Keys and Levine Book Their Spot into 2012 Australian Open Main Draw

By Erik Gudris

NORCROSS, Georgia – For the players in today’s Men’s and Women’s Finals at the Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs, there was only one goal – win the match and earn the right to walk right into the main draw of next month’s Australian Open.

Madison Keys (Photo by Erik Gudris)

The Women’s Finals featured two young American players, Madison Keys, who won the U.S. Open Wildcard earlier this summer, and Gail Brodsky who is currently ranked No. 229 on the WTA Tour. Keys went in as a slight favorite and her huge serve and powerful groundstrokes allowed her to dictate the tone of the first set. Going up a quick 4-1 on a double break, Keys briefly allowed Brodsky back into the set but managed to serve it out at 6-3.

Brodsky did her best to keep fighting with Keys who often had the last word in some of the longer rallies. Brodsky managed to get two break point chances in the second set at 4-2, but Keys fired off two consecutive aces to hold for a 5-2 lead. But when Keys was serving for it at 5-3, she just let up on her intensity enough to allow Brodsky to break back. Keys resumed her momentum in the next game and on her first match point, she hit a sizzling forehand winner to clinch her wildcard berth into Melbourne with a 6-3, 6-4 win.

Brodsky said afterwards that she didn’t feel that Keys played with any pressure on her. Keys agreed with that thought and spoke about her recent success and how her young age actually helps her when competing, “I’m one of the younger ones still so I’m not really supposed to be winning matches. I’m the underdog when I come into matches so I usually try to play like that but I’m also trying to play more free. That helps me keep it all in perspective.” Keys now plans to travel to Iowa, Boca Raton and then California before heading down under.


Jesse Levine (Photo by Erik Gudris)

The Men’s Finals featured a first time meeting between Jesse Levine of Boca Raton, FL and Kennesaw, GA native Robby Ginepri who is working his way back into the sport after injury sidelined him for most of this year. Local fans were hopeful that Ginepri could delight them with a win today, but unfortunately Ginepri had one of those days that all tennis players can relate to in that nothing worked for him on court. Levine played a steady match throughout while Ginepri often saw his shots sail wide or found him making unnecessary errors on what looked like easy winners.

After losing the first two sets in quick succession, Ginepri took an extended bathroom break before the third set to change his clothes and hopefully change the match. Despite Ginepri mixing up his game with some serve and volley, Levine remained consistent while the errors continued to mount for Ginepri. After breaking Ginepri for a 4-1 lead in the third set, Levine stayed the course and earned a convincing 6-0, 6-2, 6-1 victory that assures him a wildcard berth into the main draw of the Australian Open.

“I was in the zone today and was trying to stay with it,” said Levine about his performance. “After that first set, I was thinking can I keep this up? Robby is a really great competitor and he’s in really great shape. Honestly I was hitting the ball as solid as I could hit it and it all worked out for me today.”

Levine has played mostly challengers during 2011, but his recent results including today has him excited for next year. “I had a really good finish to the year and winning the title in Knoxville was a big boost to my confidence. And so getting back into the big leagues again proves all my hard work is paying off. I’m really excited to be back in the big show again. It feels good.”

Erik Gudris writes and moderates Adjustingthenet.com, a tennis news site. Follow him on Twitter @adjustingthenet.

Tennis Panorama News will be media covering next month’s Australian Open in Melbourne from January 16-29, 2012.


Brodsky Surprises as Levine and Ginepri Set Up Finals Clash for Australian Open Wildcard

Madison Keys (Photo by Tom Grason)

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 – a coveted wildcard berth into next month’s Australian Open.

Both Women’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 didn’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 Vandeweghe’s ability to hit heavy flat winners at will, Brodsky handled Vandeweghe’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, “I wasn’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 it’s hard to deal with obvious errors when the match is that close.” 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 men’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.


Robby Ginepri (Photo by Tom Grason)

Levine will now face in the finals local favorite Robby Ginepri who defeated Rhyne Williams 7-5, 6-2 in the other semifinal. “It’s going to be a really tough match, said Levine, “I’ve never played Robby in a competitive match before. He’s a great player and he moves extremely well and it’s best three out of five tomorrow too so I’m going to rest up tonight. Obviously there’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.”

Sunday’s finals schedule will start at 1pm EST with Gail Brodsky against Madison Keys followed by Robby Ginepri against Jessie Levine.

