Saturday, May 18

Fangran Tian, Kimmi Hance of UCLA women’s tennis see success at SoCal Pro Series

Fangran Tian of UCLA women's tennis holds her trophy as champion. The rising sophomore won both the singles and doubles awards at the USTA SoCal Pro Series. (Courtesy of Jon Mulvey/USTA SoCal)

Fangran Tian’s trophy case recently gained its most glamorous member, and she’s already had to make some room on the shelves.

Since the rising sophomore won the 2023 NCAA singles title just over a month ago, additional accolades have piled up – reeling them in has become a habit.

Tian secured both the singles and doubles crowns at last week’s Los Angeles event of the USTA SoCal Pro Series. Two weeks prior, she won doubles at the San Diego USD event alongside rising junior Kimmi Hance – their first-ever pro partnership – before also becoming the last woman standing in the singles bracket.

“It’s always happy. It’s very close to school, and I’m not playing by myself here. We can do it together, and it’s really fun,” Tian said. “It’s also a great experience just playing these few tournaments in a row, to get timing and keep my footing.”

The ITA National Rookie of the Year is now 36-3 in all competitive singles play since the start of the dual-match season on Jan. 28, including a 16-2 dual mark, a 6-0 NCAA title run and a 14-1 pro record. She’s reached the singles final at every pro tournament she’s played since the end of the NCAA season.

In the very contest that culminated with her fourth title in three weeks – her final appearance before returning home to Beijing – Tian was at her finest.

(Courtesy of Jon Mulvey/USTA SoCal)
Tian prepares to hit a backhand return. (Courtesy of Jon Mulvey/USTA SoCal)

She dropped her fewest games of the week to California’s Jessica Alsola on the way to a 6-2, 6-1 triumph. Her 80% first-serve percentage marked her highest of the tournament, ultimately leaving Alsola with just one of her service games won.

The Bruins’ phenom consistently refined her game with the ball on her racket, successfully landing 57% of her first serves in the round of 32 and increasing that percentage in each match that followed.

“That’s very surprising for me because I feel like I’ve been struggling with my first serve,” Tian said. “I also didn’t try to hit the biggest serve my first serve, I tried to hit more percentage.”

A far-too-familiar face would stand between Tian and a title match berth. After claiming the doubles title in San Diego alongside Hance, she found herself on the opposite side of the net.

Practice battles aside, Tian had only played Hance once before. They matched up in the San Diego USD event’s round of 16, where the former dealt the latter a 6-1, 6-1 shellacking.

And with a 6-3, 6-1 win for Tian in LA, the sequel wasn’t far off from the original.

“Obviously, I train with her all the time, but we never really play actual matches together,” Hance said. “She’s playing really, really well right now, and it definitely shows in the results.”

(Courtesy of Jon Mulvey/USTA SoCal)
Rising junior Kimmi Hance follows through after a backhand stroke. Hance's accolades may give her a shot to quality for next year’s Indian Wells Masters. (Courtesy of Jon Mulvey/USTA SoCal)

A wild card into qualifying for next year’s Indian Wells Masters – often hailed as the fifth Grand Slam – is on the line in the SoCal Pro Series, offered to the male and female players who accumulate the most points across the circuit’s seven events. Tian would be comfortably in the lead for that honor if non-U.S. citizens were counted.

Instead, Hance represents the Bruins’ best shot at the spot, with her 18 points good for second in the standings behind Megan McCray’s 35, the only opponent whom Tian could not dispatch across her three events.

Hance’s past two weeks yielded the lion’s share of those points, thanks to a pair of quality singles runs and the doubles title to boot. Her semifinalist finish in LA replicated what she accomplished at the San Diego Barnes event, where she fell to eventual champion Sara Daavettila in a 7-5, 6-1 decision.

“Just playing match after match after last year, it’s a lot,” Hance said. “Just more consistency, it isn’t a college season, so I’ve definitely felt myself just getting fitter and just more match tough.”

Irvine and Lakewood represent the final destinations of the SoCal Pro Series, and though Bruins remain active on the circuit, their championed leader will not be among them.

Tian’s U.S. tour reached its end in LA. Plenty of summer remains, though, and she plans to fill it with on-court challenges beyond home.

“There’s lots of plays that I have to work on like my serve, my volleys, being more aggressive,” Tian said. “As of now, I’m planning to go to Europe for a few other higher-level tournaments, and I’ll see how it goes.”

Sports senior staff

Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.

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