Patricia Jensen Takes Us Down Under To The 2012 Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs
by Steve Fogleman, TennisEastCoast.com
Patricia Jensen is Director of Tournament Operations for the Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs. She’s also the Queen Mum of American Tennis, having raised four pros. Yesterday, she let me know what to expect in Norcross this weekend.
Last year, we had Bobby Reynolds and Robby Ginepri representing Atlanta on the men’s side. Without a Georgia man in the mix, who is going to be the crowd favorite?
I can honestly say that we have one of the strongest draws that we’ve ever had. Even though it somewhat disappoints me that we don’t have a Georgia male player, we’re excited about Irina Falconi and Mallory Burdette, both training here in Georgia and being somewhat from Georgia.
From the crowd favorite perspective, Rhyne Williams, who played for Tennessee, who happens to related to one of the tennis world’s favorite coaches, Coach Mike DePalmer. His grandson is Rhyne Williams. So, alot of Atlanta has been following Rhyne for a long time.
Is this the first time that Irina Falconi has competed here since college?
She played the wild card event two years ago at the same facility. This is the fourth annual (Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs).
Irina was here last year in street clothes and got a great reception. Do we expect her to get the loudest cheers?
She has a very strong following here in Atlanta. All the Georgia Tech fans will be out here. I have so much respect for her, because last year, even though she wasn’t in the tournament, she came and played with the media, and she did a few appearances with TV and radio stations. She was really involved in the tournament, but she was there to support the event and her colleagues.
Will this be a homecoming for Mallory Burdette as well?
This is great for Atlanta. She has a great following because she did train at Racquet Club of the South at one time.
Tell me about the “Battle of Georgia”, the exhibition where five local teams will battle it out on Friday night for the right to take on the Bryans.
All my money’s on (former pro) Grant Stafford! Seriously, we’re so happy that both Georgia and Georgia Tech are participating. Nathan Pasha from Georgia is a major fan favorite, not only because he played for Georgia, but he’s also from Atlanta. He was a wild card at the BB&T Atlanta Open last year. Atlanta has followed him very closely forever.
According to Jensen, event organizers have already sold more than 3,500 tickets for the Battle of Georgia exhibition with the Bryan Brothers.
How does the venue get this wonderful event every year?
The USTA has chosen us worthy and we’re doing an efficient and appropriate job in putting on this tournament.
NOTES: The largest Australian bakery in the United States will once again be on hand for the Taste of Australian Tennis Down Under… Virgin Australia is offering significant discounts on player and attendees who wish to fly to Australia for the Open…USTA Director of Player Development Patrick McEnroe will not be back in Norcross this year due to other commitments…Though neither Jensen nor I knew at the time of the interview, a third Georgian, Grace Min, will also be competing in the women’s draw.
Tired of all the exhibition tennis yet? Ready for some real competition? It’s my favorite little tournament of the year, and it arrives just in time for the holidays. The Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Norcross, Georgia begins in just ten days and is a gift to the biggest tennis fans in the United States: Atlantans.
The playoff format and the compact three-day event makes the AOWC some of the best tennis fun you can have without picking up a racquet. Imagine a joint ITF-USTA Pro Circuit gig, but with bigger prizes. Imagine large crowds (something you don’t always see at an ITF/USTA Pro Circuit event). Imagine a bona fide fan-oriented show with low ticket prices. That’s Norcross.
The only complaint about the Playoffs is that they don’t play it outdoors, where the host Racquet Club of the South boasts a spacious stadium court and beautiful grounds. The Club itself is the once and future home of the Atlanta Open, currently in residence at Atlantic Station in downtown Atlanta.
2011 AOWC Women’s Champion Madison Keys returns to defend her title and collect another wild card. This year, Keys will surprise no one if she conquers the weekend. She was seeded sixth in successful playoff runs for the US Open and Australian Open wild cards last year. This year, she moves to the four seed.
