Sunday, September 27, 2015

Young pros vs college stars in Costa Mesa semis

On Saturday, On the Rise (a tennis blog) contributor Parsa traveled to Costa Mesa (in Orange County, California) to check out the action at the Futures event there. Here's his report.

Ernesto Escobedo. (c) Parsa
I had the pleasure of attending yesterday’s three matches at the $10K Costa Mesa Pro Classic where there was a mixture of collegiate stars and young professionals in action. There were two singles semi-finals followed by the doubles final, and all eight players competing today either represented the United States or had college ties. Several had both attributes, including singles quarterfinalist and doubles finalist Jean-Yves Aubone, who described the courts as among the fastest courts he had ever played on.

To start off the day, 19-year-old American Ernesto Escobedo, who grew up in West Covina (about forty-five minutes northeast of the tournament), took on recent University of Mississippi graduate Nik Scholtz in a battle that lasted two hours and forty-seven minutes. Escobedo, 6 foot 2 inches, has one of the biggest games on tour as he absolutely pounds the fuzz off the poor innocent tennis ball. He has extremely strong legs which help him put incredible pace on his shots, especially when he is on balance and sets his feet. Escobedo has played 48 events at the pro level in his young career, but has competed in doubles or mixed doubles in only seven of those events; it was apparent that his net game definitely needs improvement. Meanwhile, Scholtz is 6 foot 5 inches with a fantastic serve and a good baseline game with soft hands at the net, no doubt as a result of playing doubles in college. With both guys possessing the ability to dictate from the baseline, fans were treated to some fantastic rallies.

Scholtz had four break points early in the first set, but Escobedo stayed strong to not allow his serve to get broken. Escobedo had been unable to get anything going on Scholtz’s serve before the big South African allowed the youngster some opportunities while serving to stay in the first set. At *4-5, Scholtz hit a double fault, followed by some unforced errors, and a couple points later Escobedo converted his second break point to take the opening set.

Escobedo held serve to start off the second set, then broke Scholtz to take a 2-0 lead as the former Ole Miss Rebel let a bad line call affect him a bit too much. It looked like Escobedo was cruising to victory as he was leading 5-2* in the second set. However, he let his foot off the gas pedal and allowed Scholtz, who never stopped fighting, to get back into the match. After Escobedo got broken easily serving for the match at *5-3, three more holds sent the match into a tiebreak. Ryan Shane and Deiton Baughman, who had eagerly been waiting to go on for their semifinal match, were now watching the tiebreak to see if they would get on the court in five minutes or possibly in another hour.

Escobedo had a mini-break lead in the tiebreak before Scholtz stepped up his game to get the mini-break back, and then earn his own mini-break for 6*-4 on his serve. Scholtz hit a bomb out wide, and Escobedo sent the ball back with an absolute nuclear missile that was so fast, Scholtz did not even have time to decide whether the ball was going out or not, so he stuck out his racquet and made contact, but it was to no avail. It looked like Escobedo was going to pull out the win in straight sets as the next point he hit a bomb down the T and was very amped up. After the players switched sides at 6-6, Escobedo hit a big serve and came up to the net to hit an easy forehand approach shot that he did not need to do too much with. However as he sometimes does, Escobedo tried to paint the lines and hit it wide. Scholtz had another chance to serve out the set, and this time he converted and bellowed a big roar. Shane and Baughman were now forced to wait even longer for their own match.

Neither player had any break points in the first nine games of the third set. With Escobedo serving at to stay in the match at 4*-5, Scholtz played a couple really good points and earned himself two match points at 15-40. However, Escobedo stuck to his guns and did not back down, winning two big rallies to get to deuce, and two points later he held to stay in the match. As a local and also as a young American player, Escobedo received almost all of the support crowd, which included many of his friends and family, which led to him after the match calling the atmosphere “like a little Davis Cup in the Futures.” Shortly after the big hold, the match was into a tiebreak where Escobedo really elevated his game and stayed level-headed, earning a 6-4 6-7(6) 7-6(3) victory and advancing to his 5th career futures final in singles. Escobedo fell in two finals in 2013 as well as two this year, so he will be looking to win his first pro singles title.

The second semifinal, which started two hours later than scheduled, was much more straightforward than the first match as 2015 NCAA champion Ryan Shane took out red-hot 19-year-old American Deiton Baughman, who was coming off a title last week in Claremont. Shane, 6 foot 4 inches, has a big first serve and does not take too much speed off for his second serve, but rather he adds some wicked spin on it. The University of Virginia senior complements his serve well with a huge forehand and he also possesses a pretty good one-handed backhand, demonstrating why his nice all-around game makes him the #2-ranked college player right now in both singles and doubles. Meanwhile, Baughman turned down a scholarship offer from USC to turn pro a year and a half ago and he resides in Carson (30 minutes north of the tournament). Much like Escobedo, as a local, Baughman also had the opportunity to play a match in front of his friends and family.

Shane got the early break in the first set and got another break as well to take the first set 6-2 in just 23 minutes, firing eight aces and winning 13 of his 15 service points. Midway through the second set, Shane got another break of serve which was all he needed since he was serving so great, and stormed his way into his first career singles final at the professional level with a 6-2 6-4 win.

Immediately after the match was finished, I was very impressed with Shane taking a box of balls and just practicing his serve. After the match, he said that was one reason he was serving so well: he has hit a ton of serves in practice this week and it certainly paid off in his win.

In the doubles final, it was UCLA against Florida State as Mackenzie McDonald (UCLA junior) and Martin Redlicki (UCLA sophomore) beat Benjamin Lock (Florida State senior) and Jean-Yves Aubone (Florida State ’10) 6-2 3-6 10-5. It was the UCLA duo’s second doubles title at the professional level as they had also won together last year in Oklahoma City.

College coaches on-site:

Long-time UCLA head coach Billy Martin, one of the most respected college coaches in the nation, was in attendance to watch his two Bruins play in the doubles final.

Dustin Taylor, a former all-American at the University of Tulsa who previously was a USTA national coach working with professionals as well as college players, was recently named an assistant coach for the University of Virginia. Taylor has been working with Shane this whole week in Costa Mesa.

Florida State University associate head coach Nick Crowell was in attendance supporting his number one singles player Lock, as well as former Seminole Aubone.

Interesting tidbits:
  • Escobedo is one of the few Americans who yells “Vamos,” keeping alive his Mexican heritage. 
  • Shane was pleading with Coach Taylor to book either a window or aisle seat on the flight home on Sunday since he’s really big and his knees would hurt (I think the majority of all tennis players hate sitting in the middle seat of an airplane). 
  • Steve Johnson’s former coach Peter Lucassen has been working with Escobedo the past couple of weeks. 
  • Escobedo has been homeschooled since the age of five, and his former academic tutor and hitting partner was there to cheer him on. As was Papa Escobedo, who was yelling “Vamos” a lot. 
  • Baughman’s dad is his coach, contrary to what it says on Baughman’s ITF profile (Drake). 
  • Baughman is no doubt a bigger fan of Drake than is Serena Williams. Yes that is possible. 
  • Redlicki and McDonald are an interesting doubles duo. Redlicki is always talking on the court and having fun, while Mackie is focused and quiet. Florida State coach Crowell described it well as he called them “fire and ice.” 
  • Doubles partners contrary to popular belief do NOT do everything together. Aubone decided to go eat at Chipotle a few hours before their match, and Lock chose to go to Corner Bakery CafĂ© instead. 
  • Shane majors in foreign affairs, and just like his older brother Justin Shane, he hopes to turn pro after his senior year.
  • Brazilian Thales Turini lost in the first round of singles and doubles, but still came out to practice. Qualifying at next week’s tournament Laguna Niguel was going on, so there were probably no courts available for him to practice on. 
  • It was apparent why Coach Martin is so respected. Very sharp guy. 
  • I felt a little bad for Scholtz since after his loss, he went and stood on this grassy area for about five minutes just staring out into the distance. The big fella had battled hard. 
  • Lock was not allowed in Aubone’s fantasy football league this year since last year, Lock failed to update his lineup on multiple occasions. The Zimbabwean obviously needs to step up his level of dedication to football. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

An interview with Ashley Weinhold

Ashley Weinhold. (c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
It was my pleasure to talk to US player Ashley Weinhold after her doubles semifinal win at the Redding $25K last week. She and partner Caitlin Whoriskey went on to win their second consecutive doubles title the next day. Weinhold, a 26-year-old righty, is based in Austin, Texas. She's currently ranked #660 in singles (career high #181 in 2011) and #238 in doubles (career high #221 in 2012).

On the Rise: Talk a little about your career. A few years ago you were in the top 200, and you've dropped a bit since then. Can you talk us through what's been going on?

Weinhold: I've had some little nagging injuries here and there that have kept me out periodically. I didn't play a full schedule last year, so that didn't really enable me to have a super-high ranking. I'm trying to play a bigger schedule this year. I played a lot this summer. My ranking might not show for it, but I've won a lot of matches this year. So I feel good about that, and it's just a matter of kind of doing well on the weeks that I didn't previously do well, because I tend to do well at the same events so my ranking kind of stays in the same spot. So I need to work on a better schedule, maybe. Finding other events.

OTR: You played main draw singles here?

AW: Yes, I snuck in last minute. I was originally in qualies, and then the list moved a little bit and I was in main. Which was nice, and I wanted to take advantage of that, but I had a pretty tough first round against the #2 seed [Varatchaya Wongteanchai] ... it was 6&6 and it was 3 hours long for 2 sets. Just a matter of a couple of points. So that one hurts a little bit. But it's okay.

OTR: What do you do after a tough loss like that?

AW: I had to play doubles right after. So kind of clear your mind right away. I'm pretty good at taking notes and kind of moving on. You've got to have a short memory in tennis.

OTR: You're a really accomplished doubles player -- you've got I don't even know how many pro titles [13 after Redding, including her first $50K earlier this summer]. Is it ever a thought to you that you might want to try doubles full time or are you absolutely committed to singles?

AW: I'm very committed to singles. Everything I work on and try to improve on is based on singles. I do very little doubles work, it just comes naturally. It's nice to be able to play both, but my focus is on singles.

I've gotten stuck in a couple of situations and at the moment I'm stuck here playing a doubles final, and I'm trying to get to Albuquerque for singles. [Ed. note: She was able to make her first round qualies match in Albuquerque on Sunday. She fell 3&4 to top seed Amra Sadikovic, who ended up reached the semifinals.] So travel-wise, that's not really going to help my singles. I've had that trouble a few times.  It's a good problem to have but also I'd like to be in the main draw [in singles] so I wouldn't have to worry about it.

OTR: What is it about your game that transitions well to doubles? You don't see a lot of players your height [5'5"] serving and volleying. You're really active at net as well.

AW: Yeah. I mean, I'm low to the ground, so I'm pretty quick. Fast-twitch muscles. I'm, I guess, pretty athletic, so I like to have an all-around game in singles and it kind of just carries over to doubles. I'm comfortable at the net and that ends points quicker.

OTR: Looking back a few years, was college tennis a consideration for you?

AW: It was. I probably would have ended up at the University of Virginia.  I have some great friends there and I work with the coach here and there still. But at the time, I was #1 in the nation in singles and won our hard court nationals.  So I took the main draw wildcard into the U.S. Open and that kind of solidified my decision. I'd always been training and working for pro.

I think the college game now is a bit stronger now than when I graduated, so I think it's a great option now. Maybe more resources coming out, bigger tournaments, more opportunities for wildcards.  If I were to go back, I wouldn't change it. I was in a very good place at the time.

OTR: What's your schedule going to be like for the rest of the year?

AW: I don't know for sure. Going to Albuquerque next week. We'll see about Vegas and Kirkland ... where my ranking's at it's going to be a little tough in the fall. I'll be in qualies a lot. My plan is to stay in the States right now; we'll see if I have to go elsewhere.

Thanks very much to Ashley for the interview! And to her and Caitlin Whoriskey (who are into the Albuquerque doubles quarterfinals as the #2 seeds) for their post-title interview the following day. Watch it below:

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pals Reix and El Tabakh into Redding final

Heidi El Tabakh (left) and Sherazad Reix. (c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise

As they lounged and laughed together in the cool water of the Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness pool, Heidi El Tabakh and Sherezad Reix were a merry picture of relaxed friends out for a dip under the blazing Redding, California sun. But on Sunday, each will no doubt fight tooth and nail for a win at a tournament that has seen them play some excellent, contrasting tennis. It's a match with potentially significant implications for at least one of them.

