Saturday, November 2, 2013


Nikki Kallenberg
Photo courtesy of South Seas Facebook Page
Naples standout, Nikki Kallenberg, won the South Seas Island Resort Women's 50K Wildcard Tournament last weekend and will compete in her first professional event this coming week (begins Sunday the 3rd) at the same venue. Her competition will be quite a bit stiffer this tournament as there will be players who have tasted success in WTA Grand Slam events.

Melanie Oudin
Photo courtesy of John Roleke
Headlining the draw will be American Melanie Oudin, once ranked as high as No.31 in the world and a formerquarterfinalist at the US Open; Gerogian Anna Tatashvili, who has been ranked as high as No.50 in the world, and reached the Round of 16 at the US Open in 2012; and the highest ranked and loudest player in the draw, Michelle Larcher de Brito, who comes in at No.107 in the world, after reaching the third round at Wimbledon this year.
Lauren Embree
Photo courtesy of
Perhaps the highest local interest will be in Lauren Embree of Marco Island, who played high school tennis in Naples and was a member of the 2011 and 2012 Florida Gator NCAA National Championship teams. Embree finished as the top ranked college woman of the 2012-13 season.

Nicole Gibbs
Photo courtesy of
One player without a big name to watch would be Nicole Gibbs, a former Stanford standout who won the past two NCAA Singles, and who has already claimed one $50k event this year. I would not be surprised to see her among the late combatants in this one. I suspect the upcoming event will be even more action packed than the Wildcard tourney, and according to the eyewitness account of John Ramsey below, that was plenty exciting.

Wildcard Recap 
by John Ramsey (with a tiny bit of editing) 
John Ramsey, Pam Scudder, & Nick Blackwood
The Wildcard tournament went off with bang on Friday with the No.1 seed a no-show. Apparently, Alexandra Cercone, a player for the Florida Gators, had to play a n unexpected makeup match. 
Erica Cossairt
That gave local pro Olga Kozhevnikova a chance to get through to the 3rd round which she did by beating Natalie Cruz (6-2, 6-4), who had a tough three setter against another local, Erica Cossairt (6-3, 6-7(4), 6-1). 

Another local pro, Kerry Kendrick (Casa Ybel) with a seemingly good draw, ran into a hard hitting Russian, Alina Kuzmenkova who was an eventual finalist. 
Kerry Kendrick
Kerry, put up a good fight despite the 6-0, 6-0 score. The last local pro entered in the wildcard tourney was Angie Guillette (Three Oaks).
Angie ran into a hard hitting Russian as well and fell 6-1, 6-0. Angie and Kerry are entered into the doubles draw of the main event starting November 6th at South Seas Island Resort. Each will earn a coveted WTA point, and some nice cash just for making it to the main draw.
Franco Mata & Nikki Kallenberg
Photo courtesy of John Ramser
The last local player, Nikki Kallenberg, who is coached by a local favorite, Franco Mata, had arguably the toughest draw. She started by beating Brianna Lashway (6-2, 7-5), who in the original draw was the eighth seed, but got bumped out of seeding with the addition of Lisa Ponomar, a 16-year old German with a higher International Tennis Federation (ITF) ranking.  
Elizabeth Kilborn
Interestingly enough, Lisa Ponomar was Nikki's second round opponent, and Nikki dispatched her as well, 7-5, 6-4.The parade of ranked ITF players did not end there for Nikki, as she downed Elizabeth Kilborn (6-2, 6-4), who had knocked out the No.2 seed in a difficult 2 ½ hour match although the 6-3, 6-4 score may suggest otherwise. A typical rally in that match was 20-plus shots! It made me tired just watching them battle.

Then Nikki ran into 15-year old Usue Arconada, the fourth 
Usue Arconada
seed and a fierce competitor. Nikki went down 5-1 in the first set, but next thing I knew, it was 6-5 with Nikki serving for the first set. Usue broke back to take it to a tiebreaker, but Nikki took care of business with a 7-4 tiebreak win. Nikki then cruised to a 6-3 second set.
Alina Kuzmenkova
In the Final, Nikki faced Alina Kuzmenkova a big Russian who had had just one match that lasted more than an hour, and that was a two-hour-plus, 7-5, 6-4 victory over Marie Norris, another top ITF Junior. Alina had also dismantled the No.3 seed Jessica Ho, 6-3, 6-1, and had overpowered the seventh seed, Brooke Lashway, 6-1, 6-0 in the semis.

The stage for the Final was set to include Nikki and Alina, and I was sure it would be a knockdown, drag out match. The first set was not what it was billed to be, as Nikki earned early breaks to rush though the first set 6-1. However, Alina came back strong to even the second set at 5-5. The next two games were a back and forth battles, but Nikki was just too steady in the end. She prevailed 6-1, 7-5 to take the automatic wildcard into the main draw.

The tournament win guaranteed Nikki a precious WTA point (her first) and a paycheck for a hard fought weekend of great tennis. The Finalist, Alina Kuzmenkova did not go away empty-handed, as she and Usue Arconada (who finished third) both get an automatic berth into the qualifying rounds of the $50,000 event starting on Sunday November 3rd. Come on out to see some great women's pro tennis!

Thanks John, and maybe it's time for you take over the tennis blogging duties for the area. I'm slowing down in my old age...In any event, there will be WTA tour level tennis in our backyard this coming week, and it would be a shame if you let that pass you by. The qualifying rounds begin tomorrow, Sunday the 3rd, at 9am and continue through Tuesday. The main draw begins on Wednesday with the Finals to be played on Sunday. You can access the ITF tournament site by clicking here. Enjoy! Game, set, match...T. A.

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