By E.J. Crawford
In 2010, the US Open dared you to dream big with the advent of the US Open National Playoffs, a singles competition for anyone and everyone 14 and over that offered a chance to compete for a spot in America’s Grand Slam. This year the USTA is sweetening the pot, adding a mixed doubles event for the 2011 US Open National Playoffs that will deliver an even sweeter payoff—a place in the main draw of the mixed doubles at the 2011 US Open.
Signing up to compete in the second US Open National Playoffs is easier than ever, with a uniform registration date of March 15 for all 16 sectional qualifying tournaments.
“The US Open National Playoffs is about providing players of all abilities the opportunity to connect with the US Open like they never could,” says Jon Vegosen, USTA Chairman of the Board and President. “By adding mixed doubles, we expect even more people to dream big this year and enter one of the sectional qualifying tournaments. These tournaments are sanctioned by our dedicated USTA sections, who make sure the players have a great experience.”
The US Open National Playoffs starts with a series of 16 sectional qualifying tournaments held in 16 separate USTA sections throughout the country (all but USTA Caribbean). The winners or top available finishers from the sectional qualifiers advance to the US Open National Playoffs Championships—a single-elimination draw that in 2011 will be held in conjunction with the New Haven Open at Yale, the final Olympus US Open Series event of the year—where the 2011 champions will be crowned, thus punching their tickets to the 2011 US Open. (The men’s and women’s singles champions advance to the US Open Qualifying Tournament while the mixed doubles champions earn direct entry into the main draw.)
And once again, the draw is wide open. To compete in the 2011 US Open National Playoffs you must only be a USTA member and 14 years of age or older. The only other restriction is that you can enter in only one sectional qualifying tournament, though you are not required to enter the sectional qualifier in your section. The draws will be capped at 256 players for singles and 128 for mixed doubles and, unlike 2010, when the draws were completely unseeded, there will be two seeds as determined by the ATP and WTA rankings (if applicable).
“We again expect the top junior players, collegians, teaching professionals, ‘weekend warriors’ and other recreational players to come out in large numbers to compete this year in singles and now mixed doubles,” says Jim Curley, Chief Professional Tournaments Officer & US Open Tournament Director. “The New Haven Open at Yale will be a great host for the championships and the winners will be close to New York for the US Open.”
The 2010 US Open National Playoffs included players ranging from former notable pros such as Jeff Tarango to other top athletes such as decorated Olympic skier Bode Miller and former Major League Baseball second baseman Todd Walker to recreational players like a rabbi from New York and a rock singer from Florida, as well as many of the country’s top young talents. It drew rave reviews from all involved.
“You win 12 matches and there you are in The Show,” says Tarango, who competed in the US Open each year from 1987 to 2003, reaching the third round in singles and the round of 16 in doubles. “A lot of people might just put it on their calendar because they think, hey, this could be my year to qualify for the US Open. I mean, it’s terrific—how could you not support it?”
In all, 1,232 people participated in the inaugural event in 2010. The winners of the championship events were Americans Blake Strode, an NJTL product who deferred Harvard Law School to pursue a professional tennis career, and Alexandra Mueller, a former top junior and a three-time champion on the 2010 USTA Pro Circuit. In the US Open Qualifying Tournament, Strode won his opening match before losing in the second round, while Mueller fell in the opening round.
“I could not be happier with the whole US Open National Playoffs concept,” Strode said after winning the 2010 Men’s Championship. “Not just because I won, but this whole week has been really great. I have been sharing the courts with the big dogs and it has been really cool. It is neat how [the National Playoffs] gives everyone and anyone a shot.”
For more on the 2011 US Open National Playoffs, including a schedule of all events, rules, regulations and more, go to usopen.org/national_playoffs.