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Friday, June 25, 2021

Thirty-year-old Danielle Lao Qualifies for Wimbledon Debut; 34 Americans, Most This Century, Begin Quest for Wimbledon Title Next Week

Danielle Lao

Danielle Lao had come close before, losing in the final round of Wimbledon qualifying two years ago at Roehampton, but after she defeated Urszula Radwanska of Poland 6-3, 6-2 today to reach the main draw, the 30-year-old from Southern California was still searching for a way to describe her emotional state.

"It's hard to find the words," said the former USC All-American. "I fell short the last time I was here, but being here and getting it done this time, it really is a dream come true."

Lao had only one grass court match prior to her run this week, which included a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 second round win over No. 2 seed and WTA No. 105 Viktoriya Tomova of Bulgaria, a first round loss in last week's Nottingham $100K. 

"I typically enjoy grass," Lao said. "It just seems to suit my game. Given the limited amount of tournaments, I didn't have too many opportunities to have warmup events coming into here and I had a tough first round in qualifying in Nottingham, I played Arina Rodionova. I didn't have any matches before that, much less grass practice. Coming into Wimbledon, it makes you a little apprehensive, how ready are you?, especially not getting the matches you normally get in seasons prior, but I just took it one day at a time, started building on practices, just do my best to improve a little bit, refine my game day by day during the five days I had here."

Lao has twice qualified for the US Open, in 2017 and 2018, but this is her first main draw at a slam outside the United States. As happy as she is to play in the main draw at Wimbledon for the first time, the pandemic protocols in place for the tournament keep her from sharing it with her family.

"The only unfortunate thing is maybe that we have limited people allowed in the bubble," said Lao, who is in London with her boyfriend, as well as former Georgia Tech star and WTA Top 100 player Irina Falconi. "I wish my family was here to see it, my mom and my dad and my sister, but it still feels super sweet to come through in these adverse times."

The 31-year-old Falconi, who played in the Wimbledon main draw five times, has been an important source of information for Lao.

"She's been helping me out, sharing her experience with me," Lao said. "It's been really great to have her on the road."

Lao appreciates what the approximately $66,000 first round prize money will mean for her going forward.

"It definitely relieves a little pressure for the rest of the year, with expenses and such," Lao said. "At the end of the day it's a profession, people make a living doing this and I'm trying to make a living doing this, so it's great to have a payday like this. This is what we train so hard for, to do well at these really big events."

Lao, who plays British wild card Katie Boulter in the first round, is ready to savor the moment of her Wimbledon debut.

"It's not something I always knew would happen, but going little by little, improving here and there, maybe you find yourself in places you didn't expect yourself to be in," Lao said. "It's been a long journey to get to this point, but it's really nice to see the accumulation of many years of work and a deep passion come through in such an important event."

The other former Pac-12 star in qualifying today, Kristie Ahn(Stanford), lost to Monica Niculescu of Romania but received entry into the main draw as a lucky loser, with 2019 champion Simona Halep withdrawing early today with an injury.

Former Georgia star Ellen Perez of Australia qualified for a slam for the first time, with the 25-year-old. defeating Oceane Dodin of France 7-6(4), 7-6(5).

The three former collegians qualifying for the men's main draw are Brandon Nakashima(Virginia), Mackenzie McDonald(UCLA) and Arthur Rinderknech(Texas A&M) of France. 

The draws were released today, with 21 US women and 13 US men in the singles draws, the most Americans in a Wimbledon draw since 35 competed in 1998. Below are the matchups; the order of play is not yet available for Monday, so I'll post these again the day before the matches are played. There is one all-US (all-San Diego) men's match: Nakashima vs Taylor Fritz, and one all-US women's match: Madison Brengle vs Christina McHale. 

The top half of the women's draw has just five Americans, while the bottom half has 16. Given that, it's a miracle there aren't more US vs US first round matches. The headings are links to the draws.

Denis Kudla[Q] v Alejandro Davidovich Fokina[30](ESP)
Frances Tiafoe v Stefanos Tsitsipas[3](GRE)
Mackenzie McDonald[Q] v Karen Khachanov[25](RUS)
Sebastian Korda v Alex Di Minaur[15](AUS)
Reilly Opelka[27] v Dominik Koepfer(GER)

John Isner[28] v Yoshihito Nishioka(JPN)
Taylor Fritz[31] v Brandon Nakashima[Q]
Steve Johnson v Dennis Novak(AUT)
Tennys Sandgren v Norbert Gombos(SVK)
Sam Querrey v Pablo Carreno Busta[11](ESP)
Marcos Giron v Emil Ruusuvuori(FIN)
Tommy Paul v Carlos Alcaraz[WC](ESP)

Coco Vandeweghe v Olga Govortsova[Q](BLR)
Amanda Anisimova v Magda Linette(POL)
Coco Gauff[20] v Francesca Jones[WC](GBR)
Bernarda Pera v Nao Hibino(JPN)
Serena Williams[6] v Aliaksandra Sasnovich(BLR)

Ann Li v Nadia Podoroska(ARG)
Alison Riske[28] v Tereza Martincova(CZE)
Jessica Pegula[22] v Caroline Garcia(FRA)
Kristie Ahn[LL] v Heather Watson
Sloane Stephens v Petra Kvitova[10](CZE)
Lauren Davis v Jodie Burrage[WC](GBR)
Madison Keys[23] v Katie Swan[Q]
Danielle Collins v Polona Hercog(SLO)
Madison Brengle v Christina McHale
Sofia Kenin[4] v Xinyu Wang[Q](CHN)
Katie Volynets[Q] v Irina-Camelia Begu(ROU)
Venus Williams[WC] v Mihaela Buzarnescu(ROU)
Shelby Rogers v Samantha Stosur(AUS)
Claire Liu[Q] v Misaki Doi(JPN)
Danielle Lao[Q] v Katie Boulter[WC](GBR)

The doubles draws were also released today, with the men's doubles draw here and the women's doubles draw here.