Monday, August 24, 2015

34 Americans in the 2015 US Open qualies

Perhaps because it's August and there is no snow in New York, sledding may prove to be quite difficult for the 21 American women and 13 American men in the qualifying draw of the US Open, which starts tomorrow (Tuesday, August 25) at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Each player will vie to win 3 best-of-three matches that are usually quite intense (most of these players are fighting to make a living in tennis). Effectively there are 16 mini-tournaments happening in each of the two draws. 8 players are in each section, two of whom are seeds, and the winner moves on to be placed randomly in the main draw.

The prize money is the same for both men and women ($5,000 for playing, $10K for second-round losers, $15K for final round losers, $39,500 for qualifying) but the points available differs significantly.

Women get 2 points just for playing, a big 20 points for winning a round of qualies, 30 total for reaching the final round, and 40 for qualifying. Men get 0 just for playing, 8 for winning a round, 16 for winning 2 rounds, and 25 for qualifying. (The ATP continues to be less generous points-wise in each stage of the main draw, until the final, when both men and women earn 2,000 points.)

I've been to US Open qualies a few times now and it ranks as perhaps my favorite in-person tennis experience. Admission is free so I would STRONGLY encourage anyone in the area to take time to check out the matches, and if you can, cheer for some of these Americans:

Women's Draw

Melanie Oudin, via Twitter
In the top section of the women's draw is very familiar face, Melanie Oudin, whose recent struggles are featured in today's article. She will face Elitsa Kostova (BUL) in what is, in theory, a winnable match (Kostova is 2-10 in her last 12 matches including qualies). But just being on court is, for Oudin, a victory right now. Wild card Jessica Pegula - another player who has been trying to come back this year from an extended layoff - is also in that section, and will face #200 Shuka Aoyama (JPN), who is 5-17 this year with only one win over a Top 300 player (then-#184 Zhaoxuan Yang). Leading that section is #1 seed Margarita Gasparyan, who has shot up to #71 in the rankings, but too recently to gain direct entry into the main draw. She will be an incredibly tough foe for any player in that section.

Only one player representing the USA, Anna Tatishvili (ranked #121), is seeded in either draw. (This is because the other players eligible for seeds all got main draw wild cards.)  As the #16 seed, Tatishvili plays former Top 40 Russian Ksenia Pervak. Pervak qualified for the US Open last year - and took Angelique Kerber to 7-5 in the 3rd in the first round - but has played sparingly since, with two summer tournaments her only 2015 events. The winner of that match will play Varatchaya Wongteanchai (THA) or Laura Pous-Tio (ESP). If Tatishvili survives her first-round match she'll be a strong candidate for the main draw.

The next-highest ranked American in qualies is Alexa Glatch, whose long comeback from injury is continuing apace. She will face #15 seed Alla Kudryavtseva (RUS) in what is one of the highlight matches of the first round. Next up for the winner will be either Thai #1 Luksika Kumkhum or by far the highlight story of the tournament, American Vicky Duval, whose recovery from Hodgkin's lymphoma has been much chronicled (and whose failure to receive a main draw wild card has been much scrutinized). Also in that section are first-round opponents Grace Min and Shelby Rogers, both of whom are trying to come out of extended slumps. They faced each other a couple of weeks ago at the Landisville $25K, with Rogers winning 6-1 6-3. Prior to that match, they had split their first 6 meetings. Rounding out that incredibly packed section of the draw are former Top 100 players Mandy Minella (LUX) and Stefanie Voegele (SUI).

The winner of the months-long U.S. Open National Playoffs this year was Jennifer Elie, a 28-year-old veteran who was once ranked in the Top 300 but is currently down to #654. Elie, making her Grand Slam debut, drew Zhang Shuai, a Chinese player who as recently as last summer was #30 in the world. Ouch. But the 20 points a win would bring would be massive - it would vault her back near #500.

Several American teens are in qualies, including wild cards Raveena Kingsley (faces #30 seed Andrea Hlavackova), Usue Maitane Arconada (drew #19 seed Maria-Teressa Torro-Flor), Bernarda Pera (got Renata Voracova), Claire Liu (tough Paraguayan Veronica Cepede Royg), Tornado Alicia Black (#22 seed Romina Oprandi), and direct entrants Katerina Stewart (faces big-hitting American resident Naomi Osaka), Taylor Townsend (Pauline Parmentier) and CiCi Bellis (44-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm).

