Champions Crowned At US Open National Playoffs

Tuesday night didn’t begin the way Lindsay Graff and Ilia Shatashvili had in mind.

They turned things around by the time it ended.

Playing mixed doubles in the Middle States finals of the US Open National Playoffs Middle States Sectional Qualifying Tournament, Graff and Shatashvili bounced back from defeats in their respective singles draws to defeat Veronica Corning and Sebastian Quintero in mixed doubles, 7-5, 6-4.

In the first match of the night, Jennifer Elie took the title on the women’s side (7-5, 6-4), while Punch Maleka advanced on the men’s side (6-0, 6-2) in the evening’s second match. It was the second-straight mixed doubles title for Graff, and the third overall for Maleka, who won the Middle States event in 2010 and 2012.

Even after losing in singles, a banged-up Shatashvili knew there was a chance to advance in doubles.

“I said to Lindsay, we can’t lose two matches in one day,” he said after the match.

More than 200 spectators filled the bleachers and surrounding grass at the Mercer County Tennis Facility to watch Tuesday’s three final matches. With constant action and high-level tennis in each match, they weren’t disappointed.

Up 2-0 in the first set, Punch Maleka hit a strong backhand down the right side that sent the crowd into a roar. It set the tone of the rest of the night, with Maleka putting on a flawless performance in what has become a constant rivalry in Middle States.

“I could tell Ilia was a little bit banged up, but I still had to play well,” he said after the match. “I felt good tonight. I’m going to put in the work and try for a big performance at the national tournament.”

Graff, the winner of the women’s singles title last year, had her hands full with Elie. A New York native, Elie used her powerful and accurate game to push through. She came back from being down 5-4 in the first set to win, and wrapped it up with a 6-4 result in the second set.

The group advances to play the winners from the 12 other Sectional Qualifying events in the US Open National Playoffs. The tournament will take place at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. from August 15-23. From there, the winners of the men’s and women’s singles divisions will advance to the qualifying round of the US Open, which is played at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center the week before the US Open. The mixed doubles champions will earn a wildcard spot in the main draw of the US Open.

The US Open National Playoffs were launched in 2010 to provide anyone 14 years or older the chance to compete in one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events: the US Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

For photos from the event, visit the USTA Middle States Facebook page.

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