Melinda Czink

Wizards of Oz (I): Australian Open Day 1 Preview

While some of the stars opening play in Melbourne should encounter little resistance, others might want to tread carefully.  We look at some of the most notable matches on Day 1 from Rod Laver Arena to the outer courts.

Chang vs. Stosur (Rod Laver Arena):  A flustered bundle of nerves on home soil, Stosur has lost six of her last seven matches in Australia and exited in the first round here last year to Sorana Cirstea.  Despite her smooth game, Chang lacks Cirstea’s intimidating weapons and thus should pose a less severe test.  But an 0-2 start to 2013 with losses to unheralded opponents in Brisbane and Sydney inspire little confidence in Stosur as she rebounds from an ankle injury.

Hewitt vs. Tipsarevic (RLA):  Quite the contrast to Stosur, the greatest Aussie champion in recent memory typically thrives under the adoring gaze of his compatriots.  In his 17th Australian Open appearance, Hewitt thoroughly deserves this showcase setting in the first night session on Rod Laver Arena.  Recent years have seen him deliver upsets over opponents like Baghdatis, Safin, and Raonic on this court, so Tipsarevic cannot take this match lightly.  The second-ranked Serb looked solid but mortal while winning Chennai, and he won’t overpower Hewitt like many opponents near his ranking.

Ivanovic vs. Czink (RLA):  This match may start very late indeed in the aftermath of Hewitt-Tipsarevic, possibly a bad sign for Ivanovic.  A morning person, the Serb can grow weary quickly when she plays late at night, and she has struggled against lefties sporadically in her career.  That said, Czink has declined since she upset Ivanovic on the much faster court of Cincinnati in 2009, and the former finalist built confidence with three decisive wins at the Hopman Cup before Medina Garrigues outlasted her in the final.  She should aim to avoid a third set whenever possible, and probably will here.

Goffin vs. Verdasco (Hisense Arena):  Four years after he reached the semifinals (and nearly the final) here, Verdasco has regressed back to his former incarnation in which he can win or lose to anyone on any given day.  Startlingly boyish in appearance, Goffin reached the second week of Roland Garros last year and recorded fall upsets over Troicki and Isner, among others.  The 22-year-old must refine his game, especially his shot selection, to rise further into the top 50, although Verdasco can teach him little in that area.

Cibulkova vs. Barty (Hisense):  The Slovak pocket rocket unleashes impressive power when on a hot streak and can collapse completely when she loses her range even a little.  Last week in Sydney, Cibulkova showed her best and worst in defeating three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel from Radwanska.  Which memory lingers longer in her mind may define how far she goes here, while Aussie prodigy Barty will try to gain confidence from the Hopman Cup memory of upsetting Schiavone.

Bobusic vs. Radwanska (Margaret Court Arena):  For winning the Australian Open wildcard playoff, Bobusic received a berth in the main draw—against the world #4.  Radwanska also happens to have won both of her tournaments this year, so the challenge looms very large for the home hope.  The Pole sometimes does need time to settle into an event, though, wobbling through uneasy three-setters in the first round here before.

Youzhny vs. Ebden (MCA):  Yet another Aussie faces a Russian well into the twilight of his career.  Still lovely to watch with its one-handed backhand and crisp volleys, his game matches up well to the net-rushing style of Ebden.  Both men feel comfortable all over the court, which should create some variety in the ways that points unfold.

Dellacqua vs. Keys (MCA):  After reaching the Sydney quarterfinals, the 17-year-old American should have soared in self-belief by proving that she could compete with much more experience and accomplished opponents.  She eyes a winnable match against an Aussie returning from injury, not for the first time, but with a memorable run here five years ago to inspire her.

Medina Garrigues vs. Bartoli (Show Court 3):  The Spaniard enters on a somewhat hot streak from winning the Hopman Cup with Verdasco, although she defeated no notable opponent other than Ivanovic.  Bartoli has dominated their head-to-head on hard courts but has suffered a series of early upsets at the Australian Open in recent years.  The match will rest on her racket, for better or for worse.

Harrison vs. Giraldo (Court 8):  From their last meeting at the Olympics came the regrettable temper tantrum that led to Harrison’s equally regrettable apology.  He still lets his competitive fire burn too brightly at times, although a victory over Isner in Sydney may bode well for this fortnight.  Not averse to emitting some sparks himself, Giraldo will fancy his chances in the best-of-five format if he can claim an early lead.

