Crawford’s power too much for Schnyder and her fans

Samantha Crawford poses with a fan for a picture after winning her qualifying match on Saturday at the Volvo Car Open. (Photo by James Beck)

Poor Patty Schnyder.

Her fans from the Family Circle Cup days were on hand hoping to pull the 37-year-old through one more time. It didn’t happen.

Former local player Samantha Crawford was just too strong to allow that to happen in Saturday’s opening round of qualifying for the Volvo Car Open.

Crawford, who hits like the 6-2 powerhouse she is, flirted with disaster in the second set after injuring her right wrist in a fall in the first set. She became a little erratic, and most of her big shots missed their target as Patty gave her fans a thrill.

But when Sam Crawford turned on the power and mixed in accuracy in the third set, Schnyder didn’t stand a chance in the face of Crawford’s raw power from all over the court. Not only did Crawford master Schnyder’s tricky left-handed game, but she also handled the delicacy of playing in a stiff wind.

“With the wind, you just have to aim for bigger targets,” Crawford said.

Now, if Crawford can play the type of tennis she played in dominating the first and third sets during her 6-2, 1-6, 6-2 win over Schnyder, she might advance into the Volvo Car Open’s main draw.

Perched precariously close to the top 100 at No. 109 with the French Open ranking deadline approaching, a Volvo Car Open main draw and a good showing, would likely earn Crawford a direct entry into the French Open. The former U.S. Open junior champion hits a big ball from both sides, and even bigger from the service line.

Playing on the same Althea Gibson Club Court that had been so frustrating to close friend Jessie Pegula and former Daniel Island resident Ellie Halbauer in opening-round losses on Saturday, Crawford didn’t even mind that Schnyder seemed to own the fan base. Of course, Crawford and Pegula spent most of 2015 as area residents.

“I hurt my right wrist when I fell in the first set and I was making errors in the second set,” Crawford said. “I like playing on the Club Court. There’s not many other courts nearby.”

Crawford, who now trains out of Plantation, Fla., with former USTA coach Nick Saviano, will battle Cindy Burger of the Netherlands on Sunday for a berth in the Volvo Car Open main draw.

Pegula also gave the locals hope in the second match on the Club Court as she easily took the first set from Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo with precision ground strokes. Pegula hardly showed up in the second set and then fought back from a 5-4, 40-15 hole in the third set only to lose 2-6, 6-1, 7-5.

The daughter of the owner of the Buffalo Bills/Sabres, Pegula was simply her own worst enemy through much of the second and third sets. She tried to pull the string with her mostly brilliant and sizzling forehands and backhands too often against a gritty clay-courter.

Every time it looked like Pegula had Sorribes Tormo on the ropes, it was actually the other way around. The Spanish player couldn’t match Pegula’s shot-making ability or power, but she put almost everything into play.

There was good news for Halbauer. The 18-year-old didn’t win her match, but she did win her first set in the three qualifying matches she has played at Family Circle Tennis Center. After being shut out in a rain-plagued first set, Halbauer took the fight to 2014 Family Circle Cup runner-up Jana Cepelova in the second set before falling, 6-0, 4-6, 6-1.

“It was more fun today ... because I won a set,” joked Halbauer, who had played in the last two Family Circle Cup qualifying tournaments by virtue of winning back-to-back Dunlop Junior titles.

In the process, Halbauer demonstrated to local fans that she also can play aggressive tennis to go along with her natural clay-court type of game. She showed off a few weapons with her forehand and backhand, but the serve hasn’t reached that stage yet.

Halbauer not only has new strategy, she has a new coach. Chip Brooks, who spent 35 years as the tennis director at Nick Bollettieri’s Academy, is her new coach. Brooks coached 10 top-ranked players, including Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.

“She’s got to do more of what she did in the second set,” Brooks said about Halbauer, who resided for four years on Daniel Island and now plays out of Plantation, Fla. “At this level, you’ve got to take advantage of your opportunities. She’s got to get better, and don’t waste first serves.”

Reach James Beck at jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.