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Top seeds Ball, Nara both snare first $50k Challenger series title

No. 1 seed Kurumi Nara of Japan defeated second-seeded Stephanie Dubois 6-4, 6-4 to win the women's Fifth Third Bank Tennis Championships on the University of Kentucky campus Sunday.
No. 1 seed Kurumi Nara of Japan defeated second-seeded Stephanie Dubois 6-4, 6-4 to win the women's Fifth Third Bank Tennis Championships on the University of Kentucky campus Sunday.

The final day of competition at the $100,000 Fifth Third Bank Championships resulted in the first $50K Challenger series titles for the men's and women's champions.

Top-seeded Carsten Ball, a 23-year-old Australian ranked No. 122 in the world, defeated Canadian-American and fifth-seeded Jesse Levine 6-4, 7-6 to win the men's singles crown.

Shortly after Ball's win on the Ryan Holder Center Courts at the University of Kentucky's Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex, rain suspended the women's finals in the second set with second-seeded Canadian Stephanie Dubois (No. 125) trailing 3-4 and down a set to top-seeded Kurumi Nara (No. 112). After approximately 30 minutes, play resumed and the 5-foot Nara won three consecutive games to take the title, 6-4, 6-4.

Ball's performance at the Fifth Third this year marked quite the turnaround compared to his performance at the Fifth Third last year when he was knocked out on in the first round by former University of Kentucky tennis star Bruno Agostinelli.

"The courts suited me (and) the ball has been bouncing high and fast here" said Ball, who didn't drop a set all week. "I just seemed to play better and better throughout the week."

Ball arrived in Lexington on Monday, on the heels of a strong showing at last week's Aptos Challenger in California, where he played in the singles semifinals and doubles finals.

Levine (No. 157) managed to break the 6-foot-2 Aussie's powerful serve only once during the match.

After the first set, Ball was in trouble for much of the second set before escaping with the win.

Levine jumped to a 4-1 lead in the second set, as a frustrated Ball tossed his racket and kicked a ball before rallying to make it 4-all.

"Normally, I would say that I show my emotions more than I have this week," Ball said. "I've been trying to keep calm, that's for sure."

Ball had to maintain his composure as Levine won the next game and had a double set point before Ball rallied once again. In the second-set tiebreaker Ball dominated, winning 7-1.

Ball said his win helps prove he isn't solely a doubles specialist, though many people consider him to be one considering his doubles pedigree on the Australian Davis Cup team.

"I haven't won a lot of matches lately. ... I'll definitely take a lot of confidence from this," he said.

Nara's coach, Taka Terachi, said he urged her during the rain delay to end the match quickly when play resumed.

Nara, from Hyogo, Japan, responded by making quick work of Dubois in the first two games, then winning the third game on the fourth match point.

"We're looking forward to playing (pro) events, so she has to improve more," Terachi said. "We are (trying) many new tactics. ... We'll try new ones next week to become a top-100 (player), and after that, a top-50 (player), so we have many things to go, but this week I think (Nara) played well."

Terachi wants Nara to use her experiences this summer to have her playing her best tennis by the time the U.S. Open rolls around in late August.

"(Nara) played strong. ... I tried to be aggressive," said Dubois, who started well, going up a break early in the first set.

Dubois, a three-time finalist at the Fifth Third (2005, '07, '10), was aiming to become only the second woman in Fifth Third history to be a two-time champion. France's Camille Pin won Fifth Third titles in 2004 and 2006.

Dubois said she didn't know if the rain delay affected her play.

"(Nara) just didn't miss a ball and then I missed a couple of shots," said Dubois, who is returning to her home country to play the Vancouver Challenger next week. "I started good, but I guess I made too many mistakes."

Although Dubois has had much success in Lexington in recent years, she said she hopes she will be regularly playing on the Women's Tennis Association Tour by this time next year.

Nara, 18, has been on the professional tour for two years. Her best showing on the WTA Tour is a second round appearance in a main draw.

She will have the opportunity to set a personal best when she competes at San Diego in a WTA event next week. She hopes to reach the quarterfinals.

The diminutive Nara doesn't have a large English vocabulary, but she did know how to say one phrase in English with her champion's trophy in hand.

"I'm very, very happy," Nara said with a smile.