Bolelli vs. Janowicz (Court 8):  The toast of Paris last fall when he reached the Bercy final, Janowicz reverted to ordinary toast this month in a sloppy loss to Brian Baker.  The moribund game of Bolelli, an Italian with much more flair than power, should not trouble the huge-serving Pole as long as he stays out of his own way better than he did in Auckland.

Barthel vs. Pervak (Court 11):  Reaching the fourth round here last year, Barthel recalled her strong start to 2012 when she finished runner-up in Hobart (becoming the first woman ever to lose a final to Vesnina in the process).  The gawky German owns a formidable but fickle serve and can climb into double digits in aces and double faults during the same match.  Russian by birth and Kazakh by passport, the lefty gunslinger Pervak upset Wozniacki in Brisbane by showing more fortitude than usual.

Benneteau vs. Dimitrov (Court 13):  At Wimbledon last year, the French doubles specialist came within two points of upsetting Federer as he proved again how lethal his game can become when all of its parts coalesce.  A strong server with a penetrating two-hander and excellent net skills, Benneteau held match points in the Sydney semifinal last week before his habit of losing close matches resurfaced.  The bad news for him is that he faces a man who served for the first set in the Brisbane final the previous week.  The good news is that Dimitrov never has brought his best game to any major, nor has he developed a habit of stringing together solid results.

Makarova vs. Larcher de Brito (Court 19):  Once at the vortex of the shrieking controversy, Larcher de Brito plunged into the tennis wilderness shortly after her uniquely piercing yodels had alienated fans.  She returns to the main draw of a major for the first time in years.  Is she ready for her comeback?  Perhaps more to the point, are we?

Bogomolov vs. Baker (Court 20):  From an American perspective, this match presents a good guy vs. bad guy narrative.  Fans around the world warmed to Baker when he completed an odyssey through several injury absences to rejoin the ATP with a bang last year by reaching the final at his first tournament.  His results faded a little afterwards, as one would expect, so his confidence probably rose when he defeated Janowicz in Auckland.  Whatever one thinks of Bogomolov’s shifting national allegiances, they did nothing to disturb his reputation as one of the players least likely to induce empathy in the ATP.

Hradecka vs. Bertens (Court 22):  Half of the world’s second-ranked doubles team, the Czech with an explosive serve faces one of last spring’s most surprising headlines.  Bertens became the first Dutchwoman to win a title since 2006 when she took home the hardware from Casablanca as a qualifier who never had played a main-draw match at the WTA level.  Summer upsets over Safarova and Petrova consolidated that breakthrough, so she will look to take the next step forward in 2013.

Excited about these matches and others on Day 1?  Join our live chat at newyorkobservertennis.com, which extends from the start of play through the Rod Laver Arena night session.

Mondays With Bob Greene: I Fought For My Country

STARS

Shahar Peer won the GDD-Guangzhou International Women’s Open, beating Alberta Brianti 6-3 6-4 in Guangzhou, China

Melinda Czink beat Lucie Safarova 4-6 6-3 7-5 to win the Bell Challenge in Quebec City, Canada

Evgeny Korolev beat Florent Serra 6-4 6-3 to win the Pekao Szczecin Open in Szczecin, Poland

DAVIS CUP

World Group Semifinals

Czech Republic beat Croatia 4-1 in Porec, Croatia

Spain beat Israel 4-1 in Murcia, Spain

World Group Playoffs

Switzerland beat Italy 3-2, France beat Netherlands 4-1, Sweden beat Romania 3-21, Serbia beat Uzbekistan 5-0, India beat South Africa 4-1, Belgium beat Ukraine 3-2, Ecuador beat Brazil 3-2, and Chile played Austria

Americas Zone

Group I Playoff: Peru vs. Uruguay beat Peru 4-1; Group II Final: Dominican Republic beat Venezuela 3-2

Asia-Oceania Zone

Group I Playoff: China beat Thailand 4-1. Group II 3rd Round: Philippines beat New Zealand 4-1

Europe/Africa Zone

Group I Playoffs: Slovak Republic beat FYR Macedonia 5-1; Poland beat Great Britain 3-2; Group II 3rd Round: Latvia beat Slovenia 3-2; Finland beat Cyprus 3-2

SAYING

“I feel like I was in a 10-round boxing match. Everything hurts.” – Ivo Karlovic, who served a record 78 aces, yet lost his Davis Cup match against Radek Stepanek.

