Top 10 of '10: NorCal, SoCal, Atlanta

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NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

1 HAPPY 40TH!: The Bank of the West Classic celebrates its 40th anniversary at Stanford by honoring four decades of champions, including tournament co-founder Billie Jean King. Reflecting on the struggles of kick-starting the women’s tour, BJK says, “All we wanted to do was get professional tennis going. We didn’t worry about winning majors. In fact, the tour was probably more important to us than the majors at that period, because we knew we were taking tennis to the people. The kids would come out locally and watch and dream someday about playing in the same tournament.”

2 CARDINAL BACK ON TOP: Mallory Burdette‘s dramatic 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-5 victory over Marrit Boonstra clinches a 4-3 triumph for Stanford (26-1) over Florida at the NCAA Championships. Stanford claims its 16th NCAA title and first since a dominant three-year title run ended in ’06. “This was just an epic performance by our entire team and I’m extremely proud,” says coach Lele Forood. “We just keep finding a way.” Six days after Stanford’s team title, Hilary Barte/Lindsay Burdette capture the NCAA doubles title, outlasting Tennessee’s Natalie Pluskota/Caitlin Whoriskey 7-5, 4-6, 6-0.

3 GENGHIS KLAHN: Stanford All-American Bradley Klahn takes down Louisville’s Austen Childs 6-1, 6-2 at the NCAA Championships, becoming Stanford’s first NCAA singles titlist in a decade. With the win, the sophomore earns wildcard entry into the U.S. Open, where he pushes fellow Californian Sam Querrey to four sets in a first-round matchup before succumbing 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4. Says Klahn, “The physicality of it is just something you have to be ready for on every point. There’s a lot of stuff you can get away with in college, being lazy with your feet. You’d get exposed in the pros.”

4 ‘CAN YOU HEAR THE DRUMS, FERNANDO?’: Fernando Verdasco battles back from a set down to oust Andy Roddick 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, becoming the first Spaniard to win the SAP Open since Manuel Santana in ’64. A patient, powerful player with a clay-courter’s mentality and a ’til-the-last-ball-is-struck ability to go corner-to-corner with elite players, Verdasco impresses the likes of Pete Sampras, who is outplayed by the Spaniard in a pre-tournament exo. “He’s a tricky player,” Sampras observes. “He plays with a lot of spin. You give him a short forehand and you’re done. He’s the real deal.”

5 VIKA’S VICTORY: A day after turning 21, Victoria Azarenka uses her explosive return game to break Maria Sharapova six times en route to a 6-4, 6-1 victory in the Bank of the West Classic final. The Belarusian baseliner celebrates by hugging her coach Samuel Sumyk and trainer Laurent Laffite. But the celebration doesn’t end there. “I want a cake. I want some ice cream,” she laughs. “Something besides salmon.” For the fiery Azarenka, who moves into the top 15 with her fourth career title, it’s a promising start to her summer hard-court campaign. (Little did she know then that her year would soon come to an end with a frightening on-court collapse at the U.S. Open, where she is rushed off the court in a wheelchair.)

6 TENNIS SURVIVES CAL CUTS: Whew. Cal’s storied tennis program is spared the cutting-room floor after administrators eliminate five sports programs to save an estimated $4 million a year. Gone are baseball, men’s rugby, men’s and women’s gymnastics and women’s lacrosse. The cuts affect 163 of Cal’s more than 800 student-athletes, as well as 13 coaches. “It’s as if there were a fire in our neighborhood and some of our friends’ homes were destroyed,” says longtime Cal coach Peter Wright. “It’s not time to have a party for those who survived — it’s time to give thanks to the many people responsible for giving Cal tennis its financial strength and well-being.”

7 A NEW HOME: USTA NorCal moves into its new digs at 1920 North Loop Road in Alameda, celebrating its grand opening with a March 25 ribbon-cutting ceremony.

8 THE STUFF OF GRAND SLAM DREAMS: NorCalers Megan Falcon (Alameda) and Romana Tedjakusuma (Tracy) reach the Round of 16 at the newfangled (and highly successful) U.S. Open National Playoffs, which starts with 373 women in the draw. On the men’s side, Saratoga’s Chris Wettengel advances to the semis before falling to former SAP Open finalist Cecil Mamiit 7-5, 6-3.

9 KEI TO SUCCESS?: ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert — the former X’s and O’s man for Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray — announces that he’ll coach Kei Nishikori. “He knows what he wants from the game,” says Gilbert of the struggling Japanese star, who, after reaching a career-high ranking of No. 56 in ’09, has been hampered by an elbow injury.

