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TENNIS / EVERT CUP : Tu Learns Valuable Lesson in Tough Loss to Maleeva

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There will be other days like this, Meilen Tu knows, as she progresses gingerly on the women’s tennis tour. It’s not a happy thought but surely a realistic one for a 17-year-old in only her third professional tournament.

From her teen-aged perspective, it’s best to forget dispiriting matches such as Monday’s, against Katerina Maleeva in the first round of the State Farm Evert Cup at the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort. The drama was generated not so much by Maleeva’s 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7-3) victory, but by the manner in which Tu lost.

Leading, 3-0, and up two breaks in the first set, she allowed Maleeva to win four consecutive games and won only one other before losing the set. In the second set, Tu made it difficult for herself before winning. She was up, 5-0, and had two set points before losing her serve and the next two games.

The third set looked as if it would go the way of the second. Again, Tu was up, 5-0, and serving for the set and the match. Maleeva responded by breaking Tu’s serve and winning the next six games, the tiebreaker and the match.

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“That doesn’t happen to me too much,” Tu said, reflecting on the squandered opportunities. “She’s so experienced, and she knows what to do at the right time. I felt I was right there, but it was a few points here and there. No one likes to lose, but it’s a learning experience.”

Tu, who is from Porter Ranch, won the U.S. Open junior title last year and turned pro at the end of October. Her game is still in the developmental stage, but she shows the baseline prowess prevalent on the tour.

The 37th-ranked Maleeva, 25, had the advantage in both experience and temperament.

“The hardest thing is to finish (a match),” the Bulgarian said. “She didn’t do that.”

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Maleeva said she sensed Tu, ranked 160th, was in trouble when she started missing more forehands and giving herself pep talks punctuated by slaps on the thigh.

“She definitely can play very well,” Maleeva said. “But tennis is a combination of physical and mental skills. She lost this mentally, more than anything. She has very good shots, but there is a lot to work on.”

Notes

In other matches Monday, the tournament lost its first seeded player when Amanda Coetzer of South Africa defeated seventh-seeded Sabine Hack of Germany, 6-1, 6-2. Angelica Gavaldon of Mexico defeated Kristine Radford of Australia, 6-1, 6-2. Chanda Rubin of Lafayette, La., defeated Yvette Basting of the Netherlands, 6-1, 6-3. Lisa Raymond of Wayne, Penn., defeated Zina Garrison Jackson of Houston, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.


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