FAYETTEVILLE – Blake Strode, a former All-American for the University of Arkansas tennis program, has earned a wild card spot in the 2010 U.S. Open Qualifying Tournament in Flushing, N.Y., on Aug. 24 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Strode won the championship match of the U.S. Open National Playoffs in Atlanta on Sunday, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1), over Cecil Mamiit. Strode won seven straight points in the tiebreaker to get the victory. Mamiit has been ranked as high as No. 70 in the world in his career.
"It feels great," Strode says. "It was an incredible match. Every time he was down, Cecil fought back. I looked at the scoreboard after the first set and it said I had 18 unforced errors. I started working more balls and it ended up being a great win."
Strode advanced to the finals with wins over Punch Maleka, 1-6, 6-3, 6-0; Nikita Kryvonos, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4; and Olivier Sajous, 6-3, 6-0.
"I’m very proud of him," Arkansas head coach Robert Cox says. "He deserves the win and he deserves the spot in the Open qualifying tournament. He represented us very well when he was here and he’s still a great ambassador for our program and the university."
Strode won a United States Tennis Association Sectional Qualifying Tournament in Arizona and advanced with 15 other regional winners to the U.S. Open National Playoffs in Atlanta. Strode earned his spot in the playoff field by winning the U.S. Open National Playoff Southwest Section in Surprise, Ariz., in June at the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex. He won the 29-man tournament with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Thomas Pecor, a 6-0, 6-0 decision over Joseph Theisen, a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Nicholas Caldwell, a 6-1, 6-0 win over Joseph Adewumi and a 6-3, 6-2 decision over Billy Pecor in the finals.
Strode was an All-American for the Razorbacks in 2009 after advancing to the semifinals of the NCAA Individual Championship. He was also the 2009 SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year. A recipient of the Bodenhamer Fellowship when he enrolled at Arkansas in 2005, as a senior he was named the national recipient of the ITA/Arthur Ashe for Leadership and Sportsmanship award. He was also a finalist for both the H. Boyd McWhorter SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year award and the prestigious Walter Byers Postgraduate Scholarship.
He went 27-12 as a senior and 98-48 for his career for Cox. He ranks fifth on Arkansas’ all-time singles victories list.
The St. Louis native earned two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Arkansas and has been accepted into Harvard Law School, but is pursuing a professional career before enrolling.
"I think it’s a great idea," Strode says of the playoff for a spot in the U.S. Open Qualifying Tournament. "Obviously it worked out for me. Going to the U.S. Open is a dream come true. I’m really focusing on tennis right now. Hopefully I can do well and put Harvard off even longer."