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Tuesday, November 2, 2021

News From Dow Tennis Classic All-Access Media Session; Three Qualifiers, Wild Card Kalieva Advance to DTC Second Round; Nava Ousts Top Seed at Charlottesville Challenger

I'm home after two and a half days covering the WTA 125 Dow Tennis Classic in Midland, and as is always the case when you actually attend a tournament, rather than cover it from home, you learn a lot from your conversations with players, coaches, tournament staff.

Yesterday I had an opportunity to talk with three players the tournament made available to the media: Caty McNally, the 2019 Dow Tennis Classic champion; Sabrina Santamaria, the 2018 DTC doubles champion and wild card Elvina Kalieva. I knew all of them from their junior and college days, of course, but even in the case of 18-year-old Kalieva, who reached the quarterfinals of the US Open Junior Championships in singles and the finals in doubles, I had questions since I had last spoken with them.

Kalieva made her first Pro Circuit final at any level last month at the $60,000 tournament in Rancho Santa Fe, a result that she admitted surprised her.

"Honestly, I didn't expect to play in the finals," said Kalieva, who qualified for the main draw there. "But I played some pretty good matches, and when I played the girl from Kazakhstan,[Zarina] Diyas, I played pretty well, and I was like oh, I'm playing pretty good, so why not go further?"

"It gave me confidence, that I could actually do this; it helped me a lot," said Kalieva, who has turned pro, but has not yet signed with an agent. 

Although Kalieva lives in Florida, she said she was looking forward to playing indoors this week.

"I think it matches my game style pretty well," said Kalieva, who is now working privately with Maxime Kouyate, formerly at ProWorld Tennis Academy in Delray Beach. "I think I have a good ball, and for indoor tennis, that's pretty good."

In her first round play today, Kalieva advanced when Whitney Osuigwe retired trailing 6-3, 1-0.

Talking with Caty McNally at the All-Access Session Monday

I had spoken with McNally at the US Open press conference following the women's doubles final, which she and Coco Gauff lost to Sam Stosur and Shuai Zhang. At that time, she didn't reveal that she had been playing with an injury, but time off was a necessity in the weeks following the US Open.

"After the Open I was a little injured, so I wasn't able to play Columbus, Chicago, Indian Wells," said McNally, who turns 20 later this month. "So that was pretty unfortunate. I haven't even gotten my trophy yet from the Open, I'm still waiting on it. When is it going to come in the mail? I want it. Those were a great couple of weeks and it's just surreal that I'm actually a grand slam finalist. And I think we have a lot more in the future coming, so it's exciting."

McNally described here injury as a stress reaction in her hand.

"I had been playing on it through the Open, obviously I'm going to do everything that I can to get through the Open. It's a grand slam and I wanted to complete the tournament; I didn't want to pull out or let Coco down. So I was trying to take care of it as much as possible, ice it, rest it. I played through that pain but I couldn't even swing a racquet after the Open. I couldn't grip anything without pain, so that was unfortunate. I had to take it week by week, got ultrasounds and everything, but I just had to rest."

While she couldn't play or train normally, McNally was able to find a way to keeping working on her game.

"I used that time to get better in the gym and I hit a lot left-handed and I think that helped my backhand and my footwork a lot, " said McNally, who reached the quarterfinals last week at the $80K in Tyler Texas, her first tournament since the Open. "So I tried to use that time wisely and try new things."

McNally isn't playing doubles this week, although she said her hand was not reason.

"It's the end of the season and I just want to focus on singles here," McNally said. "My hand would be fine if I played doubles, I just don't think I need to at this point. It's not going to make or break my ranking in doubles."

McNally will probably end her season this week, although she is planning to play World Team Tennis in Indian Wells later this month.

"I'm supposed to be playing World Team Tennis for Springfield again," McNally said. "That's the week after this, or something. We'll just see how I feel, but as of now, I'm playing."

McNally, the No. 5 seed, won her first round match Tuesday night, beating wild card Reese Brantmeier 6-3, 7-5 after Brantmeier led 5-2 in the second set and had a set point serving at 5-3.

Santamaria, who won the 2019 title in Midland with former USC teammate Kaitlyn Christian, is the top seed in doubles with Catherine Harrison, but this will be the first time they have played together.

Although all college tennis fans view Santamaria and Christian as a unit, with the pair winning all three collegiate majors in the 2012-13 season, they have both played with a host other partners on the pro tours.

