Samantha Crawford Wins Australian Open Wild Card Challenge

The USTA Pro Circuit Australian Open Wild Card Challenge concluded for the women after the rain-delayed completion of the Cooperwynd Women's Pro Challenge in Scottsdale, Arizona. The competition awards a main draw wild card for the 2016 Australian Open for the American player who earns the most ranking points from the selected events. With her title performance in Scottsdale, Samantha Crawford was able to overtake Nicole Gibbs to earn the opportunity to play in main draw of the Australian Open for the first time.

Coming into Scottsdale 

Coming into Scottsdale, the last of the three tournaments in the series, Nicole Gibbs and Anna Tatishvili led with 63 points. However, with Tatishvili's ranking high enough for Australian Open direct acceptance, former NCAA champion Gibbs was the sole front-runner. After Gibbs fell in the second round of Scottsdale to Robin Anderson, the competition heated up as any American who claimed the title could also walk away with the wild card.

Crawford, the 2012 US Open Junior Girls Champion, has enjoyed a successful year with her ranking currently at a career high of 172. She reached her first WTA quarterfinal at the Coupe Banque Nationale in Quebec City, and earned a main draw wild card for the US Open through a similar three tournament challenge. Crawford posses a big game with natural power but her transition to the pros stalled in 2014 due to a knee injury. Coming into Scottsdale, Crawford had not reached the semifinals or better at a tournament since August, showing mixed form.

Crawford's remarkable run 

The unseeded player immediately faced a tough match against Stanford alum Kristie Ahn, saving two match points to pull through 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-3. A quarterfinal victory over Julia Glushko set up a match against in-form Swede Rebecca Peterson and Crawford again rose to the challenge, saving a match point in a grueling 4-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(2) win. In the final, Crawford faced Switzerland's Viktorija Golubic, a tricky player possessing a one-handed backhand and a recent winner of the ITF tournament in Waco, Texas. Taking the first set 6-3, rain delayed the match early in the second set, forcing a Monday completion to the event. Golubic claimed the second set looking the steadier player but Crawford's big hitting and aggressive play saw her dominate the third set and earn a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 victory. During the trophy presentation afterwards, Crawford giggled and smiled throughout over the moon with her performance. 

Crawford's participation in the Australian Open will be her first main draw appearance at slam outside of the US Open. Crawford has competed in the US Open main draw in 2012 and 2015, falling in the first round both times. Crawford has the power and ground strokes to find success on the WTA Tour and a breakthrough next year would not be surprising in the least. With her Scottsdale title, she will move into the top 150 of the rankings, a huge achievement having ended 2014 at 293 in the world.