Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Wild Cards Scott and Wolf Earn First Tour Level Wins in US Open First Round

©Colette Lewis 2020--

Wild cards have not been able to use any energy from New York crowds rooting for the underdog at this year's US Open, but that hasn't kept them from chalking up victories on one of the sport's biggest, yet eerily silent, stages.

Sixteen-year-old Katrina Scott didn't know she would get her opportunity until a week ago, with the long list of women's withdrawals finally moving her into the top position on the alternate wild card list. She took full advantage Tuesday, beating Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia 7-6(3), 6-2.

"My mom told me you got in, and I was like, no way," Scott said. "I was like, three people have to pull out, and the tournament's a few days away, is it going to happen, is it going to happen, and when she finally told me, I was so excited, no words could explain. I was so excited."

Scott, who was playing in the US Open Juniors last year at this time, had played in a WTA qualifying match, but this was her first match in the main draw of a WTA-level event.

Scott's advantage in the first set tiebreaker was on the backhand side, with Vikhlyantseva making errors to give Scott the 4-1 lead, and Scott closing it out with little drama.

Scott fell behind 2-0 in the second set, and had to save break points serving at 1-2, but she gained momentum and took the final six games of the match.

"I just told myself to stay in it," said Scott, who turned pro last fall. "I know I went down 2-0 and it was tough to get that break back, but I was like, keep fighting. I was able to come back, focus on you, don't focus on anything around you, don't focus on what she's doing, just focus on what I can control, and I think that really helped me. I tuned everything out and just played it point by point."

Scott was excited about her first WTA-level win: "It's amazing, it's a dream come true," she said, her eyes shining, while her smile stayed behind her mask. But those eyes got much bigger when she was asked if there was a favorite player she had encountered while on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. 

"I saw Tsitsipas when I was getting blood tested and I'd seen a lot of the other players before, but when I saw him, I was like, you're real," Scott said. "I'd never seen him in person before, so I was like, oh my god, this is not happening, he just walked right by me. I've seen Venus and Serena before and it's just as amazing seeing them now, but I'd never seen Tsitsipas, so it was like, you're so much taller in real life."

Scott will face fellow American Amanda Anisimova, who just turned 19, but is vastly more experienced, in the second round Thursday. Anisimova defeated Viktoriya Tomova of Bulgaria 7-5, 7-5.

JJ Wolf had made his ATP-tour level debut after qualifying at last week's Western & Southern Open, also held at the National Tennis Center this year, and that may have been an important step in preparing him for an impressive 6-2, 0-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 29 seed Guido Pella of Argentina.

Wolf acknowledged that Pella could have been at a disadvantage, as he was unable to play the Western & Southern because he was required to quarantine due to a member of his team testing positive for Covid-19, 

"It was definitely unfortunate for him," Wolf said in the Zoom press conference after his match. "It's a very tough situation that no one would want to happen to anyone here. That was horrible for him, and I'm not quite sure what his practice regimen, what he was allowed to do, was. It might have been (an advantage for Wolf); I'm not quite sure, but I just tried to stay focused out there and do my best."

Wolf could see a difference in his play today when comparing it to his loss to Richard Gasquet at the Western & Southern Open.

"I think I was just a little bit more under control today," said the 21-year-old, who left Ohio State after his junior season in May of 2019. "I didn't go for a ton of shots; sometimes I can get a little out of control, but today I tried to stay within myself, go deeper into some points and wait for the right ball."

While pleased with his performance, Wolf was even happier to be asked about the hockey jersey he was still wearing, having donned it after his match.

"Blue Jackets, Columbus's team, got the "Wolf" on the back," said Wolf, who like Scott trains at the David Kass Tennis Academy in Columbus. "I'm always trying to represent, wherever I go. I just got it yesterday; my agent brought it, and I was very excited. I had to break it out."

Wolf, who will add at least $100,000 in prize money to his career earnings of $159,000, takes on Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain in the second round Thursday.

