Sunday, October 15, 2017

Federer pal McDonald wins first Challenger title

Mackenzie McDonald, right, beat a weary Bradley Klahn
6-4, 6-2 today to win the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Chal-
lenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Mackenzie McDonald is too reserved and modest to mention it, but all those training sessions with Roger Federer appear to be paying off.
   McDonald, a 22-year-old product of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, defeated former Stanford star Bradley Klahn 6-4, 6-2 today to win the $100,000 Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championships at Solano Community College.
   McDonald earned his first Challenger singles title after coming to Fairfield 0-7 in semifinals at the level equivalent to Triple A in baseball.
   "I'm super pumped to compete here in NorCal and win," McDonald, who's now based in Los Angeles, gushed after facing Klahn, a 27-year-old resident of Poway in the San Diego area, for the first time. "I've worked really hard, and I think it's showing."
   The sessions with Federer haven't hurt, either.
   "Mackie has trained with him quite a bit," said McDonald's childhood coach, Rosie Bareis, who rushed back home from Florida this morning to attend the final. "He was in Dubai (where the Swiss star has a home) for a few weeks last December. After Roger was eliminated from the French Open, he called Mackie again and said, 'Hey, come to Zurich and train for a week, and let's get ready for Wimbledon together.' At the U.S. Open, when Mackie was in the qualies, he had a day off. Roger called him up and said, 'Let's hit balls,' and they played a couple of sets."
   Federer and McDonald have more in common than one might suspect. Federer's mother, Lynette, is South African, as is another of McDonald's longtime coaches, Wayne Ferreira, who peaked at No. 6 in the world in singles in 1995 and No. 9 in doubles in 2001. He lived in the Bay Area for many years before moving to South Carolina. McDonald still consults Ferreira, who could not be reached for comment.
   "I remember when Mackie said (to Federer), 'Hey, do you know my other coach, Wayne Ferreira?' " said Bareis, the director of tennis at the Claremont Resort & Spa in Berkeley. "Roger said, 'I ballboyed for that guy (in the Basel Open)!'
   "I think there's a connection (between Federer and McDonald). Roger likes him. He likes a lot of the juniors."
   Ferreira helped McDonald overcome a disheartening loss in the quarterfinals of last week's $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger. McDonald held two match points in a loss to 19-year-old American Michael Mmoh.
   "Wayne told him, 'How I handled it was, there's always going to be another tournament the following week,' " Bareis said. "Look what happened."
   Bareis returned from a United States Professional Tennis Association meeting in Delray Beach, Fla. She caught a 6 a.m. flight from Orlando, Fla., flew nonstop to San Francisco, landed at 8:50 a.m., freshened up at home in Tracy and continued on to Fairfield.
   "I consider Rosie family," McDonald said. "I'm very happy she was here to see me win my first (Challenger) title."
Bradley Klahn is drenched with water in a fundraising
stunt after the singles final. Mackenzie McDonald
nailed the bucket with a shot from the baseline on
his second try. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Bareis worked with McDonald from age 3 to 10 and co-coached him with Ferreira from 10 to 14. The USTA's Mat Cloer now coaches McDonald.
   "There were a lot of people in Northern California in the beginning who thought everything I was doing was wrong," Bareis said. "We were getting up Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings and hitting balls from 6 to 8 before school. He comes back in the afternoon, goes to the junior clinic, plays in the East Bay Junior League on Friday and plays tournaments on Saturday and Sunday. Burnout, whatever ...
   "I asked the people in NorCal, 'Why don't we have 8-and-under tournaments? Why does SoCal have 8-and-unders?' At that time, it was 10-and-under, no-ad, round robin, here's a participation ribbon, yay. I was like: 'He's 7 years old. He's going to have to wait how long to win his first trophy?'
   "What I feel good about is that Mackie is one of the kids that set an opportunity for the CiCi Bellises and Vivian Ovrootskys. At least we have somebody in NorCal the kids can say, If those guys from Northern California can make it, I can make it."
