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Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Harrison, Loeb Claim First Round Wins at Dow Tennis Classic, with Mateas, Volynets, Sanchez and Parks Earning Main Draw Spots Through Qualifying

©Colette Lewis 2020--
Midland MI--

Former collegians Catherine Harrison and Jamie Loeb faced seasoned WTA veterans Tuesday in the first round of the $100,000 Dow Tennis Classic and both came away with victories.

The 24-year-old Loeb, who reached the final here two years ago, defeated former WTA No. 23 Mona Barthel of Germany 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 for just her second win of the year. Loeb was prepared for Barthel's style, and was able to hold on to the only break in the third set to get the victory.

"I knew what to expect, because I played her two years ago in the last round of Wimby qualies and lost 5 and 1, so I knew she had a big game, big serve, first strike," said Loeb, who is now living in Lake Nona and working with USTA National Coach Jermaine Jenkins. "That was on grass, so ok, that's pretty similar to indoor hard. The first set was really good, I moved my feet well, hit my targets and was making her miss. In the second set, I got off to a slow start, got broken early, which is tough. I got it back, but I think my serve let me down a little bit and she really started ripping winners, and I was a little defensive for a game. I really turned around in that third set, committed and stepped in, even on her serve, I came up with some good returns at the right time."

Loeb broke with Barthel serving at 3-all, and after both had easy service games, Loeb served for the match at 5-4. Down 0-30, Loeb brought it back to 30-all, then hit a great first serve to earn her first match point, which she converted with a forehand winner.

"I was just like, make first serves," Loeb said. "I think I placed them really well and she made a couple of mistakes, so once I got to 30-all, I was fine and I closed it out."

Loeb admits that 2019 didn't go as well as she would have liked.

"It's been a tough past 12 months," the 2015 NCAA singles champion said. "Up and down, mainly down. The end of the fall was good, but the beginning of the year, not great. It kind of takes that one win to get things going, and Mona is a really good player, was at the top, so it's a confidence booster for me."

Loeb has been staying with the same host family for the past five years, and between that and the indoor hard courts, she is comfortable in Midland.

"They're great, and I love their support," said Loeb, who grew up playing on indoor hard courts in New York and spent two years at North Carolina before turning pro. "They have three young girls and two golden retrievers, so it's a packed house and a lot of fun coming back to. They're awesome, and it kind of just shows the Midland community, they get such a great crowd here, and getting so many fans to come out and watch really makes this tournament special and it's kind of why I keep coming back each year. I love the people and the volunteers."
The 25-year-old Harrison's experience at the Dow Tennis Classic was not as extensive or as positive as Loeb's, with a loss in the first round of qualifying last year making her first trip to Midland a short one. The former UCLA Bruin extended her second trip another day with a 6-4, 6-3 win over former WTA No. 5 and 2012 French Open finalist Sara Errani of Italy.

"I literally walked in here feeling like a completely different tennis player than last year," said Harrison, who reunited with her former junior coach Damien Spizzo, moving from Atlanta to join him in Austin. "I've been making a lot of improvements with him, in all aspects of my game. I worked with him when I was 15, 16, 17 when I was in high school, and then he moved. He's seen me play my best tennis and he knows how good I can be and so he holds me to a really high standard and makes practice really productive."

Against Errani, Harrison was down a break at 3-1 in the first set and at 3-2 in the second, but she was able to finish strong in both sets.

"This probably sounds presumptuous, but I thought this was really a winnable match," said Harrison, who has a two-handed forehand. "I respected her and all that she's done, but it's an indoor hard court, and I'm very aware that she's a clay courter. I love taking those top spin balls on the rise, moving forward, being aggressive. I knew that the surface would favor me. I had a bunch of break points that I didn't convert, but I didn't feel a lot of anxiety out there. She wasn't hitting a lot of winners, I was making errors to lose the points. In the second set, I made some errors, but it wasn't because I was tight or not confident, but really because I missed by an inch or two. When I got down 2-3, I told myself, you're fine, you're doing the right things, what your coach told you to exploit, and it will pay off. And it did."

Harrison, who is now at 279, just a few places below her career-high WTA ranking, has a goal of making the qualifying at the French and Wimbledon, and the main draw of the US Open.

"I don't have much to defend before French and Wimbledon, but obviously, those are aggressive goals, but why not?"

As with many of the players here, Harrison is heading to the new $100,000 Challenger in Lexington next week, but said the rest of her schedule will be determined by her results this month.

In other first round matches, local wild card Ellie Coleman lost to No. 5 seed Yanina Wickmayer 6-3, 6-2. The 16-year-old Coleman played well, but the Belgian, who reached No. 12 in the WTA ranking in 2010, was at the top of her game throughout most of the match.

No. 6 seed Shelby Rogers defeated wild card Kayla Day 6-3, 6-2 in the first night match of the tournament, and No. 7 seed Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine defeated Valeria Savinykh of Russia 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.

The final round of qualifying provided some excitement earlier in the day, with four of the eight matches going to a match tiebreaker to decide who would move to the main draw. Sofia Shapatava of Georgia edged University of Michigan recruit Kari Miller 6-4, 5-7, 10-7, and former Duke star Maria Mateas had an equally tense match before beating No. 2 seed Ana Sofia Sanchez of Mexico 7-5, 2-6, 10-7. Former USC standout Maria Sanchez beat Hong Kong's Eudice Chong, the four-time NCAA Division III singles champion at Wesleyan, 6-4, 6-7(2), 10-3 and former Texas Tech star Gabriela Talaba of Romania beat Panna Udvardy of Hungary 6-1, 1-6, 10-6.

No. 3 seed Shilin Xu of China defeated wild card Peyton Stearns 6-3, 6-4 and Marine Partaud of France downed former Michigan Wolverine Emina Bektas 6-3, 6-3. Katie Volynets pulled away from Aldila Sutjiadi(Kentucky) of Indonesia 7-6(4), 6-1 and Alycia Parks beat Sophie Chang 6-1, 7-6(5).

Wednesday's order of play, which features top seed Madison Brengle and No. 2 seed and defending champion Caty McNally in the feature night matches, is here. The complete draw is here.