After a good opening day, American men did not fare well Tuesday, with two particularly painful losses. Denis Kudla and Mackenzie McDonald both had two sets to none leads over their seeded opponents, but both faded, with Kudla losing to No. 31 seed and 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic of Croatia 6-7(3), 3-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-3 and McDonald falling to No. 30 seed Casper Ruud of Norway 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

In addition to Wolf, who gave the eight men's wild cards their fifth win in the first round, alternate Ernesto Escobedo was another unanticipated winner. After Marcel Granollers of Spain elected not to take the spot in singles he was given when Benoit Paire was removed for testing positive for Covid-19 virus. With Granollers deciding to concentrate on doubles instead of joining the single field, Escobedo was next in line, with the best singles rankings among those in the doubles field, and he used that good fortune to defeat Kamil Majchrzak of Poland 7-6(3), 6-2, 6-3 Tuesday evening. 

Asia Muhammad also gained entry today as an alternate, with Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia withdrawing today, and Muhammad having the highest singles ranking among those in the women's doubles field. Unfortunately, she was unable to match Escobedo's impressive performance on short notice, losing to Olga Govortsova of Belarus 6-1, 6-2.

Due to rain delaying the start of play on the outside courts for more than an hour, and some very long matches (including Andy Murray's incredible 4 hour and 39 minute comeback over Yoshihito Nishioka), several matches were still underway after 11 p.m., but all Americans had finished.

Tuesday’s first round results of US women (9-7):

Sorana Cirstea(ROU) d. Christina McHale 64, 75

Amanda Anisimova[22] d. Viktoriya Tomova(BUL) 75, 75

Sara Sorribes Tormo(ESP) d. Claire Liu[WC] 62, 64

Sofia Kenin[2] d. Yanina Wickmayer(BEL) 62, 62

Katrina Scott[WC] d. Natalia Vikhlyantseva(RUS) 76(3), 62

Alize Cornet(FRA) d. Lauren Davis 63, 16, 60

Madison Keys[7] d. Timea Babos(HUN) 61, 61

Serena Williams[3] d. Kristie Ahn 75, 63

Karolina Muchova[20](CZE) d. Venus Williams 63, 75

Olga Govortsova(BLR) d. Asia Muhammad[Alternate] 61, 62 

Sloane Stephens[26] d. Mihaela Buzarnescu(ROU) 63, 63

Caty McNally d. Viktoria Kuzmova(SVK) 64, 61

Bernarda Pera d. Zarina Diyas(KAZ) 76(4), 60

Sachia Vickery[WC] d. Taylor Townsend 62, 64

Tuesday’s first round results of US men (3-6):

Andrey Kuznetsov(RUS) d. Sam Querrey 64, 76(6), 62

Sumit Nagal(IND) d. Bradley Klahn 61, 63, 36, 61

Casper Ruud[30](NOR) d. Mackenzie McDonald 46, 46, 64, 63, 62

Marin Cilic[31](CRO) d. Denis Kudla  67(3) 36 75 75 63

JJ Wolf[WC] d. Guido Pella[29](ARG) 62, 06, 63, 63

Roberto Bautista Agut[8](ESP) d. Tennys Sandgren 64, 64, 76(3)

Grigor Dimitrov[14](BUL) d. Tommy Paul 64, 63, 61

Ernesto Escobedo[Alternate] d. Kamil Majchrzak(POL) 76(3), 62, 63

Frances Tiafoe d. Andreas Seppi(ITA) 46, 63, 64, 75

Wednesday second round matches featuring US men: (8)

Maxime Cressy[WC] v Stefanos Tsitsipas[4](GRE)

Brandon Nakashima[WC] v Alexander Zverev[5](GER)

Jack Sock v Adrian Mannarino[32](FRA)

Taylor Fritz[19] v Gilles Simon(FRA)

Marcos Giron v Filip Krajinovic[26](SRB)

Steve Johnson v Ricardas Berankis(LTU)

Michael Mmoh[WC] v Jan-Lennard Struff[28](GER)

Mitchell Krueger[WC] v Pablo Carreno Busta[20](ESP)

Wednesday’s second round matches featuring US women:(7)

Madison Brengle v Dayana Yastremska[19](UKR)

Cici Bellis[WC] v Jennifer Brady[28]

Jessica Pegula v Kirsten Flipkens(BEL)

Ann Li v Alison Riske[13]

Shelby Rogers v Elena Rybakina[11](KAZ)

The full order of play for Wednesday is here; note that the first round of doubles is scheduled.