Saturday, April 2, 2016

Kerber heads Charleston field

Photo by Daniel Ward

2015 Family Circle Cup (now the Volvo Car Open) champion Angelique Kerber will be on hand in Charleston next week to try to defend her title. Kerber's thigh was strapped this past week in Miami, where she lost to eventual champion Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals. The strapping was supposedly there as a preventive measure, but some wondered whether she was a bit hampered by pain.

Of course, the 2016 Australian Open champion won the Charleston title last year with a heavily strapped shoulder, and in the course of the tournament, she tweaked her thigh on two occasions, so any strapping we see may not be relevant.

Photo by Daniel Ward
Last year, Kerber--who is seeded number 1 in Charleston--had to play friend and countrywoman (and defending champion) Andrea Petkovic in the semifinals, an occurrence which added to the eventual champion's already-dramatic draw (dramatic because of injuries and close calls). This year, the two Germans could play each other in the quarterfinals. Also, Petkovic could play close friend Jelena Jankovic in the third round; Petko beat JJ in 2014 during her title run.

Last year's runner-up, Madison Keys, is in the same quarter as 2nd seed Belinda Bencic. Last year, Bencic was upset in the second round by Danka Kovinic. In 2014, the Swiss player lost in the semifinals to Jana Cepelova in one of the best matches I saw that year.

2004 champion Venus Williams is seeded third. Seeded fourth is Lucie Safarova, who--if she is match-tough enough--should be seen as a potential champion. The Czech player, whose career was interrupted for a lengthy period by illness, has won the doubles championship twice (once with Kiki Mladenovic, with whom she had never even practiced before). Playing in Safarova's quarter are Daria Kasatkina, Daria Gavrilova and Genie Bouchard, so the Czech has her work cut out for her. Safarova was the runner-up in singles in 2012.

Williams and Jankovic, like Petkovic and Kerber, are former Charleston champions, winning in 2004 and 2007, respectively. Other former champions in the draw are Sabine Lisicki (2009) and Sam Stosur (2010).

Commentators and writers make much of the green/red clay divide, and many tennis writers forget to include Charleston in the clay season altogether, preferring to reference the European clay season. Every year, for the past several years, the players have mentioned that green=slow and red=fast is, at this point, a myth. Jankovic remarked a couple of years ago, in fact, that the green clay in Charleston is slower than some of the European red clay.

The first annual Volvo Cup Open is introducing some new features. More seating has been built into the Althea Gibson Club Court, and AGCC matches will now feature an announcer and music, as well as post-match interviews.

Another innovation: The tournament has partnered with to broadcast live video from all outer tournament tennis courts, including practice courts. Five courts will be affixed with multiple cameras showcasing different angles of the court. Fans can tap into the URL (, which went live today, and get a live look at the action happening on various courts. This is the first time has provided a platform for its users to view multiple channels at one time.

Finally, an additional jumbotron has been added to Billie Jean King Stadium Court.  The 11' x 17' screens are located at the northeast and southwest ends of the stadium.

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