The inaugural US Open National Playoffs – Men’s Championship kicked off on Thursday with 16 men competing to fulfill their desire of playing in the 2010 US Open. The tournament takes place through Sunday, July 25, at the Atlanta Athletic Club, held in conjunction with the first Olympus US Open Series event of 2010. After each player won his respective Sectional Qualifying Tournaments held in cities all over the country from April through June, the men came face-to-face to begin round one in hopes of earning a wild card into the 2010 US Open Qualifying Tournament.
Participants included Davis Cup players, college standouts, USTA Pro Circuit regulars, tennis coaches, an up-and-coming lawyer, and even an aspiring music producer. After round one, all four of the top seeds advanced in their matches, while half of the matches resulted in three sets that brought some US Open flavor to this tournament.
Play began in the morning where No. 1 seed Blake Strode, 23, of St. Louis, faced veteran Punch Maleka, 31, of Wayne, Pa. Strode started his match slow, getting broken three times on his serve. He picked up his game for the rest of the match and cruised past Maleka 1-6, 6-3, 6-0, winning the last set in just 24 minutes. Strode, a product of his local NJTL chapter in St. Louis, was a standout at the University of Arkansas and deferred Harvard Law School to go pro.
Strode now advances to the second round and will take on Nikita Kryvonos, 23, of Flushing, N.Y., who lives just miles away from the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Kryvonos faced Puerto Rican Davis Cup player Eduardo Pavia, 21, for nearly three hours in the Atlanta heat, and Kryvonos came out on top, defeating Pavia 7-6 (2), 4-6, 6-2.
Next on court was Haitian Davis Cup player and No. 3 seed Olivier Sajous, 23, of Plantation, Fla., who dismissed his opponent, Mercyhurst standout Keith Whittingham, 22, of Erie, Pa., in less than an hour. Sajous had eight aces and broke Whittingham four times to win the match 6-3, 6-1, and advance to the second round. Sajous is the sentimental favorite at the tournament, growing up in impoverished Haiti and moving to Florida to pursue his tennis career. He had just qualified in a USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Plantation back in January when the earthquake hit his home country and destroyed his childhood tennis facility. Sajous has overcome the obstacles and continues to make remarkable progression in his tennis.
Sajous will face Colin Hoover, 21, of Arlington, Texas, after Hoover won a battle of the college standouts. Hoover faced University of Kentucky All-American Eric Quigley, 21, of Peewee Valley, Ky., and won in a straight sets victory, defeating his fellow collegian 6-3, 6-3. Hoover, a sophomore at Texas A&M, won 87 percent of his first serve points.
The No. 4 seed, Chris Wettengel, 28, of Saratoga, Calif., cruised through his match against former University of Utah standout and Germany native Phillip Eilers 6-4, 6-4. Wettengel, who competed for the University of Minnesota, will take on the assistant tennis coach at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, Dante Cipulli, 28, of Kansas City, whose age overcame Thibaut Charron, 23, of France. Cipulli beat Charron 6-3, 6-1, in just over an hour.
After being moved to stadium court with the default of the Atlanta Tennis Championships Andy Roddick-Mardy Fish doubles match in the evening, former Top 100 player and No. 2 seed Cecil Mamiit, 34, of South Pasadena, Calif., needed three sets to defeat teaching pro Angelo Niculescu, 29, of Lake Oswego, Ore., under the lights. As the clock approached midnight, Mamiit took hold of the match, defeating Niculescu 3-6, 6-2, 6-0.
Mamiit will face Ikaika Jobe, 27, of Honolulu, who also played into the darkness on Court 1. Jobe, who came out of retirement to compete in the US Open National Playoffs, faced Yale graduate Brandon Wai, 24, of New York, a runner-up in the USTA New England Sectional Qualifying Tournament, who was awarded a spot into the US Open National Playoffs – Men’s Championship after the winner could not compete. Jobe started off his match dropping the first set, but rebounded by breaking in the second set, and taking over the match, defeating Wai in a 3-6, 6-4, 6-0, victory.
Judging from the first day, the US Open National Playoffs – Men’s Championship will continue to display high-level tennis coming from a group of very talented players, who will have to play their best games to fulfill their Grand Slam dreams. Atlanta is feeling the effects of the US Open in its own backyard with only more excitement to come.
 Blake Strode def. Punch Maleka1-6, 6-3, 6-0
 Cecil Mamiit def. Angelo Niculescu 3-6, 6-2, 6-0
 Olivier Sajous def. Keith Whittingham 6-3, 6-1
 Chris Wettengel def. Phillip Eilers 6-4, 6-4
Nikita Kryvonos def. Eduardo Pavia 7-6 (2), 4-6, 6-2
Colin Hoover def. Eric Quigley 6-3, 6-3
Dante Cipulli def. Thibaut Charron 6-3, 6-1
Ikaika Jobe def. Brandon Wai 3-6, 6-4, 6-0