Fans welcomed to World TeamTennis matches in West Virginia

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WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Tennys Sandgren celebrated a game-clinching point in pandemic-appropriate fashion, retrieving the ball himself in the absence of ball kids, and exchanging an awkward fist-to-elbow bump with a teammate as the World TeamTennis season started before mask-wearing fans on Sunday.

WTT’s nine teams have come together at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia for their three-week season. Matches normally are played at various sites around the country but everyone was brought to one location because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sandgren, for one, was happy to be at The Greenbrier, and not just for the tennis.

“You know what it’s been like the last four months,” he said. “You’ve been sitting in your house the whole damn time. I get to do it in a beautiful setting now. It’s fantastic. There’s lots of stuff to do.”

For Sandgren, that includes playing golf and hanging out at the pool.

“It’s been pretty chill,” he said.

Tennis became one of the few professional sports to welcome fans back so far during the pandemic. An indoor bull riding event was held Friday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as well as a weekend IndyCar doubleheader with limited spectators at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

“It was awesome to have some people out there to get behind the tennis,” Sandgren said. “It made hitting good shots a little more fun.”

Last month, top-ranked Novak Djokovic played in a series of exhibition matches he organized in Serbia and Croatia with fans in the stands and zero social distancing amid the pandemic. He later announced that both he and his wife had tested positive for the virus and apologized for contributing to its spread.

The WTT season started just as confirmed coronavirus cases were soaring nationally. In West Virginia alone, positive cases have doubled in the past month, including dozens of cases and three deaths linked to a church not far from the resort.

There were strict measures in place at the matches to ensure health and safety. Anyone who wasn’t a competing athlete wore a mask inside the tennis stadium and fans had their temperatures checked prior to entering. Staggered rows of seats were covered to allow for social distancing.

Up to 500 spectators are being allowed at each of the outdoor matches at the 2,500-seat court, although there were far fewer than 500 in attendance at the opening match. If rain forces play indoors, the maximum capacity will be reduced to 250.

On the court, the chair umpire was helped by electronic line calling instead of line judges. There were no ball kids. The athletes chased down loose balls and tossed them to the serving player. When matches ended, opponents touched tennis rackets – no high-fives or handshakes.

“If it’s safe for the people to get out and experience the tennis live, I’m all for it,” Orlando Storm coach Jay Gooding said. “It’s exciting for us. I think the tennis public in general has something to look forward to.”

Lisa Pace of Raleigh, North Carolina, and her 18-year-old son, Jackson, already were on a repeat vacation to the resort and decided to stay an extra day to take in the WTT’s opening matches. Jackson Pace played on his high school tennis team, and they weren’t apprehensive about being among dozens of people at a public event, albeit outdoors.

“We both play tennis and we love watching it on TV,” Lisa Pace said. “We just wanted to take advantage.”

She was especially eager to see 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens and Sandgren, who reached the quarterfinals of this year’s Australian Open.

Sandgren, who plays for the Storm, won Sunday’s opening match in men’s singles against Mitchell Krueger of the two-time defending champion Springfield Lasers. Sandgren later won matches in men’s doubles with James Ward and mixed doubles with Jessica Pegula.

Besides Stephens, other Grand Slam champions playing at the Greenbrier are Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters, Sofia Kenin and twins Bob and Mike Bryan, who have won 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

Players who test positive for the coronavirus during the season will be removed from the league, quarantined and paid only for matches already completed. The pandemic has put a hold on all tennis events sanctioned by the ATP, WTA and International Tennis Federation. WTT is not affiliated with those tours.

The WTT venue is the crown jewel for the Greenbrier’s tennis facility, which was built in 2015. A year later, it was covered in mud after a devastating flood that killed 15 people in the surrounding county.

The resort dates to 1778 and has a 700-room hotel, has hosted presidents and royalty and held a once-secret underground bunker built for Congress in case of nuclear attack during the Cold War.

“For me, the three weeks here is completely fine,” Gooding said.

Sorribes Tormo beats 2nd-seeded Trevisan at Parma Open

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PARMA, Italy — Sara Sorribes Tormo beat second-seeded Martina Trevisan 7-5, 6-0 in the opening round of the Parma Ladies Open – marking the third consecutive first-round loss for this year’s French Open semifinalist.

Third-seeded Irina-Camelia Begu advanced when Viktoriya Tomova retired with Begu leading 7-5, 5-1.

Danka Kovinic beat Oceane Dodin 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 and will next face 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens.

Also on the red clay courts, Mayar Sherif of Egypt eliminated fifth-seeded Anna Bondar 7-5, 6-4; Elisabetta Cocciaretto defeated seventh-seeded Nuria Parrizas Diaz 7-5, 6-1; and Italian wild card Matilde Paoletti earned her first tour-level win by beating Romanian qualifier Gabriela Lee 6-4, 3-6, 6-0.

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.