El Tabakh is a big-serving, flat-hitting two-handed Canadian righty based in Miami. An offensive force. Reix is a flashy, crafty, one-handed Parisian lefty who is happy to beat you by tossing up lobs or throwing down drop shots. At her best, a defensive wall. In their upcoming final, the Northern California crowd will get to see what happens when one meets the other in only their second-ever meeting.

The two became friends after their first match against each other, 7 years ago in Portugal. El Tabakh won that 7-6(6) 3-6 7-5. Interestingly, both players have North African roots: El Tabakh was born in Egypt while Reix has grandparents from Algeria. Each player (respectfully) cheered for the other during the other's quarterfinals and semifinals.

In Saturday's first semifinal Reix, who claims to like the heat, faced Brazilian Paula Cristina Goncalves, who also claims to like the heat. Things started slowly for both players, as they struggled with errors and perhaps some early nerves. Reix went down an early break at 1-2* and again at 3-4* in the first set. But she showed her moxie by immediately breaking back in each case, slowly ramping up the aggression while bearing down on defense.

As I noted yesterday, Goncalves loves her forehand, and Reix picked up on that when she scouted her on Friday. "I saw that she had a really good forehand. I saw 3 or 4 games yesterday and I didn't see her hit any backhands. So I said, 'Okay, I think I need to touch her backhand.' And it was worth it for me because I'm lefty, and with my forehand I can go straight to her backhand, and it was nice. I think she didn't like my game because I was going a lot to her backhand and then I was finishing on her forehand. She was all the time late on her forehand." 

(In the end, the backhand proved to be the better side for Goncalves on Saturday; she hit several winners and far fewer errors on that wing.)

Between the end of the first set and the beginning of the second, Reix ran off a string of six straight games -- a "virtual bagel" -- and seemed in control up 6-4 3-0*.  El Tabakh, rooting for Reix from the shaded grass behind the court, left to get ready for her own semifinal. But, said Reix, "at 3-0 I knew it wasn't over." Indeed it wasn't. 

Goncalves' forehand, MIA for much of the match, seemingly descended from nearby Mount Shasta and she started controlling rallies with confidence. She held and broke to get back on serve, and then got even more aggressive and held for 3-3. The momentum was all hers going into the legendarily pivotal 7th game of the set. What a game it turned out to be.

Reix went up 40-15 but Goncalves roared back to set up break point -- a chance to take the lead in the second set. But then her forehand went back up the mountain. A weak error into the net on a second serve return got Reix back to deuce, and she went on to hold six points later.

(Oh and it was getting hotter.)

Goncalves then saved two break points of her own (one on a rare ace) to hold for 4-4, but then couldn't keep the ball in the court and Reix held at 15.

Goncalves struggled mightily at the net, thanks in no small part to the massive underspin Reix put on her passing shots. Several times at the end of the second set, she used her forehand to put herself in an ideal position to win the point, only to duff the volley.  "Today I was just trying to make her crazy, because she has a good game, she can run really good. I was just trying to mix things up a lot and make her crazy."

It worked. Reix goaded Goncalves into more errors and in the final game broke the Brazilian for a 6-4 6-4 win. Onwards the final.

If the crowd enjoyed the variety and all-court play of the first match, many were a taken aback by the out-and-out pace and pure aggression of the second match. Both players came out blasting winners, going for lines and early on hitting them more often than not.

The story of the King/El Tabakh match was one of break points. King converted only 3 of her 17 break opportunities -- 2 of those in the second set, which she won comfortably 6-2 -- while El Tabakh won 3 of her 5 chances. 

In the first set, El Tabakh saved four early break points to keep things even until the -- wait for it -- "legendarily pivotal seventh game," in which she grabbed control by breaking King for 4*-3. The players traded holds and soon El Tabakh served for the set at 5*-4. Nerves clearly set in a bit for the Canadian, as her first serve went to go join Goncalves' forehand in the mountains. King took advantage of the lapse and bore down on her return, taking the ball early and getting to another break point. El Tabakh saved one, but then her second serve joined her first AWOL and she double faulted to set up yet another break point. This she saved with a big serve/forehand winner combination (the one-two punch was her savior all day), but an unforced error set up YET ANOTHER break point - her 7th of the set - and on this one she again double faulted. 5-5.

