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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Kudla, Williams and Odesnik Qualify for Australian Open, Three of Top Five ITF Junior Girls Also Reach Main Draw; Isner Wins Auckland Title

Australian Open qualifying is now complete, with three American men reaching the main draw, the most of any country.  Denis Kudla, seeded fourth, beat Alex Kuznetsov, the No. 20 seed and also from the US, 6-4, 6-2 after trailing 4-0 in the opening set.  The 21-year-old from Virginia has been draw to face Florian Mayer of Germany in the first round on Monday (Sunday night in the US).  Wayne Odesnik, the No. 19 seed, beat Adrian Menendez-Maceiras of Spain 6-3, 2-6, 8-6 and has gotten one of the best draws of any qualifier, going up against fellow qualifier Vincent Millot of France, No. 267 in the ATP rankings.  No. 13 seed Rhyne Williams saved a match point serving at 5-6 in the second set tiebreaker before coming back to beat No. 23 seed Thiemo De Bakker of the Netherlands 2-6, 7-6(6), 6-2, but his luck in the draw did not match Odesnik's.  The former Tennessee Volunteer will play No. 5 seed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, who won the ATP title in Sydney last night over Bernard Tomic of Australia.

In addition to the three Americans, Ohio State's 2013 NCAA champion Blaz Rola of Slovenia qualified, coming from a break down in the second set to defeat No. 27 seed Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France 6-1, 6-4.  Including Rola, there are now five former NCAA men's singles champions in the main draw: wild card Steve Johnson of USC (2011, 2012), Stanford's Bradley Klahn(2010), Virginia's Somdev Devvarman(2007, 2008) and Baylor's Benjamin Becker(2004).  Rola will face Federico Delbonis of Argentina on Tuesday.

The news was not as good for the US women, with all three Americans in the final round of qualifying going out. Great Britain's Heather Watson, the No. 7 seed, beat Irina Falconi, the No. 23 seed, 6-4, 7-6(1), but Falconi was drawn as the No. 1 lucky loser and she got in when Jamie Hampton had to withdraw due to a hip injury. Falconi will play Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain on Monday. 

Madison Brengle lost to No. 14 seed Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, and Vicky Duval lost to Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-3.  I was surprised by that last result, particularly the scoreline, not because I don't respect Siniakova's game, but rather due to the advantages Duval had coming in. Duval, while only 18, had had much more experience on the big stage than 17-year-old Siniakova, with Duval qualifying at the US Open last year and famously beating Sam Stosur in the first round after having played Kim Clijsters the year before as a wild card at the US Open, while this was Siniakova's first attempt at qualifying at a major.  Perhaps Siniakova, who is No. 5 in the ITF junior rankings, is just more comfortable in Australia, where she was the Australian Open girls finalist last year.

Ana Konjuh, the girl who beat Siniakova, both in the Australian Open girls final and the Orange Bowl final the previous month, also qualified into the main draw, using the wild card she received as the girls champion. The 16-year-old Croatian, who is planning to have elbow surgery after the Australian Open, beat Olga Savchuk of Ukraine 6-0, 6-3 yesterday. Konjuh is scheduled to play No. 4 seed Na Li of China in the first round Monday, while Siniakova got a much better draw, playing fellow qualifier Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, a 20-year-old ranked 163, who is also playing in her first slam main draw.

Another high profile junior, 2013 ITF junior champion Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, will also be making her main draw slam debut, after the 16-year-old won all three of her qualifying matches in straight sets. After her 6-2, 6-4 win over Marta Sirotkina of Russia in the final round of qualifying, Bencic was placed in the draw against 43-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan. If both Konjuh and Bencic should win those matches, they would play each other in the second round. Konjuh beat Bencic 6-4, 6-2 in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Orange Bowl.

The fourth teen qualifier, Carina Witthoeft of Germany, is only 18, but she hasn't played a junior tournament since 2010, and never got above 744 in the rankings, so I've never seen her play.

In addition to those I've mentioned, other Americans scheduled to play on Monday include wild card Sachia Vickery, who takes on Lauren Davis, both Williams sisters, Sam Querrey, Alison Riske, Madison Keys, Steve Johnson and Michael Russell.

For the complete draws and Monday's order of play, see the Australian Open website.

John Isner won his eighth ATP title Saturday in Auckland, beating Yen-Hsun Lu of Taiwan 7-6(4), 7-6(7) in the final. It is only Isner's second title outside the United States, with the first also being in Auckland, in 2010.  The New Zealand Herald has this article on just how dominating the former Georgia Bulldog's serve has been.

The New Zealand Herald also had this article earlier about former University of Illinois tennis player GD Jones bowing out as coach for teammate Kevin Anderson of South Africa after a short stint in that capacity.