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Granville overcomes Fujiwara in three sets to win in Redding

By Jeffrey Jen

The rain and the snowflakes came down for only a few minutes.

But it was enough to force everyone at Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness to scurry for cover during a 30-minute delay.

It also was enough time for Laura Granville to get her confidence back and finish a big return to competitive pro tennis.

Granville beat Japan's Rika Fujiwara 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 in the singles final of the USTA Women's Pro Challenger of Redding on Sunday.

The 27-year-old Chicago native hadn't competed in a pro event since injuring her left wrist in the finals of a challenger event in Midland, Texas, in February 2008. The 13-month layoff left Granville looking for a place to begin rebuilding her pro ranking, which was usually in the Top 100 from 2001 to 2007.

Granville came to Redding simply looking to get competitive matches in so she could begin building her game back up. Instead, she leaves with the $2,940 first-place prize money and her eighth career title on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) circuit.

"I've had the best week here," Granville said to fans attending the final during a brief post-game awards ceremony. "This tournament will have special place in my heart."

There was still some tennis to go as the doubles final took to the court after the singles match.

Belarus' 16-year-old Anna Orlik and Slovenia's Masa Zec-Peskiric would capture the doubles title with a 7-6 (4), 6-4 win over Russia's Alexandra Panova and Japan's Tomoko Yonemura.

Both Granville and Fujiwara were experienced veterans who knew what it took to win a final. Granville played college tennis at Stanford University before turning pro in 2001 and has earned over $1 million in prize money since then. Fujiwara is also 27 and a pro since 1999. She's racked up six ITF singles titles and 15 doubles titles since then.

Granville hadn't lost a set in two qualifying matches and four matches in the main draw entering the final, though she was pushed hard in a few sets along the way. Fujiwara dropped her first set of her tournament to American wildcard Stacy Tan 6-1, then won the next two in tiebreakers. She then raced through her next three matches and entered the final on a roll.

However, that changed in the first set when Fujiwara got off to a slow start in the final.

After the two players traded service breaks to start the match, Granville reeled off four straight games. Fujiwara finally held serve, but Granville promptly closed out the first set.

At that point, Fujiwara had been spraying errors around while Granville was staying consistent. But Fujiwara started to find her rhythm in the second set, jumping out to a 4-0 lead and twice breaking Granville.

"I didn't do anything different," Fujiwara said. "Just focus and watch the ball. Try to fight."

Fujiwara's groundstrokes got better and she utilized her approach shots and volley game more. Frequently, she snuck in behind Granville's serve to attack the net and usually with good results.

"Her return is one of the best parts of her game," Granville said. "She was killing me on my second serve."

Granville tried to fight back and won the next two games. She had a chance to get back on serve when she got up 15-30 on Fujiwara's serve. But Fujiwara came up with a nice drop shot that Granville got to and jumped into the back right corner of the court. Fujiwara then hit a perfect lob to get back at 30-30. Two errors by Granville later, Fujiwara was up 5-2 and then broke to knot the match up.

She held serve to start the third set and that was when the rain and light snow came. Though it showered for only a few minutes, the officials needed time to dry off Sun Oak's court 3 before action continued.

Fujiwara's game didn't falter, but it gave Granville a big reprieve.

"I got lucky with the rain," Granville said. "Rika started playing so well in the second set well that I was demoralized. I needed to regroup."

Fujiwara did break Granville's serve in the first game after the delay, but it took five break points. That was enough for Granville to settle down. She broke right back, held serve and then went 3-2 when Fujiwara double-faulted twice.

"I was able to raise my game," Granville said. "I got a late burst of energy."

The two traded breaks before Granville hit a forehand passing shot to hold serve and go up 5-3.

She had a match point on Fujiwara's serve, but the small Japanese made a spinning half-stab volley on a forehand pass to stay alive. Fujiwara eventually held to get to 4-5.

However, Granville was able to close things out. Up 30-15, she uncorked a first serve right at Fujiwara's body for a service winner. On the second match point, Fujiwara tried to sneak in on a first serve, but Granville was waiting with a forehand pass into the open right side of the court.

"I'm real happy," Granville said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could win here after being off for 13 months."