Who Will Win the USTA Australian Open Women’s Wild Card?
It took a lot longer to piece together the field for the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Norcross, Georgia, than in past years. With stalwarts like Melanie Oudin, Irina Falconi and Mal Burdette pulling out, the AO Playoffs field has finally been set, and it’s a young group headed to Lifetime Athletic from December 20-22 for a main draw bid to the 2014 Australian Open. The average age for an Aussie WC women’s entrant is just shy of 21 years. Victoria Duval and Sachia Vickery are 18 and Grace Min is 19. At 24, Maria Sanchez and Julia Cohen are the oldest entrants. Alright, maybe the field isn’t terribly young after all. Maybe Bethanie Mattek-Sands was just weighing down the average age of the players last year.
Being a #1 seed at these events means little. Just ask Julia Cohen, who was upset from that perch by Grace Min in straights in Norcross last year. World #125 Shelby Rogers gets the dubious honor this year. As top seed, she’ll face #195 Sachia Vickery in the first round next Friday. They’ve only matched up once before this year, in Albuquerque qualifying, with Rogers earning a 6-4, 6-4 win. Based on Rogers previous success at these events, I will pick her over Vickery in the first round, with the victor getting the Duval-Sanchez winner.
Madison Brengle is on her career high at #150. She is the 2 seed in Norcross and will open with #188 Julia Cohen. These two have a 1-1 head to head, but the pair haven’t faced each other in more than three years. Brengle should cruise in this match, having won multiple titles this year for the first time in her career. The winner will face either Grace Min or Nicole Gibbs in the semis.
19-year-old Atlantan Grace Min makes her third appearance in three years at the event. After being double-bageled in the 2011 opener, Min upset top seed Julia Cohen at the playoffs last year. This year, Min is the 3 seed. That was Madison Keys and Rhyne Williams seeding when they won the Wild Cards last year. #154 Min opens with #184 Nicole Gibbs. The two last met in Vancouver in 2011 with Gibbs the victor. This match should go to Gibbs, although expect huge crowd support for Min.
Perhaps the most adored player in the field is Victoria Duval, who won hearts by upsetting Sam Stosur at Flushing Meadows this summer. Since most fans only became acquainted with her life story after that colossal upset, I’m guessing that many fans who show up at Norcross will be there just to see the just-turned-18 Haitian-American in action. #168 Duval will meet Maria Sanchez in the first round. Sanchez won their only meeting, 6-2, 6-2 in Midland qualifying this year.
I’m going to go with Duval over Sanchez, setting up a semifinal where Duval will face Shelby Rogers. Rogers and Duval have never met in match play.
From there, Rogers’ experience should be enough to make it to the final over Duval, and Madison Brengle should beat Nicole Gibbs. Brengle holds a 2-1 head to head here, including a 6-1, 6-4, walloping in this year’s Rancho Santa Fe final.
I’m picking Madison Brengle to win the women’s wild card in three sets over Shelby Rogers. Brengle won their only match to date, 6-3, 6-2 at Pelham on clay in 2011.
—Stephan Fogleman, Tennis East Coast