Coco Vandeweghe and Nicole Melichar Survive a Championship Point And Rally To Win Super Tiebreaker And King Trophy Over Chicago Smash, 21-20
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.V. (Aug. 2, 2020) – The King Trophy came down to as dramatic a finish as you can have in World TeamTennis as one point decided the entire season with the New York Empire capturing the King Trophy over the expansion Chicago Smash, 21-20, in a Super Tiebreaker on Sunday at Center Court at Creekside at The Greenbrier in West Virginia.
It all played out in front of a live nationally-televised audience on CBS Television Network. With the match in Extended Play at 20-20 and at 6-all in the Super Tiebreaker (best of 13) the Empire’s Coco Vandeweghe ripped a Sloane Stephens serve with a forehand down the line that nicked the baseline, was reviewed by Hawk-Eye and signaled in. The Finals Female Most Valuable Player Vandeweghe embraced her partner Nicole Melichar as the rest of the Empire players and head coach Luke Jensen joined into the celebration.
“I never had this opportunity in World TeamTennis to do Extended Play, to the Super Tiebreaker to the super buster to the Super Breaker (last deciding point),” Vandeweghe said. “I mean I’ve never been under that kind of pressure, ever. It was so much fun to be on my racquet to control the situation. Luckily I controlled it in the right way. It really accentuated what World TeamTennis is; the team vibe, team energy, people picking each other up when they’re down. I had so much fun out there.”
Said Melichar: “I didn’t want to tell Coco to go line, because I know her instincts, but I felt that Bethanie (Mattel-Sands) was going to try and cross and then the second she hit it and they didn’t call an out call I was thrilled, but then the fact that they were challenging (asked to look at Hawk-Eye), we were like ‘oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no’ and then it was just pure joy. It was just incredible.”
World TeamTennis titles are nothing new for New York franchises as the New York Buzz won the King Trophy in 2008 and the New York Sportimes did the same in 2005.
“It’s just so amazing that it came down to one point,” Empire coach Luke Jensen told the crowd after accepting the King Trophy and the $500,000 winning check his team will split. “When you’re a Grand Slam champion you’ve accomplished what you wanted as a kid. That she (Coco) didn’t hesitate to take that shot is amazing. And for New York specifically. Her grandfather played for the Knicks (Ernie Vandeweghe). Her uncle played for the Knicks (Kiki)…We made the trade for her, I reached out to her to say she should play for the orange and the blue, the Knicks colors and our colors. She’s such a gamer and a winner.”
The Smash held a championship point in regulation at 4-all in the tiebreaker (best of nine) as Melichar hit a service winner that Genie Bouchard was unable to handle, giving the set to the Empire and sending the match into Extended Play, 20-18. Vandeweghe won her serve for 20-19, and the Empire pair then broke Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ serve to knot the score at 20-20.
“I’m proud of this team for the fight all year,” said Chicago Smash Coach Kamau Murray. “I made two different decisions at both the end of the regular time and the tiebreaker and we’d have been in a different position. I’m sorry to see it end this way, but they all played well … Looking ahead to next year, I think we have a good core. We’ll bring most of them back and we’ll be here (in the Finals) again.”
In Women’s Singles, 2017 US Open winner Stephens extended the Smash’s lead with a 5-3 win over Vandeweghe to make the score 16-13.
The Empire jumped out to a quick start thanks to the play of WTT Male Most Valuable Player Jack Sock as he recorded wins in Mixed Doubles with Vandeweghe and in Men’s Doubles with Neal Skupski. He then ran into a buzz-saw in the way of 18-year-old Smash rookie Brandon Nakashima, who reeled off a 5-0 win to swing the match in favor of Chicago.
“I think I would chalk that up as my worst set of the three weeks, and unfortunately it came on the most important day, as well,” Sock said. “I just kept my head up. I was able to put 10 points on the board with Neal and Coco and you can’t ask more than that.”
WTT CEO Carlos Silva still had goosebumps talking about the match an hour after the memorable conclusion. “A flip flop in the middle of the match with Nakashima coming back to win 5-0 and swing the match, you couldn’t ask for any more than that,” Silva said. “And Coco’s winning forehand was like a walk-off home run, a buzzer-beater. My heart is still pounding.”
No. 4 New York Empire def. No. 3 CHICAGO SMASH, 21-20 (EP)
The late afternoon semifinal between the Orlando Storm and the expansion Chicago Smash should be a close match. Despite the teams sharing a 1-1 head to head record, the key to the Smash has been the monstrous doubles play of Bethanie Mattek-Sands and whatever partner with whom they team her up. Although the Storm beat the Smash, 21-16, on July 14, it was in large part due to Danielle Collins rolling over Sloane Stephens 5-0. In the loss, Mattek-Sands and Genie Bouchard managed a 5-1 victory against Pegula and Darija Jurak. When the Smash beat Orlando, 24-19 five days later, Mattek-Sands and Bouchard again beat Jessica Pegula, this time paired with Collins, by a 5-3 score.
No one expects Stephens to put in a poor performance against Jessica Pegula today and the men’s singles between Tennys Sandgren and Brandon Nakashima looks to be a draw. Pegula and Ken Skupski will have their hands full with Team Bethanie as well, with Mattek-Sands and Rajeev Ram on the other side of the net for the mixed doubles match.
Interview with Bethanie Mattek-Sands from Eastbourne 2019 Eric Han for Tennis Atlantic
I had the pleasure of talking to former world no.1 in doubles, five time Grand Slam doubles champion, and Olympic mixed doubles gold medalist, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, after her semifinals doubles victory with her partner Kirsten Flipkens. The video and the transcript of the interview is below.
Q: First tournament back since the Australian Open, and now you’re in final. Congratulations. How do you feel?
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: It feels really good. I mean, for me I’ve been enjoying each match. Having a surgery, going through the rehab. I think you learn to appreciate the moment a little bit. And I’ve been having a blast with Flipkens, it was a last minute partnership. And she’s a good a friend off the court. I mean, she won last week on grass, so I felt I picked up a partner that was on good momentum. The things she comes up with that net is super impressive, so I really enjoyed playing with Kirsten out there.
Q: What did you think of the match? When you were down 5-8 in the super tiebreak, what did you say to Kirsten or what did Kirsten say to you to keep motivating each other?
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: In all honesty, I’m going to be honest. On the 10 point tiebreakers, I lose track of score a lot. I’m relying on someone to tell me to I need to switch sides. It’s one thing to play the tiebreak to seven, but to play it to ten, I feel like it keeps going. So I’m like next point, alright next point, you’re serving, I’m serving, we’re returning, here’s the play.
