Saturday, January 14, 2012

American qualifier to face Nadal in Australian Open

   Congratulations, Alex Kuznetsov.
   After 12 consecutive unsuccessful attempts to qualify for a Grand Slam tournament, the two-time Sacramento Challenger semifinalist advanced to the main draw of the Australian Open in Melbourne.
   His first-round opponent? Rafael Nadal, a 10-time Grand Slam champion.
   Kuznetsov, a 24-year-old American born in Ukraine, defeated Yuichi Sugita of Japan 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 Friday to reach his first Grand Slam since 2007. He received a wild card in the U.S. Open that year and lost in the first round to 28th-seeded Nicolas Almagro of Spain.
   Earlier in 2007, Kuznetsov qualified for the Australian Open and reached the second round before losing to countryman James Blake, seeded fifth.
   Kuznetsov, a Sacramento semifinalist in 2006 and last year, has never faced Nadal, the 2009 Australian Open champion and No. 2 seed this year.
   Advancing to the main draw on the women's side was Jamie Hampton, who won the 2010 Redding Challenger. The 22-year-old American will face Mandy Minella of Luxembourg in the opening round.
   Falling in the last round of qualifying were 11th-seeded Rik de Voest, a South African who won the inaugural Sacramento Challenger in 2005, and unseeded Michelle Larcher de Brito, who  five years ago at 14 helped the Sacramento Capitals win the World TeamTennis title.
   ATP World Tour -- Top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan, the 1998 NCAA doubles champions from Stanford, are scheduled to face wild cards Matthew Ebden of Australia and Jarkko Nieminen of Finland early Saturday morning (California time) in the doubles final of the $434,250 Apia International Sydney.

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