By McCarton Ackerman
For Nikita Kryvonos, playing in the US Open this year would be a homecoming in every sense of the word.
Not only it would mark his first time playing in the tournament since 2007, when he received a wild card into the singles qualifying draw, but Kryvonos is a Flushing native who lives within walking distance of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and trains there during the year. Today, he moved himself one step closer to that goal by reaching the semifinals of the US Open National Playoffs Men’s and Women’s Championships, held at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale University in New Haven, by defeating South African Punch Maleka 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.
"I know everyone there," said Kryvonos, the No. 3 seed in the event. "I was injured all of last year and didn’t play any tournaments, so it would be huge for me to win the qualifying wild card and get back into the Open after everything that happened. I’m just trying to play better with every match."
Since returning to the pro tour, Kryvonos won a $15,000 futures event last month in Canada, his first pro title in over three years, and has climbed back up to No. 625 in the ATP Tour rankings. However, if he manages to win the the US Open National Playoffs, Kryvonos said he wouldn’t be satisfied with merely playing in the US Open this time.
"I’m stronger physically and have more experience than when I played there last," said Kryvonos. "I was still really young and competing against men, which was difficult for me, but now I play against these players every week. That’s helped me improve and would make me able to do better this time."
In other men’s quarterfinal matches, No. 1 seed Clement Reix lost just four games in his easy win over Nevada native Brian Battistone 6-2, 6-2. No. 2 seed Nicolas Meister moved into the semis by defeating Jon Wiegand, while another fellow American Eric Hechtman also won his match in straight sets.
On the women’s side, No. 1 seed Mayo Hibi of Japan encountered few problems in defeating American Stephanie Vlad 6-1, 6-3. The teenager, who lives in Irvine, CA, played a game that was strikingly different than the other players in the draw, serving and volleying throughout the match while also incorporating a heavy one-handed backhand.
She’s also been testing out her mature style of play on the lower rungs of the pro circuit this year, winning a $10,000 futures event this past June in Hilton Head, SC, and reaching the semifinals of a $50,000 challenger last month in Yakima, Wash. She now stands at a career high ranking of No. 413.
"Pro events are very different from the juniors because everyone is tough mentally and the serves and returns are all high quality, so it’s helped me improve my game by adjusting to that," said Hibi. "I never really traveled for junior tournaments either because there were so many in California, so I’ve been getting used to the lifestyle of traveling and staying in different places as well."
Hibi was joined in the semifinals by No. 2 seed and 2010 US Open National Playoffs women’s champion Alexandra Mueller, who easily defeated American Jan Abaza in straight sets. No. 4 seed Sandra Roma of Sweden and unseeded American Mary Weatherholt also won their matches to round out the final four.
Semifinal action for the US Open National Playoffs Men’s and Women’s Championships kicks off on Sunday at 11:00am. Clement Reix and Nikita Kryvonos square off in the first match on Court 1, followed by the all-American match between Nicolas Meister and Eric Hechtman. On the women’s side, Mayo Hibi will take on Mary Weatherholt, while Alexandra Mueller and Sandra Roma will do battle in the other semifinal.
The finals of the tournament are scheduled for Monday. The winner of the men’s and women’s singles events this week will receive a wild card into the US Open qualifying tournament, held from August 21-24 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY.
US Open National Playoffs--Men’s and Women’s Championships
Saturday, August 18
Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale University
New Haven, Conn.
Men’s Singles - Quarterfinals
Clement Reix, France (1), def. Brian Battistone, Las Vegas, NV, 6-2, 6-2
Nicolas Meister, Trabuco Canyon, CA (2), def. Jon Wiegand, San Antonio, TX, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3
Nikita Kryvonos, Flushing, NY (3), def. Punch Maleka, South Africa, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3
Eric Hechtman, Miami, FL, def. Dante Cipulli, Argentina, 6-4, 6-4
Women’s Singles - Quarterfinals
Mayo Hibi, Japan (1), def. Stephanie Vlad, Scottsdale, AZ, 6-1, 6-3
Alexandra Mueller, Abington, PA (2), def. Jan Abaza, Boca Raton FL, 6-2, 6-2
Sandra Roma, Sweden (4) def. Natalie Pluskota, Sharpsburg, GA, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4
Mary Weatherholt, Shawnee, KS, def. Nina Kukharchuk, Russia (3), 6-4, 3-6, 6-4