Sunday, July 30, 2017

Veteran, phenom reach 60K Sacramento final

Ajla Tomljanovic, playing in Friday's quarterfinals, defeated ailing Sofia Kenin,
the defending champion, on Saturday night in the semifinals of the $60,000 FSP
Gold River Women's Challenger in the Sacramento area. Photo by Rob Vomund
   GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- Anyone clinging to the archaic notion that professional tennis is a genteel sport hasn't been paying attention.
   In reality, pro tennis is a physical and mental grind played on different surfaces in different conditions on different continents. Injuries are common and sometimes require surgery.
   Consider this week's $60,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger, contested on unforgiving hardcourts in brutal heat.
   Ajla Tomljanovic (pronounced Eye-la Tom-lee-on-o-vich), a former top-50 player rebounding from right shoulder surgery, defeated ailing Sofia Kenin 6-4, 6-0 in Saturday night's second semifinal at the Gold River Racquet Club in the Sacramento area.
   Earlier, 15-year-old phenom Amanda Anisimova avenged an April loss to Kristie Ahn in which Anisimova pulled a groin muscle. Healthy this time, the Hallandale Beach, Fla., resident topped the No. 2 seed and 25-year-old former Stanford star 6-4, 5-7, 6-1.
   The 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter) Kenin, the eighth seed and defending champion, finally broke down physically after winning last week's $60,000 Stockton Challenger, also on hardcourts in blazing heat, and winning three matches in Sacramento.
   Kenin, ranked 165th, said she hurt her left calf during her three-set victory over top-seeded Jennifer Brady in the quarterfinals on Friday night. That followed Kenin's three-set win over fellow 18-year-old American Usue (pronounced OOO-sway) Arconada on Thursday.
   Kenin played Saturday with kinesiotape on her calf and took a medical timeout at 0-2 in the second set.
   "It's not good. It's hurting me," a tearful Kenin moaned about her calf after her winning streak ended at eight matches. "I don't know (what's wrong)."
Amanda Anisimova, 15, slugs a forehand during
her three-set win over No. 2 seed Kristie Ahn,
a former Stanford star, in the semifinals.
Photo by Rob Vomund
   Meanwhile, the tall (5-foot-11 or 1.80 meters), slender Tomljanovic had treatment on her right (serving) shoulder at 4-3 in the first set and after winning the set.
   "It's OK," Tomljanovic, a 24-year-old Croatian who trains in Boca Raton, Fla., and Australia and speaks fluent English with no accent, said of her shoulder. "It's a little bit sore, but we'll see how it holds up tomorrow."
   The shoulder didn't seem to affect the hard-hitting Tomljanovic against Kenin.
   "It didn't affect my baseline game," she clarified with a laugh. "I definitely wasn't serving how I have been the last two weeks. I have to be smart out there and not push it and do something that would have a longer effect on me, a negative one."
   Tomljanovic, who reached the fourth round of the French Open and the doubles quarterfinals of the Australian Open (with Slovakia-born Aussie Jarmila Gajdosova) in 2014, made few errors against Kenin after losing to her 7-6 (3), 7-5 last week in the Stockton semifinals.
   "I thought my level was definitely higher," the unseeded Tomljanovic said. "I felt much better here. I felt the conditions suited me better. Last week felt kind of weird. I never really found my game the whole tournament, but here it kind of felt like it was falling into place, and I played much better.
   "I just feel like the courts are nicer (here). Last week, I felt like the ball would skid. It felt like I was playing on cement. Something was off there."
   The 5-foot-10 (1.77-meter) Anisimova overcame 15 double faults to subdue the 5-foot-5 (1.65-meter) Ahn in 2 hours, 37 minutes.
   "In the second set, I backed off a little bit and wasn't playing as aggressive," explained the unseeded Anisimova, a tremendous ball-striker who eventually could reach her goal of ascending to No. 1 and winning all four Grand Slam tournaments. "Then in the third set I was stepping in more and taking my time on my shots."  
   Ahn, ranked No. 116, is finally reaching her potential after years of injuries. At 16, she qualified for the 2008 U.S. Open before losing to Dinara Safina 6-3, 6-4. Safina was ranked seventh at the time and climbed to No. 1 the following year.
   Ahn had surgery on her right (playing) wrist during her senior year of high school in Upper Saddle River, N.J. As a Stanford freshman, she was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Associated Rookie of the Year in 2011 despite playing only one match after May 1 because of an ankle injury.
Sofia Kenin lines up a forehand during her victory over top seed
Jennifer Brady on Friday night. Photo by Rob Vomund
   Ahn missed almost all of her sophomore season with a stress fracture in her left foot and shoulder soreness, then tore a quadriceps muscle between her sophomore and junior years. Along with Nicole Gibbs, Ahn led Stanford to the 2013 NCAA team title and graduated the following year as a four-time All-American.
   Tomljanovic and Anisimova will meet for the first time after today's 5 p.m. doubles final between top-seeded Jovana Jaksic of Serbia and Vera Lapko of Belarus and second-seeded Desirae Krawczyk from Palm Desert, Calif., and Giuliana Olmos from Fremont in the San Francisco Bay Area.
   Tomljanovic, ranked No. 270, seeks her fifth ITF (minor-league) singles championship and first since a $50,000 clay-court tournament in Dothan, Ala., in 2013. Her other three titles came in $25,000 tournaments.
   Tomljanovic has never won a crown on the WTA tour, the major leagues of women's tennis.
   A quarterfinalist in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford on the WTA tour two years ago, Tomljanovic is scheduled to face sixth-seeded and 23rd-ranked CoCo Vandeweghe in the first round of the tournament next week. The 6-foot-1 (1.85-meter) Vandeweghe advanced to the 2012 Stanford final as a lucky loser, falling to Serena Williams.
   Anisimova, who turned pro last September shortly after turning 15, said Tomljanovic "plays similar to me. She likes to be aggressive, but that's all I've seen."
   Tomljanovic last week declined to address reports that she has broken up with her 22-year-old boyfriend, Nick Kyrgios. The mercurial Australian, whom Tennis Channel commentator and former renowned coach Paul Annacone has called the most talented player since Roger Federer, is ranked 21st.
   "I don't talk (to reporters) about my personal life," Tomljanovic declared in Stockton.
   Anisimova, who has soared from No. 761 at end of last year to No. 250, seeks her first ITF title. She has lost three finals, all on clay this year.
   "She hits the ball nice," Tomljanovic observed. "She's got easy power. She's tall with a good serve. So, yeah, she's got good things going for herself."
   Here are the Sacramento singles and doubles draws and today's schedule. Live streaming is available here.

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