Qualifying Tournament Kick Off

Radek Stepanek
Kateryna Bondarenko
Washington titlist Radek Stepanek, ’09 US Open quarterfinalist Melanie Oudin, Los Angeles champion Ernests Gulbis and Wimbledon quarterfinalist Bernard Tomic headline entrants into the Western & Southern qualifying tournament this year.
Starting on Saturday, the two-day event will determine the seven men and 12 women to advance into the main event.
Stepanek, 32, ranked No. 27 after a surprise win at the recent Washington, D.C. event, finds himself in the qualifying tournament as the No. 1 seed. To win his first Tour title since ’09, he defeated world No. 19 Fernando Verdasco in the quarters and American Donald Young in the semis. Despite his result in D.C. and subsequent ranking boost, the Czech missed the cutoff date for direct entrance into the tournament. In the first round, he meets wild card Rhyne Williams.
Another player who’s found success at the US Open Series included in the qualifying tournament is Ernests Gulbis, who defeated top-ranked American Mardy Fish in Los Angeles to take his second Tour title. Seeded No. 6, he faces Allejandro Falla first.
Having fallen outside the top 100 for the first time since ‘09, Oudin, 20, will play the qualifying event, meeting the No. 15 seed Kateryna Bondarenko in the first round. Currently on a four-match losing streak, the Georgia-native will need to muster some of the belief that helped her defeat Nadia Petrova, Elena Dementieva and Maria Sharapova en route to the quarters of the US Open.
18-year old Bernard Tomic will play in his first tournament since making it to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. As the youngest player since Boris Becker in 1986 to get that far, the Aussie’s ranking climbed to his career-best of No. 68.  The No. 11 seed, Tomic’s first match is against Julien Benneteau.
Along with the start of the qualifying draw, Saturday features a Kid’s Day celebration, while Sunday is High School Day.
By Benjamin Snyder