Palmetto State Racket

Alison Riske, big fan of HHI, wins first career title

by Jonathon Braden

A USTA South Carolina congrats to Alison Riske, who loves Hilton Head Island almost as much as she loves her native Pittsburgh, for winning her first career title last weekend. Riske beat Belinda Bencic to win the inaugural Tianjin Open in China.

From the WTA:

“It’s a huge accomplishment for me to win my first WTA title,” Riske said after the match, “and I was here by myself, which made it even more special, just to know that I was able to do it by myself.

“I hope I can keep up the momentum and try to compete every week as best as I can.”

Here is more about Riske. And go here to read why she loves Hilton Head Island so much.

On her birthday, Shelby Rogers talks Singapore, moving to Charleston and her strong summer

by Jonathon Braden

Shelby Rogers serving in her second-round match on Court 11 on Thursday. (US Open photo.)

What a way to celebrate turning 22.

On today, her 22nd birthday, Daniel Island’s Shelby Rogers is scheduled to fly from Charleston to Atlanta to Los Angeles to Singapore, where she will play in the WTA Rising Stars Invitational later this week.

Rogers and three other players were voted to play in the invitational by fans from all over the world.

This morning, during a layover at the Atlanta airport, Rogers took time to talk with USTA South Carolina about the invitational, moving back to Charleston and why she won’t be chewing gum in Singapore.

On going to the WTA Rising Stars Invitational because fans voted for her

“It’s really humbling to be honest because it was based on fans’ votes. It’s nice to feel all the support.”

“It was a lot of fun as well, making all the videos and kind of promoting myself.”

On prodding her parents to vote

“I didn’t have to tell them. They were voting hundreds of times a day.”

“There was a lot of dedication from a lot of people so I’m very thankful for all of that.”

“I would have felt really bad if I would have done all that” — asking people to vote, making videos — and not been given the invite.

On being back in Charleston

(In July, Rogers moved back to Charleston to train at the MWTennis Academy, housed at the Family Circle Tennis Center. She had spent four years at the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton, Fla.)

“I was in Florida for four years. It helped me so much clearly in my career, so now it’s just time for the next step. It’s been really great so far.”

“I’m just at a point in my career now where I can make some different decisions. I can get into the bigger tournaments… The finances are starting to go my way as well… I thought it would be positive.”

Rogers is currently ranked No. 71 in the world. She said she still has her place in Florida and is in the process of buying a home in Charleston.

On working with Jeff Wilson, Michael Joyce and her former coach Bryan Minton at the MWTennis Academy

“It’s such a great team there. We’re a really great family. I can use that word.”

“It’s such an incredible atmosphere there… Great attitudes from everyone.”

On the summer that included her first WTA final, a top-10 win and a top-20 win

“There were so many firsts and new things for me… I was just trying to absorb it all” and enjoy it.

“That’s why I could continue to do so well.”

On beating Eugenie Bouchard at the Rogers Cup in Montreal earlier this year

Rogers said her playing experience at the Family Circle Cup, the WTA tournament held in Charleston, helped her beat Bouchard in Montreal, Bouchard’s hometown. “I know how it is to play in front of your hometown crowd,” Rogers said. “All of the experiences I have had…  and the travels are paying off. I can use all that experience to help me in future matches.”

On how she’s had so much success in 2014

“It’s just mindset. It’s just the mental side of the game. Everyone at this level can play. They can hit the ball well. They can move well.”

Her birthday plans

“I have a 20-hour plane ride. So, party on the plane, I guess.”

On traveling the world

“I always try to see a bit of the city while I’m there.”

While she was recently in Beijing for a tournament, Rogers saw the Great Wall of China.

Her Singapore plans

“I don’t know much about Singapore. I know it’s beautiful, according to Google.”

“So I’m very excited and I’m sure it has a lot in store for me.”

“I do know you can’t chew gum. You can’t even bring gum in. So I’m very cautious of that.”

CiCi Bellis, US Open winner, Rock Hill Rocks Open champion

by Jonathon Braden

Courtesy of Tim Hartis with the Rock Hill Rocks Open:

CiCi Bellis at the Rock Hill Rocks Open

ROCK HILL, SC – CiCi Bellis, 15, of Atherton, CA, used a hot forehand shot on a cool Sunday afternoon to defeat fellow Californian Lauren Embree, 23, of Los Angeles 6-4 6-0 in the final singles match of the 6th annual ROCK HILL ROCKS OPEN tennis tournament.