Jesse Levine, the 2011 men’s winner, will not return to RCS this year, having secured himself a ranking guaranteeing a main draw berth in Melbourne. As he told me during the Charlottesville Challenger last month, ‘that’s a good thing’. The top seed this year will be Denis Kudla, who has never been seeded #1 at any event since turning pro.
With Kudla at the top and Jack Sock seeded second this year, at least they won’t have to face each other in the first round as they did in 2011.
The women’s field is notably stronger. The eight women’s contenders for the card have an average ranking of 143, compared to the men’s side which averages a 232 rank. Even if you remove Christian “Little Harry” Harrison at #474 from the field, the remaining seven stack up to a 197 average ranking.
The field features at least a couple of players who wish they weren’t required to compete for a wild card this year. Both Irina Falconi and Bethanie Mattek-Sands enjoyed top 100 status at this time last year. Atlanta’s Falconi came out to the Playoffs as an observer in 2011. In 2012, she’ll be the local favorite on the main court.
The US Open Wild Card Playoffs were sacked this year in favor of bringing a higher level of importance to smaller ITF/USTA Pro Circuit events in aggregating points from three events to determine a winner of the wild card. That’s what we’re told, anyway. The abysmal fan turnout at the 2011 US Open Wild Card Playoffs in College Park, Maryland was certainly a factor as well. The Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Norcross featured a full house of fans for the finals last year. As long as the fans return, this event will remain on the USTA calendar for years to come.
Tennis East Coast will again provide live coverage of the Playoffs from Norcross. Atlanta’s Steen Kirby will handle the men’s side and I’ll cover the women’s competition. Over the next week, we’ll evaluate the player fields and give you a preview of the off-court activities.
2012 CitiOpen Interview: Irina Falconi and Coach Jeff Wilson
Steve Fogleman, TennisEastCoast.com
Jeff Wilson is an accomplished coach who has done a lot for former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket and Tennis East Coast favorite Irina Falconi. Less than a week ago, he took veteran South African player Chanelle Scheepers under his wing as well.
The most striking part of the interview is how much Irina has changed over the last year. Though she may sound ebulliently youthful on her WTA blog, The Eyes of Irina, she has grown so much since last summer at the Inaugural CitiOpen at College Park. The eyes of the world were on her at the US Open and she’s become an all-around veteran at managing media. Here’s Jeff and Irina on focus, training and Scheepers.
It seems like you learn so much in the first two sets with your new doubles partner that by the time you get to the superbreaker, it’s already over.
My partner and I definitely come out aggressive and know what our intention is. We know our game plan in the third set. We like to play under pressure a little bit, when it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty.
What about that crazy scoreline against Melanie Oudin where you two got bageled in the first set, then went on to win 10-1 in the breaker?
Honestly, I think they came out firing and we weren’t full gear and ready to go just yet. Once we got Jeff out there, he told us the game plan. It was just a matter of executing.
Have you learned a thing or two from your veteran partner Scheepers?
Very much so. Not only on the court but off the court, what she does with her food, fitness and stretching, she’s taught me all that.
Jeff, you’ve been coaching Chanelle Scheepers for how long now?
(checks watch) Since Sunday. Five days now.
What’s your summer itinerary, Irina?
I’m going to Montreal, hopefully take a week off, then Dallas and the US Open.
What changes have you made since I last saw you in Charleston, Coach?
Irina’s been on the road straight since mid-April. She was in Europe for 11 weeks with out a break, so we haven’t had much time to invest. We’re looking for some pockets in the schedule so we can rest her body. It will be a good opportunity to give her body a break. She’s extremely healthy because of the way she takes care of her body. The way she stretches, the way she prepares, the way she eats. We haven’t been able to invest in changes per se, other than the usual clay court to grass, and grass to hard court mentality. We’re looking forward to giving her a bit of a breather from having to wake up and doing all that.
Irina, All that blogging. How do you do it?