   Also attending today's final were McDonald's parents (Michael and Vivian) and grandparents on his father's side, and Klahn's brother, sister and girlfriend. 
   Blue skies returned over the weekend after smoke from nearby wildfires hovered over the area. Several players, their host families and co-tournament director Phil Cello evacuated early in the week, and most of Tuesday's matches were postponed until Wednesday because of "very unhealthy" air quality, according to airnow.gov.
   Between the singles and doubles finals, the crowd observed a moment of silence in honor of the 40 people who died in the blazes, which have destroyed about 5,700 homes and businesses and caused an estimated $3 billion in damage. After the singles final, McDonald and Klahn agreed to be drenched with water in a stunt to aid the Wildfire Relief Fund. Officials posted photos on the tournament website with donation information.
   Both players started the match slowly, losing serve in each of the first three games and five of the first seven. The difference was McDonald quickly recovered while Klahn struggled throughout the match.
   McDonald admitted he was nervous early in the match.
   "Yeah, for sure," he said. "I mean, first (Challenger) final. I felt there was a bit on the line for me, but I'm very happy with how I composed myself this week. I fee like that's always a challenge in pro tennis. I feel like I'm getting the hang of how to calm my nerves, just play tennis and focus on the important things."
   Once McDonald settled down, he pounded his serves and groundstrokes, returned well and put away volleys. For someone who's only 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) and 145 pounds (66 kilograms), he has surprising power. McDonald had four aces and four double faults, and won 26 of 33 points (79 percent) on his first serve.
   "Mackie has always been an all-court player," said Bareis, noting that McDonald swept the NCAA singles and doubles titles as a UCLA junior last year before turning pro. "He knows how to move forward and take time away."
   McDonald tried to stay away from Klahn's punishing forehand, on which he takes a big windup.
   "I wanted to pick on his backhand," said McDonald, who won last year's doubles title in Fairfield with Brian Baker of Nashville, Tenn. "I haven't seen Brad play that much lately, but I know his backhand is a little weaker. I thought he was going to try to get it high to my backhand, which I think he was, but my down-the-line backhand was working well, so I could get out of that position."
   Klahn, the 2010 NCAA singles champion, looked nothing like the player who ousted top-seeded Ernesto Escobedo in a scintillating second-round match. The 6-foot (1.83-meter) Klahn put in only 55 percent of his first serves, had one ace and four double faults, won only 8 of 21 points (38 percent) on his second serve, and committed numerous errors.
   Klahn, who underwent his second operation for a herniated disc in his back in February 2015 and ended a 21-month layoff last November, was playing in his second final in two weeks. He lost to Maximilian Marterer of Germany 7-6 (3), 7-6 (6) in a $100,000 hard-court tournament in Monterrey, Mexico, last Sunday.
   "I think the best way to describe it is 10 matches in two weeks caught up to me," Klahn, who was seeking his sixth Challenger singles title but first since 2014, said of his disappointing performance today. "Mackie did play well, and I know he was confident up here in these conditions. I couldn't quite get my nose in front, and I struggled with my serve. I was kind of fighting an uphill battle today."
   McDonald, who earned $14,400, will jump from No. 218 to a career-high No. 164 in Monday's updated rankings. Klahn, who collected $8,480, will improve from No. 313 to No. 240. He reached a career-high No. 63 in 2014.
   McDonald and Klahn are scheduled to play in next week's $50,000 Las Vegas Tennis Open, so they will go from the site of one recent tragedy to another.
(Left to right) Second-seeded David O'Hare and Luke Bambridge defeated
wild cards Bernardo Oliveira and Akram El Sallaly from the University of
the Pacific in Stockton 6-4, 6-2 for the doubles title. Photo by Paul Bauman
   In the doubles final, second-seeded Luke Bambridge of Great Britain and David O'Hare of Ireland outclassed wild cards Akram El Sallaly of Egypt and Bernardo Oliveira of Brazil 6-4, 6-2, the same score as in the singles final. El Sallaly and Oliveira are teammates at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.
