The women’s US Open Series launches in California with one of the oldest tournaments in the WTA. In the tranquil setting of Stanford University, the Bank of the West Classic a particularly cozy and rewarding tournaments. Here is a look ahead at what to expect this week at Stanford and at the International event half a world away in Azerbaijan.
Top half: Rarely do Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka all spurn Stanford. Their absence this year offers world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska an opportunity as the only top-10 player in the draw. The top seed probably still can taste the bitter disappointment of a greater opportunity squandered at Wimbledon. Radwanska will seek to bounce back on a relatively fast hard court, where she has reached the semifinals before. She should reach that stage again with no pre-semifinal opponent more formidable than Varvara Lepchenko, just 2-9 away from clay this year. A potentially intriguing first-round match between youthful energy and veteran cunning pits Stanford alum Mallory Burdette against Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone.
Sandwiched between two unimpressive seeds, Madison Keys should showcase her power on a court suited to it. American fans will enjoy their glimpse of the woman who could become their leading threat to win a major in a few years. Keys will look to deliver an opening upset over eighth seed Magdalena Rybarikova en route to a possible quarterfinal against compatriot Jamie Hampton. Climbing into relevance with an Eastbourne final, Hampton holds the fourth seed and may face another Stanford alum in Nicole Gibbs. Hampton stunned Radwanska at Eastbourne last month, while Keys took a set from her at Wimbledon.
Semifinal: Radwanska vs. Keys
Bottom half: The third quarter features another unseeded American hopeful—and another Radwanska. Stanford’s depleted field allowed Agnieszka’s younger sister, Urszula, to snag the seventh seed, while Christina McHale looks for momentum on the long road back from mononucleosis. Still elegant as she fades, Daniela Hantuchova brings a touch of grace that should contrast with the athleticism of first-round opponent Yanina Wickmayer. Often a presence but rarely a threat at Stanford, third seed Dominika Cibulkova has not won more than two matches at any tournament since January.
The only US Open champion in the draw, Samantha Stosur might face a challenging test against Julia Goerges. This enigmatic German has won three of their four meetings, including both on hard courts, although the last three all have reached a third set. Of course, a 14-17 record in 2013 does not bode well for her chances of surviving Olga Govortsova in the first round. The road might not get any easier for Stosur in the quarterfinals, though, where she could meet Sorana Cirstea. A product of the Adidas training program in Las Vegas, Cirstea upset Stosur at last year’s Australian Open. None of the women in the lower half ever has reached a final at Stanford.
Semifinal: Cibulkova vs. Stosur
Final: Radwanska vs. Stosur
Top half: Not one of these women will hold a seed at the US Open unless their rankings rise between now and then. Holding the top seed is Bojana Jovanovski, who owes many of her poitns to a second-week appearance at the Australian Open. Jovanovski has two victories over Caroline Wozniacki but few over anyone else since then. Former junior No. 1 Daria Gavrilova and fellow Serb Vesna Dolonc offer her most credible competition before the semifinals.
At that stage, Jovanovski might meet Andrea Hlavackova, the runner-up in a similarly weak draw at Bad Gastein a week ago. Although she has fallen outside the top 100, meanwhile, Shahar Peer will hope to rely on her experience to stop either Hlavackova or third seed Chanelle Scheepers. The speed of the surface may determine whether a counterpuncher like Peer or Scheepers overcomes the heavier serve of fifth seed Karolina Pliskova.
Bottom half: Unheralded players from the home nation often play above expectations at small tournaments like Baku. Wildcard Kamilla Farhad, an Azerbaijani citizen, will hope to echo Yvonne Meusberger’s astonishing title run in Bad Gastein. Surrounding her are clay specialist Alexandra Cadantu and the stagnating Polona Hercog. A tall Slovenian, the later woman seems the best equipped to win on hard courts from this section. Cadantu will need to blunt the explosive serve of Michaella Krajicek to survive her opener.
The 18-year-old Elina Svitolina showed promise in Bad Gastein by reaching the semifinals. That experience will have served her well heading into another International event with an open draw. She even holds a seed here, as does another rising star in Donna Vekic. Nearly two years younger than Svitolina, Vekic already has reached two WTA finals. A quarterfinal between the two teenagers might offer a preview of more momentous matches in the future.
