wild card

USTA CREATES US OPEN NATIONAL PLAYOFFS TO PROVIDE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL PLAYERS TO COMPETE FOR A BERTH INTO THE US OPEN

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., January 26, 2010 – The USTA announced today the launch of the US Open National Playoffs, which will expand the footprint of the US Open and provide the opportunity for all players 14 years of age and older to earn a wild card into the 2010 US Open Qualifying Tournament. The US Open National Playoffs begins with 16 sectional qualifying tournaments held throughout the country from April through June.  The men’s and women’s champions from each of the sectional qualifying tournaments advance to the US Open National Playoffs – Men’s and Women’s Championships, which will be held in conjunction with Olympus US Open Series tournaments this summer.

“The US Open National Playoffs makes the US Open ‘open,’ where one woman and one man will earn a wild card into the US Open Qualifying Tournament and a chance to advance to the main draw,” said Lucy Garvin, Chairman of the Board and President, USTA.  “The fact that the US Open National Playoffs are supported by qualifying tournaments run by our sections makes this event even more unique, extending the reach of the US Open across the country.”

With the goal of connecting more people to the US Open and expanding the tournament’s reach to communities throughout the United States, players will compete in sectional qualifying tournaments hosted by 16 of the 17 USTA Sections nationwide.

The entry fee for each of the sectional qualifying tournaments is $125.  All players competing must have a current USTA membership valid through August 30, 2010.  Competitors can enter any of the 16 sectional qualifying tournaments, but they can only enter and compete in one sectional qualifying tournament.  Each sectional qualifying tournament is limited to 256 players, and players will not be seeded by any means.  Participants can be of any playing level, from aspiring novice to seasoned professional, giving everyone an equal opportunity to advance.

“While professionals are eligible to play, we expect the draws to be filled with top junior players, collegians, teaching professionals and even recreational players who will now have a chance to play themselves into the US Open for the first time,” said Jim Curley, Chief Professional Tournaments Officer & US Open Tournament Director.

Skier Bode Miller, a two-time overall World Cup champion, two-time Olympic silver medalist and three-time world champion, will compete in one of the sectional qualifying tournaments.

“Tennis has always been a part of my life,” said Miller, who won the 1996 Maine state singles title for Carrabassett Valley Academy and whose family owns the Tamarack Tennis Camp in Easton, N.H., which was founded by his grandparents.  “The US Open National Playoffs is a great concept and I look forward to playing in one of the sectional qualifying tournaments this spring.  It will give me an outlet to focus my competitiveness after the Olympics and World Cup season.”

Entry information and a schedule of US Open National Playoffs Sectional Qualifying Tournaments are available online at www.usopen.org.  Registration begins February 1.

JUSTINE HENIN IS SCINTILLATING

By Melina Harris

The Rod Laver arena witnessed a scintillating 7-5, 7-6(8-6) win for comeback queen, Justine Henin over world No. 5 Elena Dementieva Wednesday. The match could signify the dawn of a new age for women’s tennis and possibly a coronary for Dementieva’s mother and coach, the omnipresent Vera who was uncomfortable to watch as she appeared to play every single shot for her gutsy daughter.

With US Open champion Kim Clijsters and the uber-talented former world No. 1 Henin back with a vengeance, the women’s tour has never held so much promise and wide spread appeal. This year’s Australian Open is panning out to be a classic for the WTA, undoubtedly helped by unseeded wild card Henin’s random placement in amongst the top seeds in the mouth-watering bottom half of the draw, which provided a second-round battle worthy of a final.

In my preview, I debated Dementieva’s mental fortitude which was sorely tested by Henin throughout. However, I do not believe Henin’s victory was down to a lack of fight from the Russian, who displayed admirable gut and determination to push Henin to the brink and back time and time again in this hotly contested second round match, rather it was Henin’s relentless resolution to come forward when playing the big points which caused the upset, marking her out as a true champion.

In her first tournament back in Brisbane, Henin fell at the last hurdle failing to close out the match against Clijsters by pressing too hard for victory, displaying a possible chink in her come back preparation.

