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Karimov Has Many Happy Returns

Tennis: Former Cal Lutheran ace grinds out a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 victory over Redmond in quarterfinals.


UNIVERSAL CITY — In tennis vernacular, Jenia Karimov is known as a "grinder."

A player who gets to lots of balls and gets them back across the net. A player no one wants to face when the temperature shoots above 100 degrees.

But even grinders have their limits.

"I don't want to grind when it's 105," Karimov said. "I'd rather do it when it's 75."

So it took everything the 24-year-old Encino player had to outlast Michael Redmond, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, in a quarterfinal match of the Mercedes-Benz Cup pre-qualifier at the Racquet Centre on Friday.

"I knew he was tired . . . we were both tired," Karimov said. "But I knew he was going to make a mistake and give me a chance."

Redmond could only say: "He came up with some big returns, some big passing shots."

For his efforts, Karimov will play seventh-seeded Geoff Abrams in a semifinal match today.

The winner of this tournament advances to a qualifier from which four players will earn berths in the Mercedes-Benz Cup, a July 27-Aug. 2 event featuring the likes of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

In another quarterfinal match, Noah Newman of Los Angeles defeated Sean O'Connor of Sylmar, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3).

Karimov's chances of reaching the qualifier improved when two seeded players withdrew from his portion of the draw earlier this week. But on Friday, the Ukraine native--a Division III All-American at Cal Lutheran--was thinking only of Redmond, who played at Morehouse College.

The match began with Karimov hitting patient strokes. He hunches over each shot as if studying the ball, measuring it for a precise return. What he lacks in power, he compensates for with accuracy.

Redmond, meanwhile, filled the first set with unforced errors, often over-hitting his returns of Karimov's decidedly average serves.

"My returns should have been better," he said.

But after Karimov closed out the first set, Redmond seemed to find his game. He was hitting harder serves and more consistent volleys. He began to take advantage of Karimov's second serves, following his returns to the net.

With temperatures on court reaching 114 degrees, the match was even after two sets. The turning point came early in the third set.

Serving at deuce, Redmond hit what he thought was an ace. Karimov thought it ticked the net cord. The players quietly argued over the let call for several minutes.

"It was a little unfortunate," Redmond said. "It was a very questionable call at a pivotal point in the match."

Redmond lost his serve a few points later and did not recover.

Karimov ended the 2 1/2-hour match with a forehand return.

It was the kind of marathon to which he is accustomed.

"I'm used to staying in there longer," Karimov said. "I don't have the shots to put it away early."

Or, as Redmond explained: "He grinded it out."

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