So, I feel like, even though I wasn’t quite aware of the score, we had a good game plan. Flippers (Flipkens) is a positive person anyway, so I feel like we both have good energy out there and that’s kind of the key whether you’re up or down and its what win matches and we were able to close it out.
Q: You’ve played both singles and doubles in your career what would you say are the differences? What do you have to adjust when you have to play singles and doubles?
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: You definitely adjust your targets. I just think they are two different game plans. I mean, you do have some players that play singles and very good doubles players. Then you have some singles players, that don’t play a lot of doubles. I think there’s a big aspect of communication, a big aspect of a different strategy, and I don’t even like to kind of compare them. I feel when I’m getting ready for a doubles match, it’s a different strategy when I’m getting ready for singles. It’s still a little bit different, I think it’s fun to have your partner out there, someone to talk to. Singles, you’re out there by yourself and it’s a different game. And for right now, I’m playing doubles and mixed doubles at Wimbledon, double here. So I get to have someone to talk to, have my partner. So I’m just really enjoying it,
Q: Ash Barty, who you’ve played against in singles and doubles a few times. She won her maiden Grand Slam in Paris last month. Were you surprised that her first singles Grand Slam was on clay, rather than on Wimbledon as people thought that’s her preferred surface?
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: No, I don’t think so. I feel like she has actually won Rome doubles last year. And I think she won it again it this year. She’s an all court player, and I think right now if you have an all-court game, you can play on any surface. You can transition from clay, to hard, to grass. She mixes in that slice really well and comes to the net. And I feel like you can come to the net on all surfaces. And that’s going to be a good game plan. I don’t see her changing it up for grass. She’s an exciting player to watch, and I’ll be rooting for her.
Q: Speaking about Ash, she took time away from tennis to play cricket because she felt too much pressure, tension. Considering how long a tennis season is, nearly 11 months, do you think it is more beneficial for players to take mental health breaks?
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: You know what, I gotta give her a lot of credit for doing that. Because she came out of juniors, and she was a highly touted junior. I played her actually, one of her first tournaments, in Hobart I think a long time ago. And she was a great junior player. And for her to say, its too much pressure, I’m not enjoying it. Because Ash is one of these players, she really enjoys going out there, she plays smooth, she plays her game, she talks about playing her brand of tennis. And I really give her a lot of credit for taking that break. And I don’t think its the worst thing. For me, my breaks have come from injuries. I’ve been out for some months at times and it wasn’t necessarily my choice. I think it’s not only good for the body, but also for the mind, tennis is a game and it is a long season, so I think it’s important to kind of to take your breaks when you can and enjoy it. I pick and choose the tournaments I want to play, but I give myself weeks off and days off. After a long swing of tournaments, I’ll take a couple of days to enjoy somewhere around the world. Otherwise, it’s just playing, trains, automobiles, courts, practice, and it’s just kind of this vicious cycle till November. So I think that’s helped me a lot, but again, I’ve taken some time off for my injuries and enjoyed my life off the court, so I think balance is important- really really important.
Q: Do you have any examples in your own career that you should’ve felt I could’ve taken a mental health break? Because it was too much for me, the media attention or whatever. Do you have any examples?
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: For me, like I said, I took some time off around my injuries. And you know, it’s easy to say I was forced to take some time off. But I think I decided to rather than feel pressured to come back quick, I really enjoyed my time at home. I enjoyed my time with friends, and I think that’s the biggest shift of my career. If you would’ve talked to me when I was younger, I would’ve said I maybe burned out myself a little and didn’t enjoy tennis. And thinking back, it makes me a little sad, because tennis is a fun game, and even though there is pressure, and that’s why you have a team around you. And that’s why you have a normal life outside of tennis. And when I see that players that kind of have some good balance, they are generally the ones that play longer, they play the season, they can deal with losing early, and then those wins because week to week, you could be at a high, and next week you lose first round four days later! So I think it’s important to have a good balance and I feel like I’ve been able to do that, within my schedule.
Q: Yesterday, it was announced the Fed Cup would change its format to the Davis Cup. I spoke with Simona Halep yesterday about it in the press conference, she said she would possibly boycott it. Because she won’t be able to feel the atmosphere at home. What do you think?
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: You know what? It’s a topic we’ve talked about a lot over the last few years. We needed to find a way that the Fed Cup could fit in our schedule as well. The final was played in November, then we had two other weeks. It was tough to add more weeks onto the player’s schedules. So we’re gonna continue the talks right now. I’m actually on the player’s council, so we’re gonna talk to the ITF, the Fed Cup, and kind of come up with a win-win scenario and see what we can do about it. I think it’s very important for everyone to represent their country. I will say that, we come to tournaments like Eastbourne, it says Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and it says USA. We’re all really proud of our countries, whether we’re playing Fed Cup or Olympics or just week to week in the tournaments. But I think, it’s important to get behind some of these countries and get them excited about tennis, and their players, and that’s really my goal with Fed Cup. It’s how we can create that excitement with all these different countries and getting behind these local girls!
Q: Since we are on the topic of playing for your own country. Next year is the Olympics. Do you have any goals or have any given any thought to it?
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: Of course! Rio was my first Olympics, and I got a gold with Jack Sock in mixed doubles. So one of the big goals right now is to make the 2020 team. There’s a lot of time between now and then, a lot of tournaments. So it’s definitely in the horizon, but I would love to be in Tokyo. It was such a great experience in Rio, that I want to do it again.
Q: On the men’s side there is the Laver Cup. It has become a huge success, mainly due to the players showing a lot of passion for the event. Would you like to see the women’s being incorporated? Or perhaps creating a women’s only event similar to the Laver Cup. Would this be something you are interested in to take part?
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: Definitely! I would definitely take part. I think it’s one of the fun things to watch the Laver Cup for is how excited the players are getting out of it They have a short scoring short format, and makes the games and points exciting. They really did a great job on social media, everyone’s posting about it. They did a great job on fan engagement and interaction, and I think that’s what fans want, they want to get close and get in the action with the players, and they want to see the emotions, and I think it was a great competition. The women’s will definitely have something, whether that’s with the men with Laver cup or our own thing. We’ll definitely do something like that in the future
Q: Who would your dreams mixed doubles and doubles partner be from Team World?
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: I mean, Team World is stacked! I won with Jack (Sock), he’s unreal in doubles. When he gets those forehands, he punishes the ball, so I’m gonna throw Jack out there again. Women’s doubles from Team World… I’m going to have to go with…. so, Australia, I’m going to ask Ash Barty.
Q: Last question, Olympic singles gold medal, or a Grand Slam singles runners up?