   Bambridge and O'Hare, who split $6,200, almost skipped Fairfield.
   "I was due to fly back home," said O'Hare, 27. "I was trying to stick to four weeks on the road and a couple weeks at home to train. We had good success. We made the final in Columbus (after losing in the quarterfinals in Cary, N.C.) and the semifinals in Tiburon, then lost first round in Stockton.
   "It would have been easy to throw in the towel, but with the (Fairfield) tournament so close (to Stockton), I figured I'd cancel my flight, and come down here and play. You don't want to end on a bad note, and here we are today on Sunday lifting the trophy. Sometimes it works that way, and obviously I'm all too delighted that it has."
   Bambridge, meanwhile, was prepared to play doubles in a $25,000 Futures tournament in Houston this week.
   "When Dave said he was going to stay, I said, 'OK, I'll pull out of the Futures,' " said Bambridge, 22. "We had a really tough first-round (matchup against Klahn and Jackson Withrow of College Station, Texas). Some would say we were extremely unfortunate. Once we came through that, we never looked back.
   "It would have been easy to lose that match and say, Ah, tough draw, but we came through it. From then on, we didn't play our best tennis, but mentally, we were really, really good. We had three match tiebreakers and won them all. We started to jell really well together."
   Here are the complete Fairfield singles and doubles draws.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bay Area native, ex-Stanford star reach Fairfield final

   Last year's final in the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger, held at Solano Community College for the first time, featured two international players.
   This year's title match in the Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championships will have a Northern California flair.
   Mackenzie McDonald, who was born and raised in Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, will meet Bradley Klahn, a former Stanford star from Poway in the San Diego region, for the first time on Sunday after the noon doubles final at Solano.
   McDonald defeated qualifier Chris O'Connell of Australia 6-4, 7-5 to reach his first Challenger final after seven semifinal losses. Although McDonald is only 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) and 145 pounds (66 kilograms), he slugged nine aces.
   Klahn dismissed fourth-seeded Maximilian Marterer of Germany 6-1, 6-3 in a matchup of left-handers that lasted only 43 minutes. Marterer, who beat Klahn 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) last Sunday to win a $100,000 hard-court tournament in Monterrey, Mexico, had no aces and seven double faults.
   Both McDonald, 22, and Klahn, 27, are unseeded.
   McDonald turned pro last year after sweeping the NCAA singles and doubles titles as a UCLA junior. Now based in Los Angeles, he's ranked No. 218.
   Klahn seeks his sixth Challenger singles title but first since 2014. He is fighting his way back up the rankings after undergoing his second operation for a herniated disc in his back in February 2015 and missing 21 months. Ranked a career-high No. 63 in 2104, he is now No. 313.
   In last year's Fairfield final, Colombian veteran Santiago Giraldo defeated France's Quentin Halys, then 19, in three sets. The match was suspended by rain on a Sunday with Halys leading 3-1, ad-out, and completed the next day.
   Neither Giraldo, who climbed to a career-high No. 28 in 2014, nor Halys returned to Fairfield this year.
   Also Sunday, a team with strong NorCal ties will play for the doubles title. Wild cards Akram El Salally and Bernardo Oliveira, teammates at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, will meet second-seeded Luke Bambridge of Great Britain and David O'Hare of Ireland.
   El Salally, a sophomore from Egypt, and Oliveira, a senior from Brazil, edged unseeded Mikelis Libietis of Latvia and McDonald 7-6 (5), 4-6 [10-8].
   McDonald won last year's doubles crown with Brian Baker of Nashville, Tenn., and Libietis captured the 2014 NCAA doubles title with Tennessee teammate Hunter Reese.
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Sunday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Three seeds fall in 100K Fairfield quarterfinals

   Three seeds lost today in the quarterfinals of the Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championships, leaving only one in the $100,000 tourmament at Solano Community College in Fairfield, Calif.
   No. 2 Tennys Sandgren fell to Mackenzie McDonald, who grew up in nearby Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, 7-6 (3), 6-2.