10 FRAUD CHARGES: San Francisco teaching pro Winston Lum, 45, who runs Slam and Bang Tennis, is in Superior Court in February on charges he fraudulently obtained ownership of three One Rincon Hill condos and borrowed $2.2 million against them. He doesn’t enter a plea to 16 felony counts. At the time of his arrest, the S.F. Chronicle reports, Lum was free on $45,000 bail while awaiting trial for other burglary and theft cases.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

1 LIKE A BROKEN RECORD: The Bryan Bros. win their 62nd career pro doubles title, defeating Eric Butorac/Jean-Julien Rojer 6-7(6), 6-2, 10-7 at the Farmers Classic in L.A. and snapping their idols’ — The Woodies — record mark of 61. The win comes in front of friends and family at UCLA, where the twins had long ago been ballboys, played junior tournaments and captured the NCAAs. “It was like Thanksgiving,” gushes Bob Bryan. “This is storybook. We couldn’t get everyone together anywhere else except in L.A. We aren’t going to have 30 family members come to Beijing. This was a one-shot deal for us.” Echoes Mike, “We never felt the pressure like we felt today.” (A month later, the brothers capture their ninth Slam at the U.S. Open.)

2 WHAT’S NEXT — A TROY-KA?: Peter Smith guides the USC men to their second straight NCAA title via a 4-2 upset of Tennessee – the storied program’s NCAA-best 18th team title and its first repeat performance since ’93-’94. “We would have been very disappointed if we hadn’t won it,” Smith tells IT. “We won it last year, we returned the core of our team. That was definitely the goal. We just reached for the ring, and it was a beautiful thing to see.”

3 ITALIAN RENAISSANCE: The Fed Cup Final returns to U.S. soil — namely the San Diego Sports Arena — for the first time in a decade. But, despite an upbeat win by Melanie Oudin over Francesca Schiavone, the home-court advantage does little for the Williams-less Americans, who fall to Italy in the title tilt for the second straight year. Flavia Pennetta seals the 3-1 rout by breezing past Rancho Santa Fe’s CoCo Vandeweghe 6-1, 6-2 on Sunday to give the Italians their third title in the last five years.

4 NEW SPONSOR, SAME CHAMPION: The Farmers Insurance Group reaches an agreement with the SCTA to become the title sponsor of the ATP/U.S Open Series tournament at UCLA. “We’re very grateful to Farmers for stepping up and ensuring that men’s tennis remains strong in L.A.,” says tournament director Bob Kramer. Sam Querrey claims the event’s 84th edition, outlasting Andy Murray 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-3 to become the first player to successfully defend their title in Westwood since Andre Agassi in ’01-’02.

5 SAN DIEGO GETS ITS (TENNIS) GROOVE BACK: After a two-year hiatus, pro tennis returns to Carlsbad’s La Costa Resort in the form of the July 31-Aug. 8 Mercury Insurance Open. Svetlana Kuznetsova overcomes a nasty case of the jitters to top Agnieszka Radwanska in the final 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-3. In the midst of a near Novotna-esque collapse in the second set (where the Russian squanders four match points) Cliff Drysdale says, “She’s tighter than a Bjorn Borg tennis racket.” But Sveta eventually closes it out in three. “My knees were shaking,” she asserts. “It was very hard to close and I choked for first time in my life.”

6 THE NEW KING OF LONG BEACH?: Billie Jean King remains the best tennis player ever to emerge from Long Beach, but there’s another King from the L.A. County shipping port who’s making her presence known on the WTA Tour these days. Incredibly, Vania King and little-known Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan win back-to-back Slam doubles titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. For King, 21, the titles are especially satisfying considering that, not long ago, she had considered walking away from the sport. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to play anymore,” she says. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well, and I think that other people thought that I should do better than I did.”

7 HIT (AND SNIT) FOR HAITI: It’s supposed to be a feel-good gathering — some of the sport’s all-time greats coming together for a cause at the BNP Paribas Open. But the Indian Wells crowd is in for a surprise when lifelong rivals Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras trade barbs during an exo with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Picking up where he left off in his bio Open, in which he suggested that Sampras was a lousy tipper, Agassi again mocks his nemesis by pulling out his pockets and saying, “I don’t have any money.” The escalating teasing goes over the top. At a loss, Sampras somewhat awkwardly says, “So that’s it, I’m a bad tipper? I’m sorry, Barack Obama.” Then he calls on his best tool, his racket, and blasts a serve directly at Andre. Hit-and-giggle tennis takes a hit and Agassi soon apologizes.

8 DEPARTMENT OF PARKS: San Clemente’s Brad Parks, the pioneering founder of wheelchair tennis — a game that’s now played in nearly 100 countries — becomes the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s first-ever wheelchair tennis inductee. (Parks, who suffered a disabling skiing injury when he was 18, began experimenting with tennis in ’76, and wheelchair tennis was born.)

9 ONE FOR THE AGED: Ivan Ljubicic, 31, outlasts Andy Roddick 7-6(3), 7-6(5) to win the BNP Paribas Open, becoming the oldest Indian Wells champion since Jimmy Connors in ’84. It’s the Croat’s first ATP Masters 1000 title after three runner-up finishes. “It’s a really fantastic feeling to finally have it,” he says. (BTW: Rancho Santa Fe resident Jelena Jankovic collects the women’s title.)

