Steve Johnson, Sachia Vickery Earn Main Draw Wild Cards into 2014 Australian Open

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

(December 22, 2013) NORCROSS, Ga. – Steve Johnson and Sachia Vickery each earned main draw wild cards into January’s Australian Open by winning a tournament they almost didn’t play.


Vickery, 18, defeated fellow 18-year old Victoria Duval, 6-2, 6-3, while Johnson, 23, defeated 22-year old Tennys Sandgren, 4-6, 6-3, 0-6, 7-6(5), 6-1, in Sunday’s finals of the Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs at Life Time Athletic at Peachtree Corners in Norcross, Ga.


Johnson and Vickery are now into the singles main draw in Melbourne – Vickery’s first appearance there, Johnson’s second – after winning three matches in three days against some of their up-and-coming American contemporaries in the yearly indoor, hard-court event that easily could have featured neither of them.


Johnson contemplated pulling out of it while recovering from a leg injury, while Vickery entered the field as an alternate after Melanie Oudin withdrew.


Sachia Vickery

Sachia Vickery

“I was getting ready to go to Auckland, and my coach was like, ‘Well you might get in,’” said Vickery, who called both her mother, Paula Liverpool, and her coach, USTA National Coach Kathy Rinaldi, after the match. “So, I was like, ‘Yeah, we’ll see what happens. If it happens, great. If not, I have qualies.’ … I’m very religious, and my mom always says God puts things in situations for a reason.”


Vickery, ranked No. 195, earned her second straight wild card into a Grand Slam. She won the USTA Girls’ 18s National Championship this summer to gain entry into the US Open, where she advanced to the second round in her Grand Slam debut.


Saying she fought nerves the whole match, Vickery bothered the rangier Duval, ranked No. 168, by mixing up her serve placement, being aggressive and hitting a few down-the-line winners.


Last year, Madison Keys won the Australian Open Wild Card Playoff, using it as a launching pad for her breakout 2013 season. Keys advanced to the third round in Melbourne and is now the youngest player in the WTA Top 40 at No. 38.


Vickery said she didn’t feel any challenge to live up to her predecessor.


“I don’t feel pressure right this second because I haven’t even processed the fact that I won. I’m sure once the start of the tournament comes around I’ll start feeling it a little bit,” Vickery said. “I’m just so happy to be in the tournament. I wasn’t even supposed to be in this tournament. I barely got in. So, I can’t ask for anything else. I’m just happy to be there.”


Johnson, ranked No. 156, could say the same thing. The former Southern California star, who injured his left ankle midway through the fourth set and came back with it heavily taped, faced a match point while serving at 4-5 to the 183rd-ranked Sandgren.


Johnson, who won consecutive NCAA singles titles in 2011-12, hit an ace on match point, came back to win the fourth set in a tiebreak and cruised in the fifth.


“I just kind of ran the best play I could. Luckily, it worked, and here we are,” Johnson said. “That’s just tennis. He’s one point away from winning, and 20 minutes later I’m up a break and trying to squeeze him for another one.”


Johnson lost in the first round of every Grand Slam in 2013. At the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, he lost in five sets.


“I’m excited to finally win a five-set match,” he said. “I’m 0-for-4 in life, 0-for-3 this year, so I’m glad to get one.”


USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs Roundup for Friday, December 20, 2013

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

(December 20, 2013) NORCROSS, Ga.  – Denis Kudla and Steve Johnson are still on the outside looking in, hoping 2014 is a year their perspectives change for good.


Kudla and Johnson, both of whom spent time in the Top 100 this summer, each won their opening matches in the 2013 Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs, pocketing the first of three victories needed here to earn a wild card entry into January’s Australian Open and bypass the qualifying rounds that must be achingly familiar to both players.


Kudla, the tournament’s top seed, beat former No. 1 collegian Jarmere Jenkins, 6-4, 6-1, while No. 3 Johnson overcame 2011 French Open boys’ champion Bjorn Fratangelo, 6-3, 7-6(2). Afterwards, each player spoke on last year’s successes they’d like to repeat and the letdowns they hope to avoid.


Johnson, for instance, logged his first full season on tour in 2013 after leaving USC as one of the most decorated college tennis players ever, winning two straight NCAA singles titles and four consecutive team titles, and promptly reaching the third round of the 2012 US Open.


Last year, he qualified for the French Open then won a Challenger in Great Britain, after which he was awarded a wild card into Wimbledon. He peaked at No. 97 in early July. Following a first-round loss at this summer’s US Open, though, Johnson lost six of seven matches to end the season. His ranking has fallen to No. 156.


“I try to forget about after the Open,” Johnson laughed. “It was a tough couple-month stretch for me. I didn’t win too many matches, but, you know, that’s life. I don’t think I handled the end of the year very well. Especially it being my first year on tour, I think I let the little things really get to me, and I think that’s what led to the bad stretch up north and then to the indoor Challengers.


“That’s all behind me,” he added, “and I hope to learn from that and in this upcoming year just get to the end and really know what to do.”


Kudla, meanwhile, spent 11 weeks in the Top 100 in 2013, ascending as high as No. 90 after qualifying for both the French Open and Wimbledon – reaching the second round there – and making a quarterfinal appearance at the ATP Queen’s Club event in London.


