Sunday, April 18, 2021

Brooksby Claims Second Challenger Title in Orlando; Sharma Earns First WTA Title in Charleston, McNally and Baptiste Win Doubles Championship; Aney Nabs Second Straight $15K

Jenson Brooksby defeated No. 5 seed Denis Kudla 6-3, 6-3 Sundat at the ATP Challenger 80 on the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona Florida.

For the 20-year-old Californian, who won the USTA National 18s title in 2018, it marks the second Challenger title of his career and the second this year, with the first coming in South Africa in February. In between those two titles, Brooksby reached the final of the Cleveland Challenger in March, with his 2021 record at that level now 14-2, after being out of action with injuries for most of 2020.

Brooksby looked very sharp today, and his combination of offense and defense, as well as a tendency not to miss many balls, left Kudla without much to attack. Brooksby did not lose a set all week, wasn't even taken to a tiebreaker, and with the title has now moved into the ATP Top 200 for the first time. 

He is playing next week's Challenger 80 in Tallahassee, where he has drawn 17-year-old wild card Martin Damm in the first round. Bruno Kuzuhara, Ozan Colak and Perry Gregg received wild cards into the qualifying, which concludes Monday.

Astra Sharma

Former Vanderbilt All-American Astra Sharma won her first WTA tournament title, with the unseeded Australian defeating top seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 today at the MUSC Health Women's Open in Charleston South Carolina.

Sharma said she had no ideas how to counteract the level Jabeur displayed in the first set. 

"I thought Ons played an amazing first set, I didn't know really what to do," said the 25-year-old, who graduated from Vanderbilt in 2018. "She was wrong-footing me, dropshoting me, making me cover a lot of court and I couldn't really read what she was doing. I thought, that's just too good from her, if she can keep pulling off these really good shots, whatever, but maybe if I keep competing, keep showing up, keep doing the right things, those are inherently tricky shots, so maybe she'll waiver and I'll get an opportunity to get it closer."

Sharma has said earlier in the week that her ability to keep matches physical has been a key to her run to the second WTA final of her career and first since 2019. 

"That is the basis of my game," Sharma said. "To be athletic, to be dynamic, for one match, two matches, three matches and to use it more offensively, coming in, is what I've tried to do more this tournament. I may not have the straight up weapons that a player like Ons has, but I do have the speed to close and finish at the net, so I've been trying to do that more, instead of hitting really good shots and not be able to close it out."

Sharma acknowledged the debt she owed her Vanderbilt coaches Geoff Macdonald and Aleke Tsoubanos.

"Both of them were so great to me, saw what they thought I could become," Sharma said. "They never stopped helping me out, giving me time...it was great for me having those two people in my corner, because I think coaches before that didn't really connect with me, like I connected to them and responded to their feedback."

With the title, Sharma's WTA ranking rises to 120, but she will not be heading to Europe for the clay events there, with the USTA Pro Circuit $100K events in May her preferred alternative.

"I will probably stay and try and play some of the ITFs," Sharma said. "My ranking before was not good enough that I could go to Europe, because I was not going to get into Madrid and Rome, even Saint-Malo looked a little bit dicey. So I thought I would stay and play these ITFs, where I knew for sure I was going to get some match play, so that's the plan."

Caty McNally and Hailey Baptiste

Another player won her first WTA title today in Charleston, with Hailey Baptiste and partner Caty McNally winning the doubles championship. Baptiste and McNally, both 19, defeated top seeds Ellen Perez(Georgia) and Storm Sanders of Australia 6-7(4), 6-4, 10-6 for Baptiste's first title and McNally's third.

For more on the two women's finals today in Charleston, see this article from the WTA website.

And a quick note about former UNC Tar Heel Jessie Aney, who has now won two consecutive $15,000 tournaments in Kazakhstan. Aney, who turns 23 tomorrow, was unseeded in both events, but after beating No. 5 seed Tamara Curovic of Serbia 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-0 in three hours today, she now has a 10-match winning streak, which started with a first round win over Curovic.