Coco Gauff gets U.S. Open wild-card entry

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Coco Gauff will get a chance to try for an encore: The 15-year-old from Florida received a wild-card entry Tuesday for the U.S. Open’s main draw.

It will be Gauff’s second Grand Slam tournament. She made a magical run to the fourth round at Wimbledon last month after getting a wild card into the qualifying rounds there.

Ranked just 313th at the time, Gauff became the youngest player to qualify for Wimbledon, upset five-time champion Venus Williams in the first round and wound up losing at the All England Club to eventual title winner Simona Halep.

Gauff is currently No. 140 in the WTA rankings. She initially made a mark at age 13 by becoming the youngest U.S. Open junior finalist in history; she won the French Open junior title at 14.

Age restrictions set up by the women’s professional tour limit the number of tournaments someone who is 15 can enter and the number of wild-card invitations she can be offered – and Gauff already has accepted three wild cards elsewhere. But according to the WTA, the U.S. Tennis Association – which runs a Grand Slam tournament, and so is not overseen by the WTA or ATP tours – essentially can choose to ignore the eligibility rule and offer Gauff a wild card.

“I want to thank the USTA for the opportunity to participate in my home slam,” Gauff said in a statement emailed by her agent. “I look forward to playing my first main draw at the U.S. Open.”

Among the other players receiving wild cards from the USTA on Tuesday for the women’s field at Flushing Meadows in New York City were 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur – an Australian who was granted that country’s reciprocal berth – and 17-year-old Caty McNally, an American who won the doubles title with Gauff and reached the singles semifinals at the Citi Open in Washington this month.

Gauff and McNally have said they plan to play doubles together at Flushing Meadows; that event’s wild-card entries will be announced later. The pair won the U.S. Open junior doubles trophy together a year ago.

The draw for the U.S. Open is Aug. 22, and play in the year’s last major tennis tournament begins Aug. 26.

Other women’s wild cards went to Francesca Di Lorenzo, Whitney Osuigwe, Kristie Ahn and Katie Volynets of the U.S., along with 16-year-old Diane Parry of France, who got her country’s reciprocal invitation.

Di Lorenzo, a 22-year-old from Ohio, is a past NCAA doubles champion now ranked 128th. Osuigwe, a 17-year-old from Florida, won a French Open junior title and is ranked 105th. Ahn, a 27-year-old from New Jersey, finished first in the USTA’s wild-card challenge, while Volynets, a 17-year-old from California, won the 18s national championship.

Nine wild cards for women’s qualifying were also awarded, including to five-time Grand Slam doubles champion Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 14-year-old Reese Brantmeier of Wisconsin, Vicky Duval, Shelby Rogers and Pan Am Games medalist Caroline Dolehide.

Juan Martin del Porto, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, pulled out of the tournament Tuesday because he is still recovering from surgery on his right kneecap. That allowed Denis Kudla, a 26-year-old from Virginia who was the highest-ranked man to miss out on making the field via direct acceptance, to get into the main draw just hours after he was announced as a wild-card recipient.

So the USTA announced that Kudla’s wild card would now go to Chris Eubanks, a 23-year-old from Georgia. Others getting into the main draw include Americans Jack Sock, Bjorn Fratangelo, Marcos Giron, USTA wild-card challenge winner Ernesto Escobedo and 18s national champion Zachary Svajda, along with Antoine Hoang, who got France’s reciprocal entry. The Australian federation has not announced who will get its men’s wild-card invitation.

Men awarded wild cards for qualifying include Sebastian Korda, the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda, as well as last year’s 18s national champion, Jenson Brooksby.

Rybakina, Sabalenka to meet in Australian Open women’s final

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Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia — What all seemed so different, so daunting, even, about trying to win a Grand Slam title to Elena Rybakina a little more than six months ago is now coming rather naturally.

And if she can win one more match, she will add a championship at the Australian Open to the one she collected at Wimbledon.

Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan, reached her second final in a span of three major tournaments by beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (4), 6-3 at Melbourne Park on Thursday, signaling a rapid rise toward the top of tennis.

“Everything was new at Wimbledon,” Rybakina said after hitting nine aces in the semifinals to raise her tournament-leading total to 44. “Now I more or less understand what to expect.”

That could come in handy Saturday, when she will face No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Sabalenka reached her first Grand Slam title match at age 24 by beating unseeded Magda Linette 7-6 (1), 6-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal.