Eight points later and the competitors were in a tiebreak. El Tabakh went up a minibreak but double faulted again for 3-3. However, a couple of King errors gave the minibreak back, and in the next point, El Tabakh hit her biggest shot of the day, a running backhand down the line winner to get to set point at 6-3. She may have still had some nerves (she accidentally lined up on the deuce side of the court, leading King to ask, "What side are we supposed to be on?") but a big first serve sealed the set, 7-6(3).

Oh and it was getting hotter still.

97F in the sun. (c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
King took the second set 6-2, playing clean tennis while El Tabakh was less solid. 
"I feel like I semi-gave away the second set after that 4-2 game," El Tabakh remarked after the match. "I lost my focus and just wanted to go to the bathroom and regroup a little, and I told myself I might as well enjoy it and fight since I'm already out here. And that's what I did."

The third set was odd. All four of El Tabakh's games went to at least 3 deuces and she faced at least one break point each time. But each time she held firm, often with a big serve/groundie winner combo. All three of King's games were relatively short, with the loser getting just 2 points each time. In all, El Tabakh had 62 service points in the set to King's 18.

The key game was at 2-0, with El Tabakh looking to consolidate her early break. It was a 22-point game that proved to be the camel's straw for King. Three break points, eight deuces. A mix of brilliant shotmaking and unfortunate errors. Finally, El Tabakh held with a backhand down the line winner. 3-0.

Vania King takes a medical time-out.
(c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
After El Tabakh held for 4-1, King received an off-court medical timeout for an adductor issue (fortunately different from the disc injury that held her out of competition for nearly a year). After that, she was broken again to allow El Tabakh to serve for the match at 5-1.

The seventh game of the final set was pivotal only in that it was the final game of the match. King did get another break point, but more fine serving helped El Tabakh set up match points. King saved two, but not the third.  Winner: El Tabakh 7-6(3) 2-6 6-1.

"I lost a little bit of focus in the third set, but she played great," said King. "She really went for her shots. The hot conditions today were good for her. She likes to play fast."

El Tabakh agreed that she liked the conditions. She noted the courts were also a "little bit fast. Only yesterday I learned there was a little bit of altitude here. I was wondering why my balls were flying long all week!" she said with a laugh.

Asked about her success on saving break points, she said, "I guess I would focus more when I was break point down as opposed to when I was had game point. She is a player who likes to take the ball super early, so I felt a little pressure on my second serve, but she also gave me free points."

So next is the final among friends. This tournament has come at a big moment in Reix's career, who is at a career high ranking, but is considering retiring if she doesn't make the rankings jump she needs to start getting entry into the qualifying tournaments of the grand slams. 

"I'm 26 and I never played a grand slam," she said. "I just played the French Open in doubles this year, but I never played in singles. So I was thinking, 'It's my last year of tennis. I would love to play the qualies of a grand slam. I don't want ... after 27 ... I'm married, I want kids so if i'm not able to be in the qualies of a grand slam, what's the point of tennis for me?' I want to be able to see and do all the things in my life. We don't make a lot of money on the second level. I'm enjoying right now because I'm playing well. If I can make the qualies of the slams, great, I will continue playing. But if not, fine, I will have a baby. So I'm playing without pressure, fighting, trying to make my game better."

In the looking-glass world of professional tennis, El Tabakh is incentivized to push her friend away from professional tennis tennis. A win for Reix would mean an additional 20 points, enough to keep her ranking in the mid-200s despite having 2 Futures titles and 3 finals to defend this fall. A win for El Tabakh, who needs all the points she can get as she fights to continue her comeback and make the best out of a rough year, and she might be one step closer to sending her friend into the tennis sunset. 

But not before they fly together to Albuquerque for the $75,000 challenger this coming week.

Edited to add: El Tabakh won the final, 6-1 6-3. As fate would have it, the two played each other in the first round of Albuquerque, with Reix winning 6-3 3-1 (retired).

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Tennis' diversity on display in Redding quarterfinals

Vania King practicing before her quartefinal match.
(c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
A Canadian born in Egypt. An American of Taiwanese heritage. A Frenchwoman with Algerian ancestry. A Brazilian of .... well, I think Brazilian heritage. The remarkable diversity that is the tennis world will be on display in Saturday's semifinals of the Ascension Project Women's $25,000 Challenger in Redding, California.

