NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Former Razorback men’s tennis player Blake Strode successfully defended his U.S. Open National Playoff title over the weekend and advances to play in the U.S. Open qualifying tournament for the second straight year. A championship match that was delayed two hours by rain eventually saw Strode come away with a hard-fought straight set victory, 7-6(8), 7-6(4), over Nathan Healey of Australia.
“It really feels great to get back to the US Open,” Strode said. “Healey was serving extremely well and played well throughout the entire match, so I was glad to come out with the victory in straight sets because it really could have gone either way. The whole thing has been a big learning experience for me and I’m glad I’m being able to push forward and fight for a spot in the US Open.”
In the first set with Strode serving at 1-1, 40-0, the rain began to fall and forced the match indoors. Once the match got out of the bad weather, service holds were easy to come by throughout the first set. In the tiebreaker, it was a back and forth battle that had both players hold mini-break advantages before Strode took the set on a wide backhand shot from Healey.
In the second set, Strode had an opportunity to take the set outright after being up 5-4, but Healey would not go down that easily and, again, forced the tiebreak. Things stayed level in the tiebreaker until it was 4-4, when Strode racked off three straight points to earn the win and a spot in this weeks US Open Qualifying Tournament.
The qualifying tournament will begin today in Flushing, N.Y. and will run through Friday. Strode’s first round matchup has him pitted against Nikola Ciric of Serbia and the match will begin at 11 a.m. Last year, Strode advanced to the second round of the qualifying tournament before losing to Ivan Dodig of Croatia.