Southern California Tennis Camps

US Open – Day, Hart & Shibahara Bring Trophies Home

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With all that took place during the US Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, it would be almost “New York” impossible to select just a few highlights as benchmarks of the championship’s two-weeks. Both on and off the court, the 136th version of the year’s final major was historic. And it wasn’t only the closeable roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium or the “new” Grandstand that drew notice. So did the fact that Southern California had eight participants in the boys’ and girls’ singles draws, along with two in the girls’ doubles. If the section were a country, it would have had more players competing under its flag than either Italy or Japan, the nations that were tied for second with six representatives.

It was a magical time for Olukayode Alafia Damina Ayeni, Carson Branstine, Kayla Day,
Brandon Holt, Taylor Johnson, Ashley Lahey, Claire Liu and Nicole Mossmer. Both, Ayeni and Lahey played through the singles qualifying for their draw spots. Mossmer, having taken the National Girls’ 16 title this past summer, received a wild card. Jada Hart and Ena Shibahara, the National Girls’ 18 Doubles winners, were also given a wild card in the Junior Doubles.

Kayla Day Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Kayla Day Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Day has had a summer to remember. Winning the National Girls’ 18 Singles, at the Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego in August, resulted in a US Open Women’s Singles wild card. That made the 16-year-old the youngest competitor, but she played like a veteran downing Madison Brengle.  After losing the first set, 6-2, Brengle, down 4-2 in the second, retired. In her next match, the Santa Barbara native, in her first Arthur Ashe Stadium appearance faced Madison Keys, who was the No. 8 seed in the women’s draw. She played like it and dispatched Day, 6-1, 6-1.

Ena Shibahara and Jada Hart Photo Daily Bruin

Ena Shibahara and Jada Hart Photo Daily Bruin

These contests seemed to provide the ideal warm up for the junior events. Day, seed No. 5, was thoughtful and solid in her shot selection round after round. In addition, her wicked  left-handed serve kept opponents off balance. Given the combination, Day’s 6-3, 6-2 victory over Viktoria Kusmova of Slovakia who was the No. 13 seed, in the US Open Girls’ final was solidly impressive. The match statistics attest to her dominance. She claimed 70 points to Kusmova’s 49. Her supremacy was similarly distinct when it came to unforced errors. She made 14 while the Slovakian notched 30.

Olukayode Alafia Damina Ayeni Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Olukayode Alafia Damina Ayeni Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Day’s day wasn’t complete after her singles victory. In a wild card versus wild card contest, Hart and Shibahara, who are slated to play for UCLA when school begins shortly, edged Day and Caroline Dolehide of Hinsdale, Illinois, 4-6, 6-2, 13-11. The match was so close that the losers actually won one more point (65-64) than the team that took the trophies home. (It was also a first in that there had never been three Southern Californians in a final with the fourth player having local ties because Dokehide’s older sister, Courtney, was a Bruin All-American.)

For years, the section’s “standalone” depth of competition has been touted. The claim that Southern California is “The home of champions” was validated by the results. All of the youngsters entered in the singles won at least one match.

Ashley Lahey Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Ashley Lahey Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Lahey ended up dropping a 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 third round decision to Sofia Kenin, the No. 8 seed from Pembroke Pines, Florida. Johnson came up 6-2, 6-2 short in a third round contest with Tessah Andrianjafitrimo of France. Branstine surprised Olesya Pervushina of Russia, the No. 2 seed who was a Roland Garros and a Wimbledon Girls’ semifinalist, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4. Day ended Branstine’s run 6-4, 6-1in the quarterfinals.

Taylor Johnson Photo www.zimbio.com

Taylor Johnson Photo www.zimbio.com

Hart and Shibahara began their New York adventure taking out the No. 1 seeds, Pervushina and Anastasia Potapova of Russia, who were Roland Garros finalists and Wimbledon semifinalists, 6-4, 6-2. They performed even better in the semifinals defeating Kaja Juvan of Slovenia and Iga Swiatek of Poland, the No. 5 seeds, 6-3, 4-6, 10-4. In the quarterfinals, Day and Dolehide were 6-3, 4-6, 10-3 better than Wimbledon Doubles champions and No. 3 seeds, Liu and Usue Maitane Arconada, who was born in Buenos Aires and now is a San Juan, Puerto Rico resident who trains in Florida.