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: Or a runners up?! You gotta go with the win. I think they’re both important. I mean, Olympics comes every four years so its a little bit more unique. But I want it all! Who doesn’t want it all? I want all the trophies!
Daria Kasatkina Wins Volvo Car Open Tony Callaio, Tennis Atlantic
Daria Kasatkina, 2017 Volvo Car Open (Photo: Tony Callaio)
The Volvo Car Open concluded where a new champion was crowned and a star is born. Daria Kasatkina, the 19-year old from Russia took her first WTA title away from another 19-year old seeking her first WTA title, Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, 6-3, 6-1.
Daria Kasatkina, 2017 Volvo Car Open (Photo: Tony Callaio)
Kasatkina played steady and seemed unnerved being in a WTA final. She played consistent, mixing up power and slice throwing off Ostapenko’s power game.
The serve of Kasatkina was the key advantage over Ostapenko by winning 69% first serves points to 57% from Ostapenko. The match lasted one-hour-and-six-minutes.
Ostapenko said she wasn’t feeling the ball as well as she had been during the tournament. “It was just probably not my day,” Ostapenko said.
After the win, Kasatkina dropped to her knees on the green clay before rising with her mouth covered holding back the tears. That didn’t last too long as she wept in her chair just before the trophy presentation.
Daria Kasatkina, 2017 Volvo Car Open (Photo: Tony Callaio)
The tears kept flowing during her winner’s speech thanking all of her family and coaches in her player’s box.
“I don’t realize it yet, so I’m just enjoying it every moment, every second. And really, when I was on the court after the last point, I just wanted the moment to stop because it was one of the best moments in my life,” Kasatkina admitted in post match press.
Daria Kasatkina, 2017 Volvo Car Open (Photo: Tony Callaio)
With a great week now behind the two teen stars, Kasatkina will jump into the Top 30 while Ostapenko will reside in the Top 50 as they both look forward to the European clay court season leading up to the French Open.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova, 2017 Volvo Car Open (Photo: Tony Callaio)
The World’s No. 1 doubles team and the tournament’s No. 1 seed Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova downed 4th seed team of Lucie Hradecka and Katerina Siniakova in a third set, super tiebreak 6-1, 4-6, 10-7 to win their first Volvo Car Open coupled together as a team.
U.S. HOSTS POLAND FOR FED CUP IN HAWAII, FEBRUARY 6-7
CoCo Vandeweghe and Bethanie Mattek-Sands join Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens
Photo: Steve Fogleman, TennisAtlantic.com
Fed Cup comes to Hawaii for the first time
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Jan. 27, 2016– The USTA and United States Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez today announced that former world No. 1 and current world No. 10 Venus Williams, No. 26 Sloane Stephens, No. 42 CoCo Vandeweghe and world No. 3 doubles player Bethanie Mattek-Sands will represent the U.S. in the 2016 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II First Round against Poland.
The best-of-five match series will be played at the Holua Tennis Center at the Holua Resort at Mauna Loa Village in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, Feb. 6-7. This will be the first Fed Cup tie held in Hawaii.
The winner of this match advances to the World Group Playoffs, held April 16-17, to compete for a spot in the 2017 World Group. The losing nation will play in the World Group II Playoffs in April to remain in World Group II in 2017.
Poland’s Fed Cup Captain Klaudia Jans-Ignacik named No. 93 Magda Linette, No. 159 Paula Kania, and Alicja Rosolska, ranked No. 44 in the world in doubles, to face Team USA. Jans-Ignacik, who is ranked No. 40 in doubles, is also part of the four-team roster as a playing captain
“We have great variety and depth on our team for Hawaii,” said Fernandez. “I am thrilled to have Venus, one of tennis’ greatest champions, competing for us. Sloane had a strong start to the season, winning Auckland for her second tour singles title, and CoCo and Bethanie are both playing really well in singles and doubles. Poland brings a skilled team and we look forward to competing. We are very excited to bring Fed Cup tennis to Hawaii for the first time and for the fans to come cheer us on.”
Play begins on Saturday, Feb. 6, with two singles matches featuring each country’s No. 1 player against the other country’s No. 2 player. Sunday’s schedule features two “reverse singles” matches, where the No. 1 players square off and then the No. 2 players meet, followed by the doubles match. Play on Saturday begins at 11 a.m. local time (4 p.m. ET) and on Sunday at 10 a.m. local time (3 p.m. ET). Tennis Channel will present daily coverage.
The United States holds a 3-0 record over Poland in Fed Cup. The U.S. last faced Poland in the 1990 World Group First Round in Atlanta, sweeping the tie, 3-0. The U.S., who also faced Poland in 1974 and 1980, has never lost an individual match in Fed Cup to Poland. This will be the U.S.’s first home tie since 2014 in St. Louis, as the team competed on the road in Argentina and Italy in 2015.
Hawaii becomes the 16th state to host Fed Cup. Local sponsors of the event include Hawaii Tourism Authority, Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, Holua Tennis Center at Holua Resort at Mauna Loa Village, KTA Super Stores, and Kona Coffee & Tea.
World No. 10 Williams, 35, posted her first Top 10 season since 2010 last year, winning three WTA titles and reaching the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and US Open. In 2013, she re-entered the Top 20 for the first time since revealing that she had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder, following the 2011 US Open. Williams holds a 21-4 overall record in Fed Cup competition, including 17-2 in singles. In 2015, she joined sister Serena on the team that defeated Argentina in Buenos Aires in the Fed Cup World Group II First Round; her second singles win clinched the tie. She was also a member of the title-winning team in 1999. Williams is a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion and has won 48 career WTA singles titles. She has been ranked No. 1 in both singles and doubles. In Olympic play, she has won three gold medals in doubles (with Serena) in 2000, 2008 and 2012, and she captured the singles gold medal in 2000.
World No. 26 Stephens, 22, is coming off a tournament title, the second of her career, at the 2016 Australian Open tune-up event in Auckland, New Zealand. She won her first WTA title in 2015 in Washington D.C. Stephens’ breakout came at the 2013 Australian Open, where she defeated Serena Williams en route to the semifinals. At 19 years, 10 months, 3 days old, Stephens was the youngest American to reach a Grand Slam singles semifinal since Williams reached the 2000 Wimbledon semifinals at 18 years, 9 months, 8 days old. Stephens also advanced to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2013 to peak at No. 11 in the world that October. Stephens has played in three Fed Cup ties for the U.S., the last coming in 2014, and holds a 1-2 record in singles and 1-1 record in doubles. She is the daughter of the late New England Patriots running back John Stephens.
