NCAA Champion

AUSSIE OPEN MEN’S QUALIFYING 2010

The 2010 Australian Open officially begins on Monday but important matches have already begun in the qualifying draw.

The 128-player draw will work its way down to a fortunate group of 16 players who will advance to the main draw of the tournament.

Seeded first in the qualifying draw is Xavier Malisse of Belgium who advanced to the second round of the qualies with a 6-2, 7-6(5) win against Alex Kuznetsov of the United States. Malisse is a talented but under-achieving veteran who reached a career-high of 19 in the world in 2002, the same year he reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon. Currently ranked 92nd, Malisse does not necessarily have to win all of his qualifying matches to advance into the tournament. Should any player who is entered in the main draw withdraw from their opening match ahead of time, Malisse would become the first lucky-loser to fill-in due to his ranking.

Other names of interest in the qualifying draw include former American phenom Donald Young who won his first match 7-5, 6-0 against Marc Lopez of Spain. At only twenty years of age, the possibility of Young reaching his enormous potential still exists, although it seems his game is at a stand-still at the moment ranked 194th in the world.

Former NCAA champion Somdev Devvarman holds the 27th seed amongst qualifiers and won his first match easily 6-2, 6-1 against local Australian James Duckworth. Going to school at the University of Virginia, Devvarman won the NCAA title in back-to-back years in 2007 and 2008. He defeated current top-fifty ATP played John Isner in the 2007 final so the kid certainly has skill. Perhaps this is the year he finally breaks out on tour.

Canadian youngster Peter Polansky fell in the opening round 1-6, 2-6 to Marsel Ilhan of Turkey. The 21 year old is my home country’s best hope for a top-fifty player in the future and is currently ranked 186th in the world. It is a tough break for Polansky, as he made the main draw in Australia a year ago and even pushed Igor Andreev to a fifth set in the first round before falling. Polanksy actually qualified for three Grand Slam tournaments in 2009, losing in the first round of each in five sets.

The main draw will be announced this Friday.

NCAA Champion Cecil Loses In Opening Match at US Open

Despite losing in the first round of the US Open, Spartanburg native and NCAA champion Mallory Cecil chalks it all up to a learning experience.

Playing in front a packed crowd on Court 8, Cecil, who received a wild card into the main draw for winning the NCAA championships earlier this summer, found herself overwhelmed by the occasion and her opponent’s game. Committing 38 unforced errors, the American never managed to impose her game as she lost 6-0, 6-1 to Tathiana Garbin, the veteran player from Italy.

“I’m just really lacking experience at this point,” said Cecil. “This is all new to me and matches like these show me what I need to do to play against players at this level.”

Cecil, who turned professional this summer on August 14th, opened the match with two unforced errors as Garbin seemed content to guide down the ball the middle of the court, allowing Cecil to dictate the tempo of the match.

The American held a game point on her serve early on in the first set and held a break point one game later, but backhand errors cost Cecil the chance to get on the scoreboard, allowing Garbin to run take the first set, 6-0.

“With players like Garbin, it’s pretty much all up to you,” said Cecil. “I was trying to control the points, but also hitting shots I didn’t necessarily need to go for. It was tough to do anything with her slice because it stayed so low, but in order to be a top player, you have to learn how to handle anything.”

Cecil held serve to level the second set at 1-1, but it would be the only game she won in the contest. Committing unforced errors early in the rallies, Cecil dropped serve two more times before a missed drop shot sent Garbin into the second round on her first match point.

“I’ll obviously talk about the match with my dad and my coach, but obviously I need to try and put this behind me as quickly as possible,” said Cecil.

Despite the loss today, Cecil has shown potential this summer as she looks to break through the pro ranks. She reached the quarterfinals of a $50,000 challenger in Texas, and in the first round of a $50,000 challenger in Kentucky, served for the match against No. 63 ranked Julie Coin before losing in 3 sets.

“I can definitely compete against players in the top 100, but those were smaller tournaments and there wasn’t perhaps as much as attention as there was in this match,” said Cecil. “I’m just in a bit of a slump and need to try and move past it.”

Cecil said she plans to either play several challenger events in the US this fall, or head to France for a five week stretch of challengers. By this time next year, she plans to be in the US Open off merit, rather than a wildcard.

“By this time next year, I want my ranking to be high enough to get into the US Open qualifying (approximately No. 250) and then qualify into the main draw. Having a wild card was great, but I want to be able to do this on my own.”

US Open – Day 1 Recap

No shocking upsets on day one at the U.S. Open in New York, although there very nearly was. Third seeded American Venus Williams nearly suffered her first loss ever in the opening round at Flushing Meadows against VeraDushevina of Russia before winning 6-7 (5-7), 7-5, 6-3. Fighting a knee injury that seems to have been bothering her since at least Wimbledon, Williams was down a set and a break in the second set before self-correcting.