"Kaitlyn has always been my longtime partner and we've been kind of on and off throughout the years," said Santamaria, who is 54 in the WTA doubles rankings. "We came back together again briefly for a couple of months this year and then took another break. We're kind of working it out for next year. It's difficult, because I have done well with a couple of different partners, still trying to find the right fit. Hopefully next year it will be more of a permanent partnership with whoever I decide to go with."

Santamaria said she decided to concentrate exclusively on doubles in 2019.

"I was 26 and at that point I think I was around 380 in singles and I started to do really well in doubles. My ranking shot from 300 to 100 in a couple of tournaments, doing super well. I kind of had to make decision for my body, and at 380 you're not making grand slam qualies. I was getting into really big events, WTAs, with my doubles ranking and from a financial standpoint, I would make more money playing doubles. I want to be realistic with my tennis career and I don't want to be grinding $25Ks until I'm 30, so for me, it was both a financial decision, and as I'm aging, for my body as well."

Although Ashlyn Krueger wasn't at the media session, with her first round match scheduled for the same time, I did get an opportunity to talk with the reigning USTA National 18s  singles and doubles champion this afternoon about her recent decision to sign with IMG.

"I think it's been something that's been on my mind for a long time now," Krueger said. "I never really wanted to go to college, college isn't for me, it never really was. And the way I've improved a lot, not to toot my horn, but I feel like at this level, I feel comfortable and I'm doing better, so that all together pushed the decision."

Although it wouldn't have been surprising had Krueger begun considering a pro career after winning the Orange Bowl last December, she said that it was many months later.

"I didn't really didn't think about it after Orange Bowl, because I thought it was just another tournament, not a big deal," Krueger said. "But when I was in Europe (for the junior slams), over there the thought was brewing, and I wanted to do it before US Open for sure. I was obviously talking to agencies, but the decision to turn pro was before the US Open."

Krueger, the US Open girls doubles champion with Robin Montgomery, said that was her last junior event.

"I'm going to start focusing on pro tournaments now, no more juniors," said the 17-year-old from Texas, who is playing doubles this week with Alycia Parks. "I think this is going to be my last tournament of the year, so I'll definitely sit down with my coaches and my parents and figure out my schedule during offseason."

Krueger, who alternates her time between Texas and the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, is now coached by Michael Joyce.

"He has a lot of amazing knowledge," Krueger said. "He just knows the game and the court, strategic stuff, so well. I think that, from here on out is what I need to focus on. It's not strokes anymore; it's learning how to play the game, and he's so good with that."

In today's first round matches, three of the four qualifiers managed to reach the second round. Alexa Glatch defeated Jia-Jing Lu of China 7-6(5), 7-5; Dalayna Hewitt beat Grace Min 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 and Catherine Harrison downed Marcela Zacarias of Mexico 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.

The only qualifier to lose was Ellie Douglas, who fell just short in her three-hour and three-minute match on Stadium Court with Francesca Di Lorenzo. Di Lorenzo, the former Ohio State All-American got a late break and held for a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory. 

No. 2 seed Misaki Doi of Japan, who won the title at the $80,000 tournament in Tyler on Sunday, just got past Katie Volynets 5-7, 6-1, 7-6(5). Volynets led 5-3 in the tiebreaker, but Doi kept her shots deep and close to the lines and simply did not miss when it mattered. She will face Hewitt in the second round.

It didn't take long for a big upset to emerge at the ATP Challenger 80 in Charlottesville Virginia, with 19-year-old wild card Emilio Nava beating No. 1 seed Vasek Pospisil of Canada 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(3). 

Qualifier Christian Harrison defeated No. 6 seed Jason Jung(Michigan) 7-5, 6-4 and Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India took out No. 2 seed Taro Daniel of Japan 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 6-2.  No. 3 seed Mitchell Krueger was beaten 6-3, 6-2 by qualifier Denis Kudla, who would have been a top seed had he entered, leaving No. 4 seed Jack Sock as the highest seed remaining after the first round. No. 5 seed Dmitry Popko of Kazakhstan also was eliminated, with Aleks Vukic(Illinois) of Australia recording a 6-3, 7-5 victory.  University of Virginia sophomore Inaki Montes-de la Torre of Spain, who qualified, advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5) win over Peter Polansky of Canada.

Live streaming, with Mike Cation providing commentary, is available here.

Live streaming for the Dow Tennis Classic is available via the TennisOne app.