It was a beautiful Sunday morning in College Park, Maryland, just north of Washington, D.C and host to the 2011 US Open Wildcard Playoffs, with the winner of both the men's and women's event to recieve a wild card into the 2011 US Open. Madison Keys and Beatrice Capra walked onto an approximately 2,000 seat stadium that on this day, held about 50. The difference in the two girls was striking. Keys, the taller, bigger, more imposing player and Capra, the smaller, thinner, and more accurate player. I took my seat two rows behind the baseline. (Sidenote: I think you needed either a press badge or a VIP seating ticket to get into the section, but no one was there to stop me, and it wasn't exaclty close to being full.) (Sidenote to the sidenote: Please, Bloguin, I would love to get credentialed, just once in my life! Thanks in advance).
The players began warming up at 11, and quickly clouds began to form over the complex. The first set went extremely well for Capra, who will be attending Duke University in the fall. Her shots were finding the corners and keeping Keys off balance, and Keys was obliging her, committing error after error. After a few tough holds of her own, Capra broke through, breaking Keys and taking the first set 6-3. The people around me began to check the weather reports more frequently, and with the threat of rain and thunderstorms looming, the second set began right where the first set left off. Keys' forehand, while much bigger than Capra's, couldn't find the court for more than a couple points in a row. Capra broke her first service game and served at 4-3. The unraveling was swift and brutal. Keys went on to win the next 9 games and secured a spot in the main draw in the US Open. For Capra, the loss hurt. Having won the same tournament last year and winning two rounds at the US Open, she was looking to match that. Instead, as the rains came, she was walking off the court, crying. Walking past her as she was walking to the locker room, I observed the anguish in her face. She wanted it, lost it, and paid for it. She heads off to Duke in the fall as the number one player on their team, and if she wants to be a tour level player, the path is clear. She has to get stronger, mentally tougher, and develop a weapon. For Keys, the future appears bright. Her forehand is already at the tour level, and being so tallm she does move quite well. The next step for her is movement and consistency, which are very attainable goals.
The fun didn't end with the women, however. During the trophy ceremony, it began to rain. It was a consistent rain, and then the skies opened up. It began pouring, and from my perch in the main waiting area, I could see Bobby Reynolds and Daniel Kosakowski, the two finalists looking for that spot in the US Open, waiting. (Important disclaimer: I am a member of the Tennis Center at College Parl, which is run by the same people that run the Junior Tennis Champions Center, which hosted the event. The two share the same facilities). Reynolds, formerly ranked 69th in the world and attempting to make a comeback after a horrible wrist injury, was loose, joking around with all of the people around him. Kosakowski sat, stone-faced, looking at the rain outside. Soon, the word came down, the weather was not suitable to play outside, and the decision was made to play the match indoors. The match would be played on the same courts as the University of Maryland play their indoor matches. Because I was able to hear the news quickly, I managed to grab a front row seat, which was put there by the staff at the club. What unfolded was perhaps the strangest significant match in tennis history. Read on to see who would win that elusive wild card spot.
Kosakowski had taken his seat in Building Three by the chair umpire. Reynolds then walked towards the court and was completely nonplussed by the odd court assignment. When I wished him luck, he even smiled at me and said "Thanks, man". The court they chose was the end court, and having played on that court many times myself, it was the best choice of the courts. However, for two professional tennis players, it was quite absymal. The courts were a solid green all around, with one baseline being closer to the line than the other one. Luckily, three days prior, they had redone the lights to make them much brighter and more consistent. Unluckiliy for the players, three days later, they were to be resurfaced with the US Open Blue colors. The chair umpire had no microphone, and his introductions consisted of him almost screaming and the tournament official giving him the thumbs up. There was also no scoreboard, and so after three games they had thhe brilliant idea of using high school type scorecards for the fans. That's right, two professional tennis players were playing for a spot at the US Open on a court with a wall off the court on one side, uneven space on both sides of the court between the baseline and the wall, no scoreboard, and no microphonem and this was no one's fault in particular. The match started with the sound of thunder and rain pattering on the roof. Reynolds came out firing. Both his serve and forehand were on, and Kosakowski's game was hampered by the court conditions. The ball was flying through the indoor courts, and Reyblolds took full advantage of this. In thie third or so game of the match, Reynolds hit a solid kick serve towards the shorter baseline area. Kosakowski took three steps back, took a huge swing on the backhand, and clipped the linesperson's arm with his racket. The ball went back in the play, Reynolds jerked him around, and the point ended with Kosakowski running into the wall. A game or so later, Kosakowski hit a great lob that skimmed the roof, giving the point to Reynolds. It would be that kind of set for Kosakowski. He lost it handily 6-2.
In the second set, the tide turned. Reynolds lost the intensity and focus that propelled him through the first set, and Kosakowski drew some errors from him, going up 5-2. In the process, the rain grew louder and the thunder more intense. At one point, Reynolds had to stop his motion because a bolt of lightning and the accompying thunder boomed right near the facility. Being the veteran that he is, Reynolds righted the ship and found his rythym again. If Kosakowski could have increased his intensity a bit, he could definitely have pulled it off, but being young and a bit inexperienced, he didn't, Reynolds came roaring back, and he won the set 7-5. Now, being the last round of the tournament that gives entry into a Major, it was three out of five sets. Most of the spectators didn't know this, and many got up and left at this point. Those that stuck around were waiting for the trophy ceremony, but when it didn't came, they finally realized there was at least one more se tot be played. The third set was all Reynolds, and while Kosakowski broke at 2-5, he couldn't get the second break, and lost the match.
What was very striking about the match, apart frm its oddness, was that Kosakowski did not adjust his game at all to meet the conditions. The situation was bad for both players, but the difference in maturity was striking when it came to the match. Reynolds made the adjustments, stepped in, and forced the issue. Kosakowski stayed back, played defense, and lost.
Overall, it was a very compelling day of tennis, even if there were no big names, Madison Keys is definitely someone to watch out for in the future, and Bobby Reynolds is well worht watching, if not just for his huge serve and forehand but also for his story. The US Open begins next Monday, and with it, perhaps we will see one of the two players win a couple of matches.