CoCo Vandeweghe (Photo: Craig Glover)
World No. 42 Vandeweghe, 24, advanced to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2015 for her career-best result; she also advanced to the third round of the 2015 Australian Open to peak at No. 32 in the world in February 2015.Vandeweghe won her first WTA title in 2014 in ‘S-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, and reached her first pro final in 2012 at the Emirates Airline US Open Series event in Stanford as a qualifier, losing to Serena Williams in the title match. Vandeweghe has also had success in doubles, advancing to the semifinals at the 2015 US Open and the quarterfinals at the 2016 Australian Open. She was named to the U.S. Fed Cup team for the 2010 final versus Italy and for the 2015 World Group II First Round in Argentina, where she played singles and doubles. As a junior player, Vandeweghe won the 2008 US Open girls’ singles title. Vandeweghe’s mother, Tauna, was a member of the U.S. national team in both swimming and volleyball, and her uncle is former NBA star Kiki Vandeweghe.
World No. 63 Mattek-Sands, 30, is being named to her first Fed Cup team since 2011. In 2015, Mattek-Sands won the Australian Open and French Open women’s doubles titles (with Lucie Safarova) and the French Open mixed doubles title (with Mike Bryan). At the 2012 Australian Open, Mattek-Sands teamed with Horia Tecau to win her first Grand Slam title in mixed doubles. She is currently ranked a career-high No. 3 in the world in doubles.Mattek-Sands has been one of the U.S.’s most consistent performers over the past decade, playing in 14 US Opens and reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2008 and the French Open in 2013 for her career-best Grand Slam results. Overall, she holds 17 WTA doubles titles and five USTA Pro Circuit singles titles. In 2011, she was ranked a career-high No. 30 in the world in singles before being sidelined by a rotator cuff injury. Mattek-Sands holds a 3-0 record in Fed Cup doubles and a 2-6 record in singles. In the 2010 Fed Cup semifinal, with the U.S. trailing Russia 2-1, Mattek-Sands won the fourth singles match to force the decisive doubles rubber and then partnered with Liezel Huber to win the doubles match and clinch a spot in the final for the U.S. Mattek-Sands then went on to face Italy in the 2010 final—the United States’ last appearance in a Fed Cup final.
The United States leads all nations with 17 Fed Cup titles, the last coming in 2000. The U.S. is 37-6 all-time in Fed Cup ties played at home and holds an overall 144-36 record. Fed Cup by BNP Paribas is the World Cup of Tennis. It is the largest annual international team competition in women’s sport, with 101 nations taking part in 2016. For more information, including access to player and historical Fed Cup records, please go to www.usta.com/fedcup orwww.fedcup.com. Follow the U.S. Fed Cup Team on Twitter @USFedCupTeam. Wilson is the official ball of the U.S. Fed Cup Team.
2016 WTA Hobart Preview and Predictions Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
After an injury struck first week of the season, the Australian Open preparation continues with tournaments in Sydney and Hobart. Whilst a lot of the bigger names elect to play in Sydney, Hobart has often been a place where lesser known players pick up an International title.
The Hobart International was formed in 1994 and has seen many champions including Kim Clijsters, Petra Kvitova and world number three Garbine Muguruza. Heather Watson was the winner in 2015.
The Hobart International
Location: Hobart, Australia
Prize Money: $226,750
Date: January 10th-16th 2016
One of the potential winners of the title that is not seeding is Konta. The Brit had a great second half to 2015, scoring twins over the world number three Muguruza and reaching the second week of the US Open. Can she pull another upset against Cibulkova?
Neither player made a great start to 2016 but will see this tournament as the perfect chance to get some pre-Australian Open momentum. This will be their first meeting, so there are not previous matches to go by when predicting this contest. It should be a good one.
First Quarter: Top seed Sloane Stephens is coming into Hobart with some good momentum after a title run in Auckland last week. The American opens against Japan’s Misaki Doi before meeting local wildcard Jarmila Wolfe or a qualifier. A good draw for Stephens to get to the last eight.
Alize Cornet is still wondering what happened to her ranking in 2015, falling form the top 30 to outside the top 40. The Frenchwoman’s climb back up the rankings could start in Hobart where she faces Denisa Allertova in round one. A qualifier or lucky loser will be certain for the winner in round two.
Second Quarter: Monica Niculescu brings her unique game to Hobart as the fourth seed. The Romanian has a fairly tough draw however with Christina McHale in round one then either Heather Watson or Teliana Pereira in round two.
Another player with an unusual gamestyle is Barbora Strycova. The sixth seed faces Johanna Larsson in round one with a potential round two match with rising youngster Margarita Gasparyan. The Russian faces wildcard Maddison Inglis in her opener.
Third quarter: Third seed Cibulkova has not quite been the same player since injury but her comeback trails continues in Hobart. Round one is a tough one against Konta with Danka Kovinic likely for round two. The Montenegran faces wildcard Kimberly Birrell in round one.
Fifth seed Madison Brengle got a lucky round one draw against a qualifier or lucky loser, but round two should be a bigger test. No matter who wins between Mona Barthel and Annika Beck, a German will advance to the next round. Barthel is a former champion here but pulled out of her match last week with injury.
Fourth Quarter: As mentioned previously, Giorgi is one of the most erratic players on tour. But when her game clicks she is one of the most dangerous too. Which side will we see in Hobart. Diyas will provide a consistent test in round one with Nao Hibino or a qualifier awaiting in round two.
Alison Van Uytvanck will be a name to look out for in 2016 given her Roland Garros run last year. The Belgian faces fellow youngster Carina Witthoeft in an interesting round one match-up. Eugenie Bouchard is always a name to look out for and she faces Bethanie Mattek Sands in another interesting opener. A stacked quarter here.
The defending champion will make another run but will ultimate lose out to the third seed in the final. Cibulkova gets her 2016 up and going and gets the perfect momentum boost for the Australian Open.
2015 WTA Indian Wells (@BNPParibasOpen) Preview and Predictions Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
After an eventful first two months of the 2015 season, we reach the almost month long American hard court series, with back to back Premier tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami.
The first stop will be in the beautiful state of California for the BNP Paribas Open. The Indian Wells Tennis Garden will play host to the world’s best players from both the men’s and women’s tour with the main court holding over 16,000 spectators.
The BNP Paribas Open was originally a men’s only event in 1976. Thirteen years later the Garden would also host the women, albeit a week after the men’s tournament. In 1996, the decision was made to have the men’s and women’s tournaments run simultaneously, and it has since become one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world.