Meanwhile, defending champions Roger Federer and Serena Williams both advanced with ease. Federer over-matched NCAA champion Devin Britton 6-1, 6-3, 7-5 while Serena defeated fellow American Alexa Glatch 6-4, 6-1. Expectations for both Britton and Glatch were low, but for different reasons.

Britton is only 18 years old and has only played in one prior professional level tournament before today. The young American was clearly overtaken by nerves as he attempted to play his serve and volley game against the world number one. You have to give this kid credit though, he did manage to breakFederer’s serve in both the second and third sets. At 6’3” he has some pop on his serve and seems more than willing to come to the net. We’ll be hearing from him again down the road.

Glatch meanwhile has been bothered by a serious back injury lately. According to her coach, Kevin O’Neill, she has only been able to even hit a tennis ball for the past six days or so and had not played a tournament match since Wimbledon, failing to get past the qualifying rounds of both Stanford andLos Angeles. It was the 20 year old’s fifth U.S. Open appearance.

The $19,000 first round losers paycheck should help both Britton and Glatch cope with the tough draw they received this year.
Overall the day provided American players with a winning record of 9 wins and 7 losses. Not all that bad considering that two of the matches involved Americans facing off against each other.

While there were no big upsets, Mikhail Youzhny from Russia did knock off 26th seeded Paul-Henri Mathieu from France while Kai-Chen Chang of China defeated 25th seeded Kaia Kanepi of Estonia.

The “thanks for coming out award” goes to Rossana de los Rios who was defeated 6-1, 6-0 by 14th seed Marion Bartoli.
The evening session began with a tribute to the humanitarian work Andre Agassi has done with the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. Agassi gave a brief, but moving speech about the motivation behind his charity work and the success of its first-ever graduating class this past June. One hundred percent of the students made it to graduation and also gained acceptance into a college program. The tribute made no mention of Agassi’s tennis achievements and instead gave fans some insight into the huge accomplishments the American champion has made off the court.

Clijsters rolls in return to Grand Slam play

NEW YORK (AP)—Four years and one baby later, Kim Clijsters still looks like a contender.

The 2005 U.S. Open titlist cruised through her return to Grand Slam tennis Monday, defeating Viktoriya Kutuzova 6-1, 6-1 in the opening round in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Next on that court, Roger Federer extended his U.S. Open winning streak to 35 matches with a 6-1, 6-3, 7-5 victory over NCAA champion Devin Britton.

While Federer is seeking his sixth straight title at Flushing Meadows, Clijsters played her first Grand Slam match since the 2007 Australian Open, after which she retired to start a family. She had a baby girl in May 2008, but recently decided to return to competitive tennis.

It has been a good return thus far, one that has included four wins over top-20 opponents in two tournaments in August. Granted, this was only the first round of the U.S. Open, but her 58-minute win over Kutuzova included very few signs of rust.

“Now it’s a matter of trying to keep this going,” Clijsters said.

She won the first seven and last 11 points of the match and grinded through her few hiccups, including three double-faults in the third game of the opening set, which extended to seven deuces before she pulled it out.

The win guaranteed she’ll be ranked at least 148th after the Open, when she’ll have played the three required tournaments she needs to return to the list.

“I still feel like I can improve,” she said. “But I’m definitely comfortable where I am right now.”

Other winners in the first round included eighth-seeded Victoria Azarenka, 12th-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska and 26th-seeded Francesca Schiavone. Paul-Henri Mathieu, No. 26 on the men’s side, was the first seeded player to lose, beaten by Mikhail Youzhny 2-6, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2.

The Williams sisters were both on the schedule, as were Andy Roddick and James Blake.

Another American, Sam Querrey, will debut later this week, bringing with him some lofty expectations—he might be the next great American tennis star in a country looking for just that.

“Everyone is doing what they can,” said Querrey, who is seeded 22nd. “A lot of times, even if you go back 100 years, you’ll have a period of 10 years where you’ll have four or five guys in the top 10, and then years where you might just have one guy. It’s kind of like a rolling wave.”

As much as anywhere else, the search for America’s next great player resonates at Arthur Ashe Stadium, inside the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of America’s Grand Slam. It’s the place where Connors and McEnroe, Chrissy and Tracy Austin, ruled during a golden era that feels more like ancient history with each passing year.

Patrick McEnroe is in charge of putting together the program that will keep the pipeline filled, with hopes of producing multiple stars in the future.

“I think it’s going in the right direction,” Roddick said. “I think even with younger kids going back to 14, 15, 16 years old in Florida, from what I hear, it’s a lot more” organized.

That’s the future.

The present belongs—could belong, that is—to guys like John Isner (ranked 55th), Donald Young (185) and Jesse Levine (135). No. 25 seed Mardy Fish is on this list, too, but the 27-year-old withdrew Sunday with a rib injury.

And Querrey.

He stands 6-foot-6 and ranks third on tour with 696 aces this year, a stat that is allowing him to become more aggressive in his return game, as well, because he’s more confident about holding serve.