Sabalenka improved to 10-0 in 2023, winning all 20 sets she has contested this season.

More importantly, the victory over Linette gave Sabalenka her first taste of success in a Slam semi after going 0-3 at that stage until now, losing each previous attempt by a 6-4 score in the third set.

Rybakina and Sabalenka employ a somewhat similar brand of tennis, relying on big serves and big hitting at the baseline. Sabalenka is far less cautious, though, and her penchant for high-risk, high-reward play was evident against Linette, who had never before been past the third round in 29 appearances at majors.

Sabalenka finished with a whopping 33-9 edge in winners, but also compiled more unforced errors – including a trio that led to a break at love by Linette in the opening game.

The key to both semifinals turned out to be a first-set tiebreaker. Azarenka lost the mark on her strokes, for the most part, making things smoother for Rybakina, while Sabalenka raced to a 6-0 lead in hers. It wasn’t the case that each and every shot Sabalenka hit landed right on a line, but it must have seemed that way to Linette.

“In the tiebreaker, I really found my rhythm,” Sabalenka said. “Started trusting myself. Started going for my shots.”

Rybakina’s win over Azarenka, the champion at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, added to what already was an impressive run through a string of top opponents. She also beat No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko – both owners of major titles – and 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.

“For sure, they’re very experienced players,” said Rybakina, whose parents and sister have been in town throughout the Australian Open. “I knew that I have to focus on every point.”

She delivered serves at up to 117 mph (189 kph) and stinging groundstrokes that she used to close points seemingly at will on Thursday. Her performance was particularly noteworthy against a returner and defender as established on hard courts as Azarenka, a former No. 1 and a three-time runner-up at the U.S. Open.

“Kind of hard to digest,” Azarenka said. “Obviously, I had quite a few chances that I gave myself.”

Rybakina is just 23, 10 years younger than Azarenka, and the future sure looks bright at the moment.

Rybakina might be seeded just 22nd in Melbourne, and ranked just 25th, but those numbers are rather misleading and not indicative at all of her talent and form. She did not get the usual bump from her title last July at Wimbledon, where zero rankings points were awarded after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Rybakina was born in Moscow; she switched to Kazakhstan in 2018, when that country offered to fund her tennis career.

It was breezy and chilly at Rod Laver Arena from the start of Rybakina vs. Azarenka, with the temperature dipping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).

That had a role in the way the first set was as much of a seesaw as can be, with each player seeming to gain the upper hand – and then ceding it just as quickly. Both found the conditions slowed down the tennis balls.

“Kind of misjudged a lot of balls,” Azarenka said.

Rybakina encountered similar issues and her occasional inconsistency was encapsulated by the very first game. She began, inauspiciously enough, with a double-fault, before holding with the help of three aces.

Azarenka nosed ahead by breaking for a 3-2 lead on a leaping, full-extension volley winner with both women at the net. Rybakina, though, broke right back, and then once more to go up 5-3.

Azarenka saved a set point at 5-3 with a terrific down-the-line forehand passing shot, wound up taking the game with a backhand she accented with a shout of “Let’s go!”

A mistake-filled tiebreaker ended with Azarenka pushing a forehand wide to cap an 11-shot exchange, and the set belonged to Rybakina. She broke at love for a 2-1 lead in the second, and while they competed for another 25 minutes, the outcome was never really much in doubt.

Sure, Rybakina again faltered for a bit while trying to serve out the victory at 5-2. No one expected Azarenka to go quietly. But one last break, aided by a double-fault from Azarenka, allowed Rybakina to take another step toward another trophy.

“Ready,” she said, “to give everything I have left.”

Paul, McDonald on US Davis Cup team; Nainkin interim captain

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and the player who eliminated Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, Mackenzie McDonald, are among the players picked by interim captain David Nainkin for the U.S. Davis Cup team’s matches at Uzbekistan next week.

Nainkin’s appointment was announced Friday, three weeks after Mardy Fish’s tenure as captain ended.

Nainkin has been with the U.S. Tennis Association since 2004. He will be assisted against Uzbekistan by Dean Goldfine, who coached 20-year-old Ben Shelton during his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open.

Paul beat Shelton in that round before losing to Novak Djokovic on Friday night.

The other members of the U.S. roster are Denis Kudla, Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek. Kudla replaces Jenson Brooksby on the team.

The matches will be played on indoor hard courts on Feb. 3-4.