By Erik Gudris
NORCROSS, Georgia – Semifinals Day at the Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs held at the Racquet Club of the South had the feel of a community tennis event with kids practicing their serves on outer courts while spectators wandered around the merchandise and food vendor areas inside the indoor court complex of the club. With all this activity going on around them, the semifinalists must have had to concentrate even twice as hard to keep focus on their main goal â€“ a coveted wildcard berth into next monthâ€™s Australian Open.
Both Womenâ€™s semifinals went the distance but the tone and decibel level of each match was decidedly different. Madison Keys looked sluggish and distracted during the first set in her semi against No. 2 seed Alison Riske who used her low crosscourt forehand to great effectiveness taking the first set. But Keys found her huge serve and didnâ€™t look back for the rest of the match as she went on to secure a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win.
The second semi featured No. 1 seed Coco Vandeweghe against Gail Brodsky. Despite Vandewegheâ€™s ability to hit heavy flat winners at will, Brodsky handled Vandewegheâ€™s pace and supplied plenty of her own in their rallies. Both women split the first two sets 6-3, 3-6 and as the third set started, the vocal outcries from both players showed how much they wanted it. Brodsky jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, but Vandeweghe fought to pull even at 4-4. The next game proved to be a marathon with multiple deuces, but with a break point opportunity, Vandeweghe found herself at net with several chances to end the point. Instead it was Brodsky who chased down a short volley and hit a stunning pass that brought the crowd to its feet. Brodsky finally claimed the game to go up 5-4, first with an ace that was called a fault then corrected as good by the umpire and then the ad point when Vandeweghe hit long.
Both players questioned what seemed to be poor line calls late in the match, but Vandeweghe appeared to be the more frustrated of the two, even at one point engaging in a long conversation with the umpire before the start of a game. That frustration, plus having to serve from behind in the final set proved too much for Vandeweghe as Brodsky passed her at net on her first match point to claim a 6-3, 3-6, 9-7 win.
Afterwards, Brodsky talked about the issues with the officiating saying, â€œI wasnâ€™t that upset about the calls because I can understand the situation as it was pretty dark inside and we both hit the ball pretty fast so I can understand where the mistakes would come from. But obviously itâ€™s hard to deal with obvious errors when the match is that close.â€ Brodsky later credited her recent off-season training with the USTA for giving her the stamina she needed to pull off the upset.
On the menâ€™s side, both semifinals saw convincing wins with the same scoreline. No. 2 seed Jesse Levine defeated No. 3 seed Denis Kudla 7-5, 6-2 that saw Levine close out the match with an ace. Levine, who since September has climbed 300 spots in the ATP rankings to No. 164, credited his new fitness trainer Austin Brock and a new coaching team that includes Tarik Benhabilies with helping him stay healthy.
Levine will now face in the finals local favorite Robby Ginepri who defeated Rhyne Williams 7-5, 6-2 in the other semifinal. â€œItâ€™s going to be a really tough match, said Levine, â€œIâ€™ve never played Robby in a competitive match before. Heâ€™s a great player and he moves extremely well and itâ€™s best three out of five tomorrow too so Iâ€™m going to rest up tonight. Obviously thereâ€™s a lot at stake for both of us. Three out of five sets is always a physical and mental battle so I will prepare myself the best way that I can.â€
Sundayâ€™s finals schedule will start at 1pm EST with Gail Brodsky against Madison Keys followed by Robby Ginepri against Jessie Levine.