Sachia Vickery went from maybe to the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoff women’s champion, taking out fourth-seed Victoria Duval in two easy sets.
In a little over an hour, the decade-long rivalry that started when they first played at age 7 had a new chapter as Vickery breezed through the favored Duval 6-2, 6-3. Vickery gained entry into the tournament when Melanie Oudin pulled out with rhabdomyolysis.
Former two-time NCAA champion Steve Johnson also won a free pass into the Australian Open main draw by defeating Tennys Sandgren in five sets. Both Johnson and Vickery won three matches against other up-and-coming American players and collected the wild card. The USTA has a reciprocal agreement with Tennis Australia.
Even Duval’s history at Life Time Athletic at Peachtree Corners (she trained here for a few years), could not help her raise her game on an indoor hard court on a rain-soaked day in Georgia. Her long forehand stroke and accurate placements couldn’t help her overcome Vickery’s tenacious power.
Vickery delivered repeated body blows, determined to keep Duval off balance and unready for her next groundstrokes. She was consistently coming up with one more shot and relying on her power off both wings.
At 2-5 in the first set Duval double faulted to set up a set point. Then, Vickery shows rare variety and delivers a drop shot Duval can’t handle. First set: Vickery.
Throughout the second set, Vickery kept up the attack while Duval showed a lack of intensity. Even though Vickery’s second serve was very attackable, Duval didn’t put up much resistance.
Vickery and Duval who made a big splash in last year’s US Open, moved to 2-2 in the third set but then Duval lost her way. Vickery slammed an ace up the T and followed up with a nice drop shot. Later in the set Duval was unhappy with first serve let call and lost the point. Then, Vickery sailed a super defensive lob up near the lights that dropped right smack on the baseline. With that break, Vickery moved on to put away the match.
In a post-match press conference, Vickery said, “I was getting ready to go to Auckland, and my coach was like, ‘Well you might get in.’ She called both her mother, Paula Liverpool, and her coach, USTA National Coach Kathy Rinaldi, after the match. “So, I was like, ‘Yeah, we’ll see what happens. If it happens, great. If not, I have qualies.’ … I’m very religious, and my mom always says God puts things in situations for a reason.”
Sandgren Lets One Slip Away
One match point. One shot at an entry into the Australian Open main draw. One double fault.
That was the disappointing story for Sandgren. He had Johnson in his sight, after winning the first set and then crushing him with a bagel in the third.The final count was 4-6, 6-3, 0-6, 7-6(5), 6-1 with the former University of Tennessee star Sandgren watching a match he could have won come up in the loss column.
In the fourth set’s twelfth game, Sandgren had his sole match point. But, Johnson pounded another ace.
The momentum went back to the Tennessean in the tiebreak, as Sandgren had two-point leads as late as 5-3. But, Johnson proved a quick-handed return of serve can be a heart-breaker. He took the last four points and escaped.
“I just kind of ran the best play I could. Luckily, it worked, and here we are,” Johnson said. “That’s just tennis. He’s one point away from winning, and 20 minutes later I’m up a break and trying to squeeze him for another one. … I’m excited to finally win a five-set match,” he said. “I’m 0-for-4 in life, 0-for-3 this year, so I’m glad to get one.”
Johnson was contemplating withdrawing from the tournament because of a leg injury.
The fifth set was all Johnson. Even though he experienced some leg problems earlier in the match, he pickup up steam while Sandgren continually bent his legs and seemed to be stretched beyond his endurance. Johnson found new confidence at the net, angling off winners and using his overhead effectively.