ASHLAND Sanaz Marand called it a 10-year hiatus. Who’s counting?
Marand and Caitlin Whoriskey, veterans on the USTA Pro Circuit, beat the heat and ended the Cinderella week of Vladica Babic and Julia Rosenqvist 7-6, 6-4 in Sunday’s doubles final of the Braidy Industries $60,00 Women’s Tennis Classic.
Marand (University of North Carolina) and Whoriskey (Tennessee) came out of college in 2010 and teamed up to win a $10,000 event that year. They played a couple of more events together before deciding to go their separate ways.
Both players went on to rack up several doubles championships with different partners, then reunited this year.
Marand, 31, let out a scream Saturday after they broke Babic’s serve at love to seal the top prize at the Ashland Tennis Center.
“It was a release after losing those (three) match points the game before,” Marand said.
Despite letting that game get away, the Americans bounced right back to nail down the victory.
“I kind of got a little nervous, but we finished strong,” Whoriskey said. “Right now our hard work is paying off. It was definitely a good win.”
Babic, from Montenegro, graduated this year from Oklahoma State, while Sweden’s Rosenqvist still plays for Cal. They received a wild into the doubles draw. Playing their first tournament together, Babic and Rosenquist took down the No. 4 and No. 1 seeds to reach the final.
Their momentum seemed to carry over as Babic hammered an overhead off a short return for the match’s first point.
The young stars couldn’t gain any separation, however, and the first set went to a tiebreaker. It was 4-all before Whoriskey and Marand ran off the next three points to grab the upper hand. They moved out to a 5-2 lead in set two and withstood the comeback bid.
“We ended up buckling down when we needed to,” Whoriskey said.
Both players agreed the outcome must have had something to do with good-luck bracelets given them by young Anna Hajjar — daughter of Christy Ditty and Elias Hajjar. Marand and Whoriskey stayed with the family this week.
“We hijacked their kitchen,” Whoriskey joked.
Marand had the same housing arrangement last year, when she finished doubles runner-up with Whitney Osuigwe.
“The best part of small towns is the community gets involved,” Marand told the crowd during Saturday’s award ceremony.
Today’s 1:15 p.m. singles championship is an All-Aussie show. Eighth-seeded Zoe Hives gained entry first by beating No. 5 Robin Anderson 6-2, 4-6, 6-2. Then came Ellen Perez, the No. 7 seed, with a 7-6, 0-6, 6-3 victory over Katie Swan.
Perez’s reaction to the title matchup?
“We could have done this back in Australia, couldn’t we?” she said, cracking a smile. “It’s always good to see Australians do well.”
Another sunny, heat-filled day is in the forecast. Maybe even a little toastier, with 91 degrees predicted.
“We get the high temperatures back home, but not the humidity,” Hives said. “It’s usually a dry heat.”
Hives was feeling a bit under the weather Saturday, but she still had enough left in the third set against Anderson — highest ranked among the semifinalists at 176.
“I’m really happy with how I started,” Hives said. “I didn’t give her a lot of opportunities. The second set she really picked up and served well. In the third, I really zoned in. I decided I wasn’t going to miss, and see where it ended.”
Last October, Hives beat Perez 6-2, 6-0 in a tournament final in Toowoomba, Australia.
“I’ll expect her to come out hard if I play her,” Hives said prior to Perez winning her semifinal Saturday. “But we’re good friends. It will be a good match.”
Perez held up her end of the deal with a strong finish against Swan of Great Britain. After they split sets, the start of the third was delayed for 10 minutes because of the heat.
“It was hot,” said Perez, who got a break in the first set when Swan double-faulted on set point during the tiebreaker. Perez took advantage by also winning the next two points.
Shut out in the second set when Swan got on a roll, Perez said she put her mind on reset.
“I had some time to think and gather myself,” said the left-hander. “I knew the first game was going to be super important. I got my momentum back.”
Perez broke Swan’s serve for the second time in the set to go up 4-2 and then held for a three-game advantage. Perez went on to seal it with an ace.
Now it’s on to meet her compatriot. Perez recalled the last meeting.
“She killed me,” Perez said. “She whipped my butt. I had played something like 26 matches in three weeks. We know each other pretty well, so it’s going to be interesting.”
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