Damon Gooch advanced to his second US Open playoffs.
© Jennifer Pottheiser
By Benjamin Snyder
The championship round of the US Open National Playoffs USTA Eastern Sectional Qualifying Tournament took place on Saturday, June 15 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens and four players have advanced a round closer to playing at the US Open in August.
The initiative, which started four years ago, features the US Open National Playoffs as a series of sectional qualifying tournaments in 13 USTA Sections throughout the country.
The 13 men’s, women’s and mixed doubles champions from each sectional qualifying tournament next land a spot to the US Open National Playoffs – Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles and Mixed Doubles Championships in New Haven, Conn., in August, which is held in conjunction with the New Haven Open at Yale, an Emirates Airline US Open Series event.
For the Eastern women, Magda Okruashvili, 22, advanced to her second straight appearance at the tournament in New Haven. A professional tennis player originally from Georgia and a New York resident, Okruashvili defeated Alanna Wolff 6-0, 6-4 in the championship round.
Looking forward, Okruashvili said, "I need to concentrate for New Haven. Last year, I lost because I practiced too much I think and this year I think I need to be a little more professional."
She continued, "I’m getting closer every year, so hopefully I’ll make it to the US Open, that’s the main goal."
In fact, Okruashvili admitted that when she was a child, getting to the US Open was a dream. Now, however, it’s a goal. "I want to get there first and win matches, there, too," she said.
South African native and current Bethesda, Maryland resident Damon Gooch, 26, meanwhile, will travel to his second showing in New Haven and a chance to win a spot in the qualifying round of the first major tournament of his career. A former professional player on the ATP Tour, Gooch won the Mid-Atlantic Sectional Qualifying tournament in 2011.
This year, he defeated Richard Del Nunzio of Forest Hills, Queens 6-3, 6-0. Like Okruashvili, Gooch proved to be dominant during the six days of play at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. He was not pushed to a third set over the near week of play.
In fact, Gooch lost just nine total games up until his semifinal match where Gary Kushnirovich of Brooklyn tested him 6-3, 6-4.
Getting to New Haven a second time is great and "almost better than the first time I went," he said. Although it proved to be nerve-wracking, Gooch said, "it went well" and he ended up winning a couple matches."
He continued, "It was nice, I enjoyed it."
Looking ahead to the possibility of competing in the US Open, Gooch explained that it’d be simply "unbelievable." He added, "I suppose I’ve been out of tennis for a little while, I’ve been coaching and I haven’t played as much."
Gooch also explained that getting to a Grand Slam tournament has always been a dream. "Now that I live in the United States, [playing at the US Open] is an ideal spot," he said.
In mixed doubles, the duo of Tarakaa Bertrand, 27, from Jamaica, NY and Sam Sweeney of New York, New York fought through the 16-player draw to set up a match versus last year’s champions, Alison Adamski and Keith Kessler.
The match this year proved to be a thriller, ending 7-6(5), 4-6, 10-5 in a tiebreak.
Should Bertrand, a former athlete for Vanderbilt University who achieved a career-high WTA ranking of 603, and Sweeney, a former player for North Central College, continue their form into New Haven and emerge the champions, they will be entered directly into the main draw of the US Open Mixed Doubles tournament for a chance to compete for a major title.