Stanford graduate and three-time All-American Kristie Ahn takes on 25th Elise Mertens of Belgium in the fourth round of the US Open on Monday morning at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, a short walk from where Ahn was born.
Ahn and Mertens met in the 2016 US Open qualifying final.
âI lost in a tight set and then she became the 20th in the world,â Ahn said. “It will depend on who takes the best time.”
The 141st Ahn, the lowest-ranked player remaining, has already beaten two former Grand Slam champions to get there, including Latvian Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 7-5 on Saturday. Ostapenko has a Roland-Garros title on his CV. She beat former US Open champion Anna Kalinskaya of Russia in the second round.
How much did the crowd help?
âYou have no idea. It was so cool,â Ahn said. “I’ve never played in such a packed stadium before. It was pretty great having a majority of everyone cheering me on. It was such a great environment.”
Mertens has reached at least the fourth round of four Grand Slam events, with a semifinal at the Australian Open. She is making her second straight fourth-round match at the US Open. She also reached the fourth round at Wimbledon earlier.
Mertens, 23, ranked 12th, has won five WTA titles and 11 ITF titles. Ahn has yet to reach a semi-final on the WTA Tour and has won seven ITF titles.
How long Ahn will play professionally is up for debate. At 27, she is at a crossroads. Mertens is a rising star; Ahn is in the middle of a dream tournament, a highlight of his career. No matter what happens this week, can Ahn ever expect to duplicate the feat?
“I think what a great opportunity this is and what a great experience it has been this week,” said Ahn. “I feel like it’s a climax, a build-up of everything and a lot of bad things happened as well.”
She is also still influenced by Stanford coach Lele Forood.
âLele texted me after I won in the second round and it was like receiving a text from the president,â Ahn said. “She taught me to keep my cool and she does it better than anyone.”
Ahn received a wild card for the main draw of the US Open thanks to a sufficient number of points in a challenger series. It won a quarterfinal at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose. She became the first Challenger (in eight years of history) to qualify for the round of 16.
It’s the makings of a Cinderella story waiting to happen. There is even a family element. In an article in The New York Times, her parents wonder why she hasn’t put aside her tennis dreams in favor of job security in the corporate world. They thought she was ready to put down her racket two years ago.
But Ahn, who helped the Cardinal win the 2011 national title, found the strength, the motivation to keep going.
She has worked in tennis for five years and found out the reasons why she worked so hard at it.
It is that deep fleeting moment of clarity, a few minutes from which she rose.
It’s about freedom and achieving something so seemingly unattainable.