   McDonald, who won the doubles title last year with compatriot Brian Baker, defeated Sandgren, ranked No. 98, for the first time in six career matches. They met for the fifth time this year.
   McDonald will play qualifier Chris O'Connell of Australia for the first time in Saturday's first semifinal at noon. O'Connell outlasted third-seeded Bjorn Fratangelo of Orlando, Fla., 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-4.
   In Saturday's second semifinal, fourth-seeded Maximilian Marterer of Germany will face former Stanford star Bradley Klahn of Poway in a matchup of left-handers. It will be a rematch of Sunday's final in a $100,000 hard-court tournament at Monterrey (Mexico), won by Marterer 7-6 (3), 7-5 (3) in his first career meeting with Klahn.  
   Klahn advanced today with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over eighth-seeded Nikola Milojevic of Serbia 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Each of Klahn's three victories in the tournament has come in three sets. He knocked off top-seeded Ernesto Escobedo, a resident of West Covina in the Los Angeles region ranked No. 91, on Thursday.
   Marterer defeated qualifier and countryman Sebastian Fanselow 6-4, 7-5.
   The tournament remained at Solano Community College as USTA on-site supervisor Keith Crossland deemed the air quality adequate for play as wildfires continue to blaze in the nearby wine country.
   Crossland will evaluate the air quality again on Saturday at 11 a.m. and decide whether to keep the matches at Solano or move them to the University of California, Davis, a 30-minute drive to the northeast.
   McDonald also reached the doubles semifinals, this time with Mikelis Libietis of Latvia. The unseeded pair surprised top-seeded Neal Skupski of Great Britain and John-Patrick Smith of Australia 7-6 (3), 7-5.
   Both McDonald (UCLA) and Libietis (Tennessee) are former NCAA doubles champions. The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) McDonald swept the singles and doubles titles last year as a junior, then turned pro.
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Saturday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Ex-Stanford star ousts top seed in 100K Fairfield

Bradley Klahn lines up a backhand during his three-set
victory over top-seeded Ernesto Escobedo on Thursday.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Bradley Klahn wondered if his career was over at age 24.
   "It certainly crossed my mind from time to time," the former Stanford star, who underwent his second operation for a herniated disc in his back in February 2015, admitted Thursday. "But I've been healthy for well over a year now and started training last July. My body feels good, and that's behind me now. I'm just focusing on continuing to take advantage of his second opportunity I have to play tennis."
   Now 27, the 6-foot (1.83-meter) left-hander from Poway in the San Diego area took another step in his comeback by ousting top-seeded Ernesto Escobedo of West Covina in the Los Angeles region 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals of the $100,000 Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championships.
   About 15 minutes before the scheduled 10 a.m. match, USTA on-site supervisor Keith Crossland decided to keep Thursday's matches at Solano Community College rather than move them to the University of California, Davis, a 30-minute drive away, or another site.
   Wednesday afternoon's scheduled matches were wiped out because smoke from wildfires in the nearby wine country of Northern California reduced the air quality to very unhealthy. But it improved to unhealthy on Thursday, blue sky returned, and Klahn said he had no breathing problems during the match.
   Because the wildfires -- which have killed 31 people, scorched 191,000 acres and destroyed thousands of buildings -- continue to rage, Crossland will face the same issue this morning of where to play.
   Some players staying with host families have evacuated, but those staying at a hotel, such as Klahn, have not.
   "I'm trying to monitor (the situation) a little bit but not get too consumed by it," Klahn said. "I know from experience with the fires down in San Diego it's easy to get sucked in and watch the news 24/7, but I'm certainly thinking about all the families that have been displaced or had their homes burned down. It's a real tragedy."
   Through it all, Klahn has maintained his focus.
   "For the most part, I think I've done a pretty good job of staying relaxed throughout the delays wondering if we're going to play, if we're not going to play," he said. "I just put it behind me when I step out on the court knowing I have a job to do."
