By Andrew Labovitz
The first three days of the 2010 US Open National Playoffs – Women’s Championship at the Taube Family Tennis Center on the Stanford University campus were highlighted by the dominance of the four semifinalists, as not one of them needed three sets to advance to today’s semifinals. That trend ended on Saturday with a screeching halt, as both semifinal matches went the distance. When the dust settled, however, the top two seeds remained standing, and as with the Men’s Championship last week in Atlanta, tomorrow’s women’s final will pit No. 1 vs. No. 2 with a spot in the 2010 US Open Qualifying Tournament on the line.
Saturday’s first semifinal featured top-seed Alina Jidkova, 33, of Boca Raton, Fla., taking on No. 3 seed Brittany Augustine, 18, of Carson, Calif. Jidkova got off to a fast start, displaying her experience that helped her reach a career-high ranking of No. 51 in 2005 by keeping the ball in play while Augustine committed a number of unforced errors. Augustine also helped Jidkova by serving seven double-faults, and Jidkova coasted to win the first set 6-2.
Augustine showed plenty of resilience, however, breaking Jidkova to open the second set and curbing her errors as she jumped out to leads of 4-1, and then 5-3. Despite being broken at 5-3, the former USTA Girls’ 14s No. 1 still had a set point on Jidkova’s next service game, but Jidkova kept her poise and evened the set at 5. The two players battled into a second set tiebreak, where Augustine used her power to force Jidkova into multiple errors. After missing a forehand on her first set point in the tiebreak, Augustine responded with a huge serve that Jidkova lobbed back, leading to an overhead smash that evened the match at a set apiece.
Unfortunately for Augustine, she could not maintain her momentum, and Jidkova immediately took advantage, breaking Augustine twice to take a 5-0 lead in the third set. Though Augustine fought back to make it 5-3, she could not break Jidkova a second time, and Jidkova took the match, and the first spot in the final, with a 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3, victory.
On court for the second semifinal were No. 2 seed Alexandra Mueller, 22, of Abington, Pa., and 16-year-old upstart Jessica Pegula of Boca Raton, Fla., who pulled off the surprise of the tournament with her easy victory over No. 4 seed Courtney Dolehide on Friday. Despite their size difference, the 6’2 Mueller and 5’6 Pegula both possess huge games and love to pound away from the baseline, and their semifinal figured to feature a litany of winners and intense rallies. Both players lived up to their billings, as they were ripping the ball throughout the match, each player coming up with a number of incredible winners and passing shots.
They went back and forth in the first to a 5-5 score before Mueller stepped up her game and broke Pegula at love, achieving her second break of the set to take a 6-5 lead. From there, she held on through a tense service game and won the first set 7-5. Pegula came roaring back in the second, however, holding serve and then immediately breaking Mueller, and then breaking her again two games later to take a commanding 4-0 lead. Pegula was able to cruise from there, and evened the match by winning the second set 6-2.
Following the second set, Mueller took a quick break to change her outfit on this hot, sunny Northern California day, and the break seemed to rejuvenate her both physically and mentally. Having said before the match that she’s playing the best tennis of her career, she took her game to another level, breaking Pegula twice in the first 5 games to take a 4-1 lead. Though Pegula was able to break late in the set, Mueller’s serve was ultimately too strong, and she emerged victorious 7-5, 2-6, 6-3.
The final of the US Open National Playoff – Women’s Championship will take place on Sunday on the stadium court of the Taube Family Tennis Center following the singles and doubles finals of the Bank of the West Classic, an Olympus US Open Series event. On the line for Alina Jidkova and Alexandra Mueller will be a wild card into the 2010 US Open Qualifying Tournament, and an opportunity to play their way into the US Open – an opportunity both players desperately want.
For Jidkova, tomorrow’s match provides the chance for the player who’s beaten the likes of Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic to return to Flushing Meadows for the first time since 2007, and quite possibly for the last time in her professional career that began in 18 years ago. For Mueller, tomorrow’s final could provide an opportunity to bolster what has already been a career-year for the 22-year-old, and potentially add a Grand Slam main draw experience to her three USTA Pro Circuit titles in 2010. Mueller and Jidkova have met once before, in the qualifying tournament of the 2008 Cellular South Cup in Memphis, Tenn. On that day, Jidkova beat the 20-year-old Mueller 6-7(7), 7-5, 7-6(2), and based on this week’s results, tomorrow’s match figures to be just as close.
The final of the 2010 US Open National Playoff – Women’s Championship is scheduled to begin not before 4:00pm PT, and will be televised live on Tennis Channel.
US Open National Playoffs – Women’s Championship
Taube Family Tennis Center at Stanford University
Palo Alto, Calif.
Day 4 Semifinal Results
(1) Alina Jidkova (RUS), Boca Raton, Fla., def. (3) Brittany Augustine (USA), Carson, Calif., 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3
(2) Alexandra Mueller (USA), Abington, Pa., def. Jessica Pegula (USA), Boca Raton, Fla., 7-5, 2-6, 6-3