Among Indian Wells’ many accolades are being named the WTA’s Premier Tournament Of The Year five times – in 1997, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2013 – and the Premier Mandatory Tournament Of The Year in 2014; becoming the first event in the world to offer the Hawk-Eye challenge system on every match court in 2011; and becoming the first ATP/WTA combined tournament to distribute $1 million in prize money to each of its singles champions in 2012.
Previous champions include the likes of Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, Martina Navratilova, Maria Sharapova and Monica Seles. Flavia Pennetta is the defending champion, as she overcame Agnieszka Radwanska in last year’s final.
Despite all the history, and the prestige of the event, the big story is the return of Serena Williams to Indian Wells.
The world number one hasn’t played in the tournament for 14 years, after the crowd heckled her and her sister Venus after alleged match fixing. It was also alleged that the reaction was also racially motivated. This led to the Williams sisters boycotting the event for 14 years; until now. Serena announced earlier this year that she will be returning to Indian Wells in an exclusive with TIME Magazine where she discussed both the happy and sad experiences from the event.
“It has been difficult for me to forget spending hours crying in the Indian Wells locker room after winning in 2001, driving back to Los Angeles feeling as if I had lost the biggest game ever – not a mere tennis game but a bigger fight for equality,” Williams wrote in her exclusive piece for TIME.
“I’m fortunate to be at a point in my career where I have nothing to prove. I’m still as driven as ever, but the ride is a little easier. I play for the love of the game. And it is with that love in mind, and a new understanding of the true meaning of forgiveness, that I will proudly return to Indian Wells in 2015.”
Venus however, will not return to the BNP Paribas Open this year.
For more information on the Williams sisters’ boycott of Indian wells and Serena’s return, please read my article posted yesterday.
BNP Paribas Open
Tier: Premier Mandatory
Location: Indian Wells, USA
Prize Money: $ 5,381,235
Date: March 11th- March 22nd
Top eight seeded players (Ranking)
1. Serena Williams (1)
2. Maria Sharapova (2)
3. Simona Halep (3)
4. Caroline Wozniacki (5)
5. Ana Ivanovic (6)
6. Eugenie Bouchard (7)
7. Agnieszka Radwanska (8)
8. Ekaterina Makarova (9)
The notable exception is Petra Kvitova who withdrew from the tournament due to fatigue. Otherwise the top players are all in action, which should lead to an exciting tournament.
Note: There are 32 seeded players in the draw, all of which receive a first round BYE
Julia Goerges vs Heather Watson:
Britain’s Heather Watson made a fantastic start to 2015 by winning the Hobart International tournament just before the Australian Open. However, the 22 year old hasn’t been able to capitalise on that momentum, only winning one match since. Goerges on the other hand has had a good start to the year, winning more often than not. That includes a round four appearance at the Australian Open where she lost to Ekaterina Makarova. These two previously met on the clay courts of Roland Garros three years ago, and it was The German who came out on top in straight sets. Watson’s form since Hobart hasn’t convinced me, but this is tennis and anything can happen. Expect the Brit to try counter Goerges’ power and remain consistent. The German will look to use her power to overwhelm Watson, forcing short balls and errors. It’s hard not to back Goerges given their respective forms, but if The 26 year old is spraying errors, except Watson’s consistency to shine through.
Anna Schmiedlova vs Lauren Davis
Two youngsters ranked within two places of each other, both looking to play their way into form, and one of them is American? Sounds like an enticing Indian wells opener to me. Schmiedlova vs Davis might be a match-up you see more of in the future, but this is their first ever meeting, meaning we have little to go by when it comes to deciding the winner. Schmiedlova recently made the final of Rio, but lost to Sara Errani in straight sets. The 20 year old hasn’t won a match since the clay court event in Brazil, losing both her opening round matches in Mexico. Davis hasn’t won since the Australian Open, albeit she has only played two matches since the first Grand Slam of the year. No matter which way it ends up going, this match should be close and will likely go the distance. The reward will be a round two clash with Jelena Jankovic.
(WC) Taylor Townsend vs (WC) Bethanie Mattek-Sands
One for you American fans out there. Taylor Townsend is younger than yours truly, and is in the top 100, making her one of the brightest prospects on tour. Mattek Sands is 11 years older and vastly more experienced, and she’s much better than her 187 ranking suggests. The 29 year old suffered an injury last year, which saw her ranking plummet from top 50 to outside the top 100. Townsend is still very young and learning her way around the tour, therefore the 18 year old isn’t yet the complete product. I expect Mattek-Sands’ experience to shine through as I don’t believe Townsend is ready to handle the pressure of the big crowd at Indian Wells yet.
The world number one’s triumphant return to Indian Wells will be met by the crafty Monica Niculescu or Aleksandra Krunic. The focus here won’t be on the tennis, but on how the crowd will react to Serena Williams after her 14 year boycott of the event. If the crowd is gracious, and Serena displays her usual form, there should be little to no trouble in her opening matches. Youngster, Zarina Diyas will await in round three, but that shouldn’t be a problem for Williams, who should over-power the Kazakh with ease.
Serena’s draw gets interesting in round four, where Angelique Kerber or Svetlana Kuznetsova should be awaiting her. Both players are in need of wins after failing to really set the world alight in 2015. At this point they should both have a win under their belt to give them somewhat of a confidence boost heading into their third round clash. Interestingly, the head to head is tied at 3-3, but Kerber has a win this year on the hard courts of Dubai. The German overcame Kuznetsova in straight sets on that occasion, and I can see the same happening here.
Kerber has beaten Serena on American soil before three years ago in Cincinnati, but apart from that straight sets win, she has failed to take a set off the world number one. Serena’s record here speaks for itself, so I’ll be shocked if she doesn’t make it to the quarter finals.
Serena’s return might dominate the headlines, but on the court, the fight for the right to face the world number one might just be the show-stealer. This section features two in-form players, who right now are at their career high ranking. Lucie Safarova is just shy of the top 10 following her triumph in Doha. The Czech is dangerous and in excellent form. I wouldn’t want to draw her at Indian Wells.
Timea Bacsinszky is coming off a double title salvo in Mexico, making her perhaps the most in-form player heading into the tournament. The Swiss is at a career high ranking of 26, and is 11th in the race, such is her good form this year. Bacsinszky has in an interesting round three prospect against the eighth seeded Russian Ekaterina Makarova. Bacsinszky leads the head to head 2-1, including a straight sets win in Wuhan last year. However, Makarova brings her best on the big occasion, and that makes her extremely dangerous. The Swiss’ good form will make a lot of people lean towards her, and I understand why, but Makarova is still overall the better player and I favour her in this match-up despite the stats saying otherwise.