Final: Pliskova vs. Vekic
By Victoria Chiesa
There has been much discussion in recent years regarding the rising median age on the WTA Tour. Players such as Martina Hingis, Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati all proved that they were capable of becoming world-beaters at a young age; however, as the physicality of women’s tennis has increased over the past decade, the 15 and 16 year-old prodigies fans were accustomed to seeing in the ’90s and early ’00s have been replaced by veterans breaking through in their mid-to-late 20s.
In 2012, there were six teenagers in the year-end top 100. Annika Beck, born February 16th, 1994, is currently the youngest player in the top 100 and ranked 71, while Sloane Stephens is the highest ranked teenager and is seeded No. 29 at the Australian Open.
Some, such as Stephens and Laura Robson had deep runs in Grand Slams in 2012, knocking off quality players along the way; Stephens reached the fourth round at Roland Garros, while Robson sent Kim Clijsters into retirement and defeated Li Na on the road to the fourth round at the US Open. Others, including Donna Vekic, Ashleigh Barty and Elina Svitolina finished just outside the world’s elite 100. Two of the members of this teenaged contingent were in action at Melbourne Park on day one, as Barty and Svitolina both took on seeded players in the form of Dominika Cibulkova and Angelique Kerber.
Svitolina, 18, was the Roland Garros junior champion and the world’s No. 1 junior in 2010, while Barty, 16, was the Wimbledon junior champion in 2011. Barty owns four titles on the ITF senior circuit while Svitolina has five, including a victory at the WTA 125k event in Pune, India last fall.
For two girls in relatively close in age, I took notice of their contrasting on-court demeanors when it was brought up on Twitter:
Svitolina, who I first became acquainted with a few seasons ago as a result of this video, delivered as expected; her shrieks of ‘C’mon!’ after every point won in the early going were paired with disappointed shrugs and racket tosses after every point lost. A capable ball-striker off of both wings, Svitolina was cracking winners from the baseline and was able to hanging with the German through the first four games.
Barty, two years Svitolina’s junior, had a completely different attitude. Praised for her cool head and calm demeanor, Barty has the game to match; capable of doing everything on the court, Barty threw in a solid mix of baseline strikes and net approaches to keep Cibulkova off-balance. Her emotional level rarely changed throughout the match, as she stayed remarkably even-keeled in front of her home crowd. When a Cibulkova backhand found the net to give Barty a *53 lead in the opening set, there were no histrionics from the Australian; rather, a casual, muted fist pump was her only celebration.
Nonetheless, the experience of their opponents would overwhelm them. Kerber would win six of the last seven games, absorbing and redirecting the Ukrainian’s pace as only she can, to come away with a 62 64 win. Cibulkova would put together a run of nine straight games to take command against Barty, who grew increasingly erratic as the match wore on; the Slovak would take a 36 60 61 win in just under two hours.
While a learning experience for both, the first day in Melbourne showed that although the teenaged contingent has made great strides, improvements in consistency and mental fortitude are the keys that will bring them closer to beating the best.
By David Kane
For a tour that rose to its peak in the late 90s on the talented backs of young players like Martina Hingis and Venus Williams, the WTA has had a difficult time grooming its young ingénues in the last few years. The age eligibility rule named for famed burnout victim Jennifer Capriati has done well to keep players from the depression and drug use she suffered, but has also seemed to curb the number of prodigies making early breakthroughs on the senior tour.
With Maria Sharapova being the last teenager to win a major title and compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova the last teenaged Slam debutante in 2004, the Tour’s biggest tournaments appear to be checking for ID at the door. That does not mean, however, that the WTA is averse to successful teens. The Tournament of Champions, albeit a Year-End Championships with the volume turned all the way down, was founded as a way to reward top 30 players who take home International (formerly Tier III and IV) titles throughout the year.
But if veterans have been dominating the higher-end events in the last decade, they have been equally successful in the ostensibly more accessible ones as well. The average age for the Sofia semifinalists 26.5, with 30-year-old Nadia Petrova taking the title. It has been a good time to be a fan of sentimental favorites, to be sure, but much tougher to pick out up-and-comers as they make the transition from the juniors.