According to the 21-year old from Arlington, Va., it was a “couple of off weeks” that he could have handled better last year to avoid sliding back to No. 114, outside the cut-off ranking for direct acceptances into Grand Slams, where he believes he belongs.


That was perhaps most evident when Kudla elected to not defend his points at the USTA Pro Circuit Challenger in Charlottesville, Va., in November — a tournament he won in 2012 — but instead played in qualifying at the ATP Masters in Paris, where he lost his first match.


“You get to a certain ranking and you get into Masters, you gotta play up. That’s how I look at it, at least,” Kudla said. “You gotta play the Masters and get to the next level. I’m not trying to be the best Challenger player. I’m trying to be the best Masters player, Grand Slam player.


“I could have had a little better consistency, for sure,” he added. “I thought I had a bad start to the year. I thought last year’s offseason I could have done a lot better, and the U.S. swing I thought should have been way better. And at the end of the year I got hurt, so I kind of just said to myself, ‘Stay healthy.’ Then I really just focused on what I did, and it was kind of a couple of off-weeks I thought I could have handled a little bit better. Hopefully I can repeat the year and do it better.”


Jenkins, who grew up a short distance away in College Park, Ga., drew comparisons to Gael Monfils from Kudla, who scrapped the strategy he employed against Jenkins when they were kids.


“I played him when I was younger, and I would just try to hit winners,” Kudla said of Jenkins, who nearly won the NCAA “triple crown” last spring at Virginia, winning the NCAA team and doubles titles and reaching the singles final. “But he’s like Monfils, he’s so fast. It’s insane. He’s an incredible athlete. So, I tried to just wear him down, tried to move him left and right. I kind of executed my game plan really well, served really well, was just able to stay on him and came out with a bit easier victory maybe than planned.”


Chase Buchanan, the 2012 NCAA doubles champion at Ohio State, fought off Rhyne Williams to earn a comeback victory, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-2, over the 2011 NCAA singles finalist from Tennessee.


Williams, ranked No. 130, served for the match at 5-4 in the second set but was broken by the No. 307-ranked Buchanan, who then won a second-set tiebreak and hit, by his estimation, five aces over the final two games of the match to close out Williams, who won last year’s Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs.


Through the fall, Buchanan has played largely outside of the United States – winning Futures titles in Bolivia and Ecuador — and playing in tournaments through South America, Japan and Thailand.


“I think it’s really good to get away from playing the same people every single week in the same places,” he said. “I think it’s good to get away, change things up. It gives you a new perspective on kind of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”

Victoria Duval

Victoria Duval

Vicky Duval, several months removed from becoming an international star at the US Open by defeating 2011 champion Samantha Stosur in the first round, fell behind to Maria Sanchez in the first set at 4-1 and 5-2, crediting nerves for her slow start and her improving serve for powering her 7-5, 7-5 victory.


“My serve was never my weapon,” Duval said. “I’ve worked really hard to turn it into that, so I was happy that I could really count on it in the tough times.”


When asked if he thought was an “unknown commodity” internationally, Tennys Sandgren answered by saying, “I don’t feel like I really should be known.”


Sandgren is currently at his career-high ranking of No. 183, after finishing 2013 with his first USTA Pro Circuit Challenger title, at Champaign, Ill. On Friday, he credited his movement on court in his 6-3, 6-0 victory over Austin Krajicek.


2013 Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs

Day 1 results




No. 1 Denis Kudla d. Jarmere Jenkins, 6-4, 6-1

Chase Buchanan d. No. 2 Rhyne Williams, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-2

No. 3 Steve Johnson d. Bjorn Fratangelo, 6-3, 7-6(2)

No. 4 Tennys Sandgren d. Austin Krajicek, 6-3, 6-0



No. 1 Shelby Rogers d. Sanaz Marand, 6-4, 6-2

Sachia Vickery d. No. 2 Madison Brengle, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3

No. 3 Grace Min d. Nicole Gibbs, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5

No. 4 Victoria Duval d. Maria Sanchez, 7-5, 7-5


Order of play for December 21, 2013

Stadium (7)

12:00 PM

1st Match

DUVAL, Victoria (4) vs. ROGERS, Shelby (1)

Followed by

Kudla, Denis (1) vs. SANDGREN, Tennys (4)


Court 5

12:00 PM

1st Match

MIN, Grace (3) vs Vickery, Sachia (7)

Followed by

JOHNSON, Steve (3) vs. BUCHANAN, Chase (7)

For updated draws, each day’s order of play and match live streaming, visit the official tournament site at www.australianwildcard.com.


Thirteen American Men Accepted Into Australian Open Qualies

James Blake

James Blake

(December 18, 2012) Thirteen American men have been accepted into the Qualifying draw of the 2013 Australian Open. They include James Blake, Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, Denis Kudla, Alex Kuznetsov, Wayne, Rajeev Ram, Tennys Sandgren, Tim Smyczek, Ryan Sweeting, Michael Yani and Donald Young.


Rhyne Williams also was accepted into qualifying, but Williams claimed a wild card entry into the main draw by winning the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoff last weekend. Bradley Klahn and Daniel Kosakowski are the second and third listed alternates, respectively.


The 2013 Australian Open qualifying tournament begins on January 7 in Melbourne.


The USTA reports that Jesse Levine is listed as an American on the Australian Open qualifying acceptance list, but will be representing Canada in Melbourne.


The Australian Open women’s qualifying acceptance list will be announced at a later date.