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US Open National Playoffs Women's Championship Preview

November 7, 2013 11:53 AM
Mayo Hibi
By Amanda Korba

The fourth annual US Open National Playoffs – Women’s Singles Championship features players – 12 in all – at various stages of their careers, from former collegiate stars to USTA and ITF Pro Circuit standouts to young players looking to make their mark. The goal for each, however, is the same: A spot in the US Open Qualifying Tournament and, with it, a shot at the main draw of the 2013 US Open.

The players advanced to the Women’s Singles 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. (Due to a withdrawal, 12 of the 13 sections are represented in the Women's Championship.) 

The competitors in the Women’s Singles Championship hail from six different countries and have played in tournaments all over the world. Yet for all their collective experience, no player has competed in the US Open Qualifying Tournament. Junior players Peggy Porter and Mayo Hibi played in the junior US Open and Nicole Melichar competed in the US Open mixed doubles tournament last year after winning the National Playoffs mixed doubles title with Brian Battistone.

In the diverse field, future, current and former college standouts will clash, as seven of the 12 players have competed or will compete in college tennis. Current and former college stars include: Princeton No. 1 Lindsay Graff; former University of Mississippi four-year letter winner Nika Kukharchuk; Kelcy McKenna, formerly No. 3 in the collegiate ranings in singles while at Arizona State; Amy Sargeant, who recently graduated from Florida State University; and Nelle Youel, who plays No. 1 singles at Northern Illinois University. Future college stars include Porter, who will play for the University of Florida, and Allison Miller, who will play for the University of Notre Dame.

Five of the 12 players are teenagers, including 14-year-old Victoria Flores, who was the youngest player competing in all of the US Open National Playoffs this year. The oldest player in the field is only 26 years old (Kukharchuk). Other teenagers include Meghan Kelley, 15, who has received tennis lessons from esteemed coach Nick Bollettieri; 2013 Easter Bowl singles champion Hibi, 17; 2013 Easter Bowl doubles champion Porter, 17; and high school senior Miller, 18.


US Open National Playoffs – Women’s Championship at a Glance

What: The 2013 US Open National Playoffs – Women’s Singles Championship

Where: The Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale, New Haven, Conn.

When: August 16-19 (in conjunction with the New Haven Open at Yale, an Emirates Airline US Open Series event)

Who: Representatives from the US Open National Playoffs Sectional Qualifying Tournaments

The Seeds: Players are seeded based on the WTA rankings as of Aug. 5. They are as follows: 1. Mayo Hibi; 2. Nicole Melichar; 3. Nika Kukharchuk; 4. Sandra Roma.

The Skinny: This is the fourth year of the US Open National Playoffs. 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. 320 women played in the 13 US Open National Playoffs Sectional Qualifying Tournaments, with the winners advancing to the Women’s Singles Championship. The winner of the Women’s Singles Championship earns a wild card into the US Open Qualifying Tournament, held Aug. 20-23, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., home of the US Open.

History: Alexandra Mueller won the 2010 and 2012 US Open National Playoffs, falling in the first round of US Open qualifying both years. In 2011, teenager Robin Anderson, a current UCLA standout and the junior singles quarterfinalist at the 2010 US Open, won the US Open National Playoffs women’s title. She also lost in the first round of US Open qualifying.

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Getting to Know You: The 2013 US Open National Playoffs – Women’s Singles Championship

Victoria Flores
Age: 14    
Hometown: Fort Dodge, IA        
Career-High Rank: N/A

Flores won the USTA Missouri Valley singles title this year, defeating the section’s mixed doubles champion Victoria Lozano in the final. Flores is a top junior player who turned 14 in April and is an incoming high school freshman, making her the youngest competitor in the US Open National Playoffs this year. She reached the fourth round of the 2013 USTA National Clay Court Championships Girls’ 14s division. Her parents are both from the Philippines.

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Lindsay Graff
Age: 20    
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, FL        
Career-High Rank: N/A

Graff, a rising junior at Princeton, won the USTA Middle States singles title. She also captured the section’s mixed doubles title with former Princeton standout Matija Pecotic, who also won the Middle States’ men’s singles title. Graff, who is majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, had a tremendous spring season at the school, earning First Team All-Ivy League honors as the school’s No. 1 singles player.

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Mayo Hibi (JPN)
Age: 17    
Hometown: Irvine, CA        
Career-High Rank: 247 (July 2013)

Hibi captured her second consecutive USTA Southern California sectional qualifier women’s singles title. Hibi, who competes for Japan, won the $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit singles title in Las Cruces, N.M., this year, and she captured the $10,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Hilton Head Island, S.C., a year ago. As a junior player, Hibi peaked at No. 62  in the ITF World Junior Rankings in April after winning the 2013 Easter Bowl singles title and the USTA International Spring Championships in back-to-back weeks.  Hibi competed in qualifying at the 2012 US Open Junior Championships.