“I fought for my country. It was an amazing game.” – Radek Stepanek, who survived Ivo Karlovic’s record 78 aces to win 6-7 (5) 7-6 (5) 7-6 (6) 6-7 (2) 16-14.

“I have to go on holiday badly. I have a problem with my leg. I have a problem with my arm – everything is hurting. And I’ve got to do some babysitting.” – Roger Federer, after helping Switzerland beat Italy and remain in the World Group in 2010.

“I tried everything, but he was particularly good today.” – Potito Starace, who lost to Roger Federer to give Switzerland an insurmountable lead in its Davis Cup playoff against Italy.

“It’s not the way to act – win or lose, good call or bad call, in any sport, in any manner.” – Serena Williams, apologizing for her verbal assault towards a line judge during the US Open women’s final.

“I was very tired after the first two sets, lost the third and the fourth. But then, when I went to the locker room when the fourth set finished, I told my brother I wasn’t going to lose the match. This is the beauty of Davis Cup, the energy of a team and the energy of a country.” – Nicolas Lapentti, whose 6-4 6-4 1-6 2-6 8-6 victory over Marcos Daniel clinched Ecuador’s World Group Playoff tie over Brazil.

“It’s like David against Goliath – and we know who won that one!” – Andy Ram, before Israel played Spain in a Davis Cup semifinal. This time Goliath won.

“I hope it’s the start of something.” – Eyal Ran, Israel’s Davis Cup captain, on his team’s surprising run to the World Group semifinals.

“I hope to come back next year and do better. Unless you win, you can always do better.” – Lucie Safarova, who lost to Melinda Czink in the final of the Bell Challenge.

“I thought they (India) were trying different tactics. I couldn’t understand why he (Mahesh Bhupathi) was serving and staying back.” – Jeff Coetzee, who with his partner Wesley Moodie earned South Africa’s lone point in their Davis Cup tie against India when the Indian doubles team was forced to retire after Bhupathi suffered a groin injury.

“At last we are where we deserve to be.” – Andy Murray, on Great Britain being relegated to Group II in the Euro/Africa Zone after losing its Davis Cup tie to Poland.

SMOKIN’

Ivo Karlovic slammed a record 78 aces yet lost his Davis Cup match against Radek Stepanek in a marathon that lasted one minute short of six hours. Stepanek’s 6-7 (5) 7-6 (5) 7-6 (6) 6-7 (2) 16-14 victory gave the Czech Republic a 2-0 first-day lead over Croatia. The Czechs captured the tie 4-1 and advanced to the final against Spain. The 82 games equaled the Davis Cup record since tiebreakers were introduced in 1989, but the elapsed time was well short of two matches played by John McEnroe, against Mats Wilander in 1982 and against Boris Becker in 1987, both of which lasted around 6½ hours. Karlovic wasted four match points in the final set, and there were only five break-point chances in the match. Karlovic obliterated both the men’s record and Davis Cup record for aces, marks he held. He had 55 aces in a loss to Lleyton Hewitt at the French Open in May, and his previous Davis Cup mark was 47, which he shared with Brazil’s Gustavo Kuerten and Switzerland’s Marc Rosset.

SMALL CHANGE?

Apparently apparel company Fila has deep pockets. According to reports, Kim Clijsters was given a significant bonus by her shoe and clothing sponsor for her surprising US Open singles championship. And where companies usually insure these bonuses, CNBC says Fila did not. The bonus is reported to be in the range of USD $300,000, which could buy a lot of shoes for Clijsters’ young daughter. Darren Rovell of SportsBiz says that while it’s standard practice for companies to insure their big incentive bonuses to minimize the risk, Fila didn’t do it with Clijsters since she had played just two tournaments following a two-year retirement. The odds on Clijsters winning were as high as 40-to-1.

STAYING UP

You can excuse Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych if they want to take an extra nap or two. Between them, the Czech duo played for nearly 10 hours on the first day of the Czech Republic’s Davis Cup semifinal against Croatia. But the two then joined forces on the second day to play – and win – their doubles, clinching a spot for the Czech Republic in the final against Spain. On the first day, Stepanek needed one minute less than 6 hours to outlast Ivo Karlovic, and then Berdych was on court for 3 hours 48 minutes to down Marin Cilic in five sets. Together, Stepanek and Berdych needed only 2 hours, 16 minutes to defeat Lukas Dlouhy and Jan Hajek. Stepanek and Berdych are unbeaten together in Davis Cup doubles, improving their record to 5-0, including 3-0 this season.