UCLA stars Robin Anderson and Jennifer Brady got tough draws in #8 seed Kiki Bertens (NED) and #7 seed Elizaveta Kulichkova (RUS), respectively. Former USC star Maria Sanchez drew Turkey's Ipek Soylu. Recent American, veteran Edina Gallovits-Hall, drew almost-was UCLAer Mayo Hibi (JPN). And finally, Julia Boserup got a fellow Julia, Israel's Glushko.

Men's Draw

Like with the women, several up-and-coming teens are featured among the 13 Americans in the men's draw. Americans feature in 10 of the 16 sections, but none is a seed.

Four of the men received direct entry to the qualifying tournament. Alexander Sarkissian drew Jan Mertl (CZE), a 33-year-old who has yet to qualify in 28 attempts at Grand Slams. (Last year, Taylor Harry Fritz beat Mertl in the first round of US Open qualies.) The winner will face #4 seed Tatsuma Ito (JPN) or Aslan Karatsev (RUS). Daniel Nguyen will face Canadian Philip Bester in what should be a great one - they have split two three-set matches in Canadian Futures events in the past 12 months, and have 207 and 209 rankings points, respectively. Their winner faces either Yuki Bhambri (IND) or Yoshihito Nishioka (JPN), playing their own potential barn burner.

Dennis Novikov gets Portugal's Gastao Elias, a frequent competitor in US-based challengers. The two played in April in the first round of the green clay Sarasota Challenger - Elias won 7-6(5) 6-2. And Jarmere Jenkins will face Argentina's Maximo Gonzalez, who will be playing his first hard-court match since April. He's 1-4 on hard this year, with his one win coming over Bjorn Fratangelo. For his part, Jenkins has lost 7 of his 8 matches, and prior to playing qualies in Winston-Salem on Saturday, hadn't played a tour match since Wimbledon (he has played World Team Tennis, however).

The other 9 Americans are all wild cards. The winner of the men's US Open National Playoffs was Jesse Witten, former University of Kentucky player. He got a very difficult draw, with rising Australian (and SEC school rival via University of Tennessee) JP Smith (18). 2014 NCAA champion Marcos Giron (UCLA), who played in the main draw last year, drew Alejandro Gonzalez (15/COL), who has hard-court wins over Tim Smyczek and Ryan Shane (and no one else) this summer. Noah Rubin (Wake Forest), who also played in the main draw last year as Kalamazoo champion, drew #257 Liang-Chi Huang, who will be playing his first match outside Asia/Pacific since 2011 and his first non-Futures match since May.

Many, many eyes will be on teens Fritz, Stefan Kozlov, Reilly Opelka, Michael Mmoh, and Tommy Paul, all of whom were in the 2015 Kalamazoo quarterfinals, and four of whom are junior grand slam finalists or champions (and most of whom will be playing in the US Open Juniors). Kozlov gets Argentina's Guido Andreozzi, who qualified in his first attempt at a Grand Slam (2012 US Open) but hasn't done so since. Opelka got Swede (nee Brazilian) Christian Lindell, to whom he lost in January in the first round of a Futures tournament in Florida on green clay. Lindell is another clay-courter - a tournament last week in Brazil was his first of the year on hard.

Tommy Paul, via Twitter
Mmoh got a very tricky opponent in Australian Matthew Ebden (26) who has been killing it in Challengers the past several months. Paul drew former Ohio State standout Blaz Rola (SLO/24) who got a big win over Denis Kudla in Washington, D.C. And Fritz drew #19 seed Luca Vanni, who just won a hard court Challenger in Portoroz, Slovenia.

Finally, Mitchell Krueger got a winnable foe in Belgian Niels Desein, who has retired from 2 of his last 3 matches. The winner could face Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO), who recently entered the Top 100 and who has been on an incredible tear starting with the French Open qualies, where he beat Fratangelo and Jared Donaldson.

Odds are that at least a couple of Americans will qualify but with so many former Top 100 opponents, plus variously the inexperience, injuries, and poor form of many of the Americans, nothing should be taken for granted. Hopefully the home crowd will show up and help the home players advance over the coming week!

How many Americans will qualify for 2015 US Open?