   Thursday's match, the first between Klahn and Escobedo, was an intense, hard-hitting affair. The 6-foot-1 Escobedo, 21, crushed his first serve and hammered groundstrokes into the corners. But Klahn often managed to keep the ball in play, inducing errors from Escobedo, and laced some some spectacular running cross-court passing shots. Klahn's lefty serve also was effective, including on his third match point, when he swung his first delivery out wide in the ad court for a winner.
   Klahn broke serve in the opening game of the second set, but Escobedo broke back for 3-3 on a double fault. Escobedo saved five break points in the next game to hold serve, survived a match point serving at 5-6 in the tiebreaker and converted his fourth set point.
   Klahn recorded the only break of the third set to lead 4-2. From deuce in that game, Escobedo ripped an inside-out forehand that smacked the tape and fell back, then sailed a backhand down the line long. He missed his first serve on both points.
   "The key," said Klahn, who finished with 10 aces and nine double faults, "was staying positive and upbeat about my chances even though I let the second set slip away a little bit. I hung in there and competed really well. That was the biggest thing."
   So did Escobedo. Even when he lost his serve in the third set, he escaped three break points before succumbing.
   "He played well; I played well," Escobedo, had 11 aces and five double faults, said of the match. "I was lucky to get back in the second set. I was down a break. I'm happy that I fought hard. The third set just didn't go my way. I just felt like I played a loose game and that's what cost me."
Ernesto Escobedo, ranked No. 91, laments that
he is the only Mexican-American in the top 100.
Photo by Paul Bauman 
   Escobedo reached the second round of the Australian Open as a qualifier in January and advanced to his first ATP semifinal in Houston on clay in April, upsetting second-seeded John Isner in the quarters. But Escobedo has won only two matches in his last five tournaments.
   "It's a process on tour," Escobedo reasoned. "I haven't won that many matches, unfortunately, but it is what it is. I just have to keep on working hard. There's no secrets behind it."
   Escobedo, a Los Angeles native ranked No. 91, is the only Mexican-American in the top 100. Mexico, where his grandfather taught his father to play, has no one in the top 600 in singles (Santiago Gonzalez leads the way in doubles at No. 33).
   "It's unfortunate because I believe there's a lot of talent in Mexico," said Escobedo, who was featured in the May 1 issue of Sports Illustrated after his Houston breakthrough. "It's unfortunate it's just me. Hopefully, I can inspire more kids to play tennis throughout my career."
   None of the top seeds during the three-week Challenger swing through Northern California reached the quarterfinals. Ruben Bemelmans, a 29-year-old left-hander from Belgium, lost in the first round in Tiburon and Stockton as the No. 1 seed.
   Escobedo became the third top-100 player Klahn has beaten since the latter ended a 21-month layoff last November. He topped No. 92 Renzo Olivo of Argentina 4-6, 7-5, 4-0, retired in the first round of qualifying in Houston and No. 81 Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of a $100,000 Challenger on hard courts in Monterrey Mexico, last week en route to a runner-up finish.
   "I'm starting to string together a few more wins," Klahn said. "I'm gaining confidence each week. I lost a couple of tough matches in previous weeks but was just knocking on the door. Now it's just time to continue building and developing my game."
   Klahn won the 2010 NCAA singles title as a sophomore, underwent his first back operation the following year and graduated in economics in 2012. He reached the second round of the U.S. Open in 2012 and 2013, won the Aptos (Calif.) Challenger in 2013, and climbed as high as No. 63 in 2014.
   Klahn's latest layoff changed his perspective.
   "I appreciate being on the road a little bit more," said Klahn, who dropped out of the rankings in February 2016 but has fought back to No. 313. "I always enjoyed travel, but I've tried to get out of my comfort zone and go to a few different places, enjoy the cities I'm in and just soak it all in.
   "You never know how long it's going to last. When I step out on court, there's always going to be nerves. You still want to win regardless of whether it's before the injury or after the injury, but defintely off the court and in practices, I'm trying to enjoy the whole process a little more."
   Klahn is scheduled to play eighth-seeded Nikola Milojevic of Serbia for the first time today in the late afternoon. Milojevic, 22, defeated 19-year-old phenom Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada 6-2, 6-4 on Tuesday.
