As every year, after Wimbledon there are some tranquil weeks, with minor tournaments going on, which usually give fans a little opportunity to breathe before the continuum of the season. Indeed, players who reach the second week of the Grand Slam usually skip these tournaments, as they prefer to go on holiday or have a little break from tennis.
As for now, these weeks are almost ended, and on Monday the US Open Series are going to start in earnest, and so the enormous hype for the last Grand Slam of the year, which is going to start in a month!
Two WTA tournaments – one in Washington, one in Stanford – are going to begin in August, a month where the game is played on the hard court in the United States, in order to get ready for the last and super-awaited Grand Slam of the season.
The Bank of The West Classic, played in Stanford, attracts the majority of tennis fans and writers. On the one hand, this happens since it is a Premier Event – whereas Washington, played at the same time, is an International. On the other hand, the great and competitive entry list that it offers promises entertainment and epic matches. First of all, the Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza will be back on court, and it is always interesting to see if she is able to fulfill the high expectations on her – something that she failed to do after her title at Roland Garros last year. Together with the Spaniard, the top seeds are going to be Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who will search for revenge after a disappointing first round exit in Wimbledon, Madison Keys, and Ana Konjuh, with CoCo Vandeweghe being the #5 seed.
However, these five women will not be the only stars competing in the field, fighting for the title. Indeed, the four wildcards assigned by the tournament have been given to four players who certainly add salt to the competition, and make it even more intriguing. One of the four wildcards will be given to the young rising star Marketa Vondrousova, born in 1999 and already ranked #76. The lefty Czech surprised the tennis world by winning a WTA title earlier this year in Biel. Galvanized by the title, she earned some points that made her jump inside the Top 100, thanks to three qualifying rounds at Roland Garros where she literally demolished her opponents. Even if she seems a little bit too unexperienced to fight against big players, her game is full of variations and unexpected choices that promises to be fun for fans, and she definitely won’t be an easy opener for anybody.
If the first wild card has been given to a rising star, it is fair to admit that the other three have been given to real stars, already risen! Indeed Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka are going to join the field, gifting one of the best Stanford entry lists ever (Azarenka has since withdrawn, but she was replaced by the possibly-even-bigger star Petra Kvitova). Victoria Azarenka, too, dropped to #201 after her pregnancy, and could have entered the tournament with her SR. The Belarusian will play her third tournament of the season. Initially, she set Stanford as a comeback date. Though, she felt like she was ready to compete at the best levels during the grass season, and anticipated her return to competition in Mallorca, where she lost in the second round. After that, she played Wimbledon, reaching the fourth round though showing stints of the best Azarenka – i.e. during her second round match against Elena Vesnina. However, in her loss against Simona Halep, it was clear that she needs to work harder, if she want to win great titles again. Azarenka loves grass courts and loves the States swing – apart from winning Cincinnati, she reached the Us Open final twice –. Hence, expectations are high as the sky.
Last – but definitely, definitely not least – Maria Sharapova. The debate about her wild cards has earned the front pages so many times, that I find it totally useless to talk about it once more. Back after her ban in Stuttgart, she won matches in Madrid and Rome, too, before stopping a couple of months due to a back injury. It’s quite funny, actually: she announced that she would play Wimbledon qualifiers, and so the organizers thought it was a great opportunity to sell tickets for the qualifiers for the first time in history – generally, qualifying matches are free for spectators. And then, Sharapova announced her withdraw from the tournament, due to the same injury, leaving no reason to pay for qualifiers…
Apart from this long time debate – with which, honestly, I’m fed up – these four wildcards have been cleverly offered by the organizers. If they wanted to start the Us Open series with fireworks… well, at least on paper, they did it.
Meanwhile, Washington has given out some top-notch wild cards of its own. One was given to Sloane Stephens. Stephens is going to play her second tournament of the year, after coming back at Wimbledon after a one-year long injury. Due to this injury, her ranking dropped to #926 (!). She could still compete using her SR, but the organizers were so kind to gift her a WC, hence giving Stephens the chance to use her SR for other tournaments. The tournament also have a wild card to Simona Halep, World #2 and French Open runner-up. Unfortunately for the tournament, though, these two were drawn to face off in the first round, so only one of them will be advancing.
(Editor’s Note: Vondrousova has also withdrawn, and will be replaced by rising American Claire Liu who just won the Juniors title at Wimbledon. It might not be as competitive a wild card as Vondrousova would be, but Liu will probably be more popular for American fans.)