Record high temperatures in Atlanta this week greeted professional tennis players looking for a free pass to experience even hotter temperatures next January in Australia.
The Racquet Club of the South outside of Atlanta is once again the site for the USTA's Australian Open Wildcard Playoff, and it didn't long for the action to heat up on the indoor courts used for this event. Big serves and long three-set matches were on Friday's menu.
Coco Vandeweghe, who reached the finals at this event last year was matched up with 15-year old Taylor Townsend who was featured in a USA Today article earlier this week. Both players are known for big serves and big ground strokes and they didn't disappoint. In the end, Vandeweghe's experience paid off with a 6-4, 6-4 victory. "I couldn't ask for a better start to the match," stated Vandeweghe. "I hit six big serves to save three break points and controlled my service games." Vandeweghe is the niece of former NBA basketball player Kiki Vandeweghe.
16-year old Madison Keys, who now plays out of Boca Raton, FL kept the crowd on the edge of their seats with a 3-6, 6-3, 9-7 win over No. 3 seed Jamie Hampton of Alabama. Keys gained attention this summer by reaching the second round of the U.S. Open. Using her powerful first serve, Keys kept Hampton off balance, winning cheap points and frustrating her more experienced opponent. "I think my serve completely helped me out, especially when we started getting tight in the third," smiled Keys.
The slide of Melanie Oudin continued as she was defeated by a rising player in Gail Brodsky in three tough sets. Oudin, playing at the racquet club she grew up at, in front of friends and family couldn't hold serve when it mattered. Brodsky, a native of the Ukraine, but now living in New York used a barrage of forehands and a sneaky serve to win one of the biggest matches of her career 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. "Just recently, I've put in a lot of work to improve my forehand and I'm really glad to see it's paying off," offered up Brodsky.
Touring professional Alison Riske, the top ranked woman at this event, took care of junior player Grace Min 6-0, 6-0 in the other first round match.
The United States Tennis Association has an agreement in place with Tennis Australia to exchange one men's and one women's wildcard at their major championships. This playoff will determine those winners. Last year, Ryan Harrison and Lauren Davis were the wildcard recipients from this event. The play continues through Sunday.
Rick Limpert covers sports, technology and events in and around Atlanta. He'll be onsite at the Wildcard Playoffs all weekend, he's on Twitter at @RickRoswell.