   Mackenzie McDonald, a 22-year-old product of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, beat Darian King of Barbados for the second time in three weeks, 6-3, 6-1. McDonald, only 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) and 145 pounds (66 kilograms), will take on second-seeded Tennys Sandgren of Gallatin, Tenn., in the Nashville area.
   McDonald, who won last year's doubles title with Brian Baker of Nashville, is 0-5 against Sandgren. This will be their fifth meeting of the year and second in three weeks. Sandgren prevailed 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) in the Tiburon semifinals and complained of fatigue after losing to Cameron Norrie 6-2, 6-3 in the final.
   Two qualifiers, Chris O'Connell of Australia and Sebastian Fanselow of Germany, also reached the Northbay Healthcare quarterfinals. O'Connell will face third-seeded Bjorn Fratangelo of Orlando, Fla., and Fanselow will meet fourth seed and countryman Maximilian Marterer, a quarterfinalist for the second straight year.
   And yes, Fratangelo is named after Bjorn Borg.
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and today's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Smoke suspends play in 100K Fairfield Challenger

Smoke from a nearby wildfire shrouds the hills as players leave Solano Com-
munity College after play was canceled for the day. Photo by Paul Bauman
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- For the first time in his 28-year career, USTA on-site supervisor Keith Crossland suspended play because of poor air quality.
   Three matches, one in singles and two in doubles, were completed this morning in the $100,000 Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championships before smoke from a nearby wildfire shrouded Solano Community College, the tournament site.
   No. 8 seed Nikola Milojevic, 22, of Serbia beat 19-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada 6-2, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals.
   By noon, the air quality dropped from "moderate" to "unhealthy" on airnow.gov, the website used by Crossland, and stayed there all afternoon. Crossland finally canceled play for the day at 3:30 p.m.
   By then, the wildfire had approached within two miles of Solano Community College and was headed that way, co-tournament director Phil Cello said, as high winds returned to Northern California.
James Harden lookalike Evan King celebrates
during a pickup basketball game with other
tennis players in the Solano Community
College gym while tournament play was
suspended because of poor air quality.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   "The forecast is for more north wind peaking at 6 p.m.," Cello said. "That's the big variable. If the wind isn't as bad, they probably can stop it, and everybody's happy. If not, it could come through here."
   Cello and his wife evacuated from neighboring Green Valley early Tuesday morning and were still awaiting word about their house.
   Officials said 22 wildfires across California have claimed 21 lives, scorched 170,000 acres and destroyed up to 3,500 homes and businesses, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
   Tournament play is scheduled to resume on Thursday at 10 a.m. (top seed Ernesto Escobedo vs. former Stanford star Bradley Klahn) at Solano but could move to the Marya Welch Tennis Center at the University of California, Davis, the Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton or the Taube Tennis Center at Stanford University for one or more days, Crossland said.
   "All indications are UC Davis can make room for us," Crossland said. "That would be the most ideal spot. It's the closest (33 miles or 53 kilometers away). Players don't have to change their housing. We can pretty much commute back and forth."
   Crossland said he will check the air quality at Solano on Thursday morning and decide between 9:30 and 10 a.m. whether the matches will stay there or move.
   Crossland has dealt with fires before.
   "There was a tournament in Calabasas (in the Los Angeles area) three or four years ago," he recalled. "It was pretty smoky (because of wildfires), and there were big globs of ash around, but we continued to play. ...
   "I remember one situation in Waco (Texas) in the old days, the Satellite Tour days, where a house literally across the street from the courts burned. I think they stopped for a while because there were fire trucks around."
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Thursday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Aussie O'Connell overcomes harrowing evacuation

Australian qualifier Chris O'Connell and his coach, David Moore, headed
straight into a wildfire near Sonoma in Northern California before quickly
turning around. They were shaken but unharmed. Photo by Chris O'Connell
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Chris O'Connell called it the "scariest moment of my life."