However, today’s performance quashed any remaining doubt that Henin is ready to compete at the same level at which she left the game 20 months ago. Henin’s coach and mentor Carlos Rodriguez interestingly underestimated his diminutive pupil’s prospects in a recent interview with The Sunday Times prior to the Open, stating cautiously ‘I am not expecting her to be back at her best at the Australian Open or maybe a few months after that’ and expressed his surprise at her reaching the final in Brisbane because ‘she’s not certain about her game yet. Sometimes she’s too defensive, other times she goes on the attack when it is not wise. But those things come with time and matches. So far she has only played five.’

Perhaps this was a psychological tactic to relieve the pressure from Henin’s petite shoulders or a genuine miscalculation by the contemplative coach? Whatever the case may be, Rodriguez must be delighted with her swift progress which has shot her into contention at the Australian Open like a lightning bolt over the Rod Laver Arena, illuminating the women’s game with her unique style in comparison to the one dimensional baseliners who have dominated thus far.

Concerns about Henin’s serve, which Rodriguez cleverly modeled on the biomechanics of the Minnesota Viking’s quarterback, American NFL football star, Brett Favre were magnified in the first set, when Henin threw in six double faults. She often had to catch her first throw up which frequently veered disturbingly to the right, suggesting a possible lack of confidence in her new technique. However, by the second set as she got into her stride, those double faults reduced down to just two in a long and hotly contested set, with her first serve percentage at 48% in contrast to Dementieva’s at 65% across the total 2 hours and 50 minutes.

From the offset, the momentum of the match swung from side to side like a ship caught in a storm. In the first set, Dementieva’s depth and relentless pace of shot raged against Henin’s touch and variety resulting in copious break points for the Russian. At 5-4 with two set points for Dementieva, Henin produced a great drop volley to save the first and then constructed a brilliant point, resulting in a forehand approach and backhand volley winner to bring the game back to deuce to save the second. Henin broke back with an audacious drop volley leveling the set at 5 all.

In the following game, Henin matched Dementieva shot for shot by producing deeper and more penetrating ground strokes. A gutsy movement forward with a convincing volley at the net, secured a 6-5 lead. Indeed, it was her intuitive awareness of when to move forward to finish the point which pegged her back level at 30 all in the next game, which she then went on to win with an impressive forehand, hit on the rise, following a powerful first serve at deuce.

Dementieva opened the second set with another difficult hold of serve and followed with what appeared to be the beginnings of an impressive fight back, breaking Henin in the second game. However, with the grace of a ballet dancer Henin passed Dementieva at the net in the next point and went on to force a double fault from the uncharacteristically stoic Russian on break point.

Henin produced a magnificent game, maneuvering the Russian with deft precision around the court at 2-1 down to level the set at 2 all. Dementieva won two games in a row and appeared to have the upper hand as she went 4-2 up in the second. However, the tides turned once again as Henin went for the jugular and won the next three games to go 5-4 up, but lost her first match point in the next service game with a tight forehand into the net. Sensing Henin’s nerves, Dementieva took advantage and secured the break with a punishing backhand down the line.

At 5 all, Henin broke the Russian’s serve once again to set up yet another opportunity to serve out the match. While the crowd’s cheers reached a deafening crescendo, Rodriguez motioned animatedly to Henin radiating positivity and determination, while in contrast Dementieva’s mother and coach looked unnervingly at her daughter and then as if she were praying to the Gods for help.

Rodriguez must have been concerned (even if his face was a picture of confidence) as Henin once again failed to close out the match seemingly straining a quad muscle while serving. An impressive fight back from Dementieva secured the break to take the second set to a mouth watering tie break.

Despite racing to a 3-1 lead, Dementieva succumbed to Henin’s variety of shot and willingness to risk all on the important points (possibly in fear of a punishing third set) and like a true champion won the match on a serve volley; glaringly symbolic of what women’s tennis has been missing since her retirement from the game.

Henin is destined to meet Clijsters in the quarter finals (if they both proceed as predicted) in a repeat of the recent Brisbane final. What another great advert this would be for the women’s game and also as evidence for their inclusion in the proposed Tennis World Cup if the stars contrive to place these brilliant Belgian rivals together once again.

AUSSIE OPEN WOMEN’S QUALIFYING 2010

The women’s qualifying draw packs more heat than on the men’s side for one main reason: Yanina Wickmayer. Despite being ranked 16th in the world, the Belgian is being forced to grind it out through three qualifying matches in order to secure a spot in the main draw.

Wickmayer was suspended by the Flemish Anti-Doping Tribunal in her home country in early November for apparently failing to report her whereabouts at certain times during the season.