Also on display was the new fact of life in women's tennis: maturity is in. It is surely no coincidence that 7 of 8 quarterfinalists are in their mid-20s. Five years ago, the average age of the quarterfinalists at this tournament was 21 1/4. This year, the average was exactly 4 years older. At the highest level, women are reaching their first major finals well into the latter stages of their careers (see: Vinci, Roberta; Safarova, Lucie). They're perfecting their games through hard work and training. No longer is it the case that if you haven't "broken through" by 21, you might as well hang it up. Perseverance is paying off.

Vania King, who has been on the tour for a decade, is still only 26. "The game has changed, it has become more physical. It's a lot about consistency, injury prevention, and you just don't see that rise of 14-year-old superstars like you did before. It's good in a way - it allows girls to do other things."

There was also plenty of game-style diversity for the fans gathered for Friday's matches.  In doubles, Ashley Weinhold served and volleyed with authority. Her opponents, the Facey sisters, hit with two hands on each side. King, of courts, hits it flat and hard while Sherazad Reix won't show you the same ball twice. One-handers, slicers, drop-shot demons, servebots ... Friday's action had it all.

Facey/Facey. (c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise

By far the most engaging match of the day was between Paula Cristina Goncalves, a solid Brazilian with a grinder's mentality, and Anna Zaja, a big-hitting German who's "sigh" game was at its peak. Goncalves raced to a 4-0 first set lead, thanks in large part to a plethora of errors on Zaja's part. But then Zaja started turning things around, making the first set interesting before dropping it 3-6, and then dominating the second set 6-1, using her big serve to dictate, while Goncalves found her forehands landing into the net far too often.

It was time for Goncalves to adjust. Cut down on her errors, "Not to miss so much balls, you know? Try to create opportunities to go to the net."

Paula Cristina Goncalves. (c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
Goncalves likes to dictate points with her forehand, but has plenty of defensive moxie as well and a lot of variety in her backhand. She broke Zaja to open the third set and kept having looks at additional breaks, but again Zaja employed her powerful serve time after time to get out of various jambs. Serving at 3*-5 in the third, Zaja found herself down match point after an insufficient smash was replied to with a fantastic lob winner from Goncalves. However, a weak forehand into the net got the score back to deuce, and two points later, Goncalves was forced to serve for the match.

Again, Goncalves found herself up match point at 40-15, but two errors later and it was again deuce. A forehand winner set up match point #4, which she converted for the 6-3 1-6 6-4 victory.

Despite being out there in the California sun for 2.5 hours, Goncalves looked as fresh as she started after the match. "I like this weather. This is kind of Brazilian weather," she said, although she acknowledged being tired following her two Thursday matches. When this reporter informed Goncalves that her semifinal would be played in 90+ degree weather, she gave a blank stare.

That's when this reporter finally realized he needed to learn the centigrade system, like the rest of the world.

Sherezad Reix (c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
On the adjacent court, Goncalves' next opponent, Shehera Reix, beat Varatchaya Wongteanchai, who suffered from a foot injury, taking a medical timeout after losing the first five games of the match. Reix, a 26-year-old lefty from France with a one-handed backhand, has a great deal of variety in her game. As always, sometimes having too many shot choices can lead to trouble, and despite her first set bagel, she found herself down 2-4 in the second set. "I wanted her to give me the match. And she didn't."

She told herself "go for it" and won the last 4 games of the match. The grunts came out, none too soon, and despite her nerves she powered through the rest of the match, winning 6-0 6-4. She's into the semifinals of her first outdoor hard court tournament of 2015. "I was getting tired of clay.

Reix, whose grandparents are from Algeria, was named after the protagonist of the 1001 Arabian Nights. "I think my mother wanted to give me a princess name." She said she really likes being in California. "The people are so nice. I have really nice housing. I really love to play in the U.S. I don't know why. I think maybe I was born in the wrong country."