It was the first USTA Pro Circuit singles championship for the amateur right hander, who is the No. 1-ranked junior girl player in the world (18-and-under).  She won a doubles Pro Circuit championship in March in Orlando, FL, on clay.  Amateurs who win on the Pro Circuit have limits on how much prize money they can accept.

Bellis made headlines in August at the 2014 U.S. Open with her first-round upset of No. 12 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia.  Bellis received a wild card into the main draw as the USTA Girls’ 18s national champion, and she became the youngest player to win a main draw match at the US Open since Anna Kournikova in 1996.

The week before the Rock Hill tournament, Bellis was in Florida working with Nick Bollettieri, who has coached 10 players who went on to be No. 1 in the world.  Bollettieri changed how she gripped the racquet, and her strokes improved throughout the week at the $25,000 Rock Hill event.  Bellis outlasted 32 main draw players from 16 different countries.

Sunday’s match was held at the Rock Hill Tennis Center on the championship court.  Fans cheered enthusiastically as they watch under overcast skies.

Bellis is playing another $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Florence, SC, this coming week.  After that, she will spend two more weeks with Bollettieri, before playing in a $50,000 event at Captiva Island in Florida.

In the doubles championship match in Rock Hill, held immediately before singles, Cindy Burger of the Netherlands and Sharon Fichman of Canada defeated Despina Papamichail of Greece and Janina Toljan of Austria 4-6 6-1 (10-6).

Tennis players on the Pro Circuit compete for prize money and ranking points.  The circuit is the pathway to tour-level tournaments, including the US Open, for aspiring competitors.

Many of today’s top stars, including Maria Sharapova, played on the Pro Circuit.  Several of these top-ranked players – including Madison Keys, Camila Giorgi and Varvara Lepchenko – played in Rock Hill.

Tournament Facebook page. Tournament website.

On USTA Pro Circuit, players’ frugal ways create interesting matchup

by Jonathon Braden

ROCK HILL, S.C. – Tuesday evening, Janina Toljan and Karolina Wlodarczak slept down the hall from each other at the Christopher home in Rock Hill. Wednesday morning, they were playing each other in the first round of Rock Hill Rocks Open, the USTA Pro Circuit tournament being held in Rock Hill.

Their host parents, Chris Christopher and his wife, Barbara, even came to watch. “I’ll be cheering for every point,” Chris Christopher said before the match.

Jokes aside, the first-round matchup highlighted the crucial role families like the Christophers play in the USTA Pro Circuit system.

All Pro Circuit players, even those receiving money from family, mind their budgets because of the meager prize money. And airfare and hotel stays take the most out of players’ bank accounts. It’s hard for players to get around flying to some tournaments, but if they can find free housing while playing in a tournament, the players can save enough for their next flight and more.

Wlodarczak (Tim Hartis/Rock Hill Rocks Open photo)

Wlodarczak (Tim Hartis/Rock Hill Rocks Open photo)

“That’s what you have to do,” Wlodarczak said of staying with families.

She’s been playing club tennis in Europe and professional tournaments for the past four years.

Danielle Lao might have had other plans this week if Rock Hill families weren’t welcoming players. This week, she’s been staying with the Miller family of Rock Hill.

“If I were to pay for a hotel every week, there’s no way I could do this,” Lao said.

She has been playing in USTA Pro Circuit tournaments since she finished her playing career at the University of Southern California and graduated in May 2013. After graduation, Lao thought about using her communications degree and pursuing full-time work instead of playing on the USTA Pro Circuit.

But her college coaches told her she would be young only once, and that if she didn’t seriously pursue tennis now, she would soon be 35 and full of regret.

“They were right,” Lao said. “I decided I still wanted to play tennis and here I am, a year later.”

Lao, who grew up in Los Angeles, particularly enjoys Southern tournaments because she gets to enjoy families’ “Southern hospitality.”

