By E.J. Crawford
The US Open National Playoffs – Mixed Doubles Championship features players – 26 in all, representing 13 teams – at various stages of their careers, from collegiate stars to collegiate coaches and from USTA Pro Circuit standouts to some of the country’s most promising juniors. The goal for each, however, is the same: A spot in the main draw of the 2013 US Open mixed doubles main draw.
The players advanced to the Mixed Doubles Championship – held in conjunction with the New Haven Open at Yale presented by First Niagara, a 2013 Emirates Airline US Open Series event – through their respective sectional qualifying tournaments, held in 13 different USTA sections across the country.
The competitors in the Mixed Doubles Championship hail from eight different countries and four different continents. Headlining the 2013 Mixed Doubles Championship are the reigning champions, Brian Battistone and Nicole Melichar, who this year advanced out of the USTA Northern sectional qualifying tournament. A five-time USTA Pro Circuit doubles champion with a most unusual game, Battistone employs a volleyball-style jump serve and uses a double-handled racquet, while Melichar has continued to make stride as a professional over the past year, breaking into the Top 250 of the world doubles rankings.
Among the leading challengers will be another returning team, Eric Roberson and Yasmin Schnack, who reached the final of the inaugural US Open National Playoffs – Mixed Doubles Championship in 2011, where they fell in a super tie-break to Christina Fusano and David Martin. Also returning to the Mixed Doubles Championship are rising junior star Meghan Kelley and one of the coaches at the club where she trains, Daniel Quiceno. Matt Brooklyn, who will be competing with fellow Georgetown University assistant Stephanie Wetmore, won the Mid-Atlantic sectional qualifier in men’s singles in 2012.
Kelley and Melichar also are set to compete in the US Open National Playoffs – Women’s Singles Championship, alongside Southwest champion Kelcy McKenna and Middle States champion Lindsay Graff. The only man set to compete in both the singles and mixed doubles championship rounds is Matija Pecotic, Graff’s partner this week.
Other than Battistone and Melichar, the only other player competing in the Mixed Doubles Championship who previously played in the main draw of the US Open is Jesse Witten, who reached the third round of the men’s singles in 2009 before falling to Novak Djokovic in four sets. Witten is playing with his sister, former University of Kentucky standout Sarah Witten.
US Open National Playoffs – Mixed Doubles Championship at a Glance
What: The 2013 US Open National Playoffs – Mixed Doubles Championship
Where: The Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale, New Haven, Conn.
When: August 21-24 (in conjunction with the New Haven Open at Yale, an Emirates Airline US Open Series event)
Who: The winners from 13 US Open National Playoffs Sectional Qualifying Tournaments
The Skinny: This is the fourth year of the US Open National Playoffs and the third year that has included mixed doubles. The US Open National Playoffs function as a series of tournaments held throughout the United States to make the US Open eligible to anyone and everyone 14-and-over with the passion to compete. This year, 160 teams played in the 13 US Open National Playoffs Sectional Qualifying Tournaments, with the winners advancing to the Mixed Doubles Championship. The winners of the Mixed Doubles Championship earn a wild card into the main draw of the 2013 US Open, held Aug. 26 through Sept. 9 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y.
History: Last year, former Top 100 doubles player Brian Battistone teamed with up-and-comer Nicole Melichar to win the US Open National Playoffs mixed doubles title. The pair fell in the opening round of the US Open mixed doubles competition to eventual quarterfinalists Nuria Llagostera Vives and David Marrero, 7-6, 6-3. In 2011, former Top 100 doubles players Christina Fusano and David Martin won the inaugural US Open National Playoffs crown before falling to four-time Grand Slam mixed doubles champion Daniela Hantuchova and four-time Grand Slam doubles champion Mark Knowles, 6-2, 7-5, in the first round of the US Open.
Getting to Know You: The 2013 US Open National Playoffs – Mixed Doubles Championship
Age: 27; Hometown: Jamaica, NY
Bertrand played collegiately for Vanderbilt University, where she was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2005 and the SEC Player of the Year in 2006.
Age: 25; Hometown: Crystal Lake, IL
A former Division III standout at North Central College (Ill.), Sweeney was ranked No. 5 in the Division III collegiate rankings and was an All-American in 2010 and 2011.
Age: 32; Hometown: Naples, FL
Witten starred at the University of Kentucky, earning four All-America honors and reaching the NCAA doubles final in 2003. She currently works as a schoolteacher in Florida.
Age: 30; Hometown: Naples, FL
Witten, a five-time Kentucky All-American and former world No. 163, upset No. 29 seed Igor Andreev en route to the third round of the 2009 US Open, where he fell in four sets to Novak Djokovic.
Stephanie Wetmore (CAN)
Age: 25; Hometown: Washington, DC
Wetmore, a volunteer assistant at Georgetown University, won 80 doubles matches as a collegian at UCLA. She peaked at No. 101 in the world junior rankings and played in the US Open juniors.