The Makarova vs Safarova match will decide who faces Serena in the quarter finals. The battle of the lefties should be close, with both Safarova and Makarova currently in the form of their careers. The Czech should be full of confidence after her exploits in Doha, where she beat Makarova in the round of 16 in three sets. With the head to head and form book in the favour of the world number 11, I will back Lucie to be Serena’s opponent in the quarter finals.
The world number three doesn’t have it easy in Indian Wells, with some dangerous seeded players being drawn into her section. Halep was forced to withdraw from Doha with a rib injury, so her fitness might be in question. There isn’t any news heading into the tournament about tis injury, so I presume she’ll be healed up enough to make a good go of this.
The Romanian’s first test will come in the form of Vavara Lepchenko in the third round. The American has suffered from an illness this season, but she’s very dangerous with her powerful ground strokes being her main weapon. The home crowd could inspire Lepchenko, but the chances are Halep will be too consistent for the American.
The third round clash between Karolina Pliskova and Garbine Muguruza is mouth-watering, with the winner facing Halep for a quarter final place. Both Plsikova and Muguruza have been tipped to be the future of the WTA, making this a match-up we could be seeing a whole lot more of in the future. The Czech has been in awesome form this year, climbing towards the top 10 in the rankings with some big wins along the way. Muguruza has played well too, earning some big wins of her own. These two have met twice before, and on both occasions they have been tight three setters. Expect more of the same here, with some huge hitting from both sides of the court. I have a feeling Muguruza will be the victor this time around. She was close in Dubai without playing well and looking tired, so I believe The Spaniard will edge out the Czech on this occasion.
With The Spaniard likely going long with Plsikova, look for Halep to take advantage of a tired Muguruza. The world number three has been prone to being blown off the court by the likes of Garbine, but on this occasion she’ll weather the storm. Muguruza will come out flying, but eventually will slow down as fatigued starts to kick in allowing Halep to complete a three set win.
Seventh seed Agnieszka Radwanska isn’t in the best of form at the moment and could find herself facing an early exit. Camila Giorgi is projected to meet in round three, and with the Italian’s power, The Pole could find herself being blown away. The Italian however is vastly inconsistent, especially with the serve, and could easily fall in the second round to Goerges or Watson. Radwanska might not be in the best form, but she was a finalist here last year, so she has proven she can play well here. I will predict the world number eight to make round four.
The likely opponent will be the winner of the interesting Carla Suarez Navarro vs Barbora Zahalova Strycova round three clash. These two players aren’t known for their power, but they show a lot of variety and bring experience to the table. The Spaniard leads the head to head 6-1, but they have never met on a hard court. Despite the lack of hard court meetings it’s difficult not to back Suarez Navarro in this match, with the 12th seed being overall the better player, in better form and leading the head to head.
Suarez Navarro will therefore face Radwanska in round four with a quarter final place at stake. The seventh seed leads the head to head 2-0, but these two haven’t faced each other since the 2012 US Open. In the two and a half years that have passed, Radwanska has somewhat regressed, whilst Suarez Navarro has improved to become a solid top 20 player. The Spaniard heads into the tournament in better form, and therefore I see her overcoming Radwanska in three sets.
The fourth seeded Caroline Wozniacki will be coming into Indian Wells in good spirits after claiming the Kuala Lumpur title last week; her first of 2015. Wozniacki should make round four, but there are some tricky matches along the way. Kaia Kanepi may await in the second round, and the Estonian is always dangerous. Rising star Belinda Bencic is projected to meet the former world number one in the third round, but the teen isn’t in the best of form this year possessing a 2-5 singles record. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Swiss fall in the second round to Jovanovski or Bertens, albeit these two aren’t in the best of form either. Either way, Wozniacki should defeat either of those three players without too much trouble.
Come the fourth round, her possible opponents include Madison Keys, Jelena Jankovic or 2007 winner Daniela Hantuchova. Keys will be the favourite given her exploits in Melbourne, but the big hitting American may struggle under the pressure of the home crowd. Madison is still young, and with the weight of expectation on her shoulders it will be interesting to see how she copes. The first test will likely be in the form of Hantuchova, who since her 2007 triumph is 1-7 at this event. Hantuchova got some decent for under her belt by winning the Patteya open but has since struggled. Jelena Jankovic is a shell of her former self, and has a tough round two against the winner of Davis vs Schmiedlova. Jankovic bowing out early wouldn’t be much of a shock, but the winner of the second round match-up will likely lose to Keys or Hantuchova in round three.
Keys vs Wozniacki should be the fourth round match, setting up an interesting clash of styles. Keys is pure power, swinging hard and hitting powerful strokes off both wings. Wozniacki is one of the best movers and tour, and her retrieving could frustrate the American. The 16th seed has the power to blow the world number five off the court, but on this occasion on a fairly slow court, I expect Wozniacki to pull through. The Dane has a great record here, being a former champion and finalist.
Could we be in for an all blonde showdown in the quarter finals? Sixth seed Eugenie Bouchard will certainly hope so. The Canadian’s first test will come in round three against big serving American Coco Vandeweghe. Bouchard’s form is unknown as she’s only played one match since the Australian Open, losing to Mona Barthel in Antwerp. Given that she’s fully fit, Bouchard’s early ball striking could get Vandeweghe on the move, making the American less effective. If the 30th seed can get the upper-hand in the rallies with her forehand, then Bouchard could be in trouble. It’s still difficult not to back the sixth seed on this occasion, but this one could be tricky.
Bouchard’s fourth round opponent will likely come down to the winner of Andrea Petkovic vs Alize Cornet. Petkovic might have a difficult time getting past Annika Beck in the second round, but realistically it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The German is in better form than Cornet, but the Frenchwoman leads to head to head 3-1, including a victory in Miami last year. Petkovic is now a top 10 player, and therefore should be more confident this time around, and that will be enough to see her past the 20th seed.
Bouchard’s biggest problem is handling the big hitters, and Petkovic doesn’t really fall into the category. However, you have to consider that Bouchard’s fitness and form is unknown. The world number seven has only played one match since Melbourne. Petkovic hasn’t set the world alight since Antwerp, but she’s hardly looked awful. Knowing where the German’s fitness and form is at, I feel she’s the safer bet to make the quarter finals.
