Isner on outside looking in at Australian Open ... for now
Isner doing all he can to gain spot in Australian Open singles drawJohn Isner probably will crack the Australian Open singles draw one way or the other, but he's not taking any chances.
Isner, currently No. 106, just missed the mid-November rankings cutoff for the year's first Grand Slam event. One of the top 100 players, Argentina's Guillermo Canas, already has dropped out with a wrist injury, leaving Isner just two notches from an automatic entry, with fellow American Robert Kendrick just ahead of him.
Isner could bide his time, wait for a couple of other withdrawals and try to slip in without any extra effort. (Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden is another possible scratch, depending on when wife Petra delivers their second child, due in mid-January.) However, Isner's life was complicated when the U.S. Tennis Association asked him and three other young Americans to play off next week for the wild-card berth the organization received in a reciprocal agreement with Tennis Australia.
Isner, 22, will take part in the playoff unless the Aussie list opens up before that, according to his agent, Sam Duvall of SFX Tennis. The other players selected based on age (22 and under) and ranking (top 200) to compete Dec. 18-20 at the USTA training center in Boca Raton, Fla., are Wayne Odesnik, Jesse Levine and Alex Kuznetsov.
No. 174 Levine might have the hottest hand in the group. Last month, he won back-to-back Challenger tournaments in Champaign, Ill., and Knoxville, Tenn., beating Isner in the semis of the earlier event.
The men will play in a round-robin format. Should two of them tie at 2-1, they'll play an additional match. If Isner wins the playoff but then gets into the main draw by virtue of his ranking, USTA spokesman Tim Curry said Monday that it was unclear which player would get the wild card.
Robby Ginepri's friends on the U.S. Davis Cup team unsuccessfully lobbied the USTA to offer him the wild-card invitation outright. The 24-year-old reached the third round of the Australian to start the 2007 season, but he struggled after that and sank from the top 50 to No. 134.
Ginepri is "currently training very hard in Palm Springs [Calif.] with his coach, Jose Higueras, and is planning to go down to Australia" to play in the qualifying tournament, his agent, Octagon's Kelly Wolf, wrote in an e-mail.
Notably missing from the eight-player group vying for the women's wild-card slot this week in Boca is Melanie Oudin, the 16-year-old from Marietta, Ga., who set the junior world on fire by winning 27 straight singles matches. Precocious 14-year-old Portuguese pro Michelle Larcher de Brito stopped the streak by knocking off Oudin in the final of the prestigious Orange Bowl tournament this past weekend.
Oudin was supposed to have been in the mix for the wild-card playoff, but she had played 22 singles and doubles matches in the previous 14 days -- a stat provided by Colette Lewis of zootennis.com, who covered the Orange Bowl. Understandably fatigued, Oudin elected to take a break.
Two established 22-year-olds, Ahsha Rolle and Bethanie Mattek, head the eight-player group, which also includes Madison Brengle, 17, who earned the wild-card slot last year; reigning U.S. girls' 18s champion Ashley Weinhold; and 18-year-old Alexa Glatch. The field is rounded out by three 16-year-old amateurs: Asia Muhammed, Gail Brodsky and Coco Vandeweghe.
The women's playoff will conclude Thursday.
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com.
They're a skyline, not a team
Sam Duvall also confirmed that 6-foot-9 Isner intends to pair up with 6-10 Croatian Ivo Karlovic to play doubles in Australia. "It was my idea for them to do it in Washington [D.C.] last summer, but I just couldn't make it happen," Duvall said.
The two players have spoken since and agreed to combine their supersonic serves in a brief campaign for world domination. Neither is a total stranger to the discipline. Isner was an NCAA doubles champion at the University of Georgia, and Karlovic won an ATP doubles title in Memphis last year.
"Those guys are not going to be a lot of fun to play," said Bob Bryan, who makes up one half of the world's No. 1 doubles team with his brother Mike. "If they are serving well and the tiebreakers are going their way, they have the potential to beat anyone. Any result they have Down Under won't be a surprise to me."
Last year at this time, Donald Young's professional development was still a hot topic of debate among fans. The 18-year-old finally was able to live up to some of the expectations that have beset him since his unusually early pro debut in 2004.
Young set a calendar-year record for prize winnings on the USTA Pro Circuit in 2007, playing 21 events, reaching seven singles finals, and earning $54,000 with two singles and three doubles titles on the lower-level tour. That success, along with a third-round appearance at the U.S. Open, helped him rise 395 places to No. 100 in the ATP rankings and gain his first automatic entry into a Grand Slam event, for next month's Australian Open.
The lefty also accomplished one of his last remaining goals as a junior by winning the Wimbledon boys title this summer.
Glebova and Srichaphan
Paradorn Srichaphan made headlines two years ago when he shaved his head, donned a simple robe and left worldly things behind for a week to serve a temporary stint as a Buddhist monk, a traditional interlude for young men in his native Thailand. Srichaphan took a different set of vows Nov. 29, marrying one-time Miss Universe Natalie Glebova, a Canadian, in Bangkok. His on-court luck hasn't been quite as good. The former top-10 player was sidelined for most of 2007 by a wrist injury and underwent surgery in October.