Matt Brooklyn (GBR)
Age: 26; Hometown: Washington, DC
Brooklyn played college tennis at Arizona State and UCLA, where he met Wetmore, rising as high as No. 29 in the collegiate singles rankings. He currently serves as an assistant coach at Georgetown.
USTA Middle States
Age: 20; Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, FL
Graff, the No. 1 singles player for Princeton University, was named to the Ivy League first team in singles as a sophomore (2012-13) and in doubles as a freshman (2011-12).
Matija Pecotic (MLT)
Age: 24; Hometown: Sliema, Malta
Pecotic, born and raised in Malta, was a former star at Princeton University, becoming the first men’s player in Ivy League history to earn Player of the Year honors on three occasions (2011-13).
Age: 18; Hometown: Cincinnati, OH
Niehaus, who will play tennis at Ohio State in the fall, is a three-time finalist at the Ohio Division I state high school singles championship. She and Lofgren also won the Midwest mixed doubles title in 2011.
Age: 28; Hometown: Cincinnati, OH
Lofgren was a standout at Bradley University, finishing in the Top 5 in school history in total wins, singles win and doubles wins. Lofgren and his mom won the USTA Mother-Son Indoors in 2002-03.
USTA Missouri Valley
Victoria Lozano (MEX)
Age: 22; Hometown: Moscow, ID
Lozano is a standout at the University of Idaho, earning first team all-conference honors in doubles in 2012 and 2013. She is coached by her uncle, Jorge Lozano, a former world No. 4 doubles player.
Patrick Smith (NZL)
Age: 28; Hometown: Munich, Germany
Smith was a standout at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, earning conference Player of the Year honors as a senior. He currently works at the Bridgehampton Equity Group in New Canaan, Conn.
USTA New England
Age: 15; Hometown: Falmouth, ME
The New England singles and mixed doubles winner, Kelley has been ranked in the Top 20 in the USTA girls’ 14s and won the girls’ 16s doubles title at the 2012 USTA National Clay Court Championships.
Daniel Quiceno (COL)
Age: 33; Hometown: Beverly, MA
Quiceno coaches at Manchester Athletic Club, where Kelley trains. He was the No. 1 junior in Colombia and starred at Troy University. He is a past hitting partner for Tommy Haas and Maria Sharapova.
Age: 20; Hometown: Stuart, FL
A three-time ITF Circuit doubles champion, Melichar broke into the world Top 250 doubles rankings earlier this year. She and Battistone are the defending National Playoffs mixed doubles champions.
Age: 34; Hometown: Las Vegas, NV
Battistone, a five-time USTA Pro Circuit doubles champ, uses a double-handled racquet that allows him to hit forehands off both wings and employs a volleyball-style jump serve clocked at 139 mph.
USTA Northern California
Age: 25; Hometown: Elk Grove, CA
The 2010 NCAA doubles finalist for UCLA, Schnack teamed with Roberson to reach the Mixed Doubles Championship final in 2011. She peaked at No. 140 in the world in doubles last year.
Age: 27; Hometown: Sacramento, CA
Roberson was an all-conference performer for Boise State (2004-08). He defeated John Isner en route to the doubles final at the 2001 USTA Boys’ 16s National Championships.
Age: 27; Hometown: Houston, TX
McCray starred at Georgia Tech, where she earned All-America honors in doubles in 2007 and finished her career ranked second in school history with a .697 winning percentage in doubles.
Danie van den Heever
Age: 31; Hometown: Cumming, GA
Van den Heever grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was a top junior, and played No. 1 at Georgia Southern University. He is the director of tennis at Creekstone Estates in Georgia.
USTA Southern California
Age: 21; Hometown: Orange, CA
Christian is entering her senior season at USC, where she is a three-time All-American in doubles and has won the last two ITA National Indoor Doubles Championships.
Dante Cipulli (ARG)
Age: 31; Hometown: Murietta, CA
Cipulli, a two-time competitor in the Men's Championship, won the NCAA Division II national title as a senior at Southwest Baptist University in Missouri. He currently works as a teaching pro outside Los Angeles.
Age: 25; Hometown: North Bend, OR
McKenna is a former All-American at Arizona State, peaking at No. 3 in singles and No. 16 in doubles in the collegiate rankings. She currently works as an assistant coach at the University of New Mexico.
Age: 26; Hometown: Tualatin, OR
Robertson was an all-Western Athletic Conference performer at Boise State from 2005 to 2009. He currently serves as an instructor at the Vancouver Tennis Center in Vancouver, Wash.
Age: 16; Hometown: Rockwell, TX
Traxler is a product of the USTA Regional Training Center program in Texas. She represented USTA Texas at the Girls’ 16s Intersectionals and the Girls’ 18s National Team Championships.
Age: 18; Hometown: Dallas, TX
The highest-ranked junior Texan in the USTA national rankings, Mee represented USTA Texas in the USTA Boys’ 18s National Team Championships in late July.
* Players are American unless otherwise noted