Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs: A Glimpse Into the Future
The banner boldly proclaims: “See the future of American tennis.” And on Dec. 16-18, tennis fans looking to see upcoming American stars and top pros during the “offseason” are in luck. Sixteen American men and women are set to faceoff at the 3rd annual USTA-sponsored Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Norcross, GA, vying for a chance to play in the main draw at Melbourne in January.
The playoffs, hosted by the Racquet Club of the South, gives fans a chance to watch future top tennis talents in a setting far more intimate than most tennis events. The two winners, one male and one female, will earn a wildcard into the 2012 Australian Open main draw.
The eight men are former U.S. Open semifinalist Robby Ginepri, NCAA champion Steve Johnson, U.S. Open wildcard playoffs champion Bobby Reynolds, U.S. Open Mixed Doubles winner Jack Sock, Daniel Kosakowski, Denis Kudla, Jesse Levine and Rhyne Williams.
The women featured are former U.S. Open quarterfinalist Melanie Oudin, this year’s U.S. Open juniors champion Grace Min, U.S. Open wildcard playoffs winner Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe, Gail Brodsky, Jamie Hampton and Alison Riske.
Last year’s winners were 19-year-old Ryan Harrison and 18-year-old Lauren Davis. Long touted as the future of American tennis, Harrison has seen his stock rise in 2011 and finished the season ranked No. 79 in the world. Davis, an accomplished junior player, made two Grand Slam main draw appearances this year and is currently ranked No. 320.
At No. 127 in the world, Bobby Reynolds is the highest ranked player in the men’s draw. The 29-year-old also has home-court advantage, hailing from nearby Acworth, GA. Reynolds was once ranked as high as No. 63 in 2009 but suffered a severe wrist injury that sidelined him for nearly a year. Reynolds looks to ride the momentum he built this summer with the WTT champions Washington Kastles and the U.S. Open wildcard playoffs victory to another Grand Slam main draw berth in Australia.
While Reynolds is a tour veteran, the majority of the playoffs feature fresh faces of the game. At this year’s U.S. Open, Jack Sock, 19, made headlines with a first round victory and by winning the mixed doubles title with partner and fellow playoff participant Melanie Oudin. Sock was last year’s runner-up and is poised to take it one step further. Former college standouts Daniel Kosakowski (UCLA), 19, who reached the finals of the U.S. Open wildcard playoffs, and USC’s Steve Johnson, 20, also have a great chance to start the 2012 season strong with a win here.
Coco Vandeweghe, who has spent time training this off-season by boxing, leads the women’s draw at No. 122 in the world. The imposing 20-year-old stands at 6’1’’ and has a game to match her size. Vandeweghe played in the main draw at all four Grand Slams this year and reached the second round at the U.S. Open.
Other notable young players include 16-year-old Madison Keys, the winner of the U.S. Open wildcard playoffs and 2011 U.S. Open juniors champion Grace Min. Keys went on to win her first ever Grand Slam main draw match in Flushing Meadows, upsetting Jill Craybas in the first round and taking a set off top-30 player, Lucie Safarova in the second. Seventeen-year-old Min won the juniors tournament without dropping a set, toppling No. 1 seed Caroline Garcia in the finals.
A win at these playoffs could create momentum going into the new season for the players and fans will have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of future stars to watch out for in Australia and years to come.