Talking US Open Wildcards — Quotes from Toronto — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, August 16, 2022

CINCINNATI — Happy Tennis Tuesday, y’all! I’m reporting from Cincinnati, as I decided to attend the Western & Southern Open last-minute following last week’s stunning retirement announcement from Serena Williams. I plan on watching tonight’s match between Serena and Emma Raducanu, but so far the tennis in Cincinnati has been pretty stellar. While Caty McNally’s first hometown win was a highlight, watching friend of The IX Sloane Stephens’ near-flawless 6-1, 6-0 win over Alize Cornet was just as nice.

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That being said, the US Open is right around the corner and some main draw wildcards have already been figured out and I’m hoping you’ll won’t be wondering “who!?” when you see their names:

Peyton Stearns
Age: 20
Rank: 356
WC via: NCAA singles championship

Peyton Stearns hails from the Cincinnati area and this week scalped her first Top 100 victory at the Western & Southern Open. She recently turned professional following two seasons at the University of Texas, where trophies were gathered. Stearns captured two team NCAA titles, as well as a singles championship this past season. That winning run all but confirmed the 20-year-old a main draw wildcard into this year’s US Open. Historically, if American, the NCAA (Division I) champion receives an invite. Only once — in 2010 to Amanda McDowell — the champion was delegated to qualifying.

An extremely promising junior with an ITF career-high of No. 49, Stearns is a lock for a wildcard from the USTA after capturing the Honda Sport Award for tennis and was named to the USTA Collegiate Summer team. Stearns wasn’t sure about turning professional following her first season, but her 33-2 record in 2021-22 certainly sent shockwaves to those who follow all facets of the sports. Some key things to watch with Stearns: she’s got an all-court game and is a bit gritty in her fight. I liken her to a little bit of Coco Vandeweghe and Jennifer Brady. The NCAA champion hasn’t fared well in New York, with the last first round winner coming in 2002, but Stearns could be the one to turn things around.

Elizabeth Mandlik
Age: 21
Rank: 143
WC via: USTA US Open WIld Card Challenge

A month ago, Elizabeth Mandlik wasn’t really on the tennis world’s radar, let alone the main draw wild card list for the US Open. Now, after two extremely career-changing tournaments, that dream is now a reality. A few weeks ago, I spoke about Mandlik, the daughter of Hall of Famer Hana Mandlikova. The 21-year-old entered the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic hoping to sneak into the qualifying draw and still needed a wildcard to play. There, she won two matches — including a three-set win over No. 21 Jil Teichmann — to make the main draw. There, she downed Alison Riske before falling to World No. 4 Paula Badosa in a third-set tiebreaker.

However, Mandlik wasn’t done there. Last week, at the $100,000 ITF World Tour event in Landisville, Pennsylvania, she continued her hot play. As a wildcard, she reached the biggest final of her career, only dropping one set en route. Among those results was a 6-0, 6-2 destruction over former Top 10 player Kristina Mladenovic. The two results essentially claimed the wildcard for Mandlik through the US Open Wild Card Challenge hosted by the USTA for lower-ranked players and their summer hardcourt results. Since 2012, the winner of the Challenge has gone 9-8 at in New York. With that said, if they won their opening round, they made the third or fourth round. There could be a Cinderella run in New York with Mandlik’s name on it. Stay tuned.

Elena Yu
Age: 17
Rank: 747
WC via: USTA Girl’s 18 National Championship

Last but certainly not least is Mason, Ohio native Elena Yu. Yu is perhaps the least likely wildcard to emerge, but the No. 11 recruit for the Class of 2023 finds herself with the big dogs. The 17-year-old entered the USTA Billie Jean King Girls’ 16s and 18s National Championships as the No. 4 seed and left San Diego as champion.

Pun intended, but Yu is definitely a wildcard here. She’s been amongst the top juniors in her class for many years now, but her professional and ITF junior results haven’t screamed enough to keep an eye out on. The draw in San Diego fell apart by the semifinals and it was Yu’s for the taking, so if there’s one takeaway I can give you, it’s that she’s not afraid of grasping the brass ring in the moment. That being said, she’s performed twice in qualifying on the WTA stage — both in Ohio last year at the WTA 250 Cleveland and WTA 125 in Columbus last year. She fell in three sets in Cleveland and a tight two-setter in Columbus. With her result as USTA champion, I expect Yu to get a main draw wildcard in Cleveland, especially if Topnotch Management is hoping to lure her. Yu isn’t a professional and would be the first USTA Girl’s 18s champion to go to college since 2003 if she follows through on her plan. Main draw action next week would be pivotal for Yu to get some last-minute competition against players playing in New York with her. Though I’m forever an optimist, I don’t see her making too much of an impact in New York, but we know how I am with predictions…..

Now, link time!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

At the National Bank Open, Simona Halep captured her 24th WTA singles title with a three-set win over Beatriz Haddad Maia, putting the two-time Grand Slam champion back in the Top 10. In doubles, Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula won their second WTA 1000 of 2022 with a three-set win over Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Ellen Perez. What made the win even sweeter was that it launched Gauff to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in her career:

Coco Vandeweghe recaptured some of the form that brought her to the Top 10 by taking the WTA 125 Thoreau Tennis Open in Concord, Massachusetts. The American snapped Bernarda Pera’s 16-match winning streak to win her first tour-level title since 2016. Vandeweghe also won the doubles title, teaming up with Varvara Flink to defeat Peangtarn Plipuech and Moyuka Uchijima.

The Serena think pieces continue to roll in, but this Jon Wertheim one is a must-watch:

I’ve mentioned in the past how Rebecca Marino is one to watch after her long absence from the tour due to depression. Now on her own terms and back into the Top 100, the Canadian is looking forward to being a mainstay on the circuit.

