By Pat Mitsch, USTA
Norcross, Ga. – Madison Keys and Rhyne Williams earned wild-card entries into the main draw of the 2013 Australian Open, claiming the titles at the Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs at Life Time Athletic & Tennis at Peachtree Corners.
Keys, of Rock Island, Ill., defeated Mallory Burdette, of Jackson, Ga., 7-5, 6-3, and Williams, of Knoxville, Tenn., took down Tim Smyczek, of Milwaukee, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-3, 6-3, in indoor finals. The women’s final was best two-of-three sets, and the men’s was best three-of-five sets, as each match simulated the format used in Grand Slam singles play.
The 17-year old Keys, seeded third, won the event for the second year in a row, becoming the first woman to do so in the tournament’s five-year history. She is the second player overall, joining Ryan Harrison (2009-10).
Both the men’s and women’s tournaments were held as an eight-player, single-elimination draw.
"I’m pretty happy with how I’ve been doing and how I’ve been playing. Hopefully I can just really keep it up now," said Keys, who fell to Jie Zheng in the first round of the 2012 Australian Open, 6-2, 6-1. "It’d be great to go to Australia and not get [beat] in the first round this year. Hopefully that happens. But I’m just really excited to go down and start playing some tournaments again."
The fourth-seeded Burdette, who reached the third round of the US Open this summer and turned pro shortly after, gave the 137th-ranked Keys her most difficult match of the tournament. The two players went back and forth, exchanging breaks in the first set until Keys held at 5-all and carried that momentum into the second.
"She definitely kind of hit her stride at 5-all, started serving much better, much more difficult for me to break her serve, and that just put more pressure back on my service game," Burdette said. "So hats off to her. I think she played very well and sustained it throughout the second set. I definitely had my chances there in the first, so I’m a little bit disappointed, but that’s the way it goes sometimes."
Williams and Smyczek, meanwhile, split the first two sets in the best-of-five match, but the 21-year old Williams found control of his powerful forehand to pull away.
"I’m moving incredibly well, and when I’m moving my best I feel like I give myself a really good chance of winning, and I feel like I could play with anyone," said the 190th-ranked Williams, who will play in his second straight Grand Slam event after qualifying for the US Open this summer.
"Tim, he’s been playing incredible to end the year. He beat me the last two times, and I woke up this morning and just told myself I was going to try to give myself the best chance to win," Williams added. "Everything just kind of came together, and I played some of the best tennis I’ve ever played."
The loss leaves the 24-year old Smyczek, ranked No. 128, to attempt to qualify for the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 14 in Melbourne.
"He just kind of reeled off several winners, and it seemed like every time I had at least a shadow of an opportunity he came up with something big," Smyczek said. "The beauty of this tournament is that I get another chance to try to qualify. I’m playing good tennis, and I’m putting in the work this offseason, so I’m really excited for Australia."
To read a recap of the Day 2 semifinal action and results, click here
To read a recap of the Day 1 first-round action and results, click here
Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs
At Life Time Athletic & Tennis
(3) Rhyne Williams d. (1) Tim Smyczek, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-3, 6-3
(3) Madison Keys d. (4) Mallory Burdette, 7-5, 6-3