Erik Gudris writes and moderates Adjustingthenet.com, a tennis news site. Follow him on Twitter @adjustingthenet.


Oudin, Reynolds, Sock Ousted at USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoff

Gail Brodsky (Photo by Tom Grason)


By Steve Pratt

NORCROSS, Georgia – There were no shortage of intriguing storylines Friday during the opening day of the 2011 Kia Motors USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoff taking place at Racquet Club of the South.

Top-seeded Bobby Reynolds was upset by former University of Tennessee star Rhyne Williams, 4-6, 6-4, 10-8.


Fan-favorite and last year’s finalist Jack Sock had to retire from his match because of cramps against rival Denis Kudla after failing to close him out in a second-set tiebreaker.


Sixteen-year-old Madison Keys survived  match point and came back to beat No 3 seeded and Atlanta-area trained player Jamie Hampton, 3-6, 6-4, 9-7.

Coco Vandeweghe held off 15-year-old Taylor Townsend of nearby Stockbridge, 6-4, 6-4 in a two-hour match that featured several long games.

Five players from the Atlanta metropolitan area played on Friday with only Robby Ginepri of Kennesaw moving on to Saturday’s semifinals by way of his 7-6 (4), 6-0 win over reigning NCAA singles champion Steve Johnson of Southern California.

“It’s always a little more nerve wracking playing in front of the hometown crowd,” said Ginepri, a former US Open semifinalist. “But I got to experience that for the first time earlier this summer at this same club (Atlanta Tennis Championships). Even though it’s 35 or 40 miles it’s always good to sleep in your own bed and be close to home.”

Ginepri said this was his first real competitive event since the US Open although he took part in the USTA National Father-Son event last month in Southern California. “It was so fun,” said Ginepri, who teamed with his father to make the consolation final. “I’ve never done anything like that before so it was a great experience. They had players from 8 years old all the way to 77 out there. It’s just a genius idea and I look forward to playing it again in the future.”

Ginepri said he would have preferred to play Acworth’s Reynolds on Saturday in what would have been an all Cobb County matchup. “I think we played in high school and split sets but then stopped because the match was decided,” he said. “We might have played a couple of times in the juniors but never professionally.”

Ginepri and Reynolds were supposed to have met in the semifinals of the Vancouver event earlier in the year but Reynolds was forced to pull out because of an injury. “I’m sure sooner or later we will play,” Ginepri said. “Somewhere down the road we’ll meet.”

The 3-hour and 20-minute long Williams-Reynolds match was the best of the day with Reynolds staving off numerous match points before Williams finally prevailed. “We had some crazy rallies,” Williams said. “I was just praying one of those passing shots would be a winner, and luckily, I hit it in the right spot and he guessed wrong. Hopefully, I’m not too sore tomorrow.”

Williams beat Ginepri 6-2, 6-4 earlier this summer at the Aptos Challenger. “I played the match of my life,” he said. “Hopefully I can do that again because he’s a really good player, obviously. He was a semifinalist in the US Open. It’s going to be tough. I know he’s going to have the crowd behind him too. That’s what it sounded like.”

Kudla had lost to Sock four times in a row in a three-month period last year, including the US Open junior final. “You never want to finish a match like that,” he said of Sock’s defaulting. “You kind of have a little relief that you get to move on in the tournament but you never really get to finish the match. I’ll take it.”

Kudla meets Jessie Levine in the semifinals. “I’m finally healthy,” Levine said after his straight-set win over Daniel Kosakowski, 6-2, 6-4. “Because my ranking fell off I’ve had to go out and play some Futures events. Hey, it’s all part of the job. But it was nice to play in front of a nice crowd today after playing in front of 20 or 30 at a smaller tournament.”

On the women’s side top-seeded Vandeweghe used a new serving motion effectively to beat the aggressor Townsend in two hours. “I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my match,” said Vandeweghe. “I hit six big serves to save three break points in one game and controlled all my service games.”

She added, “(The match) didn’t feel long. I was enjoying it. She played a pretty aggressive playing style. We were both battling out there.”

Vandeweghe was watched intently by her new coach former ATP star Jan-Michael Gambill. Regardless of her result here, she is still planning on going Down Under to start the season. “I will play Auckland, Hobart and then Australia,” she said, adding this and Memphis are her only indoor events all season. “I enjoy it here, the facility, the people. I just love everything about playing here.”

