Kristie Ahn “Breezes” Past Eugenie Bouchard in Chicago
(September 5, 2018) CHICAGO – It is called the Windy City, after all.
Gusty and humid conditions made for a less-than-clean start of play on Wednesday at the inaugural Chicago Oracle Challenger. The highest profile player in the draw, two-time former grand slam finalist Eugenie Bouchard, struggled with the conditions and her opponent, American qualifier Kristie Ahn, as she fell in the first round 7-6(3), 6-4.
Ahn dashed out to a 4-0 lead in the first set as the Canadian could hardly find the court and, when she did, Ahn had a response. But one game at a time, Bouchard started playing better while errors mounted for Ahn. Ahn regained her composure to hold for 5-4 (“Any hold for me is big,” she joked later) and in the tiebreak, took advantage of more miscues from Bouchard to win the set. At the set break, a trainer came out to treat Bouchard for dizziness.
The second set was an equally tight affair, as both players found it hard to hold. At 3-3, Bouchard saved three break points in a long game to hold, and when she saved two more serving at 4-4 and went up game point, it looked like she might push the match to a third set. But at deuce, Bouchard hit a drop shot that Ahn raced to and hit a perfect drop volley into the open court. A point later and the former Stanford star was serving for the match, which she successfully did in five points.
“I know Genie’s a fighter; she’s an incredibly great competitor and a tough opponent,” said Ahn. “You could definitely see her level starting to appear at 4-0. I had a feeling I was going to have to dig my nails in a little bit.”
Caught up with @kristieahn after her straight set Bouchard win for an EXCLUSIVE @TennisNewsTPN interview. This is Part 1! — Chicago @OracleChallngrs pic.twitter.com/YEsjnKzGbM
— J?NATHAN (@jokelley_tennis) September 5, 2018
The Oracle Challenger Series, of which Chicago is the third event this year, has been very good to American Danielle Collins. She won the first-ever Oracle Challenger event at Newport Beach in January, and followed it up with a run to the quarterfinals the next month in Indian Wells to nab a wild card into the Indian Wells Premier Mandatory event (where she reached the fourth round). Today against 21-year-old Croatian Jana Fett, Collins dominated. The University of Virginia alum didn’t face a break point and lost only six points in the second set – three on serve and three on return – in her 6-2, 6-0 win.
Other winners on Wednesday included 18-year-old Dayana Yastremska (UKR), who upset 5th seed Pauline Parmentier (FRA) 6-2 7-6(2) and 19-year-old Russian Anna Blinkova, who saved 8 of 12 break points to beat American wildcard Francesca Di Lorenzo 6-4 6-3 in a nearly two-hour match.
On the men’s side, American men continued to shine, with upsets of seeded players by Alexander Sarkissian and local legend Donald Young. Young, who was born and raised in Chicago before moving to Atlanta several years ago, dismantled his fellow former-top 50 opponent Vasek Pospisil (CAN) 6-2, 6-2, losing only two points on his first serve in the match.
Sarkissian’s match was far more dramatic. The former Pepperdine Wave started out great, winning the first set 6-3 by breaking top seed Andreas Seppi (ITA) twice at the end of the set as part of a stretch of seven straight games that saw him go up an early break in the second. He held onto that lead until 5-3, when it was time for him to serve for the match. After saving a break point, he reached match point, but his forehand clipped the net, giving Seppi an easy putaway volley. He then reached match point again, but hit a backhand long after a long rally. Two points later, and Seppi was back on serve. At 4-5, Sarkissian reached his third match point, but a backhand into the net erased that. Two points later, Seppi saved his fourth match point on another Sarkissian error. It was not looking good for the 2014 NCAA runner-up.
But the Californian made it to a tiebreak, and then came back from a 2-5 deficit to win the last five points of the match. This time on match point, Sarkissian traded 24 groundstrokes with Seppi before the 51st ranked player dumped a backhand into the net to give Sarkissian the best ranking win of his career.
Alex Sarkissian discusses taking out top seed Andreas Seppi in round one of the @OracleChallngrs Chicago pic.twitter.com/uXvks1ZP26
— J?NATHAN (@jokelley_tennis) September 5, 2018
Sarkissian and Young joined compatriots Tommy Paul, Michael Mmoh, and qualifier Sekou Bangoura in the winners’ circle, the latter two of whom beat Americans Christopher Eubanks and Ernesto Escobedo, respectively, in three sets. Other men’s winners were No. 2 seed Denis Istomin (UZB), Lucky Loser Kaichi Uchida (JPN), former Tulane Green Wave Dominik Koepfer (GER), No. 6 seed Ruben Bemelmans (BEL), and big-hitting 19-year-old Alexei Popyrin (AUS) who beat a man twice his age in 38-year-old Victor Estrella Burgos (DOM) 6-3 7-5.
After one round of play on men’s singles, 10 of the 16 winners were Americans, and the USA is guaranteed at least three quarterfinalists.
In doubles action, top seeds Leander Paes (IND) and Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela (MEX) snuck past JP Smith (AUS) and Ruan Roloefse (RSA) 7-6(4) 7-6(4), 10-7, coming back in the super tiebreak from a 2-6 deficit and winning the last five points of the match for a dramatic victory. Also advancing were hometown hero Evan King alongside former University of Georgia player Nathan Pasha; they defeated Toshihide Matsui (JPN) and Frederik Nielsen (DEN) 6-4 4-6 10-2.
In women’s doubles, Sachia Vickery and Jamie Loeb cruised past Emily Webley-Smith (GBR) and Alexandra Mueller (USA) 6-1, 6-0 while third seeded Desirae Krawczyk (USA) and Alexa Guarachi (CHI) beat Michaela Krajicek (NED) and Pauline Parmentier (FRA) 7-6(5) 6-2.
Tomorrow, all 24 men’s and women’s singles and doubles second round matches are scheduled. Everyone in the Chicagoland area is strongly encouraged to attend this free and high-quality event at the beautiful XS Tennis Village! For those not here, visit oraclechallengerseries.com and click on Chicago -> Score Center -> Watch Live to watch multiple streaming courts.
Jonathan Kelley is in Chicago covering the Oracle Challenger Series tournament for Tennis Panorama News.