, capitalizes on Min meltdown for title

Sofia Kenin, left, upset second-seeded Grace Min 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 on Sunday
night to win the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger in the
Sacramento area. Photo by Paul Bauman 
   GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- Evonne Goolagong Cawley famously called them "walkabouts."
   The International Tennis Hall of Famer from Australia was referring to her lapses of concentration during matches.
   Grace Min had a mysterious walkabout for the ages on Sunday night, and it likely cost her the title in the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger.
   Seventeen-year-old Sofia Kenin capitalized on Min's meltdown for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory in an all-American final at the Gold River Racquet Club in the Sacramento area.
   Min packs a punch at only 5-foot-4 (1.63 meters) and 140 pounds (64 kilograms). She outslugged Kenin -- no easy feat -- to lead 6-4, 1-1 in a baseline battle that began in 99-degree (37.2 Celsius) heat. Min, seeded second, was focused and pounding her groundstrokes into the corners.
   Then suddenly, the 22-year-old Min was listless and could hardly hit a ball in the court. The unseeded Kenin reeled off eight consecutive games to take the second set and lead 3-0 (two service breaks) in the third set.
   "I lost a bit of energy, pretty much a little of everything -- a little objective and purpose with what I was trying to accomplish in the point," said Min, who saved two match points in the second round against former top-30 player Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands. "Yeah, I lost my way."
   When asked why, Min mused, "I'm not sure."
   Fatigue? Unlikely. Both Min and Kenin train in the heat and humidity of Florida, Min's two previous matches were one-sided, and she regained her form after falling behind 3-0 in the third set.
   "I did everything I could to prepare (for the tournament)," Min said, "so I had that peace of mind, but conditioning is always something you can improve."
   Perhaps Min got nervous as she tries to earn her third main-draw berth in the U.S. Open, Aug. 29-Sept. 11 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Min broke Kenin at love for 1-3 in the final set and fought hard the rest of the match, but it was too late. Both players held serve from there, with Kenin converting her third championship point when a Min forehand sailed long.
    "I was just trying to ... control myself, move her and adjust to her game," Kenin said before rushing to the airport for a flight to Lexington, Ky., for the $50,000 Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships. "She was playing really well in the first set, but I was able to regroup well."
   Whereas Min inexplicably took the middle of the 2-hour, 8-minute match off, Kenin fought for every point in each set like her idol, Russia's Maria Sharapova. Kenin, a Moscow native who moved to Florida as a baby with her family, even walks to the wall behind the baseline between points and faces it while collecting her thoughts like Sharapova.
   Kenin, who has long legs but stands only 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters), became the second 17-year-old in the five-year history of the Gold River Challenger to win the singles title. She hopes to fare better than the first one.
   Mayo Hibi, a longtime resident of Irvine in the Los Angeles area who plays for her native Japan, defeated an ill Madison Brengle in the 2013 final. Hibi, only 5-foot-5 (1.65 meters) and 121 pounds (55 kilograms), then skipped college and turned pro. She is ranked No. 205.
   Kenin, a home-schooled high school junior, remains an amateur for now. Splitting her time between professional and junior tournaments, she was ranked No. 332 in the world entering the Gold River Challenger. Kenin will jump to about No. 252 when the new rankings are released on Monday. She is ranked 10th among juniors (18 and under).
    Min said Kenin has "a great deal" of potential.
   "She's very young, and obviously she's got a great tennis mind, so I think the world is hers," Min added.
   Does Kenin have top-10 potential?
   "I think anyone can reach the top 10 if they work hard enough," said Min, a former top-100 player who will improve from No. 158 to about No. 144.
   Kenin, who won her second and biggest ITF (minor-league) singles title, could play in the main draw of the U.S. Open for the second consecutive year. By winning the Gold River title, she took the lead in the U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge. The American who earns the most points in two of the three participating tournaments -- Stockton two weeks ago, Sacramento and Lexington -- will receive a wild card into the U.S. Open.
(Left to right) doubles runners-up Jamie Loeb and Chanel Simmonds,
Freight Solution Providers CEO Lielani Steers and doubles champions
Ashley Weinhold and Caitlin Whoriskey pose after the trophy presenta-
tion. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Kenin won the USTA Girls 18 National Championships last August in San Diego to earn an automatic wild card into the main draw of the U.S. Open. She lost to then-No. 96 Marina Duque-Marino of Colombia 6-3, 6-1 in the first round but reached the junior girls final.
   Min has played in the main draw of five Grand Slam tournaments but is still looking for her first victory in one. She won junior titles in U.S. Open singles and Wimbledon doubles (with Eugenie Bouchard) in 2011.
   Kenin and Min met in an official match for the first time, but they've played practice matches against each other at the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton, Fla., where both are based.
   This was the second all-American final in the Gold River Challenger. Maria Sanchez defeated Jessica Pegula in the inaugural tournament in 2012. Sanchez was born and raised in nearby Modesto. Pegula's parents, Terry and Kim, own the NFL's Buffalo Bills and NHL's Buffalo Sabres,
   Min, who played in the tournament for the first time this year, has an appropriate first name. During the awards ceremony, she warmly thanked the fans for attending and the club staff for making her feel at home. She then was cooperative in an interview with a reporter, to whom she had said "Nice to meet you" on Saturday.
   As for Min's walkabout, at least she's in good company.
   Second-seeded Ashley Weinhold of Spicewood, Texas, and Caitlin Whoriskey of East Sandwich, Mass., won the doubles title for the second consecutive year, beating third-seeded Jamie Loeb of Ossining, N.Y., and Chanel Simmonds of South Africa 6-4, 6-4.
   Loeb and Simmonds played together for the first time in the tournament. Loeb turned pro last year after winning the NCAA singles title as a North Carolina sophomore.
   Here are the complete Gold River Challenger singles and doubles draws.

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