Next on court was Reix's good friend El Tabakh (they rooted for each other during their matches), who had something of an ATP-type match, winning 7-5 7-5 over 20-year-old Belgian Klaartje Liebens, the only player under 24 in the quarterfinals. The match featured only two breaks of serve - each at 5-5 in the set - and El Tabakh didn't face any break points. In fact, she lost only 15 points in her 12 service games. "I had a pretty high percentage first serve and my second serve picked up pretty good." As for her own break opportunities, "Both games at 5-5, I stood a little closer and put a little pressure on her, which caused her to give me a look at a second serve. Otherwise, she served well the entire time. I don't think I had any break points other than those two games."

This has been a good week for El Tabakh, who missed the first four months of the season with a back injury and has struggled to get wins since, going 2-8 in main draw matches on the year. Her ranking has fallen from inside the Top 200 at the end of the year to outside the Top 400 now. She chose to play Redding instead of the WTA tournament in Quebec City in the hopes of getting match play. That has proven to be a solid choice so far.

Next up for El Tabakh is King, who won her third match in a row against a former college player. On Thursday, she played her first and second round singles matches, due to a washout on Wednesday. First up was top seed and defending champion Jennifer Brady, in what both players described as a good match. Brady served for the second set but ultimately King won 6-3 7-6(2). Then King had to turn around and play red-hot Julia Jones in a grueling match that King finally won 7-5 in the third. King, who is still working to get her match fitness back after the long layoff, said she suffered from cramping at the end and had to withdraw from doubles. Today, she pounced on fellow American Caitlin Whoriskey early, using her flat, powerful groundies to win 6-2 6-1. The only two Americans left in the draw produced some entertaining rallies, but too many Whoriskey errors helped make the match a one-sided affair.

Ashley Weinhold. (c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
In the only doubles semifinal, Whoriskey teamed with Ashley Weinhold to beat the Facey twins, Alexandra and Kat, 6-0 6-1. This is Weinhold's third doubles final of the summer. She and Whoriskey won the Sacramento $50K in July, and also teamed to reach the semis of the Midland $100K in February, where they held match point before falling 12-10 in the supertiebreak.

The top seeds won all of the deciding points, often on Facey errors when attempting poaches. Fittingly, the match ended on such a shot. "We played those two in Sacramento, so we had an idea of how they play. And Caitlin and I are just very comfortable together, so we stick to our plan and then adjust if we need to."

The second doubles match went unplayed as Ema Burgic Bucko and Lauren Embree gave a walkover to Wongteanchai and Michelle Sammons.  Saturday's final should be a good one, between the top two seeds. The singles semis will

Impressively, admission for all the matches is free, so everyone in the greater Redding area should definitely brave the expected heat and enjoy some top-flight tennis.

Friday, September 18, 2015

New USA Career-High Rankings, August 24 & 31 AND Sept. 14

Periodically I will bring you a list of USAmerican players who have reached a new career-high ranking (CHR) in the previous weeks. This list covers all players in the Top 1000. Any player outside the Top 1000 generally will not be included unless they have earned at least one point since the prior ranking period. See all the CHR posts.

Note: Unfortunately I missed doing the biweekly Career-High Rankings update on August 31 (in part because it was the first day of the US Open) so here we go with THREE weeks of CHRs: August 24, August 31, and the post-US Open rankings of September 14. I'm going to try something a bit different: just list their rankings each week. 

  • If that ranking was a new career high, it will be noted in bold
  • If it tied his or her previous career high, it will be noted with an asterisk.* 
  • If it marks his or her debut in the ranking it will be noted in red.

New ATP Career-High Rankings, August 24-September 14, 2015

Player name
8/24/15 ranking
8/31/15 ranking
9/14/15 ranking
Previous CHR

Date achieved
Jack Sock
Denis Kudla
Jared Donaldson
Alexander Sarkissian
Frances Tiafoe
Kevin King
Tommy Paul
Wil Spencer
Clay Thompson
Taylor Fritz
Mico Santiago
Eric Johnson
Alex Rybakov
Alexios Halebian
Michael Grant
Justin Shane
Reilly Opelka
Cameron Silverman
Winston Lin
Hunter Nicholas
Raleigh Smith
Gonzalez Austin
Samuel Shropshire
Alexander Centenari
Tim Kopinski
Olukayode Ayeni
Robert Levine
James Wasserman
Konrad Zieba

Rather than cover how all 29 men and 18 women achieved new CHRs, I thought it better for everyone to provide some highlights:

Sock & Kudla: Born 5 weeks apart, opponents in the last all-American U.S. Open junior singles final prior to 2015, and the two highest ranked American men with new CHRs in the past few weeks. Jack Sock didn't do much - a win in Cincinnati, a win at the U.S. Open - but it was better than last year, when he lost first round at both tournaments. Denis Kudla also didn't do much, but given that he was inactive at this time last year with mono, just the two qualifying wins in Cincinnati got him enough of a boost to grab that CHR.

