NEW YORK (AP) - Because he’s a player who has spent more time watching Roger Federer on TV than trying to beat him, it’s safe to say Rhyne Williams will not win the U.S. Open this year.
But to say the 21-year-old’s trip to Flushing Meadows has been less than a rousing success _ well, that wouldn’t be quite right, either.
While Federer, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and all those other big names get their chance to make history next week, it’s players such as Rhyne Williams and 17-year-old Samantha Crawford who truly put the “Open” in the U.S. Open this week.
They, along with 485th-ranked former NCAA champion Bradley Klahn, are among those who won their third qualifying matches Friday to make it into the main draw. They grinded out the wins on the same courts some of the greats will play on starting Monday. They did it not to the cheers of thousands but in front of the hundreds who got in for free this week to watch the warm-up act for the last Grand Slam tournament of the year.
Nothing small-time about it to these players, though.
“I’m still shaking,” said Crawford, ranked 394th, about 15 minutes after her 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 win over Eleni Daniilidou of Greece.
Williams, ranked 283rd, shared the exact same sentiment shortly after his 6-3, 6-2 victory over Peter Gojowczyk of Germany.
“I’m still shaking,” Williams said. “It’s incredible. I’ve dreamed my whole life about playing here in the main draw. I’ve finally done it. Hopefully, I’ll have many more years left here.”
He’ll have a daunting task in his official U.S. Open debut, however _ a meeting with 20th-seeded Andy Roddick, the 2003 champion and fan favorite who plays the majority of his matches under lights, and on the show courts at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
“I expected to be able to compete with everyone I play here,” Williams said, hours before finding out he had drawn Roddick in the first round. “I feel like I belong out here. I just expect to be able to hold my own.”
Williams was the NCAA runner-up in 2011 while playing for Tennessee and, after some success over the following months, decided to turn pro. His mother is Michelle Williams, a former pro who, as a tennis-loving little girl, inspired her father, Mike DePalmer, to reach out to a friend and start a tennis school.
The school is now known as the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy.
“I knew I had a good shot at being a pro,” Williams said. “It’s in the family. It’s in my blood.”
Even with great bloodlines, no thriving tennis career is preordained. In search of his first big breakthrough as a pro, Williams got it on a steamy, 85-degree day on Court 17 in front of about 200 fans. It set him up for a whole new type of challenge, which includes more than simply the daunting prospect of playing Roddick.
“I’ve never played a best-of-5 match before,” Williams said. “That’s very new for me. But I’ve been around the level. I’ve hit balls with guys in the top 10 and top 100 plenty of times. I’m used to the way they play.”