Pluskota wins U.S. Open Sectional, vies for wild-card at Flushing Meadows
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
The recent heat wave certainly didn’t seem to have an effect on Natalie Pluskota. Then again, the tennis standout from Newnan has been on quite the hot streak lately on the court.
With Tuesday’s singles championship in the 2012 U.S. Open Southern Sectional Qualifying tournament at Windward Lake Club in Alpharetta, the 21-year-old and recent University of Tennessee graduate took a big step toward a potential trip to Flushing Meadows next month.
In intense conditions, Pluskota finally found her stride after falling behind 4-0 in the third set to remarkably win six straight games to take the match.
After losing to Macfarlane in April, the eventual four-time Lady Volunteer All-American went on to reach the Elite 8 in the NCAA Singles Championships and the Final Four among doubles. Now Pluskota will be among 13 sectional winners vying for a wild card spot in U.S. Open Qualifying.
She’ll play in the U.S. Open National Tournament set for Aug. 17-20 at Yale University.
“It’s definitely exciting to be able to have a chance at it. I’ve tried before and haven’t been able to make it,” Pluskota said on Tuesday. “Right now, i’m just taking it one day at a time.”
Just getting to the finals was a challenge in singles play. In addition to dealing with 100-degree temperatures on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta, Pluskota rallied from a set down in both the quarterfinals and finals. She pulled out a 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over top North Carolina high school recruit Mia King.
She then moved on to defeat Marietta native and Alabama sophomore Emily Zabor, who won a first-set tiebreaker only to see Pluskota respond for a 6-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory.
“It was big for me. It’s a lot of matches and not a lot of days. It’s a bit of a grind,” she said. “I would say it was one of the hottest [tournaments] I’ve ever played in.”
In addition to her singles matches, Pluskota also moved on in the Mixed Doubles tournament where she reached the finals with Tennessee sophomore Hunter Reese of Kennesaw. The pair rolled through back-to-back wins on Sunday in straight sets to reach Tuesday’s final against Marcus Hurtic and WTA Tour doubles player Lindsay Lee-Waters.
“It worked out well. We both played at Tennessee and he lives in Atlanta,” she said.
Pluskota, who went 18-2 with Lady Vols partner Kata Szekely en route to the NCAA semifinals as a senior, became the fifth Tennessee women’s player to earn three All-American honors in doubles. She’s no stranger to professional tours, having played in El Paso and New York last summer while preparing to move on after college. She won her first pro event last July at the Norman Wilkerson in Atlanta.
She’ll stay busy this month prior to the U.S. Open National Tournament, playing a $50,000 event in Yakima, Washington starting July 9, a $10,000 event in Evansville, Ind. on July 16, and an ITA $25,000 tournament in Vancouver from July 29-Aug. 4.
“The next month’s going to be extremely busy for me,” she said.