With Azarenka’s injury woes causing the former world number one to fall down the rankings, she was always going to create a tough draw for a top player. This time it’s Maria Sharapova. The pair are scheduled to meet in the third round with Azarenka only just claiming a seeding position due to Kvitova’s withdrawal. Providing nothing gets in their way, this will undoubtedly be the match of the early rounds. Azarenka boasts a 6-1 record on hard courts against the world number two, but their last meeting on this surfaced was over two years ago. Azarenka is slowly building her ranking back up, but she isn’t at the level she displayed in 2012 and 2013 just yet. Maria Sharapova pulled out of Acapulco with illness 2 weeks ago, but that shouldn’t be problem now surely? Expect a tight, (and loud match) with both players wrestling momentum from each other during the match. It will likely come down to mental strength, which is where Sharapova thrives. How many times have we seen the Russian pull through tight matches where she hasn’t played too well? You can’t count them on your fingers that’s for certain. I feel this will be another one of those matches where Sharapova sneaks the win despite being outplayed throughout the majority of the match.
She will then go on to likely face the defending champion Flavia Pennetta. Her victory here last year proved that she likes these courts, and is capable of showing a high level here. Unfortunately for the Italian she won’t reach a high enough level to topple the second seed, and she’ll likely go down in straight sets.
Fifth seed Ana Ivanovic will look to use this tournament to rebuild some confidence after a disappointing defeat to Caroline Garcia last week. These two are on the collision course this week too, with the Serb looking to extract her revenge. Ivanovic will almost certainly make the third round, but Garcia’s participation at this stage isn’t set in stone. Former Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva is the Frenchwoman’s likely second round opponent. The Russian is continuing her comeback from injury, and despite not being at her 2010 level, she’s still a dangerous unseeded player to draw. Garcia reached back to back finals in Mexico, but lost twice to the surging Timea Bacsinszky. It will be interesting to see how the Frenchwoman responds after being only a win away from a title two weeks in a row. These losses can dent your confidence or make you hungry to go that one further. It’s interesting to see which path Garcia will end up going down.
Sara Errani is the projected fourth round opponent of Ivanovic/Garcia/Zvonareva, but the Italian consistency can often leave her prone to being overpowered. Speaking of power, Sabine Lisicki has it in abundance, but the German struggles for consistency outside of Wimbledon, making her an upset target for unseeded players. Jarmila Gajdosova and Roberta Vinci will be looking to take advantage of that, but first they must battle each other in an intriguing round one match. Vinci is experienced, crafty, and a former top 20 player, but you feel her singles form is declining as she reaches her advanced years. The 32 year old seems more focused on doubles nowadays with her partner Sara Errani. Gajdosova has shown some good form this year, and as she closes in on the top 50, I expect her to take advantage of a decent draw and make the fourth round. I don’t feel she can go any further though.
Round of 16:
Serena def. Kerber in 2
Safarova def. Makarova in 3
Halep def. Muguruza in 3
Suarez Navarro def. Radwanska in 3
Petkovic def. Bouchard in 3
Wozniacki def. Keys in 3
Ivanovic def. Gajdosova in 2
Sharapova def. Pennetta in 2
Serena def. Safarova in 3
Halep def. Suarez Navarro in 2
Wozniacki def. Petkovic in 2
Sharapova def. Ivanovic in 3
Safarova’s good form will allow her to hand Serena her first set loss in the tournament, but Serena’s power and mental strength will be too much for the Czech to handle. Suarez Navarro will have a good run to the quarter finals, but Halep will prove too consistent, and too good for the Spaniard. Wozniacki loves playing at Indian Wells, and that will show with another deep run here. She shouldn’t have too many problems dispatching Petkovic like most of their previous meetings.
Sharapova vs Ivanovic will be dramatic, and will be very similar to the world number 2’s clash with Azarenka in round two. Sharapova will pull through in another battle of grit and determination. Make sure to check your blood pressure whilst watching this one.
Serena def. Halep in 2
Wozniacki def. Sharapova in 3
Serena had her troubles with Halep at the Tour Championships last year, but I hardly expect a repeat. The world number one will be determined and that will see her through in one tight and one dominant set. Wozniacki vs Sharapova is an interesting match-up. The head to head is close at 5-4 in The Russian’s favour, but the Dane has won their past two meetings, both of hard courts. With that in mind, I am predicting Wozniacki to grind her way through in 3 tight sets.
Serena def. Wozniacki in 2
The battle of best friends will decide the championship at Indian Wells, and as usual Williams will be the victor. The American leads the head to head 10-1, and has a good record at this tournament despite not playing here since 2001. The world number one will cap her return to Indian Wells with another Premier title.
American Women Surge in Paris. The Men, Not So Much #RG13
Jamie Hampton capped off an amazing Saturday for the women of American tennis, beating former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in straight sets. Hampton is now poised to crack the top 50 for the first time in her career, and crack it hard. This will be her first ever Slam Sweet 16, which you call the 4th round.
Prior to that, Bethanie Mattek-Sands punched her ticket to only her second Slam Sweet 16 in a victory over qualifier Paula Ormaechea.
Earlier yet, Sloane Stephens outlasted Marina Erakovic to earn a second consecutive spot in the Roland Garros.
And of course Serena will be there, too.
A full quarter of the field in the hunt to win it all at Roland Garros are Americans, and Venus Williams isn’t even one of them.
Even better, they won’t have to face a fellow American in the 4th round.
Hampton and Mattek-Sands surprised. Sloane and Serena did not disappoint. Stephens will face Sharapova, Serena will take out on Roberta Vinci, Mattek-Sands will play Maria Kirilenko and Jamie Hampton gets Jelena Jankovic.
There’s nothing sweet about the 4th round for the American men’s field. Not a single one will be dirtballing in Paris next week. In the final American singles match of the day, John Isner played some mean overtime (2 tiebreaks and an extended fifth set) but lost to Tommy Haas in the end.
In Haas, the Germans have a 35-year-old man in the Sweet 16. That doesn’t sound clean. But it’s better than the alternative.
The success of the American women will help ease the pain of an underwhelming performance by their male counterparts. Cheers to them and God Bless the men.
Monday a Mammoth Day for Marathon Matches @FamilyCircleCup
CHARLESTON—Monday was a mammoth day for marathon matches in Charleston.
Olga Govortsova started things off by dropping Jamie Hampton 6-4, 7-6, 6-4 on Stadium Court. Following that match, Stadium Court fans got another three setter when Varvara Lepchenko ousted Christina McHale 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. Mathilde Johansson outlasted Melinda Czink 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 and Stefanie Voegele bested Teliana Pereria 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. Then there was Silvia Soler-Espinosa taking out Francesca Schiavone 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(6) and Jesse Pegula triumphing over Muguruza 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-5.
Those were puny 5K fun runs compared to the 3:42 26.2 miler filed by Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Anastasia Rodionova on Althea Gibson court. The 3:42 is easily the longest match in the 2013 WTA season. After the match, BMS told Rodionova that she was a “warrior”. Understatement of the year but a classy move from Bethanie.