10 TAYLOR MADE: He overcame three back surgeries to return to the top 100 in one of the feel-good stories of ’09, but his serve-and-volley arsenal no longer the effective weapon it once was, the Newport Beach-born Taylor Dent calls it a career in November. The son of Aussie legend Phil Dent, he has four career titles to his credit and rose to a career-high No. 21 in ’05. The 29-year-old, who is married to former WTA pro Jennifer Hopkins, was confined to his bed for 23 hours a day for nearly a year before his comeback. “I was told by the doctors that this was not realistic,” he says. “I kind of succumbed to the fact I had to have the surgeries to have a normal life. I came to grips with the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to play professional tennis anymore.”

ATLANTA

1 MARATHON MAN: Five sets, 11 hours, three days, 138 games, 215 aces and one hard-earned victory for John Isner. In a Wimbledon first rounder for the ages, the former Georgia Bulldog outlasts Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(3), 70-68 in the longest match in tennis history. Says Isner’s former collegiate coach, Manny Diaz, “That was an amazing feat. I was glued to the TV for three days. They say records are made to be broken. I don’t think there’s any way in the world that record is ever going to be broken.”

2 WELCOME BACK: For the first time in nine years, the ATP Tour returns to Atlanta in the form of the mid-July Atlanta Tennis Championships at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Mardy Fish wins the inaugural event, overcoming hometown favorite John Isner and on-court temperatures that soar well beyond 100 degrees. Suffering from dehydration, Fish — who sets personal bests by winning his second straight tournament and his 10th straight match — needs an IV drip after the match to recover. “It took a lot out of both of us,” says Isner. “I don’t think I’ve ever played in conditions this hot, humid and rough.”

3 HOME COOKIN’: Playing on her home courts in Athens, Ga., UGA sophomore Chelsey Gullickson upends four higher ranked players — Florida’s Allie Will, Georgia Tech’s Irina Falconi, Stanford’s Hillary Barte and Cal’s Jana Juricova — en route to the NCAA singles crown. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season, but this is very exciting,” says Gullickson. “The crowd was awesome. They got me excited and pushed the nerves out.”

4 DREAMING BIG: The Atlanta Athletic Club hosts the U.S. Open National Playoffs Men’s Championships, a new nationwide competition that offers a shot at the qualifying draw in Flushing Meadows. Blake Strode, 23, a two-time SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year at Arkansas, puts an offer from Harvard Law School on hold to pursue his pro dreams. And it pays off as he outpaces 858 other competitors to win it all, edging Cecil Mamiit in a thrilling 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(1) final.

5 FLY HIGH, FALCONI!: After posting a 40-3 singles record, Georgia Tech’s Irina Falconi is been named ITA National College Player of the Year, becoming just the second Yellow Jacket in school history to accomplish the feat. Falconi finishes the season with the best single-season winning percentage (.930) in program history. The Floridian subsequently announces that she’ll forgo her final two seasons at GA Tech to pursue a pro career. “I’m going to miss the college tennis world, but I really felt like I was ready to take the next step,” she says.

6 YOU CAN BE MY NO. 2: Atlanta — which boasts the largest tennis-playing population in the world — comes up just short in the USTA’s Best Tennis Town competition at the U.S. Open, narrowly finishing second behind Charlotte, S.C. Says Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, “I promise you we’ll be back and competing to make Atlanta No. 1. I still believe that Atlanta is No. 1, but Charleston prevailed. I want them to enjoy this moment because I plan on Atlanta winning in the future.” Atlanta earns $50,000 for tennis programs and facility improvements at parks around the city.

7 BELIEVE: Melanie Oudin may have stalled in the wake of her improbable run to the ’09 U.S. Open quarters, but the 18-year-old never lost her vote of confidence from Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez, who, with Venus and Serena Williams unavailable, calls upon the 5-foot-6 Georgian to lead her squad against France in an away-on-indoor-clay quarterfinal. With a pair of rise-to-the-occasion wins, Oudin leads the U.S. to a 4-1 upset, earning the underdog U.S. team a matchup against Russia in the semis. Oudin later comes off the bench in the final against Italy to shock RG champ Francesca Schiavone 6-3, 6-1.

8 JACKETS REQUIRED: Armed with the nation’s top ranked player, the No. 20 Georgia Tech women knock out the No. 11-, No. 8- and No. 1-ranked teams in the country to win the ACC Championships. Tournament MVP Irina Falconi clinches the title for the Yellow Jackets, overcoming an ankle injury to defeat UNC’s Sanaz Marand. “It’s certainly one of the biggest highlights in program history,” says head coach Bryan Shelton.

9 YOU NEVER FORGET YOUR FIRST TITLE: Georgia alum John Isner notches 22 aces to capture the first title of his career in Auckland with a 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(2) win over French vet Arnaud Clement. Moving into the top 30 for the first time, he celebrates by donating $5,000 for earthquake relief in Haiti. “It was something I felt I could easily do,” he says. “It makes you realize how lucky you are.”

10 RG WINS AT RG: Kennesaw, Georgia’s Robby Ginepri — the last American man standing in the Roland Garros singles draw – upsets former champ J.C. Ferrero on the terre battue 7-5, 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-4 in 3 hours, 16 minutes. Following his epic third-round win over the Spaniard, Ginepri says he’s beginning to feel at home in Paris: “Well, the initials of the tournament are RG, so it’s kind of right there,” he quips.