Top seeds advance to USTA Satellite championship

Serving for the match in the semifinals of the USTA Women's Satellite Tournament of Baltimore yesterday at Druid Hill Park, Japan's Rika Fujiwara glanced down at a bug sitting on the baseline.

Desiring no distractions, the tournament's top seed crushed the bug with the frame of her racket, picked it up and tossed it through the fence..


Her opponent, Julie Ditty, didn't get much better treatment.

Fujiwara dropped the game but broke Ditty's serve, sealing a 6-3, 6-2 victory and earning a spot in her first overseas final at 1 p.m. today against second-seeded Manisha Malhotra, who beat Anne Plessinger, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (8-6).


Looking tense at the beginning of the match, Fujiwara and Ditty took turns breaking each other's serve until Ditty held for a 3-2 lead.

"At first, I was so tight and maybe a little bit negative," Fujiwara said. "When the score was 2-3, I could go more aggressive."

From that point on, Fujiwara owned the match, taking the last four games of the first set and the opening three of the second.

Ditty, 21, tried everything to stall Fujiwara's momentum - hanging back and plugging away from the baseline, serving and volleying, even hitting moon balls.

But Fujiwara, who will turn 19 in September and is ranked 291st in the world, responded with a bevy of swinging volleys, searing passing shots and winners from every angle.

Malhotra, meanwhile, overcame a booming yet fickle serve and spells of erratic play before defeating Plessinger, 22, a Vanderbilt graduate playing in her first satellite.

The 23-year-old Malhotra, a native of India who played collegiately at Tennessee, captured the crucial points and came up big in both tiebreakers

"That's going to be a tough match," Malhotra said of today's final against Fujiwara. "She's a good player. She's going to get a lot of balls in play, and I have to, again, play basic, simple tennis."