2013 USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs Men’s Preview
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
A week from now in Norcross, GA, on indoor hard courts, eight American men ranked between 114 and 341 in the world will battle it out for a coveted wild card into the main draw of the Australian Open this January in Melbourne.
Here is your preview, and you can expect our extensive on-site coverage next week for the third straight year.
The 8 players seeded by ranking (noted in parentheses)
1: Denis Kudla (114)
2: Rhyne Williams (130)
3: Steve Johnson (156)
4: Tennys Sandgren (183)
5: Austin Krajicek (241)
6: Bjorn Fratangelo (304)
7: Chase Buchanan (306)
8: Jarmere Jenkins (341)
The draw is determined by seeding with four quarterfinals played on Friday, two semifinals played on Saturday and a final on Sunday. Let’s take a look at the four quarterfinal matches and predictions for the rest of the tournament.
Denis Kudla vs. Jarmere Jenkins
A returning semifinalist from last year, Denis Kudla peaked inside the top 100 this year and had his best results on grass this year with an ATP quarterfinal at Queens Club and 2nd round at Wimbledon after qualifying. He was 5-11 at the ATP main draw level this year and notched a challenger title, a challenger final, and a challenger semi, showing his adaptive style of play on grass, clay and indoor and outdoor hard courts.
He has a higher ranking and much more experience than Jenkins, who along with Kudla has ties to the state of Virginia (having played his college tennis at the University of Virginia), helping lead them to an NCAA title.
This match should produce some quality tennis and a big upset opportunity exists for Jenkins, who won his only head to head meeting with Kudla in 2010 on hard courts at the Lexington Challenger. Jenkins has Atlanta roots and should generate some local support.
Though Jenkins’ main experience comes from the futures level and a few challengers along with college tennis, much of which happens to be played indoors on hard courts, Kudla finished his season with 2 straight losses on indoor hard courts. While Jenkins didn’t finish immensely strong, he did perform slightly better, so I’ll give him a miniscule edge to prevail.
The Pick: Jenkins
Rhyne Williams vs. Chase Buchanan
Both Williams and Buchanan played the AO WC last year and Williams has a lot of experience indoors. At the AOWC, he won the wild card last year. Buchanan, meanwhile, played college tennis and is also very familiar with indoor hard courts. It was a rather underwhelming year for Williams, as after much promise and multiple opportunities presented, he failed to break into the top 100 and remained just outside of it throughout the year. He did grab a challenger win, and notch an ATP semi along with 2 challenger semis in 2013. He has more experience and a higher level of play right now than the former Buckeye Buchanan, who along with primarily playing the futures level in 2013, also had his best results on clay.
Buchanan may chase (pun intended) Williams early but I expect Rhyne to take care of business in the opening round and advance. The head to head on hard courts favors Williams 1-0 as he beat Buchanan at a Canadian futures event in 2011. Buchanan got a couple of futures wins against Williams before that on clay.
The Pick: Williams
Steve Johnson vs. Bjorn Fratangelo
Johnson briefly made his way inside the top 100 this year but could not maintain that level and finished an atrocious 1-6 in tournament matches starting at the US Open and after. Before that he won a challenger, made a handful of challenger quarterfinals and went 4-10 at the ATP main draw level. He seemed to struggle with his consistency, though he showed flashes of talent.
The 20-year-old Fratangelo is making waves for himself as a bit of a clay court specialist, which is an abnormal skillset for an American player. He played very well at clay court futures and decently at a few challengers, but his style and past record strongly suggests he will struggle on indoor hard courts, making Johnson a considerable favorite to win this match and win it with relative ease.
The Pick: Johnson
Tennys Sandgren vs. Austin Krajicek
An unfortunate first round draw for these guys as they are close friends and often doubles partners.
They should be used to it, though, as they met twice this year head to head at a futures event and a challenger tournament, both on hard courts and resulting in a split decision with both players notching a win.
The overall head to head, all on hard courts, with meetings in 2008, 2011, and 2012 favors Krajicek 4-1.
Sandgren has a higher ranking and played this event last year where he reached the semifinals after winning a match. He also finished the year much stronger than Krajicek, actually capping things off with a victory in the Champaign Challenger in November, which is also on indoor hard courts. He reached 2 challenger semis and a few challenger quarterfinals in 2013, finishing the year better than how he started it.
A Younger, Hirsute Sandgren
Krajicek is the reverse, starting 2013 in great form and cooling off as the year progressed. He reached a lone challenger semi and did well at the futures level overall.
This match is a bit hard to call but I’m going to go with Sandgren off of current form, even with the head to head disadvantage.
The Pick: Sandgren
Sandgren d. Jenkins
Williams d. Johnson
Sandgren has never played Jenkins in a tournament match but going off of current form I give Tennys a small edge to advance. Don’t get too excited. I could also see Jenkins winning the match.
Williams is a career 2-0 against Johnson on hard courts, including a win indoors at the Memphis tournament this year. With current form also firmly in his favor, he should be able to take care of business and reach the final.
Williams d. Sandgren
Can He Do It Again?
Best friends, often doubles partners, and former Tennessee Volunteers teammates Williams and Sandgren are my picks to reach the final.
They both have things going for them as Williams is the defending champion at the AO WC and Sandgren has finished the year in strong form. The h2h, if it really matters, is split 1 each with Williams winning on clay at a challenger this year and Sandgren winning at a hard court futures event in 2009.
They both know each other’s games intimately and I doubt there will be any surprises in store if this match comes about. I could see either one winning, but in the end, I’m going to pick Rhyne to repeat his performance here last year and punch his spot in the draw of the AO once again.