Steve Johnson saved a match point before defeating Tennys Sandgren and earning the men's Australian Open wild card.
© Bob Leverone/Getty Images
Sachia Vickery will make her Australian Open debut in January.
By Pat Mitsch, special to USTA.com
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 defeated fellow 18-year-old Victoria Duval, 6-2, 6-3, while Johnson, 23, beat 22-year-old Tennys Sandgren, 4-6, 6-3, 0-6, 7-6, 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.
“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 2013 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 and used 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 USC star and two-time NCAA singles champion injured his left ankle midway through the fourth set and came back with it heavily taped. He faced a match point in the fourth set while serving at 4-5, but came came back to win the fourth set in a tiebreak and cruised in the fifth. He hit an ace on match point to seal his trip Down Under.
“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.”
2013 Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs – Day 3 Results
No. 3 Steve Johnson d. No. 4 Tennys Sandgren, 4-6, 6-3, 0-6, 7-6(5), 6-1
Sachia Vickery d. No. 4 Victoria Duval, 6-2, 6-3
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