   The 23-year-old Australian, who was trying to qualify for the $100,000 Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championships, had been evacuated with his coach and their host family on Sunday night as wildfires raged in nearby Napa.
   But as O'Connell and coach David Moore of Australia headed to Greenbrae in the San Francisco Bay Area, they encountered a wall of flames 200 yards ahead.
   "We were going down a highway through a valley with bushland on either side, and we weren't sure if we were heading straight into another fire, and we literally were," O'Connell exclaimed on Tuesday. "There was another fire near Sonoma, so we quickly turned around and went a different route to Greenbrae, but it was really scary. It was the scariest moment of my life. I got to sleep about 3 a.m. and was playing the next morning at 10, so it was a crazy 24 hours. I'm all settled now."
  Seventeen blazes in Northern California's wine country have killed least 15 people and destroyed about 1,500 buildings, including including two wineries and hundreds of homes, NPR reported.
   The fires, spread by dry conditions and high winds, have burned about 115,000 acres, authorities said. The cause has not been determined. 
   O'Connell and Moore stayed one night with the host family of fellow Aussies Matthew Barton and Greg Jones in Greenbrae, 16 miles (25.7 kilometers) north of San Francisco, before going back to the family that housed them in Tiburon two weeks ago. Tiburon is 48 miles (77.2 kilometers) southwest of Solano Community College, the site of this week's tournament.
   Moore said his and O'Connell's host family in Napa, Marty and Dave Thomas "heard third-hand that their house is OK, but they can't get in the area."   
   Other players, as well as ballkids and co-tournament director Phil Cello, also were evacuated. Some ballkids have canceled, said co-tournament director Raf Rovira.
   Cello lives in Green Valley, over the hill from Solano Community College, and is staying at a son-in-law's house in nearby Vacaville.
   "We loaded up our four dogs and two cats and all our stuff and headed out," Cello said. "We left at 4 a.m. by the time we got packed up."
   Cello said he hopes his house is OK and doesn't know when he can return, then added: "It's fine. It's precautionary. The fire is in Napa on the other side of the hill. The danger is if it comes over the top. My home is near the base of the hill. The danger is that the wind is supposed to pick up again tonight. The fire in Napa has zero percent containment. We just have to hope the wind doesn't pick up so much that it lifts the fire over the hill and into the homes below."
Chris O'Connell, left, shown with his coach and fellow Australian, David
Moore, is scheduled to play former top-70 player Tobias Kamke of Germany
today in the second round of the $100,000 Fairfield Challenger. Photo by
Paul Bauman  
   Smoke enveloped Fairfield in the morning, and USTA on-site supervisor Keith Crossland came close to postponing play. He consulted ATP senior supervisors and medical staff by telephone and e-mail and a website that listed the air quality as moderate.
   "It was certainly smoky, but the website was the thing that pushed me over to go ahead and play," Crossland said. "There is no ATP rule saying there's air quality 'X' above which you don't play and below which you can play. It's ultimately the (on-site) supervisor's decision."
   Crossland also noted: "The ATP plays events in some cities that have reputations for pretty bad air quality like Beijing, Shanghai and Mexico City. I've never been there, so I couldn't say this is worse than that, but my feeling is this is not as bad as that."
   Players seemed unaffected by the smoke on Tuesday morning, and the air was much clearer in the afternoon.
   O'Connell, who had ousted top qualifying seed Liam Broady of Great Britain in the second round, battled fatigue and the smoke in the last round on Monday morning but beat No. 5 seed Jay Clarke of Great Britain 6-3, 7-5 in straight sets.
   "Obviously, I felt pretty drained walking on the court," said O'Connell, who had slept 3 1/2 hours. "My eyes were watering, really hurting, and my throat was sore just from breathing in all the smoke. Once I got into the match, all that kind of disappeared because I'm a competitive guy. I just wanted to compete."
   O'Connell also upset American Denis Kudla, a former top-70 player, 7-5, 6-3 on Tuesday morning. The victory was especially gratifying because O'Connell missed most of the summer with pneumonia. 