Enter the WTA125, the ultimate tournament category for the “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman” subset of players. Bridging the gap between the ITF 100Ks and the lowest level International WTA events, the WTA125 debuted in the two weeks following the two Year-End Championships. With most of the big names finished for the season, players who would have dropped down to the lower level ITFs have one last chance to rack up big points and prize money in 2012.
Two players to take advantage of the opportunity were those thought to be extinct prodigies, Kristina Mladenovic and Elina Svitolina. Each have a junior Roland Garros title to their name (Mladenovic in 2009, Svitolina in 2010). The two are feisty competitors with big forehands and bigger personalities. Despite success among their peers, competing in the big leagues has been a more challenging endeavor.
After relatively quiet fall seasons, the two entered the WTA125 events, one in Chinese Taipei and the other in Pune, India, as under the radar as any former junior champion. Proven up-and-comers like Donna Vekic and dangerous veterans like Kimiko Date-Krumm were abound in each event, yet Mladenovic and Svitolina took home the titles with as little fanfare at the end of the week as the beginning.
At the first WTA125 event in Taipei, Mladenovic blew away Chang Kai-Chen, the Taiwanese player who was edged out of the Osaka final by Heather Watson a few weeks earlier. The Frenchwoman was equally dominant in the doubles, completing the sweep and undoubtedly sealing her spot as an answer on a WTA trivia question.
The tournament in Pune started out as another chapter of the beleaguered Andrea Petkovic’s comeback tour. The German had spent most of 2012 sidelined with various and sundry injuries before having a good run in Luxembourg and cruising into the semifinals this week. The run, however, came to an abrupt end against none other than Svitolina, who advanced to the biggest final of her career.
Even in the final, Svitolina read like the supporting act when paired with the illustrious veteran, 42-year-old final Kimiko Date-Krumm. Despite a tough year, the Japaneswoman had been solid all week, and was looking for the second title in her “second” career. Playing against a style that she was hardly old enough to watch on television, Svitolina had no letdown and gamely silenced the veteran in straight sets.
Is this an awful lot of fanfare for two events that barely count as WTA titles? Perhaps. But if this trend continues, the WTA may have finally found a formula to allow up-and-comers to smoothly transition onto the senior tour without sacrificing the abundant confidence they took with them from the juniors. In other words, the WTA125’s potential lies in helping the prodigies, young guns, whatever you want to call them, to begin realizing their potential, and if that succeeds, these podunk post-season tournaments could become the real tournaments of champions.
By Romi Cvitkovic
In her first hardcourt match back after a foot injury, 12th seed Ana Ivanovic focused her nerves and handily defeated relative unknown Elina Svitolina, 6-3, 6-2.
Ivanovic hit her opponent off the court with 26 winners, but while her second serve has found consistency, her first serve is still hovering in the mid-30s — something that she has been struggling with for years it seems.
In Montreal earlier this month, Ivanovic lost 6-0, 6-0 to Italian Roberta Vinci in the second round and picked up a foot injury that amounted to be a psychological recipe for disaster for a player that struggles with confidence to begin with.
Her injury hampered her mentally, but she was quick to note that it happens to many athletes.
“It’s part of the game in sport, and I always joke because people say, ‘Sport is good for you.’ But we are always hurting. It’s hard on the heart, too… When you progress in a tournament you’re going to have aches and pains.”
A couple of days ago, fellow Serbian Novak Djokovic gave insight into why Ivanovic’s game has dropped since being at the top. She elaborated:
“Yeah, it is a lot to do with confidence,” Ivanovic stated. ” I think also since the first time I entered, the game has evolved and there is lot more girls that strike and they have nothing to lose. But [for me], it’s just not [having] the belief of beating those top players at the moment.”
She’ll have to work hard if she wants to accomplish her goal of “breaking into the fourth round and getting into the quarterfinals” here at the US Open. Not one shy about her “overthinking” mind, she said that she will “really try to focus on taking it one match at a time, because sometimes when you get overexcited, it doesn’t really work for you the way you hoped for.”
The big-hitter could have her opportunity as she could face Sloane Stephens or Francesca Schiavone in the third round, and an easier competitor in Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round.