Danielle Lao arrived for the USTA Pro Circuit’s Waco Showdown $80K without big expectations.
The former Southern Cal all-American hadn’t won a main-draw match since July or beaten a higher-ranked player since the U.S. Open qualifier in August. She felt beaten down by fatigue, nagging injuries and too many one-match stops at the end of a long, unforgiving season.
So much for that.
Two days after knocking off 2016 Showdown finalist Grace Min in straight sets, Lao on Thursday rallied from a set down to upset eighth-seeded Jamie Loeb, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, and advance to the quarterfinals at Baylor’s Hurd Tennis Center — her deepest run ever at a $60,000-and-up event.
“I’m thrilled to have gotten through (Tuesday), and I’m thrilled to have gotten through today,” said the 26-year-old from Arcadia, Calif. “I wasn’t feeling too great coming in here, but I found a way, and sometimes those are the most meaningful matches.”
Lao not only took down one of the tournament favorites — the 139th-ranked Loeb was playing well and won the NCAA singles championship on these courts in 2015 — but kept alive her chances of winning the Australian Open Wild Card Challenge.
The USTA Pro Circuit awards a berth in the 2018 Open’s main draw to the American player with the most ranking points in any two of the final three $80,000 events of the season — Macon, Ga., Tyler and Waco. Lao came in with a single point, but could earn another 115 by winning the tournament and tie Challenge leader Kristie Ahn with 116. Ahn would win the tiebreaker based on her higher ranking (106th, compared to Lao’s 238th), but Ahn may make the field based upon ranking, which would give the wild card to Lao.
“I’m not even thinking about that,” she said. “If you think of the end result too much, that’s a little too much pressure. And especially right now, you only have so much mental energy. You need to reserve it for what’s in front of you.
“And that wild card is way, way, wayyy far away.”