Before Lao and the two other players staying at Alison Miller’s home arrived, Miller went to Costco and stocked her cart with healthy proteins and carbohydrates, including mahi mahi, salmon, chicken, black rice and whole grain bread. Miller, who also hosted players last year, learned then that most players don’t prefer carbs that can leave you feeling full, such as lasagna and spaghetti.

During the mornings the players played, Miller also cooked cheesy eggs. She even let Lao drive the family’s 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo.

“The South really does humble a California girl,” Lao said.

Barbara Christopher, who is hosting four players, followed similar preparation plans as Miller. Christopher also made sure to show her players where the pots, pans and dishes were in case the players wanted to do their own cooking, which they have, she said.

Lao estimates that if families like the Millers and the Christophers didn’t open their homes and pantries to USTA Pro Circuit players, half the players would have to quit.

“It’s just nice for me to know that there are other people outside my family who really care,” Lao said. “It really makes me believe in the human race.”

The families like the arrangements as well.

Miller has enjoyed observing the players’ discipline, how they’ve been quiet by 10 p.m. every night and how they’re already sipping coffee at the table before 7 a.m.

The Christopher family appreciates getting to know the players beyond how well they hit their forehands.

The perfect matchup for the Christopher family, however, did not last long in Rock Hill.

In the battle of housemates, Wlodarczak retired down 1-2 against Toljan because of a back injury.

“At least one of us gets to move on,” Wlodarczak said. “I’m hoping she does well in her next match and keeps representing the Christopher household.”

Get to know Alex Cao, father, USC research engineer, USTA flex league player

by Jonathon Braden

By day, Alex Cao of Columbia is a research engineer at the University of South Carolina. By night, he is a husband, a father to 1-year-old Lily, and a tennis player.

Cao, who is younger than 40, is also an active member of USTA South Carolina. He enjoys flex leagues, combo league, and other USTA programs, including tournaments.

Recently, he took time to answer questions about his tennis background, why people should try USTA flex leagues, and how to best enjoy Paris and the French Open with a 1-year-old baby. (Disclosure: I played Alex in a flex league match earlier this year, and he might be the nicest person I’ve met in my year of living in Columbia.)

Family: Wife and baby. Neither play tennis at the moment, but both will one day.

How long have you lived in SC? 2 years

How long have you been playing tennis? I used to just play for fun with friends in junior high, but took it up again recreationally four years ago.

Where do you typically play? Southeast Park. It’s really nice there but needs a clubhouse. I also wish it was open until 10 p.m.

What USTA programs do you currently enjoy? Men’s league, combo league, flex league.

What is it about flex leagues that you like? I’m going to say the obvious: flexibility, plus the choice of where and what surface to play your home matches. I like to play on clay whenever possible.

What would you say to someone who hasn’t tried out flex leagues? Try it if you like to play singles. It’s relatively easy to schedule with just two people. Plus it’s a good way to meet new people. I know there are other options for singles in the city but none are as easy, IMO.

What is your favorite part about being a member of the USTA? The USTA tournaments and the Tennis magazine, although I know you don’t have to be a member to get it.

You also recently went to the French Open. What was that like? It was my first grand slam tournament and it was really exciting. I definitely recommend it. There were a lot of people everywhere on the grounds. They just have one session per day so you get a chance to see a lot of the top players. We bought tickets for two sessions. We got to see Murray, Federer, Halep and Serena, who lost. Plus, we had chance encounters with other players off-court, like Raonic and Djokovic. We were sad not to see Rafa in person. It’s kind of crazy seeing these players outside of the TV set. I just wish I had a chance to play on the red clay over there. Our lack of French was not an issue. Paris is also a lovely place to visit.

Any travel tips for those of us who want to make the trip in the future?

  • Buy your tennis tickets before your plane tickets and as soon as possible.
  • Buy tickets to one of the main courts otherwise you’ll be standing in line most of the time waiting to get into the outer courts.
  • Doesn’t really matter where you stay in Paris since Roland Garros is on the subway line and relatively easy to get to.
  • Don’t be deterred by having a 1-year-old baby with you 🙂
Alex Cao holds Lily, 1, at Court Suzanne Lenglen on May 28, 2014. (Submitted photo.)