On my Ipad…
Your blogging has proved that you have a future in communications. Do you see yourself as a commentator some day?
For sure. I could definitely do that.
I’ve definitely experienced the heat. We”re staying at an absolutely great hotel. It’s difficult with the time being so late with the matches, but I’ve loved it so far.
How’d you like that rooftop bar at the old Hotel Washington downtown?
It was awesome.
Isn’t the summer heat just as bad in Washington as it is in Atlanta?
JW: Hotlanta is called Hotlanta for a reason.
2012 CitiOpen Interview: Chanelle Scheepers
Steve Fogleman, TennisEastCoast.com
Chanelle Scheepers tripled up this week with new coach Jeff Wilson and Irina Falconi. The South African veteran had just booked a spot into the WTA CitiOpen doubles final along with Falconi when she gave us some time at the players lounge on Thursday.
You have a new coach as of, Sunday? What made you go with Jeff Wilson?
I was looking for a while. What I really liked about him is that he’s really positive and we’ve known him for a very long time. For me, it’s really important to have someone who is positive, so that’s why I went with him.
You also have a new doubles partner in Irina Falconi.
We actually played at Wimbledon and we played really well. It just made sense that since we played well and we have the same coach, to try and play more tournaments together.
Didn’t you play in a doubles final with Abigail Spears?
I pretty much just played with whoever before. I was really focused on my singles before and played doubles if I could get in and at tournaments where I wanted to play. It’s nice to play with someone you can work together on some stuff.
Although you have singles titles, you’re still looking for a doubles title, aren’t you?
It will be nice to get that first doubles one, but we just go out there, try our best and enjoy. I really enjoy playing with Irina. I have a lot of fun.
You two seem to get to know your opponents in the first set, and by the time the super-breaker comes around, it’s almost as if you didn’t even need to play it!
It’s funny that all the matches went that way. We really build momentum through the match. From the beginning, we had a clear sense of what we wanted to do with our plans. As the match progressed, we started playing better and better.
Sweet as a Georgia Peach: Melanie Oudin, @IrinaFalconi Advance to 2nd round of @RolandGarros For 1st Time #RG12
Melanie Oudin and Irina Falconi, two of Tennis East Coast’s favorite players, were both set in for early first round singles matches this morning by Roland Garros schedulers. It meant an early rise on the East Coast for fans, but it also started the French Open in a very good way for American tennis.
Oudin dispatched Johanna Larsson of Sweden 3 and 3, and was clearly elated to notch her first-ever main draw singles win at Roland Garros.
Falconi started slower, but found her form in a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Edina Gallovits-Hall of Romania. She also claimed her first win on the famed ‘terre battue’. Falconi has a date with Sam Stosur in the second round, while Oudin will face the winner of Sara Errani/Casey Dellacqua.
Both players have Georgia connections. Oudin is a Marietta native and Falconi was a Georgia Tech All-American who now lives in Atlanta.
As a fan, I couldn’t have asked for a better start. There are a lot of Americans who wish they could have filled the empty seats at Roland Garros today.
If you know a thing or two about this blog, you know that we love Irina Falconi and Jamie Hampton. The Family Circle Cup just got a little better as they have both been awarded main draw wild cards, according to the tournament’s website.
Hampton, a 19-year-old Auburn, Alabama native who used to drive three hours each way every day to train at the Racquet Club of the South in Atlanta, is the subject of a very inspirational story, especially at today’s gas prices.
Irina Falconi, the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket/Energizer Bunny, is a compact and competitive player with as much heart as the top 10 combined.
No Family Circle Cup would be complete without Melanie Oudin, who could definitely use a long run into the main draw at a WTA Premier event. She received a qualifying wild card.
They join Hayley Carter, Shelby Rogers, Alison Riske, Grace Min and Maria Sanchez as Family Circle Cup contestants with South Carolina or Georgia connections.
Forget Miami for a moment. Charleston is the real Southern Ball of the WTA.