Now that’s a Match!
Those who took the express train to victory today included Sorona Cirstea in a 6-4, 7-6 drubbing of Tatiana Malek, Camila Giorgi in a 6-4, 6,-4 win over Mandy Minella, Grace Min in a 6-3, 0-0 retirement over Tamira Paszek, and Genie Bouchard in a 6-2, 6-3 win over Nastassja Burnett. Monica Puig notched a quick 6-4, 6-0 over Andrea Hlavackova, Andrea Petkovic won easily over Taylor Townsend, 6-3 6-0 and Caroline Garcia eliminated Chanelle Scheepers (RSA) 7-6(6), 6-4.
Today, the second round begins with Serena Williams and other seeded players in action including a night match between Americans Sloane Stephens and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
FAMILY CIRCLE CUP – CHARLESTON, SC, USA $ 795,707.00 MARCH 30 – APRIL 07, 2013
RESULTS – APRIL 01, 2013Women’s Singles – First Round
 S Cirstea (ROU) d T Malek (GER) 64 76(5)
 V Lepchenko (USA) d C Mchale (USA) 63 46 62
[Q] G Min (USA) d  T Paszek (AUT) 63 00 Retired
C Giorgi (ITA) d M Minella (LUX) 64 64
[Q] M Burdette (USA) d K Mladenovic (FRA) 61 16 60
A Medina Garrigues (ESP) d A Rus (NED) 62 62
[WC] B Mattek-Sands (USA) d A Rodionova (AUS) 64 67(4) 76(3)
M Johansson (FRA) d M Czink (HUN) 57 63 75
M Puig (PUR) d A Hlavackova (CZE) 64 60
[Q] J Pegula (USA) d G Muguruza (ESP) 67(2) 64 75
[Q] C Garcia (FRA) d C Scheepers (RSA) 76(6) 64
[Q] E Bouchard (CAN) d [Q] N Burnett (ITA) 62 63
S Voegele (SUI) d [Q] T Pereira (BRA) 46 62 64
O Govortsova (BLR) d J Hampton (USA) 64 67(3) 64
[WC] A Petkovic (GER) d [WC] T Townsend (USA) 63 60
S Soler-Espinosa (ESP) d F Schiavone (ITA) 36 64 76(6)
ORDER OF PLAY – TUESDAY, APRIL 02, 2013BILLIE JEAN KING start 10:00 am
A Tatishvili (GEO) vs  S Lisicki (GER)
M Oudin (USA) vs  J Jankovic (SRB)
 S Williams (USA) vs C Giorgi (ITA)
 M Barthel (GER) vs [Q] J Pegula (USA) Not Before 7:00 PM
 S Stephens (USA) vs [WC] B Mattek-Sands (USA)
M Moulton-Levy (USA) / S Zhang (CHN) vs [WC] J Alawi (BUL) / D Kanakova (CZE)
ALTHEA GIBSON start 10:00 am
D Hantuchova (SVK) vs M Erakovic (NZL)
A Cadantu (ROU) vs M Keys (USA)
 L Robson (GBR) vs E Cabeza Candela (ESP)
 V Lepchenko (USA) vs M Johansson (FRA)
K Mladenovic (FRA) / L Safarova (CZE) vs [WC] J Jankovic (SRB) / A Petkovic (GER)
COURT 3 start 10:00 am
 Y Shvedova (KAZ) vs [Q] V King (USA)
Y Putintseva (KAZ) vs  J Goerges (GER) Not Before 2:00 PM  C Suarez Navarro (ESP) vs S Voegele (SUI) Not Before 3:30 PM  S Cirstea (ROU) vs A Medina Garrigues (ESP)
COURT 4 start 12:00 noon
R Oprandi (SUI) vs M Lucic-Baroni (CRO)
H Chan (TPE) / O Govortsova (BLR) vs L Dekmeijere (LAT) / T Malek (GER)
Tired of all the exhibition tennis yet? Ready for some real competition? It’s my favorite little tournament of the year, and it arrives just in time for the holidays. The Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Norcross, Georgia begins in just ten days and is a gift to the biggest tennis fans in the United States: Atlantans.
The playoff format and the compact three-day event makes the AOWC some of the best tennis fun you can have without picking up a racquet. Imagine a joint ITF-USTA Pro Circuit gig, but with bigger prizes. Imagine large crowds (something you don’t always see at an ITF/USTA Pro Circuit event). Imagine a bona fide fan-oriented show with low ticket prices. That’s Norcross.
The only complaint about the Playoffs is that they don’t play it outdoors, where the host Racquet Club of the South boasts a spacious stadium court and beautiful grounds. The Club itself is the once and future home of the Atlanta Open, currently in residence at Atlantic Station in downtown Atlanta.
2011 AOWC Women’s Champion Madison Keys returns to defend her title and collect another wild card. This year, Keys will surprise no one if she conquers the weekend. She was seeded sixth in successful playoff runs for the US Open and Australian Open wild cards last year. This year, she moves to the four seed.
Jesse Levine, the 2011 men’s winner, will not return to RCS this year, having secured himself a ranking guaranteeing a main draw berth in Melbourne. As he told me during the Charlottesville Challenger last month, ‘that’s a good thing’. The top seed this year will be Denis Kudla, who has never been seeded #1 at any event since turning pro.
With Kudla at the top and Jack Sock seeded second this year, at least they won’t have to face each other in the first round as they did in 2011.
The women’s field is notably stronger. The eight women’s contenders for the card have an average ranking of 143, compared to the men’s side which averages a 232 rank. Even if you remove Christian “Little Harry” Harrison at #474 from the field, the remaining seven stack up to a 197 average ranking.
The field features at least a couple of players who wish they weren’t required to compete for a wild card this year. Both Irina Falconi and Bethanie Mattek-Sands enjoyed top 100 status at this time last year. Atlanta’s Falconi came out to the Playoffs as an observer in 2011. In 2012, she’ll be the local favorite on the main court.
The US Open Wild Card Playoffs were sacked this year in favor of bringing a higher level of importance to smaller ITF/USTA Pro Circuit events in aggregating points from three events to determine a winner of the wild card. That’s what we’re told, anyway. The abysmal fan turnout at the 2011 US Open Wild Card Playoffs in College Park, Maryland was certainly a factor as well. The Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Norcross featured a full house of fans for the finals last year. As long as the fans return, this event will remain on the USTA calendar for years to come.
Tennis East Coast will again provide live coverage of the Playoffs from Norcross. Atlanta’s Steen Kirby will handle the men’s side and I’ll cover the women’s competition. Over the next week, we’ll evaluate the player fields and give you a preview of the off-court activities.