By Pat Mitsch
On short notice, Grace Min made a short drive that could result in one long trip in January.
Min, the 18-year old Atlanta native, toppled top-seeded Julia Cohen, of Philadelphia, 6-3, 6-4, in Friday’s quarterfinals of the Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs at Life Time Athletic & Tennis at Peachtree Corners in Norcross, Ga.
A three-time USTA Pro Circuit event champion in 2012, Min was only added to the women’s draw on Monday—in the middle of her offseason training—when Maria Sanchez withdrew due to injury. But the 2011 US Open junior champion pounced on the invitation to play in front of friends and family in her hometown.
Now, Min is two wins away from capturing the wild card entry into the Australian Open main draw that this tournament awards to its men’s and women’s victors.
"Obviously, I love being home, and that was probably the biggest reason why I really wanted to come and play this, was to be able to stay at home, as like an extra treat," Min said. "It is a little added pressure, because everyone I’ve grown up with over the years is seeing me play for the first time in maybe over a year or more. But, it’s mostly just a positive being able to be around loved ones and home."
In another match between locals, former Stanford star Mallory Burdette, who grew up an hour away in Jackson, Ga., overcame former Georgia Tech standout and Atlanta resident Irina Falconi, 6-2, 7-5.
"I feel like I definitely got a little bit tight there in the end, and Irina started to play better. She never gives up. She’s very tough in that way, so I had a feeling it was going to be up to me there in the end to finish it off and kind of execute," said Burdette, who advanced to the third round of the US Open this summer. "I’m proud of the way that I’ve handled it. I haven’t played a match in a tournament in a while, and so it was a good start. It felt good to get out there and compete and kind of get my feet wet."
Min and Burdette will now play each other in Saturday’s semifinals, as will Alexa Glatch (Newport Beach, Calif.), a 6-1, 6-2 winner over Ali Riske (Pittsburgh), and Madison Keys (Rock Island, Ill.), the 2011 Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs winner who beat former WTA Top 30 player Bethanie Mattek-Sands (Rochester, Minn.), 6-2, 6-4.
"We’re really lucky, the eight of us, to have the opportunity to try to get the wild card," said Keys, 17, the second-youngest player ranked in the WTA Top 140 (she’s current at No. 137). "At the same time, it’s just a match. You can’t think too much about, ‘If I win, I get this,’ or, ‘If I lose, I have to go qualify.’ So, I just kind of tried to stay in the moment and just play the match."
Tim Smyczek, the top men’s seed, presumably felt the same way. The 24-year old Milwaukee native, ranked No. 128 in the world, endured a long first set to earn a 7-6(3), 6-1 victory over Christian Harrison, the 18-year old younger brother of Ryan Harrison.
"I wasn’t expecting to blow him out by any means. I know he’s a tough player," Smyczek said. "I wasn’t as sharp as I hoped to be coming out—made some errors, got down an early break—and he played well. He was playing hard, and we had a lot of long points. I think by the end of the set I wore him down a bit and I think that showed in the second set."
Conversely, Denis Kudla (Arlington, Va.) pulled out a second-set tiebreak to edge Chase Buchanan (Columbus, Ohio), a player he’s known since childhood, 6-3, 7-6(4).
"This is the first time we’ve ever played," Kudla said. "It’s tough. We haven’t played any matches in about three or four weeks. First match in a long time. We’re both pretty beat up, but I was glad to get this win. I count this as the new year, so … start off strong."
Kudla advances to the semifinals, where he’ll play Rhyne Williams (Knoxville, Tenn.), a 6-1, 6-4 winner over Daniel Kosakowski (Huntington Park, Calif.). Smyczek will meet Tennys Sandgren (Gallatin, Tenn.), who beat Bradley Klahn (Poway, Calif.) in a matchup of former collegiate All-Americans, 6-3, 6-3.
Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs
At Life Time Athletic & Tennis
(1) Tim Smyczek d. Christian Harrison, 7-6 (3), 6-1
(4) Tennys Sandgren d. Bradley Klahn, 6-3, 6-3
(3) Rhyne Williams d. Daniel Kosakowski, 6-1, 6-4
(2) Denis Kudla d. Chase Buchanan, 6-3, 7-6 (4)
Grace Min d. (1) Julia Cohen, 6-2, 6-4
(2) Alexa Glatch d. Ali Riske, 6-1, 6-2
(3) Madison Keys d. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-2, 6-4
(4) Mallory Burdette d. Irina Falconi, 6-2, 7-5
(2) Alexa Glatch v. (3) Madison Keys
(4) Mallory Burdette v. Grace Min
(1) Tim Smyczek v. (4) Tennys Sandgren
(2) Denis Kudla v. (3) Rhyne Williams