Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Looking ahead to Charleston

photo by Daniel Ward
The Volvo Car Open is not only a premier event, but it also marks the beginning of the transition from hard court to clay. The tournament used to be considered truly "transitional" because the green clay of Charleston played a bit faster than the red clay of Europe, but now, some of the red clay courts play rather fast (for clay), so the adjustment depends more on the player.

Last year's champion, Sloane Stephens, will be in Charleston, but not on the courts. The foot injury-recovering Stephens will be at the Tennis Channel desk, and will also be collecting shoes for Soles4Souls. Last year's runner-up, however will be competing. Elena Vesnina, who recently won the BNP Paribas Open (her biggest career title) was also the runner-up in 2012, and she's in a position to make another big run in Charleston.

Other former champions competing in Charleston are Venus Williams (2004), Jelena Jankovic (2007), Sam Stosur (2010), Caroline Wozniacki (2011), and Andrea Petkovic (2014). Wozniacki, it should be noted, was also the runner-up in 2009, and Jankovic was the runner-up in 2012. Both Williams and Wozniacki are having very good seasons, and both can also be viewed as contenders for the 2017 title.

Two of the hottest players at the 2016 event, Laura Siegemund and Daria Kasatkina, have been in relative slumps lately, but stepping onto a clay court could be exactly what each of them needs to get a 2017 boost in points. Last year, they both added a lot of excitement to the event.

World number 11 Johanna Konta will be in Charleston, but stepping onto a clay court may not be such a great thing for her. On the other hand, world number 9 Madison Keys, the 2015 runner-up, could work up some serious mojo again at the Volvo Car Open.

Some very good clay players will be on hand next week--Laura Arruabarrena, Kiki Bertens (perhaps poised for a serious run), Irina-Camelia Begu (she gave Kerber a very tough time in 2015), and 2014 runner-up Lucie Safarova, who is also a contender for the title. One of last year's stand-outs, Yulia Putintseva, will compete, as will Jelena Ostapenko (one just can't mention one without mentioning the other, it seems). And Peng Shuai, who is shining brightly in comeback mode, has a very good history in Charleston.

Also, while clay is not her favored surface, I should add that Mirjana Lucic-Baroni will be back in Charleston this year.

Of course, there will also be some good qualifiers and a few wild cards (this latter category has the potential to be quite interesting). And I'll have some things to say about doubles at a later date.

The draw takes place April 1, the day qualifying begins.

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