Sunday, August 21, 2016

Getting to Know the 2016 US Open Main Draw Wild Cards: WTA Edition

Danielle Collins. © Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise

Earlier this week I took a look at the wild card recipients into men’s singles draw of the 2016 US Open. Today I will be doing the same for the women’s draw. 

Danielle Collins

Danielle Collins is coming into the US Open after one of the most successful individual careers in college tennis history. The 22-year-old Floridian was awarded the wild card that is traditionally reserved for American-born NCAA DI singles champions. The USTA has awarded a main draw wild card to every American-born NCAA champion save for Amanda McDowell in 2008.

Collins played one year at the University of Florida, but it wasn’t until she transferred to the University of Virginia in fall 2013 that she really hit her stride. During her first year as a Virginia Cavalier, Collins won the NCAA singles title for the first time. Collins’ second NCAA title this spring made her the sixth repeat champion in NCAA DI women’s tennis history, but the only repeat champion who didn’t win her titles in consecutive seasons.

Prior to her collegiate career, Collins was a top ranked junior within the United States, but only played a limited number of events on the ITF junior circuit. Collins won a $10,000 level pro circuit title in 2011 but has played few professional events since starting college.

Collins is a big-hitting baseliner with a game that seems primed for a successful transition to the WTA tour. Due to her inactivity professionally, Collins is currently unranked on the WTA but has a career high ranking of #553.

This will be Collins’ second appearance in the US Open main draw, having received the NCAA wild card in 2014. In the first round in 2014, Collins pushed the second seed, Simona Halep, before falling in three sets.

Lauren Davis

Lauren Davis has been a fixture in the top 100 throughout the past few seasons. However, a year filled with uncharacteristic inconsistency caused Davis’ ranking to drop out of the top 100 for the first time since 2012. Davis currently sits at #102 in the WTA rankings.

Lauren Davis
Davis had a standout junior career, reaching number 3 in the ITF junior rankings. In the fall of 2010, she was dominant: she went on an 18-match win streak in junior events and won three top tier titles, including the Eddie Herr International Junior Tennis Championships and the Orange Bowl. 

Davis’ transition to the professional ranks was a steady one. After breaking into the top 100 in 2012, Davis eventually reached a career high ranking of #43. Davis has won seven singles titles on the ITF Pro Circuit, including a $100,000 level event in Midland, Mich. The Ohio native has reached at least the second round of every grand slam.

Davis started out 2016 on a strong note by reaching the third round of the Australian Open. Her results stalled until this summer when she reached her first WTA final in Washington D.C. Davis’ run to the final included a win over the recently crowned gold medalist, Monica Puig of Puerto Rico.

Davis will no doubt be looking to build off of her success from earlier this summer and finish out 2016 on a strong note. This year will mark Davis’ fifth appearance in the US Open main draw. Her best showing came in 2015, when she reached the second round.

Kayla Day

Kayla Day at the 2016 Junior Fed Cup
16-year-old Kayla Day is going to be one of the youngest players in the draw, if not the youngest. Day secured her wild card by winning the USTA Girls’ 18s National Championships in San Diego, Calif. Day was the top seed at the event and dominant until the final, where she was pushed to three sets by seventh-seeded Nicole Frenkel.

Day has been one of the world’s best junior players over the last 12 months; she is currently at a career-high ranking of #5. Day’s junior highlights include a runner-up finish at the Orange Bowl, the semifinals at Junior Wimbledon, and three G1-level titles. Day was a part of the American Junior Fed Cup team which finished second to the Czech Republic last fall.

Day has begun to play ITF pro circuit events with more regularity in 2016 and reached a number of quarterfinals at $25,000 level tournaments. Day’s best result thus far on the pro circuit came in May when she reached the final of a $25,000 tournament in Naples, Fla.

Day is ranked #424 on the WTA rankings, which is a career best. The 2016 US Open was to have been Day’s debut in the main draw of a WTA event, but by reaching the final qualifying round this weekend in New Haven, and following Barbora Strycova's withdrawal, she got lucky loser into the Connecticut Open.

Sofia Kenin

Child prodigies have always seemed to have a place in tennis, especially in the women’s game. Sofia Kenin could definitely be labeled as such, having caught the attention of world-renowned coach Rick Macci at age six. Kenin began to train at Macci’s academy in Florida and has consistently been ranked at the top of the USTA’s girls’ rankings in every age division.

Now 17 years old, Kenin was awarded her wild card on the strength of her results on the USTA Pro Circuit. Her title at the $50,000 event in Sacramento clinched her the wild card reserved for the winner of the US Open Wild Card Challenge. The title was Kenin’s second pro title of the year, the first being at a $25,000 event in Florida in January.

Kenin had an outstanding junior career and has been ranked as high as #2 in the world. In 2014, Kenin won the Orange Bowl and the following summer was the runner up at the junior US Open.

