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Monday, February 1, 2016

Four Teens Reach $100K Dow Corning Classic's Final Round of Qualifying; Main Draw Begins Tuesday

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Midland, Michigan

The second round of qualifying at the $100,000 Dow Corning ended with half the survivors 18 years old or younger, with each pair squaring off Tuesday for a place in the main draw.

The youngest, 15-year-old Isabelle Boulais of Canada, had the least difficulty advancing, defeating WTA 425 Emily Webley-Smith of Great Britain, who ranks more than 500 spots ahead of her 6-3, 6-0. Webley-Smith was annoyed with the chair umpire and line judges throughout the match but her frequent conversations with them didn't distract Boulais, who had her forehand firing.

Boulais will play 16-year-old Michaela Gordon, who defeated No. 3 seed Chloe Paquet of France 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 in the afternoon's final match at the Greater Midland Tennis Center.

Gordon got a late break, the only one of the set, to take take the first, but fell behind early in the second set to the 21-year-old, who has a WTA ranking of 269.

"I went down 3-0 pretty fast," said Gordon, who is ranked 660. "That's what hurt me, and I didn't try to play better and win the set, I just tried to maintain, which wasn't the best idea, because she started playing better. She actually played a really good second set too. She was hitting me off the court in the second set, so I tried to go for my serve a little more, go for my shots and make her run a little bit more and it worked out well."

Gordon broke at 2-1 and when she held for 4-1, Paquet's body language didn't suggest she was likely to make a comeback. Paquet did save two break points serving down 1-4, but Gordon got a third and converted it, giving herself an opportunity to demonstrate her improvement when closing out a match.

"I've definitely gotten a lot better at closing out my service games, and I'm pretty confident when I'm serving for the match or in a big game," said Gordon, who is traveling with Alex Poorta, the former Saint Mary College star, who also was an assistant coach with the Gaels. "I felt pretty confident."

Gordon and Boulais met last year in the second round of qualifying at the $25,000 Pro Circuit event in Raleigh last May, with Gordon taking a 6-4, 6-0 decision.

"It was last year, and it was on clay," Gordon said. "Her game is definitely suited to indoors. She has a big game. It's nice to see younger players at this level doing well."

In the other all-teenager final round of qualifying, 17-year-old Alexandra Sanford will play 18-year-old Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia. Vikhlyantseva looked to be cruising to a straight-set win over Caitlin Whoriskey leading 6-3, 5-3, but complications arose en route to her 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-4 victory.  Even after failing to serve out the match at 5-3, Vikhlyantseva led 6-3 in the tiebreaker, but Whoriskey took advantage of Vikhlyantseva's errors and didn't commit any of her own to win the final five points of the set.  The young Russia managed the only break of the third set however to advance against Sanford.

Sanford and fellow 17-year-old Ingrid Neel met for the first time, with Sanford taking a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 decision.  Neel, who lives in Florida now, but grew up in Minnesota, is comfortable on fast indoor hard courts where she can use her skills at the net.

"She definitely love to come to the net," said Sanford, who lost in the second round of qualifying at the three $25,000 Florida Pro Circuit tournaments on clay last month. "She's an aggressive player and she likes to look to move forward, put pressure on. But I felt like I handled it well, and I executed a lot of passing shots, which is big for me."

Sanford got the only break of the second set at 4-all and held with a couple of forehand winners and a good first serve from 15-30 down.

Getting out to a 4-1 lead in the third set, Sanford served and had two game points for a 5-1 lead, but Neel fought back to break and held for 4-3.  Down 15-40 in the next game, Sanford appeared to be letting that big lead disappear entirely, but she hit a huge backhand winner to save the first break point and more big groundstrokes eventually forced an error from Neel. Her only ace of the set gave her a game point and she converted. Neel was unable to hold in the next game, with Sanford hitting a backhand winner on her first match point.

"She's a fighter," said Sanford, who drove up from her home in Ohio for the qualifying tournament for the second time in her career. "She stays there until the end. But I just wanted to focus on what I had been doing to get up 4-1 and try not to let my nerves get to me."

Despite being only a year apart Sanford has not played Vikhlyantseva.

"I saw her at a couple of ITF Junior tournaments not last year but the year before," said Sanford. "But other than that, I don't know her game super well. But I do know that she's a very good player, so I'll just have to come out and do the same thing I did today."

After winning 6-0, 6-0 Sunday in her first round qualifying match, top seed Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic had another short day Monday, advancing to the final round of qualifying when Pia Suomalainen of Finland retired with a foot injury down 5-2 in the first set. Vaidisova's opponent Tuesday got to the final round in much more arduous fashion, with Lauren Albanese beating No. 6 seed Sharon Fichman of Canada 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 in just over three hours.

The fourth final round qualifying match will feature two former collegiate stars, with No. 8 seed Jamie Loeb, the 2015 NCAA champion while at North Carolina, against Nadja Gilchrist, the former University of Georgia standout.

Gilchrist defeated 18-year-old Sophie Chang 6-3, 6-0, while Loeb defeated Marianna Zakarlyuk of Ukraine 6-3, 6-1.

Loeb had a back injury that bothered her most of the second half of 2015, and although she is feeling healthy now, finding her form has been a challenge. She has lost three of four qualifying matches and her only main draw match to start the 2016 season.

"I've been playing great in practice and in practice matches," said the 20-year-old New Yorker. "I think maybe the lack of matches, real matches and not consistent enough. It's a confidence thing, and I'm just glad I've been able to get two wins here."

Loeb always feels at home on indoor courts.

"It always helps that I grew up on indoor clay," Loeb said. "But these courts are pretty quick, and also coming from outdoor clay. I think I've been playing on clay the last two months then transitioning here, but so far, so good."

The main draw was released this afternoon, with seven of the eight seeds Americans: Madison Brengle(1), Irina Falconi(3), Anna Tatishvili(4), Lauren Davis(5), Nicole Gibbs(6), Samantha Crawford(7) and last year's finalist Louisa Chirico(8).  Last year's champion Tatjana Maria of Germany is the No. 2 seed, and she will play 16-year-old CiCi Bellis in Tuesday night's feature match. Maria and Bellis have split their two previous meetings.

Maui finalist Raveena Kingsley received a special exemption into the main draw and will play Tatishvili.

In other Dow Corning Classic news, co-director Scott Mitchell announced at the annual press conference that the tournament would move from its current $100,000 prize money to $125,000 in 2017, as part of the ITF Pro Circuit's planned increases for all its tournaments. The Dow Corning's prize money went from $75,000 to $100,000 in 2010.

Draws, order of play and links to live streaming can be found at the tournament website.