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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rolle, Glatch, Washington and Stevenson Qualify at Dow Corning Classic; Falconi Advances to Second Round

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Midland, MI--

Less than an hour after the four qualifiers were determined at the $100,000 Dow Corning Tennis Classic, the tournament's top seed was sidelined, with Anna Tatishvili of Georgia defeating Varvara Lepchenko of the United States, 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-4. Lepchenko was one of four Americans to fall during the action on Tuesday, with Christina McHale, Jamie Hampton and wild card Shelby Rogers also sidelined in early first round matches.

The qualifiers were all veteran Americans however, as Mashona Washington, Ahsha Rolle, Alexa Glatch and Alexandra Stevenson took straight set wins in the third and final round of qualifying this morning at the Midland Tennis Center.

Washington defeated Alexandra Mueller 7-6(4), 6-3 in front of several busloads of local students watching from the stadium court "box seats". Throughout the week, area schools send their gym classes to attend the day sessions and hit a few balls on an adjacent court. Rolle defeated Lena Litvak 6-4, 6-2, Glatch downed Amanda Fink 6-2, 6-2 and Stevenson beat Marina Erakovic 6-2, 6-4. Stevenson won the singles title at the Dow Corning Classic in 1998, as an 18-year-old.

Irina Falconi, the 2010 ITA College Player of the Year, was the first player to advance to the second round, taking a 7-5, 6-2 decision from Great Britain's Katie O'Brien.

After getting broken in the opening game of the first set, Falconi was fortunate not to fall any farther behind, as she needed to save break points in her next two service games to stay within striking distance. Serving at 1-3, 30-40, Falconi hit a second serve ace up the T and went on to hold. The 20-year-old then broke O'Brien to pull even, but was immediately broken back, leaving O'Brien with a chance to serve for the set at 5-4. O'Brien's backhand had been excellent throughout the first half of the set, and she was winning the majority of the baseline rallies, but in that key game, her backhand deserted her and she was broken for 5-5. After an easy Falconi hold, O'Brien was serving to force a tiebreaker, but in that game it was her serve that let her down, double faulting on the final two points to give Falconi the first set.

In the second set, O'Brien opened with a break, hitting a sizzling return winner with Falconi serving at 30-40, but her service woes continued, and with two more double faults in the second game of the set, O'Brien gave the break back. Another double fault ended O'Brien's next service game, making it 3-1 Falconi, but as discouraging as that must have been for her, she put up quite a battle in the next game, taking Falconi to seven deuces before Falconi held for 4-1. Another O'Brien double fault on game point, her fourth in a row, gave Falconi a comfortable 5-1 lead, but she couldn't close out the match on her next service game, and she too double faulted on game point.

O'Brien was broken for the fourth and final time in the next game, but she managed to avoid a double fault on match point. Her first serve missed, but she made her second, only to see Falconi hit a clean backhand winner to close out the match 7-5, 6-2.

As I write that match synopsis, it sounds as if it was nothing but double faults, but there were plenty of good rallies, especially in the first set, before O'Brien's confidence and serve disappeared. In the match between Sabine Lisicki and Rogers, I saw only the second set, but I can't recall more than one or two points that were decided in four or more strokes. There were service winners, aces, double faults, ground stroke errors and winners, but there was no rhythm nor any sustained rallies to stitch a narrative around. Lisicki, who was in the Top 25 at this time last year, is still finding her form after many months of injury in 2010, but even when she was not playing her best, she had too much experience and power for the 18-year-old US National junior champion Rogers.

In McHale's 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 loss to Anastasia Pivovarova, she may have been lulled into a less aggressive game style than she ultimately needed, when the Russian played a dismal four games to open the match. McHale was ahead 4-0 in a matter of minutes, but Pivovarova was able to drastically cut down on her double faults and forehand errors as the match moved into the second set. McHale, who is usually the epitome of composure on the court, lost patience with herself early in the third set, and in a rare verbal outburst said "I hate this. How can you miss so many balls?"

Broken in the first game of the third set, McHale was fortunate that Pivovarova threw in a rare bad game in the next, committing four unforced errors to be broken at love. But McHale was broken at 2-2 and Pivovarova didn't make that same mistake again, holding in her next two service games and taking the match on a McHale double fault.

In the night match, which was played after I left to return to Kalamazoo, 2009 Dow Corning Tennis Classic champion Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic beat Hampton 7-5, 6-4.

Complete results can be found on the Pro Circuit page at usta.com. And Irina Falconi's tournament blog can be also be found at usta.com. She's one of the most entertaining bloggers out there, so make sure you read every installment.