MIDLAND, Mich., February 10, 2011 â€“ It was a different century when Alexandra Stevenson stormed onto the tennis scene, reaching the 1999 Wimbledon semifinals a year after winning her first pro singles title at the Dow Corning Tennis Classic.
Now 30, Stevenson is back in Midland and still seeking title No. 2. She has yet to speak to the media this week in an effort to stay under the radar. The way sheâ€™s playing, Stevenson is impossible to ignore.
Ranked No. 335, she swept six sets in qualifying, stunned No. 8 seed CoCo Vandeweghe in the first round and outlasted Stephanie Foretz-Gacon 6-0, 6-7(4), 6-3 on Thursday to reach the quarterfinals.
Turning back the clock at the $100,000 USTA Pro Circuit event, Stevenson has shown off a versatile style of flat serves, deep forehands and brisk backhand slices.
She stormed through the first 10 games of her second-round meeting with Foretz-Gacon. The former world No. 18 needed only four shots to hold for 5-0 â€“ hitting an ace and three service winners â€“ and then clinched the first set when Foretz-Gacon missed a backhand long.
The American appeared hungry for a double-bagel, winning the first four games of the second set thanks to a bevy of beautiful backhands. With one of the few one-handers on the WTA Tour, Stevenson disguised drop shots, rolled balls deep with top spin, and carved slices at angles that befuddled Foretz-Gacon.
But the 29-year-old Frenchwoman fought through a three-hour first-round match, so she wasnâ€™t about to give anything away to her opponent. Foretz-Gaconâ€™s winners increased as Stevensonâ€™s first-serve percentage plummeted, and the world No. 162 broke back twice to force a tiebreak.
Stevensonâ€™s backhand â€“ so reliable early in the set â€“ abandoned her in the tiebreak. She made three unforced errors off that wing before Foretz-Gacon clinched her first set point with an ace.
What seemed to be an insurmountable lead vanished when Foretz-Gacon held to open the third set. But Stevenson has encountered plenty of adversity in her 12 years on tour, and she rallied once more on Court 3 Thursday.
Serving at 0-1, Stevenson saved five break points before holding serve. Though Foretz-Gacon recovered from Love-40 in the following game, Stevenson secured the break on her fourth chance behind a slice backhand approach that forced Foretz-Gacon into a forehand error.
Another Foretz-Gacon comeback was cut short when Stevenson hit a drop shot off the net cord for a winner to earn match point, which she clinched when the Frenchwoman missed a forehand.
Joining Stevenson in the quarterfinals is countrywoman and fellow qualifier Ahsha Rolle, who survived a sprained right ankle and a pesky opponent to defeat Michelle Larcher de Brito 6-0, 3-6, 6-3.
Like Stevenson, Rolle has won five singles matches in as many days. She is also through to the doubles quarterfinals with Mashona Washington.
â€œPhysically, I feel fine. If my ankle is alright, Iâ€™m good,â€ said Rolle. â€œYeah itâ€™s a lot of matches, but itâ€™s good for me.â€
Much like Stevenson did, the 25-year-old Rolle dominated her opening set. But at 3-3 in the second set, Larcher de Brito saved six break points to hold serve, and immediately broke Rolle in the subsequent game with an inside-out forehand winner.
â€œI couldnâ€™t get the break â€“ UGH,â€ sighed Rolle. â€œOn some of the points, I played well but she came up with a better shot. I was like, â€˜Damn.â€™ It was intense.â€
After rolling her ankle and taking an injury timeout, Rolle took a 4-2 lead in the final set when Larcher de Brito double-faulted on break point. She served out the win three games later by hitting an ace, a service winner, a backhand volley winner and a knifing backhand drop shot that Larcher de Brito failed to retrieve.
â€œEven with unbelievable circumstances, Iâ€™m trying to find a way to win,â€ said Rolle. â€œAs long as I keep serving well, Iâ€™m in it.â€
The United States will also be represented in the quarterfinals by Madison Brengle, who prevailed in a baseline battle with No. 5 seed Sorana Cirstea of Romania 6-2, 5-7, 7-5. The Delaware native also won her first-round match 7-5 in the third set.