Keys took control of her match against Hampton at 4-2, 40-15 in the third set before Hampton charged back to win that game and then go up 5-4 and held a match point at 7-6.

Keys is the reigning USTA wild-card champion receiving the automatic bid into the US Open back in August after winning the College Park, Md., event. She used the wild card to beat Jill Craybas in the first round before falling to No. 27 seeded Lucie Safarova, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. “I thought I played well in that match,” she said. “But it was still the worst feeling in the world to lose. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be. Being on Armstrong in your first US Open is just such an amazing experience.”

Gail Brodsky disappointed local fans who will not get to see Marietta’s Melanie Oudin play this weekend, beating the local star in three sets, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

Brodsky has been training the last few months at the USTA Training Center – East with USTA national coach Jorge Todero. “I love the city and like the spirit of the coaches there,” she said of training in New York.


Friday’s Quarterfinal Scores


No. 8 Rhyne Williams (Knoxville, Tenn.) def. No. 1 Bobby Reynolds (Acworth, Ga.), 4-6, 6-4, 10-8

No. 2 Jesse Levine (Boca Raton, Fla.) def. No. 7 Daniel Kosakowski (Downey, Calif.), 6-2, 6-4

No. 3 Denis Kudla (Arlington, Va.) def. No. 6 Jack Sock (Lincoln, Neb.), 3-6, 7-6 (4), 5-4, ret.

No. 4 Robby Ginepri (Kennesaw, Ga.) def. No. 5 Steve Johnson (Orange, Calif.), 7-6 (4), 6-0



No. 1 Coco Vandeweghe (Newport Beach, Calif.) def. No. 8 Taylor Townsend (Stockbridge, Ga.), 6-4, 6-4

No. 5 Gail Brodsky (Brooklyn, N.Y.) def. No. 4 Melanie Oudin (Marietta, Ga.), 6-4, 4-6, 6-4

No. 6 Madison Keys (Boca Raton, Fla.) def. No. 3 Jamie Hampton (Auburn, Ala.), 3-6, 6-4, 9-7

No. 2 Alison Riske (McMurray, Pa.) def. No. 7 Grace Min (Duluth, Ga.), 6-0, 6-0


Saturday’s Semifinal Schedule

Beginning at 1 p.m. on Court 2

Alison Riske vs. Madison Keys

Followed by Denis Kudla vs. Jesse Levine

Beginning at 2 p.m. on Stadium Court

Coco Vandeweghe vs. Gail Brodsky

Followed by Robby Ginepri vs. Rhyne Williams



USTA Inks Deal with Atlanta Club to Host Australian Open Wild Card Playoff

The USTA announced on Monday that it has inked a new three-year deal to host its annual Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs at the Racquet Club of the South (RCS), a USTA Certified Regional Training Center in Atlanta.  The 2011 Kia Australian Open Wild Card Playoff, which will be held December 16-18, will mark the third consecutive year that it has been contested at the RCS.  The event will also feature an exhibition match on Friday, December 16, that will be played in a World TeamTennis format, with U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier and USTA Player Development General Manager Patrick McEnroe serving as the team captains.


Eight men and eight women will compete in the wild card playoffs. The USTA secured the opportunity through a reciprocal agreement with Tennis Australia where the two national tennis federations exchange wild cards for the 2011 US Open and the 2012 Australian Open.


“The Racquet Club of the South has been a great host for our Australian Open Wild Card Playoff the past two years.  The Atlanta tennis community has embraced the event and we expect interest to continue to grow in the coming years,” said McEnroe. “The event is a great showcase for our players and promotes our philosophy of having them earn their way into Grand Slam events through competition.”


Teenagers Ryan Harrison and Lauren Davis won last year’s events to earn main draw wild cards into the 2011 Australian Open.  Harrison also won the event in 2009.  Additionally, former Georgia Tech standout Irina Falconi won a USTA playoff to earn a main draw wild card into the 2011 French Open before subsequently reaching the third round at the US Open, and Madison Keys won a USTA playoff to earn entry into the 2011 US Open, where she became the youngest player to win a main draw US Open match since 2005.


The fields for the wild card playoffs will be determined in the upcoming weeks.


For tickets and more information, go to www.australianwildcard.com.  USTA members can receive 10% off their ticket purchases by using the promo code: “usta10off”