(December 21, 2013) NORCROSS, Ga. – A pair of 18-year olds in Sachia Vickery and Vicky Duval will play each other Sunday for a main draw wild card into January’s Australian Open. Each advanced to the final of the Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs at Life Time Athletic at Peachtree Corners. Vickery defeated Grace Min, 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-4, and Duval took out Shelby Rogers, 6-4, 7-5. The women’s final begins at 1 p.m.
The men’s final between Steve Johnson, who beat Chase Buchanan, 6-0, 6-4, and Tennys Sandgren, who overcame Denis Kudla, 6-3, 7-6(5), will immediately follow. Both matches will be streamed live at www.australianwildcard.com.
Duval made her mark thanks to her first-round upset of 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur at Flushing Meadows this past August.
Vickery, meanwhile, quietly advanced to the US Open’s second round, beating Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in straight sets. She’s now ranked No. 195, compared to Duval’s No. 168, but the two have a long history against one another in junior play, and Vickery won their only pro meeting – at the USTA Pro Circuit $100,000 event last February in Midland, Mich. – 6-0, 6-4.
“I think I’m always flying under the radar, which, I think, I prefer it that way. I’m a pretty humble person. Being in the spotlight doesn’t bother me that much, but whatever happens happens,” Vickery said. “She’s playing well, and I’m playing well. She’s had an unbelievable summer, and we’re good friends. I just hope we can have a good match tomorrow.”
The women’s final between Duval and Vickery is a match-up between the last two USTA Girls’ 18s National Champions. Vickery won it this summer, earning the accompanying wild card into the US Open. Duval won it in 2012, and she went on to play Kim Clijsters in the first round in what was Clijsters’ final tournament before retiring (Duval qualified for the US Open this year).
Duval, who said she played a “smart” match to get by Rogers, the top seed, figures to have the majority of the crowd behind her in Sunday’s final, having trained at this very club as recently as three years ago.
“They were behind Sachia today, too,” Duval said. “I think it’ll be split up.”
Sunday’s men’s final between two former collegians will be a long one, at least if Sandgren has his way.
The men’s final will be played in the same format as an Australian Open main draw match – best of five sets, no fifth-set tiebreak. Sandgren, who was an all-American at Tennessee before turning pro after the 2011 season, hasn’t ever played a five-set match.
“I really want to. I hope it goes five,” Sandgren said. “I kind of want to see how I stack up in a long match like that.”
Conditioning won’t be a problem for Sandgren, or so said Johnson, the former Southern California star who has played Sandgren twice on the pro tour – most recently in Savannah, Ga., in April – and lost both matches in three sets.
“He’s in shape,” said Johnson, the two-time NCAA singles champion whose serve and forehand have played well on Life Time’s indoor courts. “That guy can run for days, and I’ve seen it. So, it’s going to be a battle and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Johnson, when asked if he’d rather the conditions at this tournament more closely resemble those typical of Australia in January:
“Australia can get pretty hot, so unless they put a nice big heater in here … I think that would be quite uncomfortable for the spectators,” he said. “I like these courts. I don’t mind playing indoors. My serve and forehand, the game style I play, it suits me pretty well.”
Sandgren, 22, is currently ranked at a career-high No. 183 thanks to winning the USTA Pro Circuit Challenger in Champaign, Ill, in November and reaching the semifinals of the Challenger in Knoxville, Tenn., a week earlier.
Those are the best results of Sandgren’s pro career. His run of success has carried on through the offseason, thanks in large part to simply winning a few matchs against higher profile opponents – perhaps against Ryan Harrison in Knoxville and Jack Sock in Champaign.
“Maybe staying calmer, maybe a little bit better belief in myself,” Sandgren said when asked if he knew the reason for his timely surge. “You get a good win, and that can kind of create an avalanche effect that gets you a few more wins. Playing a little closer to the baseline, being a little bit more aggressive, serving pretty well. Those are things I think I’m doing better than I have been.”