SINKING BRITS

Even with Andy Murray playing all three days, Great Britain was relegated to Group Two of the Euro/African zonal play when Poland won their Davis Cup tie 3-2. Murray won both of his singles matches, but Michal Przysiezny beat Dan Evans in the decisive singles to give Poland the victory. It is the first time in 13 years that Great Britain has been dropped to the third tier of the world-wide competition. Evans also lost his first-day singles match to Jerzy Janowicz, But Poland’s Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski beat Murray and Ross Hutchins in the doubles.

SURPRISING BELGIUM

When talking about Belgium tennis, most are thinking about the women. The country has produced former number ones Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters, the latter winning the US Open earlier this month on her return to the sport following a two-year retirement. But Belgium’s men have also proved their mettle, keeping the country in the World Group for 2010 by besting Ukraine 3-2. And that came despite Belgium losing it’s number one player with an injury just hours before the Davis Cup Playoff began. Olivier Rochus withdrew with a leg injury, but his brother Christophe Rochus joined with Steve Darcis to help Belgium beat Ukraine.

SETTLED SUIT

Zina Garrison has settled the racial discrimination suit she brought against the United States Tennis Association (USTA). A deal was signed on August 27, although its terms were not disclosed. A former Fed Cup captain, Garrison filed her lawsuit in February, saying she was unfairly treated, paid a lower salary than Davis Cup coach Patrick McEnroe while being held to higher standards. As a player, Garrison was the 1990 Wimbledon runner-up, at the time becoming the first black woman since Althea Gibson to play in a Grand Slam tournament singles final. She became the first black captain of the US Fed Cup team when she replaced Billie Jean King in 2004. Spokesman Chris Widmaier said the USTA is happy the case was resolved and looks forward to working with Garrison in the future.

STOP RIGHT NOW

Martina Hingis should stick to tennis and stay away from dancing, at least according to the British public. Hingis became the first celebrity to be ousted from the new BBBC reality talent show, “Strictly Come Dancing.” It’s England’s answer to the American TV show “Dancing With The Stars.” Hingis and her partner Matthew Cutler were in the bottom two when phone votes were added to the judges’ score. They then lost a dance-off against policeman-turned-crime-presenter Rav Wilding and his partner Aliona Vilani. Two years ago, Cutler teamed with Alesha Dixon to win the competition. This year, Dixon, a singer, is a judge on the show.

SERENA SPEAKS

Admitting she lost her cool, Serena Williams has issued an apology for her outburst towards a line judge in her women’s singles final at the US Open. “I need to make it clear to all young people that I handled myself inappropriately,” Williams said. “I want to sincerely apologize first to the lineswoman, Kim Clijsters, the US Tennis Association and tennis fans everywhere for my inappropriate outburst.” The line judge had called a foot fault on Williams on her second serve, giving Clijsters match point. William, who already had been handed a code violation for racquet abuse, unleashed a tirade towards the line judge, briefly walked away, and then returned for another blast at the official. When chair umpire Louise Engzell asked the line judge what had been said, she called for the tournament referee Brian Earley and eventually ordered a point penalty, the next level of punishment under the code. That gave the match to Clijsters. Williams was fined USD $10,000 for the infraction, and was further penalized USD $500 for the racquet abuse.

SPEAK YE NOT

Saying the “magic” word cost Roger Federer a USD $1,500 fine at the US Open. The Swiss superstar was fined for using a profanity while arguing with the chair umpire during the US Open final. Television microphones picked up the naughty word during the live broadcast of the match. Tournament spokesman said Federer was fined the same amount as two other players – Vera Zvonareva and Daniel Koellerer – for audible obscenities. Daniel Nestor was fined USD $5,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct toward a fan, but the big loser at this year’s final Grand Slam tournament was Serena Williams, who was docked USD $10,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct. She also was fined USD $500 for racket abuse.

SUCCESS

Melinda Czink is finally a winner on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. The left-hander from Hungary beat Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic to capture the Bell Challenge in Quebec City, Canada. Playing in her second career final, it was Czink’s first title. “It feels great. I haven’t really processed it year, but I will,” she said. Czink’s first final was somewhat historic. She lost to Ana Ivanovic in the final round of qualifying in Canberra, Australia, in 2005, gained entry into the main draw as a “lucky loser,” then met and lost to Ivanovic in the final, the only known time that has happened.