The twenty year old rising star appealed the decision and had it overturned by a civil court in Belgium. Unfortunately for Wickmayer the new ruling came after the December 7th cut-off date for entries into the Australian Open.

That left Wickmayer with the option of applying for a wild-card from the tournament, but when it was not extended, it left her with no other option but going through the qualifying draw.

It’s disappointing that such a talented player is being forced to jump through hoops in order to qualify for the main draw. While I certainly feel that Wickmayer will make it through the qualies, it will place a greater physical strain on her body ahead of an already grueling Grand Slam schedule. Hopefully it will instead serve as a motivator for her and help her gain some momentum for a memorable tournament. She is obviously seeded number one in the qualifying draw and won a tough opening match on Thursday by a score of 4-6, 6-0, 7-5.

Aside from Wickmayer, the qualifying draw has a few other players worth following.

Alexandra Stevenson will best be remembered for her surprising run to the semi-finals at Wimbledon as a qualifier in 1999. That was a long time ago and Stevenson never built upon that success. Several injuries would creep up in 2002 and slow her progress and then a right-shoulder injury would derail her career at the end of 2004 and cause her ranking to plummet. Stevenson has been back to playing a full schedule for a couple of years now, but has not been able to regularly make it past qualifying draws and challenger-level tournaments.

Fifteen year old Laura Robson teamed up with Andy Murray at the Hopman Cup earlier this month and acquitted herself quite well. Born in Australia (Melbourne in fact) but playing for Great Britain, Robson lost to Daniela Hantuchova in three sets in the first round of Wimbledon last year, her first appearance at a Grand Slam. The youngster will turn sixteen during the Aussie Open and represents the future of female tennis in the U.K.

Canadians: I have to give a shout-out to the numerous Canadian women who are represented in the qualifying draw in Melbourne this year including, Valerie Tetreault, Heidi El Tabakh, Rebecca Marino and Sharon Fichman. Our country does not have much representation in the upper rankings of the tennis world, but these ladies are showing that Tennis Canada does have some talent in the mix just below the surface.

JELENA DOKIC COMEBACK IS RIGHT ON TRACK

I have been  follower of Jelena Dokic career ever since she caused that great upset by defeating Martina Hingis in straight sets at Wimbledon back in 1999.

After a long absence from the tennis courts, mostly because of family problems, I was happy to read that she was working on a come back. And it’s a work in progress. She stated that 2009 was going to be her last attempt at a come back. And luckily for us, it worked out. She’s still playing and ocassionally swaying the courts.

In 2010 she is preparing for the Australian Open in Hobart.  She proved too strong for Elena Baltacha beating her in straight sets 6-4, 6-2. She will now meet Shahar Peer in the next round.

“I feel like I’m fitter this year and hitting the ball better,” Dokic told reporters.

Now that sounds good and hopefully she will be able to get far at the Australian Open. Just like she did last year when she reached the Quarterfinals on a wild card.

I have created a poll which you can see right after the pics! Cast your vote and feel free to discuss using the comment box.

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[polldaddy poll=2509321]

Safina Stumbles but Survives

NEW YORK – It was not a performance to cherish, but it was one to celebrate. After all, Dinara Safina survived –barely.

Just before becoming the first top-seeded woman to be ousted in the opening round of the US Open, Safina pulled her game together enough to escape a wild-card entry from Australia, Olivia Rogowska. And it wasn’t pretty.

Even Safina called Tuesday’s 6-7 (5) 6-2 6-4 win “ugly,” but added, “I pulled it out, and that’s what counts for me.”
Her “pull” was aided greatly by her opponent’s mistakes and miscues.

Safina is the world’s top-ranked player; Rogowska, who gained a wild card entry into the US Open through an agreement between the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and Tennis Australia, is 167th in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour rankings. But they had one thing in common: both were seeking their first Grand Slam tournament title. Now only Safina still is in the running to do that this year.
The 18-year-old Rogowska matched Safina stroke for stroke, even, unfortunately, double fault for double fault in the sloppily played contest.

Never before has the women’s top seed fallen in the opening round at America’s premier tennis tournament. But it appeared as if Safina would do just that as Rogowska won the first three games to begin the third set. The two then took turns breaking each other’s serve before Safina held at love, the last point on her first ace of the day, to level the set at 4-4.

