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Florida Tennis Briefs(2): Wimbledon Qualifiers Have Florida Roots; Abaza Wins US Open Playoffs

June 21, 2012 11:05 AM
Baker Among 4 U.S. Men with Florida Roots Qualifying at Wimbledon

wimbledon_logoNo wildcard? No problem for American Brian Baker, who qualified into the main draw at Wimbledon Wednesday after a 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 victory over France's Maxime Teixeira.

Baker, an incredible comeback story, was expected by many to receive a Wimbledon wildcard into the main draw after his run at the French Open and a runner-up effort at the ATP event in Nice, but a wildcard wasn't forthcoming.

"It feels great and is very exciting," the 27-year-old qualifier told Wimbledon.com regarding what will be his first appearance in the main draw at the All England Club. "I started off a little slow, but I was able to turn it around pretty quickly. Once I got the first break point, the floodgates kind of opened up and I was able to break a lot. I had two match points. It's never easy closing it out."

Seven years ago at age 20, Baker looked like the next great American player, beating world No. 9 Gaston Gaudio at the US Open, but it was not to be. Coming off a junior career where he was ranked No. 2 in the world, Baker was eventually sidelined with injury after injury, including five surgeries in four years, and his pro career was finished.

But after seven years on the sidelines, assistant-coaching college tennis and recuperating, last year Baker decided to give pro tennis one last go. Some wins on the Futures and Challengers circuits led to qualifying at ATP level events, and this year at the French Open qualifying. Prior to the French he qualified to the main draw at the ATP event in Nice, France, defeating Top 20 player Gilles Simon. As recently as March of this year, Baker was playing Futures-level events, the lowest rung of professional tennis, looking to raise his ranking.

Last year no American men qualified at Wimbledon, but this year Baker is joined by Jesse Levine, Ryan Sweeting, and Mike Russell, all of who have Florida roots. Baker and Russell used to train regularly at the ATP Headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and Levine and Sweeting attended the University of Florida in Gainesville.

The 24-year-old Sweeting saved a match point in his final qualifying round. Due to a higher ranking last year, Sweeting was a direct acceptance in 2011 into the main draw at Wimbledon. Levine survived a 10-8 third set in the opening round of qualifying, then beat fellow American Wayne Odesnik in the final round, and has now advanced to the Wimbledon main draw four times from four qualifying attempts. Russell survived a five-setter Wednesday to qualify, beating Japan's Yuichi Sugita, and will try to improve on his career 1-5 record in the main draw at Wimbledon.

Abaza, 2010 US Open Playoffs-Florida Winner, Wins in New England

Jan Abaza after capturing the title at the
2010 US Open Playoffs-Florida
Boca Raton's 17-year-old Jan Abaza was absent from this year's US Open Playoffs-Florida event, the tournament she captured the women's title at in 2010, due to a conflict in her tournament schedule. So instead she trekked up north.

Earlier this month Abaza again qualified for the US Open Playoffs national tournament by winning a USTA Section qualifier, this time at the USTA New England event. The teen defeated No. 2 seed and 20-year-old University of Pennsylvania standout Chieh Yu Hsu of Philadelphia 7-5, 6-2, in the final, after upsetting No. 1 seed and 2011 USTA New England sectional champion Lena Litvak in the semifinals.

Abaza, currently ranked in the 700s on the WTA Rankings, has family in New Jersey which made the trip easier, as the event was played in nearby New Haven, Conn. The diminutive Abaza won the doubles title at the $10,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Sumter, S.C., this year and was a standout junior, reaching the girls' 14s quarterfinals at the 2008 Junior Orange Bowl.

The teen now advances to the women's US Open National Playoffs Championships, to be held Aug. 17-20, 2012, in New Haven, Conn., at Yale University during the New Haven Open at Yale, a WTA event and part of the US Open Series. The winner of the US Open Playoffs National Championships will receive a wildcard into the women's qualifying tournament at the US Open.

The US Open National Playoffs returns for the third year in 2012, and again includes both men's and women's singles and mixed doubles, with USTA sectional tournaments leading to the national event. Any participant 14 years or older can earn a shot at a berth into the US Open. Men's and women's national singles champions earn a wildcard into the US Open Qualifying Tournament, held the week prior to the US Open. The US Open National Playoffs mixed doubles champions receive a main draw wildcard into the 2012 US Open.
For more information go to: www.USOpen.org/NationalPlayoffs.






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