SAYS YOU, SAYS ME

India has two of the world’s best doubles players. Both are now sidelined with injuries. Leander Paes pulled out of India’s Davis Cup World Group Playoff tie against South Africa because of an injury he sustained during the US Open, where he won the doubles title with Lucas Dlouhy of the Czech Republic and reached the mixed doubles final with Cara Black of Zimbabwe. Mahesh Bhupathi, who lost the men’s doubles with his partner Mark Knowles of the Bahamas, suffered a groin injury during the Davis Cup doubles. The injury forced the Indian doubles team to retire, giving South Africa its lone point in the tie.

SOME KIND OF PROBLEM

Albert Costa has a problem every Davis Cup captain would love to have. Costa has been Spain’s Davis Cup captain for just nine months, but already he faces several decisions that could make him unpopular with several players and their supporters. Costa’s team just swept past Israel 4-1 to return to the final to defend their Davis Cup title. This time they will take on the Czech Republic, which beat Croatia. Costa’s problem. His top two players missed the Israeli tie because of injuries. Does he now name the players who took Spain to the final or go with the two missing players – second ranked Rafael Nadal and ninth-ranked Fernando Verdasco. Of course, there may be no problem. Although injured, both Nadal and Verdasco sat through all three live rubbers on Friday and Saturday, cheering on their compatriots.

SEATS ARE FREE

Admittance to next week’s Vogue Athens Open will be free. The organizers Liberis Publications and Hellenic Tennis Federation decided to open the doors to the public for the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour event that will be played on the same courts where five years ago the Athens Olympic Games were held. The decision was also made because of the large capacity at the Olympic Tennis Center. All seats are available to anyone, beginning with the qualifying all the way through the final, which will be played on October 4.

STAYING HOME

Juan Martin del Potro’s five-set upset of five-time defending champion Roger Federer had the fans at home turning on their television sets. The men’s final, which was postponed because of rain to Monday, drew a 2.3 rating and 5 share on CBS. That’s up 35 percent from the 2008 final, which was also played on Monday because of rain delays. That was when Federer beat Andy Murray in straight sets. Ratings represent the percentage of all households with televisions, and shares represent the percentage of all homes with TVs in use at the time.

SEEING IS BELIEVING

Things at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center are normal. The US Open set an attendance record this year, just as it has done every year. This year’s attendance was 721,059, slightly more than the previous record of 720,227 set last year. The tournament also set a Week One attendance record of 423,427, including a single-day high of 61,554 for the combined day and night sessions on the first Friday.

SPONSOR

Remember Melanie Oudin, the 17-year-old from Marietta, Georgia, who reached the quarterfinals of the US Open. Well, she has signed on to be a pitch woman for AirTran Airways Inc., an Orlando, Florida-based company. Oudin became the youngest woman to reach the US Open quarterfinals since Serena Williams did it in 1999. Oudin had victories over fourth-ranked Elena Dementieva, 13th-seeded Nadia Petrova and former US Open champion Maria Sharapova. The youngster is currently ranked 44th in the world and is the third-highest ranked American woman, behind sisters Serena and Venus Williams. AirTran, a low-cost airline, recently took over as the official airline of the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Guangzhou: Olga Govortsova and Tatiana Poutchek beat Kimiko Date Krumm and Sun Tiantian 3-6 6-2 10-8 (match tiebreak)

Quebec City: Vania King and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova beat Sofia Arvidsson and Severine Bremond Beltrame 6-1 6-3

Szczecin: Tomasz Bednarek and Mateusz Kowalczyk beat Oleksandr Dolgopolov Jr. and Artem Smirnov 6-3 6-4

SITES TO SURF

Bucharest: www.bcropenromania.ro/

Metz: www.openmoselle.com

Hansol: www.hansolopen.com

Tashkent: www.tashkentopen.uz

Saint Malo: www.opengdfsuez-bretagne.com

Bangkok: www.thailandopen.org

Kuala Lumpur: www.malasianopentennis.com/

Athens: www.vogueathensopen.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$650,000 BCR Open Romania, Bucharest, Romana, clay

$650,000 Open de Moselle, Metz, France, hard

WTA

$220,000 Hansol Korea Open, Seoul, Korea, hard

$220,000 Tashkent Open, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, hard

$100,000 Open GDF Suez de Bretagne, Saint Malo, France, clay

SENIORS

Trophee Jean-Luc Lagardere, Paris, France, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$947,750 Proton Malaysia Open, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, hard

$608,500 Thailand Open, Bangkok, Thailand, hard

WTA

$2,000,000 Toray Pan Pacific Open, Tokyo, Japan, hard

$100,000 Vogue Athens Open, Athens, Greece, hard

Azarenka, Ivanovic soar into second round in Cincinnati

In their first appearances at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open in Cincinnati, Ninth-seeded Victoria Azarenka and No. 11 Ana Ivanovic advanced to the second round.