He is 21-6 since Wimbledon and has played in four finals, including a victory in Los Angeles. He won the U.S. Open Series, a grouping of hard-court tournaments leading to this week. That pushed his ranking from barely inside the top 50 to a career-best 22nd. It also earned him a chance for a $1 million bonus if he wins the Open.

His biggest win this summer was a 7-6 (11), 7-6 (3) victory over Roddick, one that may not signal Querrey is ready to rise all the way to the top, but certainly serves as a confidence builder.

“It also helps if you play Federer or Nadal,” Querrey said. “Andy’s beaten those guys. Hey, he did it, I beat him, why can’t I beat those guys? So it kind of gives you that extra edge against them, too.”

Federer Opens with NCAA Champ Devin Britton

The 2009 US Open draws have been made! Roger Federer opens with Devin Britton, a wild card entry and the NCAA Champion from Ole Miss, in the first round. Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic are in Federer’s half of the draw and could face off in the quarterfinals, while Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal are in the bottom half of the draw.

Djokovic opens with Ivan Ljubicic. Roddick opens with Bjorn Phau of Germany and could play Dmitry Tursunov of Russia in the second round and John Isner in the third round.

In the bottom half, Rafael Nadal takes on Richard Gasquet of France, coming back from his drug suspension. Nadal could face Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals. Del Potro could face Marat Safin in the second round. Murray faces Ernests Gulbis in the first round and could face Ivo Karlovic in the third round.

Fabrice Santoro, in his final major tournament appearance, faces Juan Carlos Ferrero in the first round. USTA National Junior Champion and Ohio State student Chase Buchanan plays Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the bottom half.

“The bottom half is completely loaded” said Patrick McEnroe on ESPNews broadcast of the draw.

The full men’s draw is available at www.usopen.org.

An Unexpected Summer Vacation For Local Girl Ahn

Kristie Ahn lost her first round match at the US Open, but gained a whole new fan base on Tuesday at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Hitting multiple winners from the baseline and maintaining a high percentage of first serves throughout the match, the 16 year old from New Jersey hung tough with No. 6 seed Dinara Safina in losing 6-3, 6-4.

“My attitude is to fear no one, but respect everyone,” said Ahn. “I didn’t want to give her more credit than she deserved before going out there. It’s a first round match and a lot of upsets take place early in the tournament,”

Despite losing serve while trailing 3-2 in the first set, Ahn fought off break points in her next two service games to keep within striking distance of Safina. Safina became visibly frustrated by Ahn’s retrieving skills as she threw her racquet several times during the match.

Trailing 4-3 in the second set, Ahn leveled the match by breaking Safina’s serve on her fifth break point opportunity. It would be the last game Ahn would win in the match as Safina broke her serve to love at 4-4, and then served out the match to reserve a spot in the second round.

“Players at this level just seem to handle the pressure better,” said Ahn, who is only competing in her fourth professional tournament. It seemed like Safina was able to utilize her serve out there when it mattered most.”

Having grown up in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, a 45 minute drive from the USTA/Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Ahn has declined to move south for training unlike many of her peers on the junior circuit, choosing to instead train at home.

“My parents and I talked about it and they said they would prefer for me to stay at home for now,” said Ahn. I feel like you establish a better relationship with a private coach anyway.

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Ahn said that she hadn’t even considered playing pro tournaments until this year, and entered a $10,000 tournament last May in Pennsylvania simply to gain experience. After winning the event, Ahn entered another $10,000 event in Texas, coming through the qualifying to win her second consecutive event. These two wins prompted the USTA to give her a wild card into the qualifying of the US Open, which she utilized by advancing into the main draw without the loss of a set.

Despite her rapid progress on the tour, Ahn said that she is still intent on intending college once she graduates from high school.

“Even if I defeated Safina, it still wouldn’t be the wisest decision to turn pro right away,”said Ahn. “Once you turn pro, it just adds all this pressure which isn’t necessary right now.

Ahn has already competed against this year’s NCAA champion, Amanda McDowell, easily defeating her 6-0, 6-2 at the $10,000 event in Texas. Despite the routine win against the best college player in the country, Ahn said that she sees other benefits to attending college.

“Everybody I’ve talked to says that college is the best four years of your life,” said Ahn. “I’ve always played well in team events and it would be unbelievable to be around that atmosphere. Even if the level isn’t that high, I can always travel and play pro events during the summer.”

Asia Muhammad, a 17 year old American who recently turned professional, said on Monday that college tennis is a distraction for young American players and called for upcoming junior players to take their tennis more seriously. While Ahn said she agrees with the need for more focus amongst top junior players, she also sees the benefits of playing at the junior level.

“I think rather than worrying about turning pro right away, you should appreciate being one of the top juniors in the country,” said Ahn. “It’s a tremendous honor to be able to have that distinction.

Despite Ahn’s grounded personality, she said that she envisions a career for herself on the pro tour and wants more of the experiences that she had today on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

“It was a privilege to be able to play on that stadium today,” Ahn said. “When the crowd was getting behind me out there and cheering my name, it’s something that I’ll never forget. It’s something that I want to get to experience more.”