Olympus US Open Series Preview

Five weeks of all-star casts will leave tennis fans spoiled for choice during the lead-up to Flushing Meadows.

Published July 24, 2009 08:34

Olympus US Open Series Preview
The Unisphere

STANFORD, CA, USA - They call it 'The Greatest Road Trip in Sports' and it's hard to argue, given the fields that have been assembled for the Olympus US Open Series ahead of the last Grand Slam of the season. With no Olympics to distract, the focus is very much on the push to Flushing Meadows this year. And, aside from a potential tussle over the No.1 ranking, the comeback of former US Open champion Kim Clijsters is sure to fascinate.

Now in its sixth summer on both the women's and men's circuits, the concept of the Series is to award bonus points - separate from those that go towards rankings - based on performance at each of the tournament stops. Whoever finishes in first place will be in line for a $1 million bonus - should they go on to win in New York - with the second and third place getters also eligible for extra payouts. That's on top of the combined prize pool of $6,000,000 on offer across the five Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Premier-level events that form the Series, and the multi-million payout from the Grand Slam itself.

Last year Dinara Safina romped home with 170 points, in what would prove to be a key stage of her eventual rise to the top ranking. But that also means that while her position is safe until at least the week beginning Monday, August 10, the 23-year-old Russian will have to show a champion's mettle to stay there. Other players with serious Tour points to protect include Marion Bartoli (in second place last year with 105 Series points), Dominika Cibulkova, Anna Chakvetadze and Victoria Azarenka.

All Premier... All The Time

First up is the $700,000 Bank of the West Classic in the Californian college town of Stanford, with main draw action starting Monday, July 27. Defending champion Aleksandra Wozniak is back but the young Canadian will have her work cut out at the Taube Family Stadium on the Stanford University Campus. The 32-strong singles field includes five of the Top 10, specifically Serena and Venus Williams, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic and Nadia Petrova. As a rare treat outside of Grand Slams, the Williams sisters have also entered the doubles.

The following week the Tour heads to Southern California and the LA Women's Tennis Championships presented by Herbalife, which also offers prize money of $700,000 but with a 56-player singles draw. Safina is the defending champion at The Home Depot Center and she is back, along with five other Top 10 stars: French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vera Zvonareva, Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki and Petrova. Two former world No.1s are also in the field: Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova, who owns a place at Manhattan Beach and says she considers LA her "second home".

The week of August 10 the traveling band heads to the Midwest and the city of Cincinnati, which has been on the calendar for years, but never in such a big way. This year the Western & Southern Financial Group Women's Open offers prize money of $2,000,000, with a singles draw of 56 and doubles draw of 28. In last year's final Petrova beat recently-retired Nathalie Dechy and if the Russian wants to defend she'll have to fight off 18 of the Top 20 - not to mention Clijsters, who launches her comeback right here.

The ensuing week is just as big ticket, with the Rogers Cup also offering a prize purse of $2,000,000 on the same sized draws. Held in Montréal last year, this year the event takes place in Toronto, in line with its tradition of alternating between the two Canadian cities. Again Safina is the defending champion, and again anyone who's anyone has signed up to play at the Rexall Centre - the entire Top 25, in fact. Among them are no fewer than eight former world No.1s, including Clijsters.

The final stop on the Road to the US Open is on New York's doorstep, at New Haven in Connecticut. Pilot Pen Tennis Presented by Schick has a singles draw of 32, and prize money of $600,000. Wozniacki won her second Tour title here last year and joining the Danish sensation this year are 10 of the Top 20, including former world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Amélie Mauresmo.

By the end of it all, the favorites for the US Open title should be obvious. Or, maybe not.

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