- Bonnie D. Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
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The U.S. Tennis Association will try to create reality-show suspense and buzz by launching a national playoff that could lead to a spot in the U.S. Open main draw.
Two-time Olympic alpine ski racer Bode Miller has already announced his intention to compete. Miller is a former Maine high school singles champion and has long been an instructor at the Tamarack Tennis Camp in Easton, N.H., founded by his mother's family.
"Tennis has always been a part of my life," Miller said in a statement released by the USTA. "The U.S. Open National Playoffs is a great concept and I look forward to playing in one of the sectional qualifying tournaments this spring. It will give me an outlet to focus my competitiveness after the Olympics and World Cup season."
Here's how it works: Players can register for a $125 fee if they are USTA members 14 years of age and over (U.S. citizenship is not required). The qualifying tournament will begin with competitions in 16 of the 17 USTA sections -- all but the Caribbean -- from April through June. The men's and women's draws will be cut off at 256 players apiece and will be unseeded -- a nationwide grab bag, so to speak.
"While professionals are eligible to play, we expect the draws to be filled with top junior players, collegians, teaching professionals and even recreational players who will now have a chance to play themselves into the U.S. Open for the first time," said Jim Curley, chief professional tournaments officer and U.S. Open tournament director.
The male and female winners of each section will then play in a 16-draw national playoff to coincide with the summer hardcourt U.S. Open Series of ATP and WTA events, and the winners of that tournament will receive slots in the regular U.S. Open qualifying event.
If the draws fill up at the sectional level, the tournament could include as many as 8,000 participants and a player would have to win up to 15 matches to qualify for the U.S. Open main draw.
Entry information and a schedule of U.S. Open National Playoffs Sectional Qualifying Tournaments are available online at www.usopen.org. Registration begins Feb. 1.
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com.
2dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne