Tennis: Nielsen Championships provide gateway to U.S. Open
New Trier grad Robert Stineman warms up for his challenger match. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 29, 2012 6:52AM
The second week of Wimbledon begins on Monday, the same day the Nielsen Pro Tennis Championships starts its main draw.
Linda Goodman, who has been the Winnetka-based tournament’s director for all 21 years, last year issued a last-minute wild card entry to seasoned pro James Blake.
Blake, once the fourth-ranked player in the world, had lost in the first week of Wimbledon. Blake then called Goodman and secured his place in the Nielsen Championships. He went on to capture the singles bracket, securing enough ATP points to help qualify for the U.S. Open.
The Nielsen Championships represent an opportunity for professional players like Blake to draw closer to a bid for the U.S. Open.
Meanwhile, for local fans, the tournament provides the rare opportunity to view some of the world’s best players playing a superior level of tennis.
“The tennis audience (in Chicago) may be fickle, or a little jaded, and if (Rafael) Nadal is not playing, or (Roger) Federer is not playing, they just don’t come,” Goodman said. “They don’t understand the caliber of these players. If they do well here, for many of them, it means they’ll go into the main draw at the Open.”
While Nadal and Federer have never played in Winnetka, several of the top American-born players from the last 20 years have. Goodman has extended wild card entries to John Isner, Todd Martin, Sam Querrey and Pete Sampras when each of them was in the early stages of his professional career.
This year, Goodman will hold her pair of wild card positions until the last minute.
“Because we’re in the second week of Wimbledon, we’re subject to a lot of change,” Goodman said. “Players could continue to do well at Wimbledon, and therefore stay, and then we move up some of the alternates. There are many factors that go into the success (of the tournament), and weather is another one. Hopefully this year will be equally successful (as 2011).”
Although the Nielsen Championships’ field won’t be set until later this week, there figures to be two American-born players who will be easy for local crowds to support.
Brian Baker, 27, and Robby Ginepri, 29, have seen their careers threatened by injuries in recent years. Ginepri, who’s from Kennesaw, Ga., is still trying to fully recover from a broken left elbow that he suffered in a 2010 mountain biking accident.
Baker, once one of the world’s top juniors, has seen his nine-year professional career hindered by two hip surgeries, Tommy John surgery and groin surgery, but has rallied to qualify for both Wimbledon and the French Open this year.
Baker, from Nashville, Tenn., will likely play at the Nielsen Championships next week, unless he advances to the second week of Wimbledon. His presence at the tournament, along with that of many of the world’s other top players, offer local tennis fans a rare glimpse at a higher level of tennis.
“It’s like saying there’s the US Open at your backdoor,” Goodman said.