Kenin will be making her second main draw appearance at the US Open. She also received a wild card last year after she won the USTA Girls’ 18s National Championships. Last year Kenin fell in the first round to Mariana Duque-MariƱo.

Vania King

Vania King has been a stalwart presence in American tennis throughout the last decade. King had her breakout season in 2006 when, as a 17-year-old, she won her first and only WTA title in Bangkok and reached a career high ranking of #50.

At 27, King can now be considered a veteran of the tour. She’s been consistently ranked inside of the top 100 in singles during her career and has also established herself as an elite doubles player. King has won 15 tour doubles titles with ten different partners. Kings’ doubles highlights came in 2010, when she teamed with Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan to win Wimbledon and the US Open.

King saw her ranking drop after a neck and back injury kept her out of competition for nearly a full year after the 2014 US Open. She returned to competition at ITF Pro Circuit events just before the US Open last year.

Vania King at the 2015 Redding $50K. © Jonathan Kelley
If the entries for the US Open were to have closed this week instead of a month ago, King would have been comfortably in the draw, as she is currently ranked #88. A string of impressive results at WTA events in Bucharest (semifinals), Montreal (qualified and won a round), and Nanchang (finals) propelled King’s ranking nearly 60 spots.

The 2016 US Open is King’s 12th main draw appearance. Her previous best results were third round finishes in 2009 and 2011.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands

For the first part of her career, Bethanie Mattek-Sands was known more for her unconventional on-court style than her tennis. Now, Mattek-Sands lets her tennis do the talking. Since late 2008, Mattek-Sands has reached four WTA level finals, finishing runner-up at all of them. She achieved a career best singles ranking of #30 in 2011.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands
Mattek-Sands' aggressive, all-court tennis makes her a dangerous opponent for nearly any player in the draw. The variety in Mattek-Sands’ game has translated to success on the doubles court as well. She’s a two-time grand slam champion with partner Lucie Safarova. Mattek-Sands’ latest doubles triumph came at the Olympics, where she won gold in mixed doubles with Jack Sock.

In singles, Mattek-Sands has had a rough year. She is 2-11 in main draw matches, but eight of those losses were in three sets. The lack of wins, though, has caused her singles ranking to drop from #60 at the beginning of the season to #109, where she currently sits.

The 31-year-old veteran will be making her 15th appearance at the US Open. Mattek-Sands’ third round finish last year, where she fell to Serena Williams, was her best singles performance at the US Open.

Mattek-Sands is the top alternate for the main draw. Should another player withdraw, Mattek-Sands will be directly into the main draw and her wild card will be awarded to another player.

Ellen Perez

Australia’s Ellen Perez received a wild card for winning Tennis Australia’s wildcard playoff. She defeated former junior star Ashleigh Barty in the final. Tennis Australia has a reciprocal wild card agreement with the USTA.

Although she is from Australia, Perez has lived in the United States for the past two years. Perez plays college tennis for the University of Georgia. As a Bulldog, Perez has become a top player in the college game. Last year she compiled a 28-7 record at #1 singles and finished the year ranked #5 in the ITA college rankings.

This summer, Perez traveled to Europe to play some professional events. She came through qualifying at three separate $10,000 level events. Perez reached the semifinals, finals, and won these events respectively. Perez’s ranking is currently #725.

The US Open will be Perez’s first US Open main draw appearance. The 20-year-old has also played in the main draw of the Australian Open doubles.

Virginie Razzano

Virginie Razzano of France received her wild card due to the reciprocal agreement that the USTA has with the French Tennis Federation.

Razzano is probably most known for her shocking first round upset of Serena Williams at Roland Garros in 2012. Razzano was ranked outside of the top 100 at the time, and it was Williams’ first career loss in the first round of a grand slam.

Razzano was a top player in her own right for a time, following a breakout season in 2009. Razzano reached her career high ranking of #16 that year, with runs to the fourth round of Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

Razzano has won 2 WTA singles titles and 5 ITF singles titles throughout her career.

At 33 years old and with a ranking of #165, this year’s US Open has the potential to be Razzano’s last. This will mark Razzano’s 15th US Open main draw. She reached the fourth round in 2006.

Final Thoughts

In the past six years, there has been a steady flow of new American talent on the women’s side. There are a lot of worthy candidates for wild cards, but with only a handful of wild cards to hand out, it’s inevitable that players get left out who have a legitimate chance at winning a first round match.

Former junior world number one players CiCi Bellis and Taylor Townsend, as well as UCLA standout Jennifer Brady come to mind. All three are young players with big games, but they will have to come through qualifying. Jessica Pegula, who reached the semifinals of at the Citi Open in DC, and Julia Boserup, who qualified and reached the third round of Wimbledon, will have to qualify as well.


What do you think about the selections for the women’s wild cards? Leave your opinions in the comments below.

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