Adam Lee displays his men's trophy.
© Will Mehall/USTA Southern
The women's champ: Natalie Pluskota.
© Rick Limpert
Marcus Hurtig and Lindsay Lee-Waters won the mixed.
© Will Mehall/USTA Southern
By Alex Welch and Will Mehall, USTA Southern Interns
After receiving All-American singles and doubles honors in 2012, Natalie Pluskota now has another major achievement to add to her resume. The 22-year-old senior captured the US Open National Playoff Southern Sectional Qualifying Tournament women’s singles title on Tuesday, defeating Mary Anne Macfarlane 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-4.
With temperatures reaching the mid-90s at the Windward Lake Club in Alpharetta, Ga., the two ITA All-Americans faced off in a match that spanned nearly three hours. Pluskota, from the University of Tennessee, matched up against another Alabama player after defeating Macfarlane’s Crimson Tide teammate the day prior.
On serve in the first set, Pluskota broke Macfarlane first, but lost her first serving game after a back-and-fourth battle to tie things up 5-5. Pluskota broke Macfarlane right after to go up 6-5, but Macfarlane broke right back, sending the two to a tiebreak. The Volunteer ripped several forehand winners and took the first set.
Momentum completely shifted shortly after heading to a second frame. Macfarlane found her rhythm looked at one point like she was destined to take home the title. Pluskota, however, had plans of her own, as she somehow managed to turn everything around in the third.
Macfarlane was able to jump out to a 4-0 lead in the final frame, but the junior from Alabama couldn’t hold off Pluskota’s comeback. After breaking Macfarlane to tie things up 4-4, Pluskota hammered a crosscourt forehand to take her first lead since the opening set.
"I just focused one point at a time, just looked to hit to big parts of the court, and I feel like I did that pretty well," she said, talking about what she did to make such a huge comeback.
At match point, she slammed another huge forehand down the line, letting out shout of excitement as she realized the championship was hers.
Pluskota seemed a bit more impressed with her play today. "It was a little bit better. I definitely was hitting the ball a lot cleaner. Physically it was a little more challenging for me, but once I got in that groove I was feeling the ball really well," she said.
The next step will be a trip to New Haven, Conn., where she will compete in a second qualifier. "It’s always exciting going to the next one. Just gotta get ready for it," Pluskota said. "It’s definitely an accomplishment. I came here last year and fell a little short, so to come back and win it is definitely exciting."
There’s still plenty of tennis left to play, but Pluskota has proven she’s ready for even tougher competition on the national scale.
Wake Forest's Lee moves on
Adam Lee may have played No. 4 singles at Wake Forest this past season, but he’s walking away from Windward Lake Club as the top competitor from the men’s draw.
The sophomore Demon Deacon took the courts one day after defeating his former teammate David Hopkins, and he continued to roll with the success he’s been experiencing as he took down Danie van den Heever 7-5, 6-4.
A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, van den Heever implemented the serve and volley strategy throughout the match, winning the majority of his points at the net. Lee, though, was able to drive some huge shots past his attacking opponent, and proved to be too much in the end.
"I thought I played really well. I’m playing some of the best tennis I’ve played, and it’s a great feeling," Lee said afterwards.
As he heads to New Haven for the next round of qualifying, he believes he can continue this winning streak. "I think I have a great chance of playing in the qualifier of the US Open with the way I’m playing now. I have so much confidence right now," he said.
With a trip to Connecticut, he might get a chance to escape to torrid Georgia heat, but he still plans to prepare the same way. "I’ll just do the same as what I’ve been doing. Drinking a lot of water, hydrating myself, eating really well," said Lee.
The courts at Yale University await Lee, and he is more prepared than ever to take on this next challenge.
Lee-Waters/Hurtig win mixed
The mixed doubles team of WTA Tour player Lindsay Lee-Waters and Marcus Hurtig, of Woodstock, prevailed over Pluskota and Hunter Reese, who also plays for the University of Tennessee, 6-4, 7-5.
Local resident Lee-Waters has won 11 singles and 21 titles on the USTA Pro and ITF Women’s Circuits. She advanced to the second round of the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in her career and was ranked a career best No. 33 in the world in 1996. She just returned from Wimbledon where she moved through women’s doubles qualifying with Megan Moulton-Levy but lost in the first round of the main draw.
In juniors, Hurtig earned a Top 10 national ranking in Australia and reached world No. 141.
The USTA created the US Open National Playoffs to expand the footprint of the US Open to cities nationwide by providing the opportunity for all players 14 years of age and older to earn a berth into the US Open. USTA Southern is the last of 13 sections to hold qualifying.
The US Open National Playoffs begin as a series of sectional qualifying tournaments held in 13 USTA Sections throughout the country, including Alpharetta. The 13 men’s, women’s and mixed doubles champions from each sectional qualifying tournament will advance to the US Open National Playoffs Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles and Mixed Doubles Championship. All three tournaments will be held in conjunction with the New Haven Open at Yale, an Emirates Airline US Open Series event, presented by First Niagara. The US Open National Playoffs Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles Championship will be held Aug. 17-20. The US Open National Playoffs Mixed Doubles Championship will be held Aug. 22-25.
The US Open National Playoffs men’s and women’s singles champions earn a wild card into the US Open Qualifying Tournament, which takes place one week prior to the 2012 US Open. The US Open National Playoffs mixed doubles champions receive a main draw wild card into the 2012 US Open.