â€œBoth of these matches were really, really tough,â€ said Brengle, who beat Olga Savchuk on Wednesday. â€œTheyâ€™re both really good players and it came down to just a couple points. I guess thatâ€™s why they get so long.â€
Neither Brengle nor Cirstea could contain her emotions as momentum swung throughout the course of their match on Court 5. After Brengle hit a down-the-line forehand winner to hold for 5-2, Cirstea argued a line call by telling chair umpire Tony Nimmons, â€œI donâ€™t know what you are watching.â€
What he watched following the changeover was a perturbed Cirstea gift-wrap the first set for Brengle with four straight wild errors.
Even after taking the lead in the second set, the former world No. 23 provided Brengle with hints that sheâ€™s not the player she once was. After unforced errors, the Romanian repeatedly glared into the eyes of her coach, mouthed words of frustration, and held her arms up as if she wasnâ€™t sure what to do.
But after Brengle broke back to even the second set at 5-all, it was the American who came unglued.
Brengle argued with Nimmons about an overrule on the first point at 5-5, and went on to lose the last two games of the second set.
â€œWe both were a little bit antsy about some of the calls,â€ said Brengle. â€œIt can get to you. It wasnâ€™t just her. I definitely felt it too.â€
In the third set, Brengle saved two break points at 2-2, then Cirstea countered by saving two at 2-3. The Romanian finally broke for a 4-3 lead, but failed to consolidate when Brengle hit a stroke of luck.
Holding a break point, the American swung tentatively at a forehand and caught the ball late, but it dribbled off the tape and onto Cirsteaâ€™s side of the court for a winner.
â€œI apologized for that because I think I hit the top of my frame,â€ said Brengle. â€œIt was really lucky.â€
Brengle enjoyed love service holds at 4-4 and 5-5, and then closed out her second straight three-setter with a crisp cross-court forehand that Cirstea couldnâ€™t catch up to.
â€œIn the last two matches â€“ I know theyâ€™re really close â€“ but I havenâ€™t been getting tight,â€ said Brengle. â€œThat helps at 6-5 in the third set. I feel like Iâ€™m hitting the ball well off of both sides. Iâ€™m able to dictate with my backhand and Iâ€™m getting to a lot of balls.â€
In an all-American quarterfinal on Friday, Brengle will meet Irina Falconi after the former Georgia Tech star upset No. 4 seed Anne Keothavong 2-6, 7-5, 6-1. By defeating Keothavong, Falconi picked up her first career win over a Top 100 player.
Born in Ecuador, raised in Manhattan and schooled in Atlanta, the well-traveled Falconi lost the last six games of the first set. Unable to control her serves and strokes, she stared several times at her strings in disgust.
â€œI thought maybe they had put lead on my racquet; I donâ€™t know what happened,â€ said Falconi, who turned pro last summer. â€œI was like, â€˜Am I playing with spaghetti here?â€™ In the first set, she came out ballingâ€¦ but in the second set I was able to come back.â€
Falconi turned the match around in the second set by mixing up her tactics. The American found the range on her wide serves, following them to the net twice successfully to hold for 5-2.
The world No. 91 Keothavong battled back, and held a break point to take a 6-5 lead. Falconi responded with a down-the-line backhand winner, an ace up the tee and a service winner to hold.
Though Falconi broke the Brit to clinch the second set, she dropped her serve to open the third. After breaking back, Falconi won three points in the third game by serving-and-volleying. She never trailed again.
â€œThatâ€™s the beauty about tennis: Thereâ€™s no right or wrong way to play,â€ said the 5â€™4â€ Falconi. â€œYouâ€™ve got to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that â€“ stuff that she doesnâ€™t like. A lot of girls donâ€™t serve-and-volley because itâ€™s not something you see every day. But I was able to execute it today.â€
Quarterfinal Friday at the Dow Corning Tennis Classic is highlighted by a hard-hitting encounter between two-time finalist Lucie Hradecka and former world No. 22 Sabine Lisicki at 7 p.m.
