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Friday, February 1, 2019

January Aces; McNally Ousts Defending Champion Brengle in Midland; All-UCLA Semi at Cleveland Challenger; Forbes, Jackson and Blanch Reach Grade 1 Finals in Ecuador

My monthly Aces column for the Tennis Recruiting Network is up today, with 18 players in the spotlight for their January performances, with their ages ranging from 13 to 27.

Caty McNally would have considered her performance this week at the $100,000 Dow Tennis Classic in Midland a success even with a loss today, after having beaten Nicole Gibbs and Rebecca Marino on consecutive days. But McNally wasn't satisfied with that and today she claimed the biggest win of her career, beating defending champion and No. 3 seed Madison Brengle 6-3, 6-4 to advance to Saturday's semifinals. The 17-year-old from Cincinnati didn't face a break point in the first set, getting the only break to take a 5-3 lead and calmly serving out the set against the WTA's 80th-ranked player. Brengle's serve is the least effective part of her game and McNally took full advantage, teeing off even on first serves. Brengle got an astonishing 88 percent of her first serves in, but won only 53 percent of her first serve points, and McNally was able to stay with Brengle on the baseline.

In the second set, McNally took an 3-2 lead but Brengle immediately broke back, only to lose serve in the next game. If McNally was nervous, she gave no sign of it, as she won her next two service games with the loss of just one point.

McNally's opponent in the semifinals will be top seed Rebecca Peterson of Sweden, who survived a two-and-a-half hour battle with Kristie Ahn to post a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory.

The other semifinal will feature two Americans: qualifier Robin Anderson and No. 4 seed Jessica Pegula.  Anderson's 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 6 seed Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium was made possible by the former UCLA star's ability to win the big points. Wickmayer had nine break points, but was able to convert just one, while Anderson was a perfect 3-for-3.  Pegula, who will move into the WTA Top 100 for the first time next week, came back to defeat Christina McHale 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. Pegula has played Midland five times prior to this year, with this her first trip to the semifinals.

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The semifinals are set at the ATP 90 Challenger in Cleveland, with qualifier Maxime Cressy continuing his impressive run.  The UCLA senior defeated Wake Forest junior Borna Gojo 6-4, 6-2, never facing a break point, winning 30 of 31 points when he got his first serve in, and serving and volleying regularly.  Cressy will face former UCLA Bruin Marcos Giron, the No. 15 seed, who defeated qualifier Jared Hiltzik 7-6(4), 6-4.

The other semifinal features recent Ohio State graduate Mikael Torpegaard of Denmark, a 7-5, 6-3 winner over No. 8 seed Brayden Schnur of Canada, and No. 5 seed Darian King of Barbados, who beat No. 3 seed Noah Rubin 6-4, 7-6(8).

Once I returned home from Midland, I attempted to follow the results at the ITF Grade 1 in Ecuador, but they were behind schedule, with both the round of 16 and the quarterfinals played yesterday, with matches going late into the night.

The tournament is back on schedule now, however, with three Americans advancing to Saturday's finals. As was the case in last week's Grade 1 in Colombia, the girls championship will come down to two Americans, with Abigail Forbes, the No. 5 seed and Costa Rica Grade 1 champion facing unseeded 16-year-old Emma Jackson, who will be playing in her first Grade 1 final.  Jackson defeated unseeded Sasha Yepifanova 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the semifinals, while Forbes beat unseeded Mell Reasco Gonzalez of Ecuador 6-4, 6-2.

Fifteen-year-old Dali Blanch has moved up to Grade 1s just this year, and is in his first final at that level after three tournaments. Blanch, the No. 6 seed, defeated No. 7 seed Andrew Dale in the semifinals and will play No. 9 seed Flavio Cobolli of Italy in the final.

Mark Mandlik and Adam Neff won the boys doubles title, with the No. 8 seeds beating Gustavo Heide and Joao Loureiro of Brazil 4-2, 5-4(2) in the final. All doubles matches were played with short sets.