Though she’s still getting used to being No. 1, Iga Swiatek isn’t just staying present — she’s thinking ahead with the big picture in mind.

I agree with Daria Saville:

Really enjoyed this piece on two Minnesota natives getting a chance at the big time this week in Cincinnati thanks to Tournament Director Eric Butorac.

Big fan of this initiative by Tennis Canada and the National Bank Open:

I agree with Steve Tignor, tennis is super fun at the moment. Do we need a Big #x to dominate the tour?

Jessica Pegula is probably one of the most consistent performers on the WTA Tour at the moment. However, she wants more.

Venus Williams had an extremely late start to her Toronto opener, but she took it in stride:

Tweet of the Week

Venus Williams with some key advice:

Five at The IX: National Bank Open

Q. I was reading a magazine story about you the other day. Saying that you were so shy growing up that you didn’t even like to talk on the phone. I was wondering how somebody like that survives in this world of professional tennis where you’re performing for the public.

SIMONA HALEP: Yeah, I have worked a lot with myself to get better. Tennis helped me a lot. It pushed me to face tough moments, difficult moments.

I think I always been open to learn. This aspect helped me to just improve every day. I accepted that I was shy and I just faced everything like I’ve been.

I started to push myself to do some things that are out of my comfort zone. Yeah, I think now I’m much better. And I’m happy with myself.

Q. You’re the first Brazilian to reach a final in Canada in 25 years. Gustavo Kuerten did it in 1997. I guess my question is, what does it mean to you to make Brazilian tennis history here?

BEATRIZ HADDAD MAIA: Well, for me, it’s very special. We have Maria Esther Bueno, Guga. I don’t compare myself with them. For me they are phenomenals.

It’s very important and it’s a pleasure for me to be not even only Brazilian, but woman from South America. We have a lot of mens, Argentinian and another like Brazilians people playing big tournaments also.

But it’s very special to represent the woman’s power in this stage of tournament. And, yeah, I’m very proud of myself and my team.

Q. I guess this is two parts. I’m curious, so far this year you’ve had a lot of success in singles and your ranking has risen a lot. Why do you continue to play doubles? Is it because it’s just a lot of fun? Or is it because you feel like it helps your singles game? Or maybe both? And then, I know it’s a long way away, but looking into 2023, do you think you’ll continue to do that alongside your singles career?

JESSICA PEGULA: I guess it depends on how I’m feeling health-wise. But I always just love playing doubles because I love to play tennis. I like to compete. I think it helps the weeks. Especially if you lose or you lose early you still have a doubles match where I feel you can bounce back and get right back into that competitive mode.

A lot of pressure points. A lot of intangibles you can work on if you’re working on something. Serve, return, volleys, whatever it is. And so for me I think it helps a lot.

I really don’t think it takes that much energy. I think maybe sometimes it’s just waiting around to play if you’re doubled up.

But, honestly, I think it’s just because I like to play. It’s fun. I like to win. (Laughing). It’s another chance to win, right?

So even last week I won DC doubles and I felt like that gave me confidence coming in here for singles. Because I felt like we saved some match points, we were in pressure situations and we were able to win. I think that helped singles and doubles this week.

So I just, I enjoy it. I think it helps. I would like to still play doubles next year as well. So we’ll see.

Q. I know you said today you kind of revert to some of your old ways. But mentally I feel like that’s been a huge part of your growth this year. Last week against Naomi you said, I think it was like match point number seven, you said you were thinking of your brother or you looked down at your shoes. And are those the type of things that you’re kind of telling yourself to slow down in these big moments? Like are those the type of cues that you use?

COCO GAUFF: Yeah, I definitely try to get myself to slow down and just think for a second. Because when I’m rushing, sometimes it’s good, sometimes when I’m rushing I win a lot of points in a row. And then other times it’s not. Usually I recognize when it’s good for me and when it’s not for me.

I mean, it also depends on your opponent. You know, if your opponent is, like me, negative today, you’re going to go faster to make them keep thinking like that.

But today I kind of slowed down at 3-0. And, yeah, usually when I need to dig deep it’s usually in those moments. When people are cheering for me I think it helps. Because these people waited three hours with me and I don’t want to, not that if I lose I’m going to disappoint them. But I don’t want to like lose like being like a brat on the court (laughing) and like being mad at myself.

So, yeah, it’s usually like looking at my laces or somebody in the crowd, like a little kid or something. And I try to say if, like tell myself, what would I want to see if I was that kid. And I wouldn’t want to see someone being down.

It’s okay to be negative too. Because it’s impossible to be positive on the court. Unless you’re Roger, probably. Which I’m not.

So I think it shows growth. And I think that match, if you were somebody, a kid watching it, I think you learned a lot about growth and learning how to get yourself out. Because you’re not going to be perfect. And especially not at 18. I have a lot to learn.

Q. Talking away from the court and just the impact that this week has on you and coming back here. If you try to look back at all the activities that you did and meeting the young kids. And I think it was a really impressionable week on both sides. What are some of the lasting memories that you feel like you’ll take away from this Toronto trip?

BIANCA ANDREESCU: I had the opportunity to basically inspire some kids here. And hopefully other people as well. I mean, with my book signing and the, you know, all the Q&As that I did as well.

And for me that’s one of the biggest accomplishments I’ve had in my career. Like being able to have that voice. And having to do that here in Toronto just means so much for me.

Because I remember being in those kids’ positions and having, let’s say, a role model. Hopefully I can be a role model to them in some way. If that can motivate them or inspire them in any way, shape or form, to me I feel like I’ve done my duty in a way.

And I’ve said this before: I want to use tennis as a platform to be able to do things like that. And I just want to continue. And it just, it makes my heart so full.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon