| By Brian Coleman

The finals of the USTA Eastern sectional qualifying tournament of the U.S. Open National Playoffs came to a close on Saturday, as local players battled it out for a chance to qualify for the U.S. Open in late August.

The sectionals consisted of five divisions, with the winners of each moving on to play in the U.S. Open National Playoffs Championships in New Haven, Conn.

At women’s singles, Oyster Bay’s Julia Elbaba defeated Brooklyn’s Malika Rose 6-0, 6-1 to capture the title.

Elbaba started her match by double-faulting the first point in her opening service game, but played nearly flawless after that, winning 12 of the match’s 13 games. Despite the lopsided score line though, this match was played at a very high level. There were a number of deuce points that could have swung either way, but Elbaba was able to pull the majority of those out.

“I think playing my game worked really well,” said Elbaba, who also happened to be celebrating her 21st birthday. “I was just playing aggressive and using my favorite shots, the score didn’t reflect the level and intensity of the match. Almost every game was deuce. It was a very competitive match. I’m just happy to have won it.”

For the third straight year, Flushing’s Nikita Kryvonos won the men’s singles tournament. He downed second-seeded Max Wennakoski 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 to win the section and book his spot in the national playoffs in August.

“I started well and was pretty confident in the beginning. I think from the baseline when I was hitting my aggressive shots and going for my shots he was missing more,” said Kryvonos. “In the second set, I got a little tight and started making some more errors and he got more confident. In the third, I refocused and started going for my shots again. That was the difference.”

Kryvonos has come up just short in the national tournament the last couple of years, but hopes that the third time is the charm.

“Right now, I just need to stay healthy and play more matches, that’s the main thing,” he said. “It’s more about mental consistency for me. I think if I play more matches and work on my mental strength I’ll be good. I feel good physically and I’m hitting the ball well now, feeling good physically. This is my third time winning this tournament so hopefully this time I can go all the way. I live 20 minutes from [the National Tennis Center] so this is my court, it would be amazing to play here [in the U.S. Open].”

In what was probably the tightest match of the day, Daniel Cochrane & Phillip Simmonds won the men’s doubles division with a 7-5, 7-6(6) victory over Gary Kushnerovic & Keith Kessler.

Cochrane & Simmonds were able to pull out the tie-breaker in the second set after falling down a break early.

“We just kept our calm,” said Simmonds. “It was windy and really sunny. But we tried to just control what we could control and not worry about the elements.”

The pair is still trying to develop chemistry, as they entered this event after playing just three tournaments together, but this win went a long way in figuring out how their games complement each other.

“Dan’s really aggressive at the net and it helps me out a ton because I don’t feel the pressure of having to hit first volleys and other things that most doubles players have to do,” added Simmonds. “I’m a little bit older so I have a little more experience. It’s nice to play doubles so you can help each other out and talk each other through some points.”

A pair of sisters captured the women’s doubles title as Magda & Ketevan Okruashvili knocked off Olga Kalodzitsa & Linda Templefelde 3-6, 6-2, 10-7.

After splitting the first two sets, the Okruashvili’s were able to outlast their opponents in a tiebreaker to take home the victory.

“When you play outside it is usually windy so you need to make sure you control the ball,” said Magda Okruashvili. “The girls played very well and we just had to try harder to get our balls in.”

The two have recently come back from college and are eager to play some more tournaments together before heading up to the national championships.

“We can work on our serves and getting a little stronger,” added Magda. “We didn’t play tournaments for awhile, we were away at school. So we need to play some more tournaments and continue to improve.”

The final match of the afternoon was the final of the Mixed-Doubles Division. Rima Astarian & Ilia Shatashvili defeated Alison Adamski & Keith Kessler 6-3, 6-4.

“I thought we served really well. We held all of our service games,” said Shatashvili when asked what the difference in the match was. “I started the match serving and they chose their return side so that she [Astarian] would be serving against the sun, and she just served like a champ despite that.”

The two had played very little tennis together coming into the tournament. In fact, they barely even knew each other until the assistant coach of the women’s tennis team at Columbia suggested they pair up.

“I asked the assistant coach if she had anybody who would be interested and she gave me Rima,” said Shatashvili. “It was almost like an arranged marriage.”

It worked out though as the two have quickly developed a very nice tennis chemistry, going through the sectional tournament without dropping a set.

“We got better and better each match,” said Astarian. “Learning each other’s game and where we would be on the court so I think we developed a rhythm as it went on.”

The U.S. Open National Open Playoffs Championships will run from Aug. 21-24 in conjunction with the Connecticut Open in New Haven, Conn.

Flushing, N.Y.’s Nikita Kryvonos won the Men’s Singles Division over Max Wennakoski


Women’s Doubles Title winners Magda & Ketevan Okruashvili defeated the team of Olga Kalodzitsa & Linda Templefelde 3-6, 6-2, 10-7


Daniel Cochrane & Phillip Simmonds won the Men’s Doubles Division with a 7-5, 7-6(6) victory over Gary Kushnerovic & Keith Kessler


Mixed-Doubles Division runners-up Alison Adamski & Keith Kessler with winners Ilia Shatasvili & Rima Astarian


Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com