Carson Branstine Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Carson Branstine Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

With the victory, Day joined a rare group of US Open Junior Girls’ champions, including CoCo Vandeweghe, the last Southern Californian to win the title in 2008.  Hart and Shibahara became the first locals to earn the trophy of significance since Marissa Irvin and Alexandra Stevenson claimed the 1997 crown. (It should be noted that before that showing, Lindsay Davenport and Nicole London, in 1992, were the last players from the section to take the doubles.)

CoCo Van.deweghe and Rajeev Ram with Mate Pavic and Laura Siegemund Photo www.efe.com

CoCo Van.deweghe and Rajeev Ram with Mate Pavic and Laura Siegemund Photo www.efe.com

Turning to Vandeweghe, she played the Mixed Doubles with Rajeev Ram, the Olympic Mixed Doubles finalist with Venus Williams. In the performance of their lives, Mate Pavic of Croatia and Laura Siegemund of Germany shocked Vandeweghe and Ram, 6-4, 6-4 in the title round. In an interesting second round confrontation, the finalists had slipped past the formidable tandem of Leander Paes of India and Martina Hingis, 7-6, 3-6, 13-11.

Being Hingis’ new Women’s Doubles partner, Vandeweghe was solid, but the No. 1 seeds, Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic of France were 6-3, 6-4 stronger in the semifinals. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the Olympic Mixed Doubles winner with Jack Sock, and Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic, escaped with a 2-6, 7-6, 6-4 decision over this year’s Roland Garros winners in the final.

At the majors there are always results that surprise many, often, even the contestants.  The 2016 US Open was exceptional when it came to expecting the unexpected. Stan Wawrinka, known primarily for being Switzerland’s No. 2 player behind the legendary Roger Federer, was too strong in a physically telling final. He ground Novak Dokovic, the Serbian who has had a recent lock on the No. 1 ranking, down 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 for the Men’s title (his third major, to go with the Australian Open that he won in 2014 and Roland Garros where he was the 2015 champion.)

Karolina Pliskova was imposing in her 6-2, 7-6 semifinal dismantling of perpetual No. 1 Serena Williams, who had been listed as the top player in the women’s game for 186 straight weeks and on top of that has won an extraordinary 22 Grand Slam singles titles. Pliskova’s victory opened the door for Germany’s Angelique Kerber to become the first woman from her country to be the game’s best player since Steffi Graf occupied that storied position. In an exciting final where the brilliant shot making left the crowd repeatedly exchanging, “Did you see that…”, Kerber earned a riveting 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory.

The Louis Armstrong Stadium was the main court at the National Tennis Center beginning, in 1978 until the Arthur Ashe Stadium opened in 1997. It was the site of epic matches for ages, which made it fitting that Bob and Mike Bryan played the last match on the court that was inaugurated the year they were born. The five-time US Open doubles winners, who have record totals of 16 Grand Slam and 112 tournament victories, lost a late afternoon quarterfinal to Feliciano López and Marc López, who defeated the twins earlier this year in the Roland Garros final, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3. On September 6th., with lyrics from Louis Armstrong’s 1967 hit, “What a Wonderful World” hauntingly wafting through the appreciative crowd, the Spaniards again triumphed, in three sets, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3.

The movie script tournament was, indeed, special. The same can be said, ambient noise issues aside, about year one of -The Roof – and the record attendance that the championships enjoyed. With plans for adding to the architectural excellence of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in place, tennis fans are anxiously looking forward to the 2017 US Open… Right now, it seems that it will be extremely difficult to upstage this year’s magnificent memories.

Mark Winters

Look for a fresh examination of tennis topics at “Mark’s Thoughts”

 

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