Alex Cao holds Lily, 1, at Court Suzanne Lenglen on May 28, 2014. (Submitted photo.)

Lyn Hibino photos through the years

by Jonathon Braden

Lyn Hibino readies for a shot during a USTA South Carolina league match on Sept. 22, 2014. (USTA SC photo)

Lyn Hibino readies for a shot during a USTA South Carolina league match on Sept. 22, 2014. (USTA SC photo)

Hibino slaloming in late May on Lake Murray. (Submitted photo.)

Hibino slaloming in late May on Lake Murray. (Submitted photo.)

Hibino, holding sign, with her Columbia Tennis League team at the USTA South Carolina Mixed Doubles State League Championship in Florence earlier this month. (USTA SC photo.)

Hibino, holding sign, with her Columbia Tennis League team at the USTA South Carolina Mixed Doubles State League Championship in Florence earlier this month. (USTA SC photo.)


Columbia tennis player changes life, loses 130 pounds in 13 months

by Jonathon Braden

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Standing near the baseline during a USTA league doubles match, Lyn Hibino prepares to show what losing 130 pounds has done for her.

She bends her knees, stares straight ahead and eyes the ball, which is headed away from her, near the baseline on the other end of the court.

Hibino, though, glides to the opposite side and hits a backhand, which is returned. With her opponent’s next shot, she cuts an unreturnable backhand drop shot.

Point, Hibino’s doubles team, and another point to Hibino’s decision to change her life a year ago.

Lyn Hibino readies for a shot during a USTA South Carolina league match on Sept. 22, 2014. (USTA SC photo)

Lyn Hibino readies for a shot during a USTA South Carolina league match on Sept. 22, 2014. (USTA SC photo)

* * *

She was always most depressed before tennis, which was odd, because she loved tennis the most.

But for years after playing in a weekday morning league match, having lunch with friends and running errands, Hibino would lie on her couch in her northeast Columbia home, snack on chips and salsa, play Tivo’d episodes of “Investigation Discovery” and wish her life wasn’t this way.

She didn’t want to have to rest for hours in between playing tennis in the morning and at night. She was 44, after all, not 74. Why did it feel like she had arthritis in her left foot and right knee? And what was making her knees and joints hurt so bad that she once thought to herself, “Maybe I have bone cancer.”

Hibino wished she wasn’t carrying 272 pounds on her 5 foot, 3 inch frame. She wanted to run down her stairs, not cling to the railing with each step. She also could do without her daily ibuprofen intake – 2,400 milligrams, the equivalent of 12 over-the-counter pills – that she’d been taking for two years.

Hibino at her home in July 2013. (Submitted photo.)

Hibino at her home in July 2013. (Submitted photo.)

And, sure, she didn’t particularly enjoy cropping photos of herself – always making sure nothing below her shoulders showed – before sharing them on Facebook. But what could she do? She had gradually gained the weight – about 10 pounds a year since 2001 – and it wasn’t coming off.

Hibino had tried nearly every diet and exercise program – Weight Watchers, Curves, Slimfast. None worked.

She even had tried over-the-counter diet medicine, but that made her jittery. Old-fashioned diet and exercise never worked, either.

She needed something that helped her control her emotional eating, something that physically stopped her from eating that bowl of Lay’s Sour Cream & Onion chips as a midnight snack.

No diet program provided Hibino that, so she kept lying on the couch, watching murder mystery after murder mystery. And in early 2013, she quit her latest weight-loss program – Nutrisystem – and decided to altogether quit worrying about her health.

She had plenty going on to keep her busy. Her son was finishing his senior year at Dutch Fork High School, and her contract work with the South Carolina Department of Social Services was steady.

And, really, how bad could her health be? Her husband loved her, told her she was beautiful. She was playing tennis a few times a week, and she was winning her matches. In 2013, one of her doubles teams went 11-1.

Maybe this – this life of mandatory rest between matches, achy knees and worn-out joints – was just how her life would be. But Hibino knew it was going to only get worse. She remembers thinking, “I’m just not going to be able to do the things I enjoy.”

* * *

So life went for Hibino, until June 2, 2013.

She was dropping off some mail at the post office when she briefly chatted with an acquaintance.

My, Hibino thought, did that woman look different. She looked younger. She had lost weight. And she had ditched her walking cane.

