As the tennis world preps for the first grand slam of the 2014 season, the Australian Open, a select group of young Americans were chosen to participate in the annual Australian Open Wild Card Playoff this weekend hosted by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and Life Time Tennis (formally the Racquet Club of the South (RCS)) in Norcross.
Among some of this year’s participants were 2013 US Open breakout star, Haitian American Victoria Duval and NCAA Division I singles finalist, doubles champion and College Park resident, Jarmere Jenkins.
Duval, the third-youngest player in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Top 200, became a headliner in New York City back in September at the US Open after her first-round upset of 2011 champion Samantha Stosur.
The 18-year old became a crowd favorite over the weekend from her precious accolades and notably overcoming extraordinary trials and tribulations to get to where she is today.
“I feel pretty good, I’ve been working hard, and working on some things with my game,” Duval said. “This is my first time, so I think it will be a good experience to play this event.”
Once a resident of Atlanta, Vicky (as she is nicknamed) trained at Lifetime Tennis where the playoffs were being played.
During her time at the then RCS, tragedy struck the Duval family when her father, Dr. Jean-Maurice Duval, was buried alive during the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Vicky and her family back in the states met relatives of Hilton Head real estate developer Harry Kitchen, who non-hesitantly dissed out $18,000 in efforts to save father.
Jenkins, entered the playoff after a hot 2013 season, nearly winning the NCAA “triple crown” in May as a senior for the University of Virginia, claiming the doubles and team titles and reaching the singles final.
Currently ranked no. 341 in the world and competing at home for the first time as a professional, the Atlanta native wrapped up the year with appearances in three USTA Futures events, winning one and ran to the quarterfinals or better in two Challenger tournaments.
“It’s great for me to be playing in front of the home crowd,” Jenkins said. “This is the first time in years that I’ve had the opportunity to play in front of family and friends and I need the support because there are a great group of guys here.”
Duval and Jenkins were a part of an eight men – eight women field that included defending wild card playoff champion Rhyne Williams, Denis Kudla, Steve Johnson, Tennys Sandgren, Austin Krajicek, Bjorn Fratangelo, and Chase Buchanan for the men and Madison Brengle, Julia Cohen, Nicole Gibbs, Atlanta’s Grace Min, Shelby Rogers, Maria Sanchez, and Sachia Vickery for the women.
As anticipation for the tournament arose, fans unfortunately witnessed hometown favorite Jenkins bow out to Kudla 6–4, 6–1 in the opening round Friday.
Duval’s journey saw her fight to the final on Sunday where she would be stopped by virtually unknown underdog and her predecessor as 2013 USTA Girls’ 18s national champion, Sachia Vickery.
“I was just trying to go point by point and not think to much ahead, “ Vickery said after her victory 6-2, 6-3 over Duval. “I wanted to start aggressive and take control of the points more, just stay calm mentally.”
The 195th-ranked Vickery also earned a wild card into this year’s US Open, making her Grand Slam debut before falling in the second round.
“It hasn’t processed yet that I’m going to Australia,” Vickery told ADW with excitement. “May in a week and a half from now it will hit me, but right now I can’t process anything.”
The Australian Open Wild Card Playoff is made possible through a reciprocal agreement between the USTA and Tennis Australia, where the two national federations exchange wild cards for the US Open and Australian Open grand slam tournaments.
Earning a spot in the main draw of the 2014 Australian Open on the men’ s side was two-time NCAA singles champion (2011-12) from the University of Southern California, Steve Johnson.
Johnson beat former University of Tennessee All-American Tennys Sandgren 4-6, 6-3, 0-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1 in the second final on Sunday.
The Australian Open begins January 13.