   "I've really only come good in the past month and a half," said O'Connell, who has plunged from a career-high No. 219 in February to No. 375. "It's really good to start getting a couple wins and feeling good on the court."
   O'Connell was worried about the smoke before facing Kudla, unnecessarily as it turned out.
   "Surprisingly, I felt good warming up and playing the match, maybe because I was winning," he said.
   O'Connell will meet another former top-70 player, 31-year-old German Tobias Kamke, today in the second round.
Liam Broady of Great Britain wears one of
the respiratory masks handed out in the
pkayers' lounge. Photo by Paul Bauman
   One seed lost on Tuesday, and three others survived scares.
   No. 6 Stefan Kozlov, 19, fell to Mackenzie McDonald, a 22-year-old product of Piedmont in the Bay Area, 6-4, 5-7, 6-1 in a matchup of U.S. prospects.
   No. 2 Tennys Sandgren in the Nashville area edged fellow American Mitchell Krueger 6-2, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5) in a battle that ended in near-darkness at 6:43 p.m. Krueger had the match on his racket when he led 5-4 in the tiebreaker with two points on his serve coming.
   No. 3 Bjorn Fratangelo of Orlando, Fla., trailed by a set and a service break before rallying to beat lucky loser Alexander Ward of Great Britain 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 in two hours, 28 minutes.
   Also, No. 9 Michael Mmoh, 19, nipped wild card Evan King, a 25-year-old left-hander, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (5) in another all-American affair.
   Top seed Ernesto Escobedo of West Covina in the Los Angeles area and Sandgren, from Gallatin, Tenn., in the Nashville area, are the only two top-100 players in the tournament at No. 91 and No. 98, respectively.
   Mmoh received the ninth seed after No. 5 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain withdrew because of a left shoulder strain. Norrie defeated Mmoh in the semifinals of last week's $100,000 Stockton Challenger en route to his second title in two weeks. The 22-year-old left-hander also won Tiburon.
   Fourth-seeded Maximilian Marterer of Germany downed Brydan Klein of Great Britain 6-4, 7-6 (2). Marterer reached last year's Fairfield quarterfinals and won last week's $100,000 Monterey (Mexico) Challenger. Klein advanced to the Fairfield semifinals in 2016 and won the Stockton doubles title with countryman Joe Salisbury last week.
   Here are the Fairfield singles and doubles draws and Wednesday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Two Fairfield players evacuated because of wildfires

   Two players in the $100,000 Fairfield Challenger and their host families were evacuated in the middle of the night today because of wildfires in the nearby wine country of Northern California, according to USTA on-site supervisor Keith Crossland.
   Crossland did not know which two players were evacuated but thought one was Australian qualifier Christopher O'Connell.
   The wildfires, which have killed at least 10 people and destroyed 1,500 homes, did not affect the tournament schedule.
   Tobias Kamke, a 31-year-old German, ousted seventh-seeded Ramkumar Ramanathan of India 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in the opening round at Solano Community College, which is being used as an evacuation center.
   Kamke, who reached a career-high No. 64 in 2011, rebounded from an awful performance in his 6-2, 6-1 loss to third-seeded Michael Mmoh of Bradenton, Fla., in the first round of last week's $100,000 Stockton Challenger. Kamke was so distraught by his repeated errors that at one point he stomped on his racket and demolished the frame.
   Also today in Fairfield, top-seeded Ernesto Escobedo, 21, beat Alexander Sarkissian, a 27-year-old wild card, 5-7, 6-0, 6-2 in a matchup of Los Angeles-area residents.
   Escobedo, ranked No. 91, is one of two top-100 players in the tournament. Second-seeded Tennys Sandgren of Gallatin, Tenn., in the Nashville area is No. 98.
   In last year's final, Santiago Giraldo of Colombia defeated Quentin Halys of France. Neither returned this year.
   Here are the Fairfield singles qualifying draw, singles and doubles main draws and Tuesday's schedule. The tournament is being streamed live.