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Meghan Kelley
Age: 15    
Hometown: Falmouth, ME          
Career-High Rank: N/A

Kelley won the USTA New England sectional qualifier, defeating fellow teenager Dayna Lord in a third-set tiebreak in the final. Kelley has been ranked in the Top 20 in the USTA National Girls’ 14s rankings and won the girls’ 16s doubles title at the 2012 USTA National Clay Court Championships. She trains at the Manchester Athletic Club in Massachusetts and has also received tennis lessons from Nick Bollettieri.

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Nika Kukharchuk (RUS)
Age: 26    
Hometown: Carmel, NY          
Career-High Rank: 456 (May 2013)

Kukharchuk won the Mid-Atlantic women’s singles sectional qualifier for the second consecutive year. Kukharchuk, who hails from Kaliningrad, Russia, broke into the Top 500 this year and competes on the ITF and USTA Pro Circuits. She currently works as a teaching pro, was a four-year letter winner for the University of Mississippi and ascended as high as No. 3 in the Russian junior rankings. Off the court, she received a bachelor’s degree in finance at age 20 and earned her MBA at 21. Both of her parents are music teachers.

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Kelcy McKenna
Age: 24    
Hometown: North Bend, OR        
Career-High Rank: N/A

McKenna defeated local favorite Alexandra Letzt, 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-4, at the Southwest sectional qualifier; she lost just four games in her first three matches before facing Letzt. McKenna is a former All-American for Arizona State University, where she played No. 1 in both singles and doubles. She ranked as high as No. 3 in the country in singles and No. 16 in doubles in the collegiate rankings while at ASU and was a frequent NCAA participant. She is currently the assistant women’s coach at the University of New Mexico.

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Nicole Melichar
Age: 20    
Hometown: Stuart, FL        
Career-High Rank: 400 (September 2012)

Melichar won the 2012 US Open National Playoffs – Mixed Doubles Championship in New Haven last year with Brian Battistone to earn a wild card into the US Open mixed doubles main draw. This year, Melichar won both the singles and mixed doubles title at the Northern sectional qualifier. Melichar broke into the Top 200 in the world doubles rankings earlier this year, when she also captured her first-ever USTA Pro Circuit doubles title, at the $50,000 event in Portland, Ore. Melichar has also won two ITF singles titles and three ITF doubles crowns.
 
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Allison Miller
Age: 18    
Hometown: Norcross, GA        
Career-High Rank: N/A

Miller defeated her longtime friend Laura Patterson in the final of the Southern sectional qualifier in a tight 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, match. Miller will be a high school senior this fall and recently committed to playing collegiate tennis at the University of Notre Dame.

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Magda Okruashvili (GEO)
Age: 23    
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY        
Career-High Rank: 910 (June 2008)

Okruashvili won her second consecutive Eastern sectional qualifying women’s singles title. Okruashvili is originally from the country of Georgia and moved to the United States in 2006, where she trains at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. She is currently an assistant tennis coach at ASA College in Brooklyn, where she is also studying for a degree in criminal justice.

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Peggy Porter
Age: 17    
Hometown: Dallas, TX                
Career-High Rank: 874 (June 2013)

Porter won her second consecutive Texas sectional qualifier women’s singles title. Porter has committed to the University of Florida entering her senior year of high school and is currently being coached by Jarmila Gajdosova, who won this year’s Australian Open mixed doubles title. A standout junior player, Porter won the 2013 Easter Bowl doubles title and played in her first junior Grand Slam tournament at the 2011 US Open. This summer, she won her first USTA Pro Circuit title by capturing the doubles title at the $10,000 event in Bethany Beach, Del.

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Amy Sargeant (GBR)
Age: 23    
Hometown: Tallahassee, FL        
Career-High Rank: 1018 (June 2008)

Recent Florida State University graduate Sargeant defeated incoming University of Tennessee freshman Brittany Lindl to capture the USTA Florida sectional qualifier. Sargeant, who is from England, graduated from Florida State as only the fifth woman in school history to win 30 singles matches in one season, going 30-5 in 2012-13.

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Nelle Youel
Age: 20    
Hometown: Crystal Lake, IL            
Career-High Rank: N/A

Youel won four matches to capture the USTA Midwest sectional qualifier women’s singles title. In her first three matches, Youel lost just six games. Youel plays No. 1 singles and doubles for Northern Illinois University. She was a competitive youth gymnast before taking up tennis, and she also played on her high school’s soccer and basketball teams in addition to the tennis team.

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* Players are American unless otherwise noted
 

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