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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Four US Qualifiers Join Thirty-One Other Americans as US Open Juniors Kick Off Sunday; Young US Teams Make Mixed Doubles Quarterfinals

Kimberley Yee, Nicole Gibbs, Julia Elbaba and Michael Redlicki made it through US Open junior qualifying Saturday, and they will have plenty of company from other Americans in the main draw which begins on Sunday.

Yee, a wild card into qualifying, beat top seed Maria Ines Deheza of Bolivia on Friday, then earned her first junior slam berth with a 6-1 6-4 win over Valeria Salazar of Mexico today. By contrast, Gibbs, the Stanford sophomore, is playing in the main draw of the US Open juniors for the fourth straight year after a tough 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 victory over fellow American Jennifer Brady. Elbaba, who qualified last year as well, beat fellow American Blair Shankle 6-2, 6-2 in the final round this year.

Michael Redlicki received a main draw wild card last year by virtue of his Kalamazoo 16s title. This year, he received a qualifying wild card and took out No. 7 seed Hassan Ndayishimiye of Burundi 6-2, 6-1 Friday and Luke Bambridge of Great Britain 6-3, 6-4 today to earn his way back into the main draw.

My "What to Watch" Sunday for the New York Times Straight Sets blog can be found here.

The complete draws for the juniors can be found at usopen.org.

The order of play for Sunday, which includes half the field (none of the qualifiers and none of the Canadian Open Grade 1 finalists), is here.

There were some surprising results in mixed doubles action today, with two young American teams taking down reigning Grand Slam champions. First it was the wild card team of Irina Falconi and Steve Johnson, who beat No. 2 seeds and Australian Open mixed doubles champions Daniel Nestor of Canada and Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia 6-4, 3-6, 10-8 on Court 7, with Johnson hitting a service winner to clinch the win for the 21-year-old Americans, who are playing in their first Grand Slam mixed doubles competition.

Shortly after Falconi and Johnson completed their upset, the wild card team of Melanie Oudin and Jack Sock took the court against 2010 US Open mixed doubles champions Liezel Huber and Bob Bryan, the top seeds. When I arrived at the new Court 17, I was surprised to find it standing room only, and by the time I found the media seating, Sock and Oudin were well on their way to losing the first set 6-2. But the huge and noisy crowd, who were decidedly favoring the young underdogs, saw a big change in momentum in the second set, when up a break, Huber couldn't find her serve, while Sock and Oudin began to eliminate their unforced errors, and win deciding points in the no-ad format.

After the teenagers took the second set 6-3, and received an enthusiastic ovation from the crowd, it still seemed unlikely they would prevail over the more experienced Huber and Bryan, who have 24 grand slam doubles titles between them. But trailing 4-1 in the match tiebreaker, everything started to go right for Sock and Oudin. Oudin covered for Sock on a point and won it, and that seemed to buoy their confidence. Sock won both his serves at 4-5, and leading 6-5, Sock blistered a forehand return winner off Huber's serve to make it 7-5. Huber missed a volley to make it 8-5, and on Oudin's serve, Sock poached for a clean winner to give his team four match points. They only needed two. Sock missed an easy volley at net on the first, grasping his hair in disbelief, but Huber missed on the next point to render that error insignificant.

The fans seemed more excited for Sock and Oudin than they were for themselves, and when I left a few minutes after the match, Sock, Oudin and Bryan were all still signing the giant tennis balls and programs that dozens of fans were extending to them.

With all the upsets, and two second round matches left to play, there are only two seeded teams remaining in the mixed doubles draw.