By Amanda Korba, special to USOpen.org
FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. - For six days, players of all ages and levels came out to the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to vie for a spot back on tennis’ biggest stage—the US Open—in August. The men’s singles, women’s singles, and mixed doubles finals of the US Open National Playoffs USTA Eastern Sectional Qualifying Tournament took place on Saturday with the US Open dreams of four players getting closer to becoming a reality.
In its the third year, the US Open National Playoffs are held as a series of sectional qualifying tournaments in 13 USTA Sections throughout the country. The 13 men’s, women’s and mixed doubles champions from each sectional qualifying tournament advance to the US Open National Playoffs – Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles and Mixed Doubles Championships in New Haven, Conn., in August, which will be held in conjunction with the New Haven Open at Yale, an Emirates Airline US Open Series event.
The men’s and women’s singles champions of the US Open National Playoffs earn a wild card into the US Open Qualifying Tournament, held the week prior to the US Open. The US Open National Playoffs mixed doubles champions receive a main draw wild card into the 2012 US Open.
All walks of life battled in Flushing this week including a professor, a doctor, a violin instructor, a lawyer, charitable ambassadors, a former hockey player, and a journalist, as well as junior standouts, current and former collegians, mothers and fathers, a set of twins and tennis teaching pros.
The day began with the women final between last year’s Eastern runner-up Magda Okruashvili, 21, of New York, N.Y., and 16-year-old Rima Asatrian, who trains at the USTA Training Center-East at the National Tennis Center as part of the USTA Player Development program. In the end, Okruashvili was able to pull off the win, defeating Asatrian 6-4, 6-4.
"This is an amazing feeling to win this tournament this year," Okruashvili said. "I was close last year. I have been practicing a lot more lately with some physical training, so my work has paid off. "
Okruashvili is originally from the country of Georgia and moved to the United States in 2006, where she trains and plays in ITF and USTA Pro Circuit tournaments. Okruashvili loves playing tennis for the focus and competition, but ironically, she doesn’t like watching tennis.
"I’ve never been to the US Open. I will only watch tennis if I need to learn something, but I won’t watch for fun," she said. "I strangely don’t find anything interesting about it. I prefer being out on the court."
The men’s final pitted Flushing local Nikita Kryvonos against 2012 Ivy League Rookie of the Year for Columbia University, 19-year-old Winston Lin of Buffalo, N.Y. Kryvonos had more experience on the courts of the US Open, having played men’s doubles and qualifying draws in the past, as well as winning the 2010 US Open National Playoffs Eastern event. This is Lin’s first time playing matches on the grounds. Experience aside, both players battled for nearly two hours with Kryvonos edging Lin 6-4, 6-3.
Shortly after Kryvonos’ play in the 2010 US Open National Playoffs – Men’s Championship, he started to have knee trouble, which lingered last year. He decided not to play much tennis in 2011, skipping the Playoffs and USTA Pro Circuit events. However, Kryvonos has been back training at the National Tennis Center this year and is finally feeling good again. His progress showed, as he did not drop one set the entire tournament.
"The final was much tougher this year than in 2010," Kryvonos said. "Winston is a great player, but I feel like I played well. My game is back on track and I am excited to get to New Haven."
Kryvonos was born in Ukraine and came to the U.S. with his family when he was 13. He established himself as a promising junior player, but contracted a staph infection at age 16 following leg surgery. After a long recovery, he worked back to become ranked as high as No. 389 in the world by playing on the USTA Pro Circuit. He won a USTA Pro Circuit Futures in Irvine, Calif., in 2007 and also competed in the 2007 US Open qualifying draw and the 2005 US Open Men’s Doubles Tournament. He also served as a practice partner for the U.S. Davis Cup team in the 2006 semifinal in Russia alongside Andy Roddick, James Blake, and the Bryan brothers.
Even though Kryvonos is now 25, he still has the same drive that he had when he was a little boy and the same drive that kept him get through his injuries.
"My goal is to play on Arthur Ashe Stadium behind me," Kyvonos said, pointing to the stadium. "I see the stadium every time I practice here, so when I look up, it is my motivation to keep going after my dreams. I hope I get there."
Former college stars and current tennis coaches Alison Adamski, of Jamaica, N.Y., and Keith Kessler, of Brooklyn, N.Y., swept past their opponents in the mixed doubles final, defeating Malika Rose and Steven Wilson, 6-1, 6-1.
Adamski, who played tennis for St. John’s University and currently coaches the Hofstra tennis team, and Kessler, who played for Florida Tech and is a teaching pro in Brooklyn, N.Y., have played many national tournaments together and found that their chemistry works well together.
"We played the National Open here at the National Tennis Center the past three years and had some good results," Kessler said. "We decided to go up one step and give it a shot for the US Open—how could we not? And now, we are halfway there!"
Both Adamski and Kessler work with young, aspiring players every day at colleges and tennis clubs and want to serve as examples that anyone can "Dream Big."
"This win shows what hard work gets you," Adamski said. "I always tell my girls that if you still have the dreams to play and be competitive, do it! You can play tennis forever."
"I have had my times of not playing well for years and my kids know that," Kessler said. "But once you get through it and never look back, it is all worth it. We are very happy to be where we are now and will keep it going for New Haven."
During the match, both players had many family members and friends rooting for them at the National Tennis Center.
As the match finished, Adamski looked up to the stands and yelled, "You all better come to Connecticut! Are you ready?"
From today’s play, it was more than evident that all four players are ready to continue their US Open dreams.