July 21, 2010

Fighting to Qualify

This week's action at the Atlanta Tennis Championships features more than your usual parade of stars from Andy Roddick to Lleyton Hewitt. This weekend will also be highlighted by the first ever U.S. Open National Playoff championships, where at the end of the day one player will be awarded an entry to the qualifying draw at the last Grand Slam of the year.

Sixteen men will take the courts of the Atlanta Athletic Club beginning tomorrow in a single-elimination draw. The athletes emerged from the regional tournaments that were held across the country this spring -- fourteen were winners, two runners-up -- and range from former pros like Cecil Mamiit, once ranked seventy-second in the world, to law student Ikaika Jobe of Hawaii, who played both at St. Louis University and Boise State.

Blake Strode is the top seed in the bracket, a twenty-three year old former All-American at the University of Arkansas who won his first Futures title last year in Missouri. He's gotten some invaluable experience on the Tour since, marking time on the court against the likes of Vincent Spadea, Kevin Kim and Devin Britton. Strode came out of the southwestern sectional tournament where he only lost two games on the way to the final. He was slightly less perfect against strong Junior Billy Pecor, but still got the win in straight sets.

The second seed in the championships is Mamiit, who you might -- or not -- remember as a finalist in San Jose eleven years ago. He'd beaten Mark Woodforde and Michael Chang on the way to that championship match and has notched wins over top players Todd Martin and Max Mirnyi in his previous Major appaearances. This would be the first Slam he's played since 2004's Australian Open.

The seeds are rounded out by Olivier Sajous, the winner in Florida where sixty hopefuls battled at the Bollettieri Academies in Bradenton, and twenty-eight year old Chris Wettengel, who beat his doubles partner in the Northern California regional finals. Twelve others will join them to compete for that one spot.

Make no mistake, this process is a long haul for these players. They've already won five or more matches to reach this point, and the eventual entrant still has to win four more just to make qualies which begin August 24th. It makes sense of course, as other potential qualifiers and certainly main draw contenders will have to put in as much if not more work on the main Tour, but it might be nice to award the playoff winner with a wildcard to the final 128. It will definitely be interesting to see how the structure evolves in the coming years

Incidentally, the women's championships will be held next week during the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California. Among contenders there will be the youngest player in both brackets, Evangeline Repic of Canada, who just turned fifteen, and the highest ranked player in the playoffs, Alina Jidkova, currently #339 in the world.

For more on the playoffs check out my April blogcast, filmed at the New York regional finals.

1 comment:

The Inner Coach said...

There are some mentally tough kids coming up - some of us saw them in Atlanta...