If the name Ryler DeHeart rings a bell, perhaps you were watching the featured night match during the US Open in 2008 when the Tampa native, after earning his ticket into the main draw through the qualifying rounds, found himself face-to-face with world No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal.
"It's a great memory, playing someone like that on the biggest stage of the world in tennis," DeHeart said.
Now in retirement from pro tennis and running a tennis academy in Florida, DeHeart will start a quest to again reach the US Open via the US Open National Playoffs. He will compete in the US Open Playoffs-Florida Section tournament, to be held on May 26, 2012, at the Henry L. McMullen Tennis Complex in Clearwater, Fla. Registration for the event is open until May 16th.
The US Open National Playoffs allows any player 14 years or older, rated at any level, the chance to earn a wildcard into the main draw qualifying of the US Open in men's or women's singles, or a wildcard into the main draw in mixed doubles. Thirteen USTA Sections will offer regional US Open National Playoffs tournaments, leading to the national event featuring all the sectional winners, to determine who earns the right to compete at Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
"Just to be able to have the US Open accessible to anyone, with a chance to play at the US Open, is a great thing," DeHeart said. "It's such a great tournament, a fan-friendly place. I like the other Grand Slams, but I just felt that the US Open was the 'People's Slam.' Now pretty much anybody can play in the tournament and feel like they have a chance to qualify for the US Open, it's pretty cool."
DeHeart will also be competing in the mixed doubles event with his wife, Megan, who also played at Illinois. The two have not played together in mixed doubles, so the event will be a new experience for the competitive pair.
"It will be interesting," DeHeart said with a laugh. "We're pretty competitive, so I hope it doesn't turn into us playing two singles matches out there [on the doubles court]. I don't know how we'll play mixed doubles together because we've never played together. I'm going to try and not miss any balls because she's going to get pretty mad at me if I miss anything."
DeHeart left the tour in early 2011 with back and other injuries, but says, "I've been doing a lot of stretching and stuff like that, and I work with a physical therapist that has helped me a lot. I can do day-to-day activities and stuff, but it stopped me from consistently playing a high level of tennis, it was always bothering me."
He now operates the RD Tennis academy in Largo, Fla., out of the Seminole Lake Country Club. The academy works with approximately 30-35 kids age 5-18, and DeHeart also give private lessons in nearby Tampa. "It's pretty much myself, my wife Megan, and we have a guy named Benn Marler who helps out," DeHeart said. "Our main program is our junior clinic which is Monday through Thursday from 4:30-7 p.m." For more info go to www.rylerdehearttennis.com
DeHeart is now back in his home state for good, and looking forward to briefly rekindling the competition of tournament tennis, and possibly making another appearance in singles or mixed doubles at the US Open.
"The past year we've been coaching so we haven't had time to do much anything else," DeHeart said. "But now we're going to play some here and there and we're looking forward to the US Open Playoffs, it will be fun."
Entries close on May 16
for the USTA Florida Section's US Open National Playoffs. For all the USTA Section tournament dates and entry deadlines go to: www.usopen.org/National_Playoffs/2012_us_open_national_playoffs_registration_information
ABOUT THE US OPEN NATIONAL PLAYOFFS
The US Open National Playoffs is a series of tournaments that gives any player 14 years of age or older who meets the eligibility requirements the opportunity to qualify for the 2012 US Open. Thirteen USTA sections will run a Sectional Qualifying Tournament to include a men's singles, women's singles and mixed doubles division between April 1 and July 4.
With a maximum of a 256 singles draw and a 128 mixed doubles team draw, players/teams will compete in a single elimination draw. Singles players will play to the best-of-three tiebreak sets and mixed doubles teams will play two tiebreak sets, no-ad scoring, with a match tiebreak in lieu of a third set. Within each division, the top two players/teams will be seeded based on their ATP/WTA computer ranking (if any).
The winner of each Sectional Qualifying Tournament in each division (men's singles, women's singles, mixed doubles) will advance to the US Open National Playoffs Championships in their respective division taking place in New Haven, CT, at Yale University during the New Haven Open at Yale, a WTA event, part of the US Open Series (Aug. 17-20 for singles, Aug. 22-25 for mixed doubles). The winner of each Singles Championship (1 male, 1 female) will receive a wildcard entry to compete in the 2012 US Open Qualifying Tournament (Aug. 21-24) and the winner of the Mixed Doubles Championship (1 team) will receive a wildcard entry to compete in the 2012 US Open Mixed Doubles Championship (commencing Aug. 29) at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
For the full list of rules and regulations go to: www.usopen.org/National_Playoffs/2012_us_open_national_playoffs_information