"Juniors": I put that in scare quotes because as of now, most (but not all) of them are done playing junior tournaments. Donaldson, Tiafoe, Paul, Fritz, and Opelka have all gone pro, and will continue to push themselves and each other. Rybakov is heading to college where he will have among the highest ATP rankings of all the players.

Paul, of course, was the lone American male to qualify for the U.S. Open. Tiafoe qualified for Winston-Salem then won a match there in a 3rd set tiebreak before losing his 2nd round match in a 3rd set tiebreak. Donaldson beat Nicolas Mahut in Cincinnati. Opelka won a round in U.S. Open qualifying. Rybakov reached a Futures quarterfinal then a semifinal.

USCers: Michael Grant reached successive quarterfinals at 2 Futures in Gabon; Eric Johnson won a Futures in Israel.

Newbies: Welcome to the rankings, courtesy of your first ATP point! 16-year-old Olukayode Ayeni scored a win over Dennis Nevolo at a Futures in Calgary, Canada. 18-year-olds Robert Levine and James Wasserman each got a win at a different Futures in Canada (Winnipeg). And 20-year-old Northwestern University student Konrad Zieba got a win at a Futures in Poland.

New WTA Career-High Rankings, August 24-September 14, 2015

Player name
8/24/15 ranking
8/31/15 ranking
9/14/15 ranking
Previous CHR
Date achieved
Irina Falconi
Samantha Crawford
Kristie Ahn
Robin Anderson
Ellie Halbauer
Nicole Frenkel
Alexa Graham
Claire Liu
Julia Jones
Lauren Herring
Michaela Gordon
Raveena Kingsley
Sofia Kenin
Jaeda Daniel
Sophie Chang
Maegan Manasse
Karyn Guttormsen
Nicole Coopersmith

College women: No fewer than 7 college or former college players made the list. Falconi continues to be the highest, and her accomplishments continue to impress. She picked up a win at the U.S. Open before dropping an entertaining three setter to Venus Williams. Robin Anderson reached the Landisville $25K final. Lauren Herring reached the semis of a $15K in Mexico, as did Julia Jones. Karyn Guttormsen notched 2 wins at a $10K in Tunisia.

And Kristie Ahn got her first new CHR since 5 months into the first Obama administration, by virtue of winning a $25K tournament in Winnipeg.

Crawford: A tip of the visor to Samantha Crawford, whose career didn't take off as some expected after winning the 2012 US Open girls' singles title, but who, somewhere out of nowhere, reached the final of the $50K in Lexington last month. That proved enough to get her near her 2013 career high, and the 10 points she earned by playing the first round of the U.S. Open was enough to put her over the top. She'll jump into the Top 200 on Monday after adding her Quebec City run this week, and will very likely spend the rest of the year there, as she's only defending 21 points the rest of the fall.

Juniors: Halbauer (18) - Landisville $25K 2R, Frenkel (17) - Landisville QF, Graham (17) - Landisville FRQ, Liu (15) - U.S. Open FRQ!, Gordon (16) - Winnipeg $25K 1R, Kingsley (17) - U.S. Open 2RQ (welcome!), Kenin (16) - U.S. Open 1R loss, Daniel (16) - Westende $25K 1R (qualified), and Chang (18) - Landisville 1R (qualified) are some of the up & coming talent for USA.

A huge congratulations to Coopersmith, who qualified for a $10K in Cakovec, Croatia, and went on to beat 5 players, including 4 seeds (3 of whom are Top 500 players) to win the tournament. Her mother, Maja Palaversic Coopersmith, was a Yugoslavian, then Croatian pro who had a career high of #117. One of her wins was over Roberta Vinci, which is kind of crazy if you think about it. Anyway, way to go, Nicole!