Hradecka used her two-handed groundstrokes to win the 2009 Midland title and reach the 2010 final. Lisicki owns the fastest-recorded serve in womenâ€™s tennis. Neither player has lost a set thus far at the tournament and, after practicing together earlier in the week, they are certainly aware of how well the other is playing.
Following that contest, No. 2 seeds Courtney Nagle and Sarah Borwell will play the in-form team of Rolle and Washington in the feature doubles match. Rolle and Washington are 8-0 as a pair this season, having won two USTA Pro Circuit titles in Florida last month.
Falconi vs. Brengle, Stevenson vs. Rebecca Marino and Rolle vs. Ksenia Pervak are scheduled during the day session, which is open to the public free of charge. General admission tickets to the evening session featuring Hradecka vs. Lisicki and Nagle/Borwell vs. Rolle/Washington cost $12 for adults and $8 for children.
Article be Joshua Rey
Dow Corning Tennis Classic
Midland Community Tennis Center
Thursday, February 10 â€“ RESULTS
Singles â€“ Second round
Lucie Hradecka (Czech Republic) def. Anna Tatishvili (Georgia) 6-3, 7-5
Sabine Lisicki (Germany) def.  Magdalena Rybarikova (Slovakia) 6-4, 6-4
[Q] Ahsha Rolle (United States) def. Michelle Larcher de Brito (Portugal) 6-0, 3-6, 6-3
 Ksenia Pervak (Russia) def. Anastasia Pivovarova (Russia) 6-2, 6-1
Madison Brengle (United States) def.  Sorana Cirstea (Romania) 6-2, 5-7, 7-5
Irina Falconi (United States) def.  Anne Keothavong (Great Britain) 2-6, 7-5, 6-1
[Q] Alexandra Stevenson (United States) def. Stephanie Foretz-Gacon (France) 6-0, 6-7(4), 6-3
 Rebecca Marino (Canada) def. [WC] Victoria Duval (United States) 7-6(1), 6-4
Doubles â€“ Quarterfinals
Gabriela Dabrowski (Canada) and Whitney Jones (United States) def. Beatrice Capra and CoCo Vandeweghe (United States) 6-2, 6-4
Jamie Hampton (United States) and Anna Tatishvili (Georgia) def.  Ksenia Pervak (Russia) and Ipek Senoglu (Turkey) 6-0, 6-2
Doubles â€“ First round
 Sorana Cirstea (Romania) and Anastasia Pivovarova (Russia) def. Amanda Fink and Lena Litvak (United States) 6-4, 6-1
Ahsha Rolle and Mashona Washington (United States) def. Liga Dekmeijere (Latvia) and Evgeniya Rodina (Russia) 6-4, 6-1
Friday, February 11 â€“ SCHEDULE
Stadium Court â€“ starting at 10 a.m.
[Q] Alexandra Stevenson (United States) vs.  Rebecca Marino (Canada)
Madison Brengle (United States) vs. Irina Falconi (United States)
[Q] Ahsha Rolle (United States) vs.  Ksenia Pervak (Russia)
 Sorana Cirstea (Romania) and Anastasia Pivovarova (Russia) vs. Irina Falconi and Alison Riske (United States)
Stadium Court â€“ starting at 7 p.m.
Lucie Hradecka (Czech Republic) vs. Sabine Lisicki (Germany)
Ahsha Rolle and Mashona Washington (United States) vs.  Sarah Borwell (Great Britain) and Courtney Nagle (United States)
ABOUT THE USTA PRO CIRCUIT:
With more than 90 tournaments throughout the country and prize money ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, the USTA Pro Circuit is the pathway to the US Open and tour-level competition for aspiring tennis players and a frequent battleground for established professionals. The USTA launched its Pro Circuit 32 years ago to provide players with the opportunity to gain professional ranking points, and it has since grown to become the largest developmental tennis circuit in the world, offering more than $3 million in prize money. Last year, more than 1,000 men and women from more than 70 countries competed in cities nationwide. Among those who have played at the Dow Corning Tennis Classic are seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin, former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova, reigning French Open champion Francesca Schiavone and 2011 Australian Open runner-up Na Li.