October 23, 1998

Liukko Wraps Up $50,000 HealthSouth/USTA Challenger Title

By J. Fred Sidhu

Finland's rising tennis star came to San Diego two weeks ago. He left a little bit richer and ranked a lot higher in the world tennis rankings.

Ville Liukko, a 24-year-old from Turko, Finland arrived here ranked 680 in the rank-ings and hoping to qualify for the main draw of the $50,000 HealthSouth/USTA Challenger of San Diego.

He not only qualified, but he went on to win the tournament as he defeated American Paul Goldstein 7-5, 7-6 (3) in last Sunday's final at the San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club. He earned $7,200 for his victory.

"I was real fortunate. He (Goldstein) was a little tired coming into the match. He didn't play his best," said the champion. "I was able to play my best tennis."

Liukko's ranking jumped up to 397 when the main draw began on Oct. 12 as the points from a satellite he won earlier in the month were factored into the rankings.

With his tournament victory, Liukko left San Diego with a world ranking of 267.



In conjunction with the tournament, the United States Tennis Association sponsored a tennis carnival for kids last Saturday at the Barnes Tennis Center in Point Loma.

Tournament players appearing at the carnival were Nicolas Todero of Argentina; Cedric Kauffman of France and Jason Weir-Smith of South Africa. The players helped out with a tennis clinic for over 90 children in attendance.

Prizes were awarded and each child was given a gift at the conclusion of the carnival. The players stayed an extra 45 minutes signing autographs.

Nicolas Todero of Argentina signs an autograph


Mexico was well represented at the tournament as Alejandro Hernandez of Tijuana and Mariano Sanchez, a native of Cuernavaca, Mexico, participated in the event.

Sanchez defeated Barry Cowan of Great Britain 6-1, 7-5 in the first round. In the second round, he faced Michael Hill of Australia, who won the $25,000 Challenger of Tijuana in August.

In a fierce three-set battle, Sanchez advanced with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory. His tournament run came to an end in the quarterfinals as he fell to Jared Palmer, a former U.S. Davis Cup player, 6-3, 6-4.

By reaching the quarterfinals of last week's tournament, Sanchez is currently ranked 256 in the world.

Hernandez, who was seeded seventh, had a good run at the tournament as he opened with a strong 6-2, 6-4 win over Scott Humphries, a former Stanford player, in the first round.

In the second round, Hernandez had to scramble for a 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 win over Justin Bower of South Africa.

He was nearly eliminated in the third round, before he came from behind to oust Cedric Kauffman of France, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 to advance to the semifinals.

Hernandez nearly advanced to the finals as he won the first set of his semifinal match against Paul Goldstein, who pushed top-seeded Pete Sampras to four tough sets at the U.S. Open this last summer before losing in the second round.

"Alejandro came out real aggressively. He not only served well, but he dictated off his first ball," Goldstein, who had already played two three-set matches before the semifinals.

"He (Hernandez) made it clear to me that I wasn't going to be able to play with soft pace and just kind of run down the ball. He was playing pretty loose and was able to generate his own pace," Goldstein added.

Hernandez lost his momentum early in the second set as Goldstein changed his game play. "I started really stepping into the court and not giving him a chance to generate his own pace," said Goldstein, who went on to win the match 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 and advance to the finals.

After reaching the semifinals of last week's tournament, Hernandez is now ranked 183 in the world.



After losing in the singles final, Goldstein teamed with Adam Peterson of Orange, Calif. in the doubles final for a 6-2, 7-5 win over Michael Hill and Scott Humphries.

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