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Team Americas wins Aurora tennis

Team Americas wins Aurora tennis

Ohashi among gymnasts scheduled to compete
Team Americas wins Aurora tennis
Team Americas' Monica Puig returns a shot against Team World's Belinda Bencic at the Aurora Games Tuesday.
Photographer: Peter Barber

ALBANY — Team Americas defeated Team World 23-21 in tennis competition Tuesday night at the inaugural Aurora Games at Times Union Center.

The first of the six sporting events to be contested this week was decided by total games won in a five-match showcase between a group of top-50 world-ranked players.

Bianca Andreescu defeated former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka 6-2 in the third singles and final match of the night to clinch the Team Americas' triumph.

Andreescu trailed 2-1 before winning the final five games.

Team World got a match-starting 6-3 win from Belinda Bencic over Monica Puig. Puig and Sofia Kenin answered for Team Americas with a 6-4 win over Bencic and Garbine Muguruza.

Kenin defeated Muguruza in the second singles 6-3, taking the final three games to push Team Americas ahead 15-13.

Muguruza and Azarenka followed with a 6-2 victory over Kenin and Andreescu for a 19-17 Team World advantage.

Andreescu won the WTA's Rogers Cup in Toronto earlier this month, and Kenin was a semifinalist at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.

Bencic (Switzerland) came in with the highest world ranking at No. 13, followed by Andreescu (Canada, No. 15), Kenin (USA, No. 20), Muguruza (Spain, No. 25), Azarenka (Belarus, No. 41) and Puig (Puerto Rico, No. 44).

LAST HURRAH

Recent UCLA graduate and viral sensation Katelyn Ohashi will be making her professional debut Wednesday in the gymnastics competition. The 22-year-old will also be making her final big-meet appearance when she performs on the balance beam and in the artistic floor exercise portion of the 7 p.m. event.

It's not like the retiring All-American won't be staying busy. She has a bunch of speaking engagements lined up, and two books to complete, one of poems that center on activism, and another for children that deals with social issues.

"I'm riding this wave and utilizing this platform to use my voice," Ohashi said at a press conference Tuesday to promote the gymnastics competition.

Known well in gymnastics circles since her youth, Ohashi became a world-wide sensation with her floor routine at the Jan. 12 Collegiate Challenge in Anaheim, California. She scored a 10 with her flips, splits and tumbles, and the video of her routine has been viewed through social media by an audience 57 million.

"To shed a positive light on the sport is such an amazing thing," Ohashi said in reference to the recent USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal.

Ohashi's score of 10 on that floor routine was one the 11 10s she collected at the college level. It was extra special, though, for its execution and flair, and she won ESPY's for "Best Viral Sports Moment" and "Best Play."

"Everybody says it's not just the gymnastics," said Aurora Games founder and executive producer Jerry Solomon of the routine delivered by the 10-time collegiate All-American. "It's because of the joy [she displayed]."

Ohashi said she's been on the go ever since the video was released.

"The past year has been a lot of fun, actually," said the Seattle native, who majored in gender studies at UCLA. "Crazy in parts, with school, gymnastics and all of the interviews."

Ohashi will be joined on Team Americas by a cast that includes McKenna Kelley, the daughter of 1984 Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton. Kelley will also compete on the balance beam and in the artistic floor exercise.

"Everyone has their own definition of success. Bringing us all together feels like we already won," Ohashi said. "This is an amazing and cool experience. Never in 1,000 years did we think we'd be doing this together."

MEDIA STAR

Ohashi wasn't the only media darling at Tuesday's press conference to promote the gymnastics competition. Ingham County (Michigan) Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who sentenced sex offender Larry Nassar to 40 to 175 year in prison with the words, "I just signed your death warrant," was among the panelists.

"I try to use my power to give back to the community," Aquilina said.

Video of Aquilina's sentencing of Nassar was streamed live online and viewed by millions. She received widespread praise of her handling of the sentencing phase of the case as 156 women gave victim impact statements over several days.

"She probably has done one the most important things we've seen in sports over the last couple of years," Solomon said.

Nassar had pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting at least 190 women over several decades while working as a doctor at Michigan State and for USA Gymnastics.

"Let's keep the conversation moving forward until there is absolute resolution," Aquilina said. "When people move forward, it is a gift."

SENDING A MESSAGE

Former UConn basketball star Barb Turner was in Schenectady earlier this summer to put on a youth clinic and promote the idea that dreams can be achieved. She is in Albany this week pushing the same theme.

"Give little girls a vision. Put something out there in front of them," said Turner, who will compete for Team Americas in Thursday's basketball game against Team World at Times Union Center. "It's a great opportunity for us to be out there front and center.

"Why wouldn't I want to be part of it? Especially being the first one."

The 35-year-old Houston resident will be among a handful of former WNBA players in action. Several, like Turner, still compete overseas.

"It's going to be competitive," Turner said. "Any time we have an opportunity to get on a big stage, we want to put on a good show. Obviously we'll respect the game and play with intensity."

HERE AND THERE

Opening ceremonies for the six-day, six-sport all-women's showcase were held before Tuesday's tennis competition. Multi-Olympic track champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Nadia Comaneci, the first Olympian gymnast to score a 10, were among the guest speakers.

Following gymnastics Wednesday and basketball Thursday, the Aurora Games will feature ice hockey Friday, and figure skating and beach volleyball Saturday. Team Americas and Team World will be vying for the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Trophy, and if there is a tie in the team standing, a free table tennis exhibition scheduled for Saturday and Sunday will break it.

Individual session tickets for the Aurora Games are on sale at www.Ticketmaster.com. Tickets start at $15. Admission to the Aurora Games Fan Zone at the Albany Capital Center adjacent to Times Union Center is free.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Jim Schiltz at 518-395-3143, [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.

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