Azarenka, who has won three singles titles this season, held off Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, 6-3, 7-6(2), in the opening match of the tournament. Ivanovic, a former world No. 1, rallied from a first set hiccup to bounce American qualifier Melanie Oudin, 2-6, 6-1, 6-1, in 88 minutes.

The 20-year-old Belarusian was solid throughout the one hour and 29-minute match, committing only 15 unforced errors compared to 36 by Kanepi. Azarenka won 75 percent of first serve points, while breaking serve on three of seven occasions. Azarenka has now won both meetings against Kanepi and will next face Russian Anna Chakvetadze, who defeated Elena Vesnina, 7-5, 6-3.

After looking like another early round exit was in store for the former Roland Garros champion, Ivanovic quickly turned things around as the 17-year-old Oudin began to fade.

Ivanovic struggled a great deal with her ball toss, hitting six double faults, but insisted afterwards that she has had more pace on her serve and her shoulder problems are gone. The 21-year-old Serb was very consistent from the baseline in the final two sets, breaking serve five times.

Play was suspended in the third set due to heavy thunderstorms with Ivanovic leading 4-1. But after play resumed following a lengthy delay, Ivanovic lost just three points en route to victory.

Ivanovic next faces Melinda Czink of Hungary, who defeated Alize Cornet, 6-3, 6-2. Ivanovic has won all three previous meetings against Czink, winning most recently at Wimbledon in 2007.

Stephens Displays Poise Beyond Her Years

For the rising American stars who are typically in the qualifying at the US Open, the pressure placed on their young shoulders can often be too much to handle. Over the years, the qualifying rounds have left a graveyard of names once touted as future champions, but who were unable to live up to what was expected of them.

Sloane Stephens does not look to be one of those players.

In front of a large, curious crowd on Court No. 11 at the USTA/Billie Jean King National Tennis Center that included U.S. Davis Cup Captain and USTA Elite Player Development Director Patrick McEnroe, three-time U.S Open champion Ivan Lendl, and USTA Executive Director Gordon Smith, Stephens came back from 3-5 down in the second set to defeat No. 7 seed Melinda Czink, of Hungary 6-3, 7-5, giving the 15 year old the biggest win of her young career.

With a father, John Stephens, an NFL Pro Bowl running back who played running back for the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packer and Kansas City Chiefs, and a mother who tried out for the US Olympic swim team, Stephens has no shortage of athletic genes. She brings the best of both worlds to her tennis game, using supreme foot speed to set herself up to hit her signature powerful ground strokes.

From the start of the match, Stephens said she tried to take control of the baseline rallies by attacking Czink’s weaker serves.

“I could see that she was a little bit tight playing against me because of my age,” Stephens said. “I wanted to take advantage of that and get off to a good start right away.”

Czink broke Stephens early in the second set with a barrage of forehand winners, causing Stephens to look over nervously at her support group. With each player holding serve through the rest of the second set, Czink’s serve let her down as she tossed in two double faults while serving for the set at 5-4, allowing Stephens to level at 5-5.

With Czink serving to stay in the match at 5-6, the Boca Raton native saved her best tennis for the final stages of the contest, lacing two groundstroke winners to give herself triple-match point. On Stephen’s fifth match point, Czink netted a backhand to end the match. After displaying composure well beyond her years for two sets, Stephens finally acted like a teenager by letting out a beaming smile and raising her arms in the air.

“I just thought ‘Oh my God! I won a round in the U.S. Open!” Stephens said. “I know that winning a (qualifying) round isn’t a big deal for some people because they’re expected to, but I’m only 15, so this means everything to me. It feels like I just won Wimbledon!”

Stephens is scheduled to play her second round match on Thursday against Stefanie Vogele of Switzerland. Despite playing without any expectations, Stephens said she believes she can go even further at this year’s US Open.

