The top two contenders in the Australian Open Wild Card Challenge bowed out in the first round of the Waco Showdown $80K on Wednesday, leaving all nine Americans still alive in the tournament with a mathematical shot to earn a berth in the first Grand Slam event of 2018.
Kristi Ahn, who leads the Wild Card Challenge with 116 ratings points after winning last week’s $80,000 RBC Pro Challenge in Tyler, had a 5-0 lead in the first set against Belgium’s An-Sophie Mestach when she retired after becoming ill on court at the Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center.
Two hours later, Victoria Duval fell in straight sets to Turkey’s Cagla Buyukakcay, 6-4, 6-4, on the same court. Duval (80 points) is tied for second in the Challenge with former NCAA singles champion Danielle Collins after reaching the finals in Macon, Ga., last month.
Their losses open the competition up to all nine surviving Americans in the main draw, any one of whom could theoretically win by taking the title in Waco, which is worth 115 points.
Even Katerina Stewart, the lowest-ranked player in the draw at No. 490, could be headed to Melbourne with a win in Waco. Stewart reached the second round on Wednesday with a marathon 4-6, 6-0, 7-5 win over Sanaz Marand on Wednesday.
The USTA Pro Circuit awards an Australian Open wild card to the American woman who finishes with the most points in any two of three year-end tournaments — Macon, Tyler and Waco this season — and does not otherwise qualify for direct acceptance into the main draw.
Stewart currently has one point in the Challenge. If Stewart wins here to tie Ahn with 116 points, and no other player surpasses that total, Ahn would win the Challenge based upon her higher WTA ranking. But if Ahn gets in based on her ranking — and at No. 106 she’s right on the cusp — Stewart would get the wild card.
The same holds true for 234th-ranked Usue Arconada and No. 238 Danielle Lao, who advanced to the second round on Tuesday.
But most of the remaining Americans face shorter odds, notably Irina Falconi (52 points), Kayla Day and Sofia Kenin (43 each), and Jamie Loeb (31).