Lying in bed that night, Hibino’s husband, Bob, encouraged her to reach out to the woman.

Lyn Hibino messaged her on Facebook, and within a week, Hibino was reading the response that changed how she would think about weight loss: The woman had undergone gastric sleeve surgery.

The surgery removes part of a person’s stomach and creates a new, smaller stomach, one that’s about the size of a banana. The surgery, in effect, forces the person to eat much smaller portions.

Days later, Hibino and her husband were in the car, headed to a local hospital to learn more about weight-loss surgeries.

At the appointment, they learned gastric sleeve surgery at that hospital was going to cost the couple too much, but they also learned what Lyn Hibino had been waiting years to hear: The weight-loss surgery would work.

And if it had worked for her acquaintance, Hibino was going to make it work for her as well.

On the drive home, she called and left messages for hospitals in Florence and Greenville. She also filled out a “contact us” form for a surgical weight-loss clinic near Charlotte.

Within 24 hours, Hibino was exchanging emails with Dr. Ryan Heider of The Center for Surgical Weight Loss at Lake Norman.

Two weeks later, Bob and Lyn Hibino were driving up to Mooresville, North Carolina, to meet Heider.

At his clinic, Heider told her the surgery would cost a price she and her husband could afford. Heider also told her she was a strong candidate for the surgery, but she would have to lose at least 20 pounds before any operation.

For three weeks, Hibino stuck to a diet of protein shakes, bars, soups and unlimited cucumbers and celery stalks. On August 22, she went through with the surgery.

Hibino on August 29, 2013, one week after her surgery. (Submitted photo.)

Hibino on August 29, 2013, one week after her surgery. (Submitted photo.)

* * *

More than 13 months have passed since Hibino had the surgery, and since, she has shrunk considerably.

She wears a size 8, down from a size 22. She weighs 144 pounds, down from 272.

All of the pain and painkillers are gone as well. She can run up and down her stairs. On the tennis court, she easily covers side to side, net to baseline.

Hibino knows the surgery helped her lose so much weight so quickly. But she also knows her actions have greatly helped her health as well.

Daily, she chooses a V8 instead of a Diet Coke. She mostly continues to eat only eraser-tip-sized portions of food. She savors Dannon Oikos banana cream yogurt instead of chocolate brownies. She also plays tennis a few times a week.

Hibino’s dietitian in Mooresville said weight-loss surgery obviously helps patients, but it’s what people do after surgery that matters most.

“The surgery only gets people so far with weight loss. It’s a tool,” said Amanda Downs, the program dietitian at The Center for Surgical Weight Loss at Lake Norman. “The patients who take full advantage of that new tool and use it and take care of it, do awesome.”

Hibino’s new life also features more enjoyable moments with her family.

On a Saturday afternoon in late May, the family was boating and slaloming with friends on Lake Murray.

It had been some 25 years since Hibino had attempted to slalom but, here she was, jumping in Lake Murray to try.

You’re not going to be able to get up, a friend teased her.

On her second attempt, though, Hibino stood straight on the skis. The boat circled on Lake Murray, and Hibino kept standing and smiling, skipping over wave after wave.

On the boat, her daughter kept screaming, “Mom!” Her son sat back and nodded his approval.

After about five minutes, the waves no challenge for Hibino, she motioned for the driver to stop and let someone else attempt.

Back near the boat, Hibino slid out of the skis, placed them on board, and grabbed her son’s hand to get out of the water.

He told her how cool that was. Her daughter kept screaming.

And Hibino sat down, smiled and felt good about another decision that had made her family and friends proud.


Click here to see more Lyn Hibino photos.

South Carolina player wins Croatian championship

by Jonathon Braden

Thanks to Miren Ivankovic for this special guest post on the Palmetto State Racket.

South Carolina tennis player Miren Ivankovic participated in his native Croatia at the Croatian World Games, July 21-26, where he represented the United States.

Miren Ivankovic - Servis - CWG 14The Croatian World Games are held every four years in Croatia, and Croatians from around the world come back to participate in different sports, including tennis. The tennis tournament was held at the tennis club Mladost in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, on red clay courts.

Miren played in the men’s 45+ division and won the championship.

