Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs Women’s Preview
by Steve Fogleman, TennisEastCoast.com
I won’t lie. I laugh inside when I see Jesse Levine’s picture next to the slogan, “See the Future of American Tennis”. He’s a good American player, but Madison Keys. Now there’s the ‘future’.
Eight women are headed to Atlanta this week with the chance to take home a main draw wild card to the 2013 Australian Open. The field is extremely competitive, with an average #143 player ranking. The men’s field averages a paltry #252 in comparison.
But beware: The seeding could be misleading. 6 and 7 seeds Irina Falconi and Bethanie Mattek-Sands could make all those numbers next to everyone’s names very irrelevant if either of them bring their big game to Norcross.
Top Seed Julia Cohen of Philadelphia comes off a good summer after reaching her first WTA final in Baku. The run in Azerbaijan may have been just the confidence booster Cohen needs as she nears the top 100. That confidence may or may not be enough as she looks to take on the likes of this field. She’ll open against 8 seed Alison Riske.
At 23, Alexa Glatch has done it all. Almost. Despite appearing in eight Grand Slams, she’s never played a main draw singles match in Melbourne. She looks to change that next weekend. Unfortunately, she has the misfortune of drawing the 7 seed Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the opening round. She beat Mattek-Sands on the grass in Birmingham in 2009 in straights. In the players only other meeting, Mattek-Sands was a straight sets winner on the clay at Dothan in 2008.
3 seed Maria Sanchez is the only women’s wild card contender who has never played in a Grand Slam main draw match. The former USC standout’s meteoric rise from world #657 to her current status in the top 130 is exactly the script you would want to write for a player who took the time to go to college. She burst from the gate at the conclusion of her education and shows no signs of slowing down. She draws 6 seed Irina Falconi. The tough draw of the local favorite and a woman determined to return to the top 100 means Sanchez will have a difficult time fighting her way into a grand slam on this particular weekend.
Madison Keys has already unlocked success before in them thar Wild Card hills. Last year’s Australian Open and US Open Wild Card winner, Keys is always a difficult opponent. Last year, she shocked as a 6 seed. As a 4 seed this year, she’ll open against Georgia fave Mallory Burdette. She beat Burdette in their only prior meeting in Lexington earlier this year.
Stanford alum Mallory Burdette is set to make her first AO WC Playoffs appearance. The 5 seed matriculated to the pro scene this summer after being awarded a wild card to the US Open, which was put to good use in advancing to the third round. Her matchup with Keys is a tossup.
And then there’s Irina Falconi, the ‘6’ seed. Despite a difficult year for her, she could romp this field if her fitness is at 2011 form. It is fair to say that she will be a prohibitive crowd favorite. In addition to living in Atlanta, she played college tennis at Georgia Tech. While she obviously would’ve preferred to be granted a wild card outright, playing for it in front of her former teammates and friends is the next best thing for her. She draws Maria Sanchez in the first round, who has beaten Falconi twice this year in straight sets at Albuquerque and Surprise.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands is another surprising VIP at a Wild Card Playoff. A veteran top tier player less than 18 months ago, her shoulder recovery has been slow. In all honesty, Mattek-Sands would rather not be here. If she’s physically able to perform any where near last year’s level, she is an easy choice to pick for the Sunday final.
8 seed Alison Riske has been grinding all year, and yet her ranking has steadily and slowly dropped. While she could surprise Cohen in the first round on Friday, a match up with the Keys-Burdette winner on Saturday would probably be too much to ask. Last year, she lost in the second round at the AOWC Playoffs only to qualify in Melbourne weeks later.
I’ve got at least three or four of my favorite American WTA players in this field. Here’s how I think it will all go down.
Predictions: (Quarterfinals) Cohen d. Riske, Mattek-Sands d. Glatch, Falconi d. Sanchez, Keys d. Burdette
(Semifinals) Mattek-Sands d. Falconi, Cohen d. Keys
(Final) Mattek-Sands d. Cohen