Blake Strode won the inaugural US Open National Playoffs last year, earning a spot in the US Open Qualifying Tournament and a shot at the main draw of the 2010 US Open.
This year Strode is doubling his chances at reaching the grand stage. Strode took the first step toward repeating his US Open National Playoffs title by winning the New England Sectional Qualifying Tournament men’s singles and, for good measure, also took the mixed doubles title with partner Whitney Jones. Strode’s fellow USTA Pro Circuit regular Lena Litvak claimed the women’s title.
With the victories, Strode, Jones and Litvak earn a return trip to New Haven, Conn., the site of both the New England sectional qualifier and the US Open National Playoffs – Men’s, Women’s and Mixed Doubles Championships. The championships will be held in conjunction with the New Haven Open at Yale, the last event of the 2011 Olympus US Open Series.
In all, there are 16 sectional qualifying tournaments, with each sending its winners to the championship round. The winners of the men’s and women’s US Open National Playoffs titles earn a wild card into the US Open Qualifying Tournament, while the mixed doubles champions earn a wild card into the main draw of the 2011 US Open mixed doubles event.
Strode is a former All-American at the University of Arkansas who deferred Harvard Law School to pursue professional tennis. He was never tested in New Haven, dropping just 18 games in six matches and defeating Evan Tindell, a Hartford resident who played collegiately at MIT, 6-1, 6-4, in the final.
In the mixed doubles, Strode and Jones—a touring pro currently ranked in the Top 400 in the world in doubles and who, like Strode, hails from the St. Louis area—did not drop a set in four matches, dispatching the Connecticut tandem of D.J. Geatz and Tina Tehrani, 6-4, 6-3, in the final.
For Litvak, the trip to Yale’s campus for the sectional qualifier brought back memories of her college days, when she competed for Harvard for a season before turning pro. And her results were similarly successful. She dropped just 16 games in four matches en route to the title, defeating fellow New York native Julia Elbaba, an up-and-coming junior player, 6-1, 6-2, in the final.