Four months ago, the first players stepped onto the courts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., opening the inaugural US Open National Playoffs for their first-round matches at the USTA Eastern Sectional Qualifying Tournament. On Sunday, with the original field of 373 women having been whittled down to two, No. 1 seed Alina Jidkova and No. 2 Alexandra Mueller played for the right to return to Flushing Meadows, the winner earning a wild card into the 2010 US Open Qualifying Tournament.
Though both Jidkova and Mueller were chasing the same dream, the opportunity to play at the 2010 US Open meant something different for the two players who are at opposite stages of their careers. For the 33-year-old Jidkova of Boca Raton, Fla., Sunday’s final presented a chance to return to Flushing Meadows for the first time since 2008 and, quite possibly, for the last time for the player who turned pro in 1993 and made her US Open main-draw debut in 2000. Jidkova remarked multiple times this week that she viewed the US Open National Playoffs as a “retire or rebirth” scenario, meaning that a strong run to the Open could reignite the passion that helped her achieve a career-high ranking of No. 51 in 2005.
Jidkova didn’t even consider the US Open National Playoffs as a chance to return to the US Open until a friend told her about the event one day before the deadline to register for the final Sectional Qualifying Event in Texas. But once entered, Jidkova used her experience and intelligent game to defeat 10 straight opponents en route to Sunday’s final.
For the 22-year-old Mueller from Abington, Pa., who read about the US Open National Playoffs on USTA.com and immediately signed up for the Middle States Sectional Qualifying Tournament, Sunday’s final represented a chance to take another step forward in a career that started with a wild card into the 2004 US Open Qualifying Tournament and has seen her win three USTA Pro Circuit titles in 2010.
In the end, it was Mueller who remained standing, soundly defeating Jidkova, 6-0, 6-3, in the stadium court of the Taube Family Tennis Center at Stanford University to win the Women’s Championship and earn herself a trip to Flushing Meadows, where she’s not played since receiving a doubles wild card in 2007.
While Saturday’s US Open National Playoffs semifinals featured plenty of drama, with each match going to a full three sets, Sunday’s final was a display of pure domination. Mueller, who has said all week that she is playing the best tennis of her career, came out firing on all cylinders. She broke Jidkova to open the match and never looked back, recording three breaks of serve while rarely being pressured on her own, winning the first set, 6-0.
While the second set was more competitive, Mueller never allowed Jidkova to settle into the match, ripping off forehand winners to both corners and pouring in serves that reached speeds up to 112 mph, which bested the service speeds of all the competitors in the Bank of the West Classic except two. In fact, Mueller won an astonishing 16 of 18 points on her serve in the second set, while breaking Jidkova twice more to record a 6-0, 6-3 win in just over 50 minutes.
“I want to congratulate Alina on a great tournament,” Mueller said to the crowd after the match. “I just played really well today. I had a solid game plan coming in, and I was able to execute it. I’d like to thank the USTA for holding this tournament and for this incredible opportunity to play at the US Open.”
Asked about the difference in her mindset since her last trip to the Open, Mueller responded, “Well, that was six years ago, so I’m a lot more mature now, both mentally and physically. To be able to have this chance to go back really is amazing!”
Mueller, who is currently No. 447 on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, will head now to the USTA Pro Circuit $75,000 event in Vancouver, Canada, where she had been hoping to qualify for the singles draw. She had to pull out of qualifying, but as one can imagine, she wasn’t very upset about it. She’ll still play doubles in the event and then will head back to Pennsylvania to rest and practice.
Mueller now knows that her next singles match will be at the 2010 US Open Qualifying Tournament.
US Open National Playoffs – Women’s Championship
Taube Family Tennis Center at Stanford University
Palo Alto, Calif.
Day 5 Final Results
(2) Alexandra Mueller (USA), Abington, Pa., def. (1) Alina Jidkova (RUS), Boca Raton, Fla., 6-0, 6-3