Rogowska fell behind 0-30 with two unforced errors – two of her 65 in the match – before winning the next three points. But her 12th double fault of the day took the game to deuce. Then came one of the most critical points of the day, one that was a glimpse at why Safina won and Rogowska lost the 2-hour, 35-minute battle.

The point began like most of the day’s battles were contested – long-range baseline rallies with both players using the entire court, keeping their opponent on the move while probing for an opening. It was Safina who blinked first, chipping a shot short, bringing Rogowska to the net.

The Australian replied by chipping a backhand down the line with plenty of spin. Safina caught up with the ball and returned a running forehand crosscourt. There was Rogowska, waiting at the net, but she failed to put away the volley and gave Safina another chance.
This time Safina threw up a short defensive lob. Rogowska again failed to hit a winning smash, and instead popped a weak overhead back across the net.

Safina needed no more chances. She rifled a backhand crosscourt pass that caught Rogowska making an off-balance stab at the net. The youngster sat down on the court and both watched the point while it was being replayed on the giant screens atop Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“When it comes like this tight, it’s not easy to swing,” Safina said. “I saw like her volley was not good. I was like, OK, so she’s not so comfortable. First of all, she had an easy smash and she didn’t went for it. Then when I made it, it was like, ‘OK, come one. Make this break now.’”

Yet another forehand error by Safina made the score deuce again, and again Rogowska followed with a double fault. There was one more deuce, earned with a sharply hit inside-out forehand, before Rogowska made her 34th and 35th forehand unforced errors of the match.

Four points later, Safina had a spot in the second round at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center where she will take on Germany’s Kristina Barrios, a 6-4 6-4 winner over Urzula Radwanska of Poland.

“It doesn’t matter how I’ll play, but I will run and I will stay there forever,” said Safina. “I will do everything to win the match.”
In the day matches, two seeded players failed to make it into the second round. Sixteenth-seeded Virginie Razzano of France was ousted by Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer 6-4 6-3, while 32nd-seeded Agnes Szavay of Hungary fell to Israel’s Shahar Peer 6-2 6-2.
Among the seeded players joining Safina in the winner’s circle Tuesday included Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova, Sorana Cirstea, Caroline Wozniacki, Nadia Petrova, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic, Alona Bondarenko, Sabine Lisicki, Patty Schnyder, Alisa Kleybanova and Zheng Jie.

In the men’s singles, American qualifier Jesse Witten upset 29th-seeded Igor Andreev of Russia 6-4 6-0 6-2.

“Last couple weeks I’ve been playing well and I’m not even sure why,” Witten said. “I’m just going to roll with it.”

Other early winners in the men’s singles included Novak Djokovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Fernando Gonzalez, Marin Cilic, Tomas Berdych, Fernando Verdasco, Sam Querrey and Viktor Troicki.

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.”

Serena opens defense with 6-4, 6-1 win over Glatch

NEW YORK (AP)—Serena Williams has begun the quest for her fourth U.S. Open title with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Alexa Glatch.

Williams entered Monday’s play ranked second in the world behind Dinara Safina, even though Williams has won the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year and Safina is without a Grand Slam title.

Seeking her second straight U.S. Open championship, Williams hit 18 winners and had 19 unforced errors in an uneven start to the tournament. It was still good enough to beat Glatch, who earned a wild-card entry into the draw.

Williams’ sister, Venus, was scheduled to play Vera Dushevina of Russia on Monday night.

Clijsters continues winning ways; Jankovic survives as Ivanovic falls in Cincinnati

Former world No. 1 Kim Clijsters continued her remarkable comeback to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour with a second consecutive win over a Top 20 player, this time defeating world No. 20 Patty Schnyder, 6-2, 7-5, on Wednesday afternoon to advance to the third round at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open in Cincinnati.

Quickly getting in front 3-0 in the opening set, Clijsters eventually took the opening set 6-3, backed by winning 15 of 16 first serve points and breaking serve twice in the 23-minute set.

“I’m very happy that I’m starting the matches off well,” said Clijsters, a winner of 34 career singles titles including the 2005 US Open. “

The 26-year-old Belgian continued showing the signs of consistent tennis and superb fitness that was clear during her first round triumph over No. 12 seed Marion Bartoli.

“The main thing I was happy with today was the first serve percentage was a lot better than in the first match,” said Clijsters.

Schnyder picked up her game in the early stages of second set, before Clijsters broke in the 12th game and never looked back.

“She just had a great start,” said Schnyder, who won the title in Cincinnati in 2005. “She’s striking the ball great. It was really tough to get the rallies going and to get some advantage in the rallies.”

Clijsters’ was able to win the match without facing a break point on her serve, while smashing four aces and only two double faults. Schnyder, who was making her fourth appearance in Cincinnati, falls to 2-6 lifetime against Clijsters.

Next up for the newest mother on tour, is a third round match-up against reigning Roland Garros champion and No. 6 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia. Clijsters has dominated Kuznetsova in the past, winning six of seven meetings.

In other matches, No. 5 seed Jelena Jankovic saved two set points in the opening set tiebreak to edge past Russian wild card Maria Kirilenko, 7-6(6), 6-3, in one hour and 45 minutes. A match full of serving problems featured 13 service breaks and a combined 10 double faults.

“First match for me, it’s never easy,” said Jankovic, who finished the 2008 season as the top-ranked player in the world. “You know, I had trouble holding my serve, especially in that first set. I was returning well, but I wasn’t putting many first serves in, and kept playing with the second serve almost throughout the whole first set.”

Jankovic will next square off against No. 9 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus for a place in the quarterfinals. Azarenka stormed past Russian Anna Chakvetadze, 6-4, 6-2, in one hour and 21 minutes. Jankovic leads the head-to-head 2-1, winning both matches on hard courts in 2007.

Eleventh seed Ana Ivanovic’s struggles since winning the 2008 Roland Garros title continued, as she was bounced by in-form Melinda Czink, 7-6(6), 7-5. Ivanovic struggled with her ball toss for the second straight match, hitting 11 double faults and dropping her serve five times. The loss marked the second early exit in as many weeks, after losing in the third round last week to Samantha Stosur in straight sets in Los Angeles.

In the late match, No. 2 seed Serena Williams sailed past Ukrainian qualifier Kateryna Bondarenko, 6-3, 6-2. Williams, who won her 11th Grand Slam singles title earlier this summer at Wimbledon, smashed 12 aces, while dropping just three points on first serve. The Florida native was also able to break serve on three of six occasions. Williams will next clash with Sybille Bammer in the third round. Bammer won the only previous meeting in three sets in Hobart in 2007.

Other winners on Wednesday in Cincinnati:
No. 4 Elena Dementieva def. (Q) Yanina Wickmayer, 6-3, 6-3
No. 7 Vera Zvonareva def. Alisa Kleybanova, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5
No. 8 Caroline Wozniacki def. Aleksandra Wozniak, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
Sybille Bammer def. No. 13 Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-0, 7-5
No. 14 Flavia Pennetta def. Agnes Szavay, 6-2, 6-2
Sorana Cirstea def. Anna-Lena Groenfeld, 6-3, 6-2
Daniela Hantuchova def. Alona Bondarenko, 7-5, 1-6, 6-4
Peng Shuai def. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchzez, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1

Random French Open Thoughts

The fun for viewers is seeing who makes the French Open as wild cards, who often become tomorrow’s top players.  Look at Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who a while ago nearly won the Australian Open as an unseeded player!  Look at him today advancing at Roland Garros with a great win over Juan Monaco.

I hate how experts judge the wild cards on TV, “He doesn’t stand a chance against (fill in the blank).”  How do you know if the person doesn’t, having never played someone?  Give people the benefit of the doubt.  Unless someone’s playing a No. 1 or No. 2 players, why not?  And a No. 1 could possibly lose to an unseeded player.

Last year, I met a young gentleman normally playing doubles with the unfortunate experience of playing his first time as a singles player at the U.S. Open – against Roger Federer.  Talk about bad luck of the draw.  He did his best putting up a fight when he could’ve given up at the beginning.

On a positive, I’ve noticed a return of good commercials a la The Super Bowl in the Novak Djokovic in the stands gimmicks.  He’s very funny and natural in them, making me wonder how we could miss out on him as a sponsor.  It’s a very nice change from the boring silent commercials
with court clips.

Enjoy the French Open, wild card fans!  If you hurry to the right side of the stands, you may find a nice puppy dog balloon, gifted from Novak for your girlfriend…