“These (pro tournaments) are actually more relaxing for me than junior tournaments,” Stephens said. “There’s no pressure on me here. All I have to do is show up and play.”

Muhammed Breaks Through; Daniel Turns His Year Around

A professional tennis player’s career can change in just one week, and the challenger circuit this week created milestones for several talented players. One local girl did her home town proud in reaching her first challenger final, a Russian teenager lived up to the hype of being a former number one junior by winning her first pro tournament, and a claycourt specialist snapped a winless season by winning the biggest title of his decade-long career.

Camille Pin
First, to the women’s side. The $50,000 event in Las Vegas has always boasted a strong field and this year was no exception; all of the seeded players were ranked among the world’s top 100. In the end, Frenchwoman Camille Pin snapped a five match losing streak in route to taking the title with a 6-4 6-1 win over Las Vegas native Asia Muhammed. While Pin’s form throughout the week was extremely impressive (her first serve percentage in the final was 96%), Muhammed was easily the biggest story of the tournament. Having never won a round in the main draw of a challenger before, the 16 year old used an aggressive all-court game and big kick serve to come through several long matches. The most telling sign of her rapid improvement was a 6-4 6-0 win in the first round over Melinda Czink, a player she only managed four games against in the qualifying of the US Open last year. However, Muhammed wasn’t the only success story amongst the young American brigade this week; Madison Brengle beat second seeded Yvonne Meusberger on her way to the semifinals, and Coco Vandeweghe recorded the biggest win of her career in knocking out top seeded Aravane Rezai in the first round.

At the $25,000 event in Minsk, Russian teenager Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova won the first challenger title of her career in dominating fashion, sweeping the first 11 games on her way to a 6-0 6-1 victory of Nikola Frankova of the Czech Republic. Minsk has been good to Pavlyuchenkova so far in her career; her only other challenger final, back in 2006, also came in the Belarusian capital. Despite the lopsided score, Frankova can also take some positives out of this week in reaching her first challenger final after only getting into the draw as a lucky loser. Both girls are also scheduled to compete at $25,000 tournaments later this month in St. Petersburg and Moscow

2008 had not gotten off to a promising start for either of the finalists at the $125,000 Bancolombia Open in Bogota; Spaniard Ivan Navarro sported a 1-7 record going into this week while Brazilian Marcos Daniel hadn’t won a match all year. However, Daniel was able to turn his year around by winning the biggest title of her career, prevailing 3-6 6-1 6-3 over Pastor. The win puts the 29 year old back into the top 100 for the first time since 2006. Despite the loss, this week also allowed Pastor to reverse his bad luck and gives him much to look forward to as the claycourt season, where Pastor has always had his best results, approaches.

Kyoto hosted its long-standing $35,000 challenger event this week, and Go Soeda of Japan thrilled the home crowd by winning a tense 7-6 2-6 6-4 final over Matthias Bachinger of Germany. This win gave Soeda his first challenger title of the year. Both players will also move up to new career high rankings this week.

On the futures circuit, Rui Machado of Portugal won his third title in a row as he took the $15,000 event in Lagos. The 23 year old is now on an 18 match winning streak. Brydan Klein, the 2007 Australian Open boys’ singles champion, won the $15,000 event in Hamilton, and new Canadian citizen Eric Chvojka won at the $15,000 tournament in Gatineau, which is the first of three futures event being held in Canada this month.
On the women’s side, Elisa Balsamo of Italy prevailed at the $10,000 event in Sabadell and Ellen Barry of New Zealand satisfied the home crowd by winning the $10,000 event in Hamilton. The title was the first of Barry’s professional career.

“In the second set, I started going for my shots,” Barry said. “In the third I tightened up again, but managed to get an early break and go from there. I hope to continue doing well now in $25,000 and $50,000 events and I hope it’s going to be a good year for me.”

The women will continue to have the spotlight on them this week as Andreja Klepac of Slovenia leads the way at the $50,000 event in New Delhi. Croatian Nika Ozegovic will contest her first challenger of the year as the top seed at the $25,000 event in Las Palmas De Gran Canaria, while Australian Monique Adamczak takes top billing at the $25,000 event in Kalgoorie, the first of two $25,000 events being held in the Western region of Australia this month. On the men’s side, Juan Pablo Brzezicki of Argentina is the top seed at the $35,000 event in Salinas, while Santiago Ventura of Spain leads the pack at the $35,000 event in Tanger, the first of two events held in Morocco this month.