Sunday, July 23, 2017

Prodigy Kenin routs upstart for 60K Stockton title

Sofia Kenin, left, overwhelmed Ashley Kratzer in a matchup
of 18-year-old Americans. Photo by Paul Bauman
   STOCKTON, Calif. -- Sofia Kenin is a tennis prodigy ranked No. 160 in the world at 18 years old.
   Ashley Kratzer is a late bloomer -- if there's such a thing at the same age -- ranked No. 415.
   Both are American.
   Guess which one skipped college to turn pro and which is an amateur still considering college.
   Wrong.
   "I'm still deciding college or pro," Kenin, seeded fourth, said after demolishing Kratzer, a wild card, 6-0, 6-1 in 65 minutes today to win the $60,000 University of the Pacific Stockton Challenger at Pacific's Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center.
   Wait a minute. Let's get this straight. Kenin:
   --Won the USTA Girls' 18s national title at 16 in 2015 to earn an automatic wild card into the women's main draw of the U.S. Open, in which she lost to Colombian veteran Mariana Duque-Marino 6-3, 6-1 in the first round.
   --Returned to the women's main draw at Flushing Meadows last year by winning the USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge and lost to eventual runner-up Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 6-3 in the opening round.
   --Reached the junior singles final at 16 in the 2015 U.S. Open, junior semifinals in the 2016 U.S. Open and junior quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 2016.
   --Climbed to No. 2 in the world junior rankings two weeks after her 17th birthday in November 2015.
   --Has won three singles titles on the USTA Pro Circuit, equivalent to Triple A in baseball. She will defend her title in the $60,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger in the Sacramento area next week.
   --Took the lead in this year's U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge by winning Stockton, which opened the three-week competition. Kenin could earn another U.S. Open berth with more strong results in the Challenge, by receiving a separate wild card, by cracking the top 100 for direct entry or by qualifying. As an amateur, she already forfeited $39,500 (except expenses) at the 2015 U.S. Open and $43,313 there last year. First-round losers in singles at Flushing Meadows this year will pocket $50,000.
   --Forfeited $10,791 for sweeping this week's Stockton titles ($9,119 in singles and $1,672 in doubles).
Sofia Kenin, ranked No. 160, might go to college in January. "I have
to be like top 100 to turn pro," she insisted. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Despite all this, Kenin might enroll at the University of Miami, near her home in Pembroke Pines, Fla., or idyllic Pepperdine, overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the Los Angeles area, in January?
   Really?
   "I have to be like top 100 to turn pro," Kenin insisted before adding with a laugh, "I'm getting there slowly."
   Actually, Kenin is getting there quickly. She skyrocketed from No. 620 at the end of 2015 to No. 212 and the end of last year.
   Kenin will remain at about No. 160 in Monday's new rankings because her computer points from Stockton will replace those from Sacramento, which was played this week last year, in the revolving 52-week system.
   But Kenin will rise in the rankings with a good showing next week because she lost in the first round in the $50,000 Lexington (Ky.) Challenger during the corresponding week last year.
   Kenin is using CiCi Bellis' method of deciding when to turn pro. The San Francisco Bay Area product verbally committed to Stanford shortly after reaching the Stockton semifinals last year (losing to eventual champion Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium) but made the leap after cracking the top 100 last September. Bellis, now 18, is the youngest player in the top 50 at No. 40.
   Kenin, by the way, was 2-3 against Bellis in ITF junior tournaments. They have not met in a professional tournament.
   One reason for Kenin's hesitance is her size in an era of power. She is only 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters). Then again, Bellis is only an inch (2.54 centimeters) taller.
   Kratzer, a resident of Newport Beach in Southern California who turned pro at 17 late last year, has no such concerns at 5-foot-11 (1.80 meters). Plus she's left-handed, a distinct advantage because it's a different look for opponents and she can spin the ball out wide on her serve on the ad side to open up the court on key points. Plus Kratzer had no interest in attending college.
   Kenin, playing in the Stockton Challenger for the first time, became the first American in the tournament's three-year history to win the singles championship. She was born in Moscow, moved to the United States as a baby and also goes by Sonya.
   Nao Hibino of Japan took the inaugural Stockton title at age 20 at the old courts of the Pacific men's and women's teams before the $4 million Zimmerman complex opened in March last year. A 5,500-foot clubhouse and an electronic scoreboard are scheduled to be completed in about three weeks.
Ashley Kratzer was playing in only her second
final in a professional tournament and by far her
biggest. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Kenin lost only one set in five matches during the week. That came in the quarterfinals against American Francesca Di Lorenzo, a 19-year-old left-hander who was the top-ranked college player all spring as an Ohio State sophomore.
   Kenin did not face a seed in the tournament. But she had her hands full in a 7-6 (3), 7-5 semifinal victory over Ajla Tomljanovic, a 5-foot-11 (1.80-meter) Croatian. Tomljanovic, who reached No. 47 in the world in February 2015, is rebounding from shoulder surgery.
   Kenin beat Kratzer even more easily than in their only previous meeting, a 6-2, 6-1 decision in the first round of a $25,000 hardcourt tournament in Surprise, Ariz., in February.
   Kratzer was done in this time by nerves and Kenin's impressive game. While Kratzer made numerous unforced errors, Kenin displayed good pop on her serve, tremendous groundstrokes and excellent touch.
   Kenin frustrated Kratzer with several deft drop shots and a perfectly placed backhand lob to convert her first match point as Kratzer watched helplessly at the net.
   Kratzer won only 38.2 percent of the points when making her first serve (13 of 34).
   "It was only my second final, so I was for sure nervous," said Kratzer, who lost to Marcela Zacarias of Mexico 7-5, 6-4 in the title match of a $10,000 hardcourt tournament in Austin, Texas, in July 2016. "But she definitely played well. She played some of her best that I've seen.
   "She can just get a bunch of balls back, and she knows how to place it very well. She kept me running and on my toes. I just couldn't find my timing today."
   Kratzer tried to exploit Kenin's forehand, which she said is not as strong as her two-handed backhand. 
   "I just wasn't able to execute my shots very well today," Kratzer lamented.
   Still, Kratzer had a breakthrough week.
   "It was one of my best weeks and the best tennis that I have played, ever, so it was definitely a great week for me," crowed Kratzer, who had won only one main-draw match in 13 career $50,000 tournaments or above.
   Kratzer will jump to about No. 326 in the rankings. She earned $4,863 for her runner-up finish in singles, plus $152 for her first-round loss in doubles, for a total of $5,015.
   And unlike Kenin, Kratzer can keep the money.
   Here are the complete Stockton singles and doubles draws, the Sacramento qualifying draw and Monday's schedule.  

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