The tournament attracted some of the best age group players in the country, and Miren beat top-ranked Croatians throughout the tournament. The games concluded with a medal award ceremony and a gold for Miren and the U.S.

Photos of USTA SC Adult Mixed Doubles State League Champions and Finalists

by Jonathon Braden

Click here to read more about last weekend’s USTA South Carolina Adult Mixed Doubles State League Championships. Check out the champion and finalist team photos below.


5.5 18 and Over Finalist: Columbia Tennis League; captain: Lilian Joye


Upper Piedmont Tennis Association; captain Mokhlis Zaki


Grand Strand Tennis League; captain: Ernie Walters


Upper Piedmont Tennis Association; captain: Larry Wingard


Mid-Carolina Tennis League; captain: Donna Fox


Columbia Tennis League; captain: Hal Blanchette


Lowcountry Tennis Association 1; captain: Joette Creager


Lowcountry Tennis Association 1; captain: Dee McCorkle


Grand Strand Tennis League; captain: Deb Maclin


Lowcountry Tennis Association 1; captain: Roland Ouellette


Upper Piedmont Tennis Association; captain: Linda Beaton


Upper Piedmont Tennis Association; captain: Karen Belanger


Spartanburg Area Tennis League; captain: Jay Prince


Columbia Tennis League 2; captain: Lyn Hibino


Lowcountry Tennis Association 2; captain: Allison Pickhardt


Lowcountry Tennis Association 1; captain: Jane Bonvillain


Lexington Area Tennis Association; captain: Mike Anderson


Coastal Carolina Tennis Association; captain: Richard Gray


Lowcountry Tennis Association; captain: Andy Steingold


Lowcountry Tennis Association 2; captain: Charles Claus


Lexington Area Tennis Association 2; captain: Jim Wescott


Hilton Head Island; captain: Barry Bryant


Pee Dee Tennis League; captain: Richard Storr


Lexington Area Tennis Association 2; captain: Susan Taylor


Pee Dee Tennis League 1; captain: Tom Snyder


Lexington Area Tennis Association 1; captain: Texas Wayne Nation


Upper Piedmont Tennis Association; captain: Michael Hennessy


Pee Dee Tennis League; captain: Melinda Hodges


Pee Dee Tennis League; captain: Laszlo Leiter

‘Am I going to have bruises in the shapes of tennis balls all over my body?’

by Jonathon Braden

The past two years, Patsy Davis has been playing tennis with guys and playing in USTA South Carolina state league championships.

She has not, however, played tennis with guys at a USTA SC state league championship.

But, next weekend, she and her Aiken team will play in the USTA SC Mixed Doubles State League Championships.

This makes Davis a little weary.

Mixed doubles is coed tennis, with a man and a woman playing tennis against another man and a woman. In mixed doubles, some men, who typically hit harder than women, feel fine hitting the ball at the woman across the net.

Some men, though, intentionally avoid hitting the ball at women.

The men on Davis’ Aiken USTA team rally back and forth to each other, resisting any urge – who said there was an urge? – to rip a forehand at the woman’s face on the other side of the net.

At next weekend’s state championships, Davis doesn’t know what the men from the other South Carolina teams will do.

There will be men from tennis havens, such as Charleston and Hilton Head Island, and there will be men whom Davis has never played against, men from Columbia and Florence.

This unknown makes Davis is a little weary.

“Am I going to have bruises in the shapes of tennis balls all over my body?” she asked earlier this week, kind of joking, kind of serious.

Then Davis remembered she has no real reason to fear any tennis-playing brute.

She’s been playing tennis for about 20 years, starting in 1983, when she was a sophomore at South Aiken High School.

Davis was a cheerleader, and the cheerleading coach was going to start a tennis team and wanted Davis to try out. She did, and here she is, 31 years later, still playing tennis, even after a 10-year hiatus as an adult.

Talking about this weekend’s championships, Davis suddenly felt a rush of pride. She no longer felt weary; she felt confident.

“I will say there is not a woman on my team who cannot handle a first serve (from a guy),” she said. “I think all the women on my team can hold their own.”

Was that a challenge, I asked?

“Yeah, a little bit,” she said. “Yeah, bring it on!”