Olympus US Open Series Preview
Published July 22, 2011 03:00
Come the start of the US Open on August 29, there will be some big questions waiting to be answered. Can supermom Kim Clijsters do the hat-trick? How will the redoubtable - and never to be doubted - Venus and Serena Williams fare? Is Caroline Wozniacki ready to frank her world No.1 status with that elusive major title? Shall Petra Kvitova become the first woman since Serena in 2002 to do the Wimbledon-US Open double, or will Chinese sensation Li Na steal back bragging rights for the older set?
But there's plenty to play for before then. This year the Olympus US Open Series is bigger than ever, with two brand new International stops taking the number of titles up for grabs to seven. Prize money totalling $6.6 million is on offer, with the three standout players at the end of it all eligible for huge bonuses if they also excel in the Big Apple. And, who knows, maybe a few things will start to crystallize before the final Grand Slam fiesta of the year.
The first ball will be struck at the $220,000 Citi Open in College Park, Maryland, on the outskirts of Washington, DC. Israeli Shahar Peer tops a field that also includes former world No.3 Nadia Petrova, Jelena Dokic and Melanie Oudin, who plays Austria's Tamira Paszek iin the first round.
From the newest stop on the tour to the oldest women-only event: the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford. Last year the $721,000 tournament marked its 40th staging and was won by Victoria Azarenka; she returns, having risen to the Top 5, heading a 28-player field that also includes former No.1s in Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Serena - playing her first event on home soil since the Open in 2009.
Top tenners Marion Bartoli (a former champion) and Samantha Stosur are back too. And then there's 19-year-old Christina McHale, now the youngest player in the Top 100, and just one of the up-and-coming Americans sure to be put in the spotlight this summer.
On to Carlsbad in Southern California for the Mercury Insurance Open, another $721,000 Premier event but with a 56-player singles draw. Last year's finalists, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Agnieszka Radwanska return to the La Costa Resort & Spa, along with world No.3 Vera Zvonareva, Ivanovic, and rising German stars Andrea Petkovic, Julia Goerges and Sabine Lisicki.
This year it is Toronto's turn to host the $2,050,000 Rogers Cup, which will be held in the same week as the men's event - just in a different city. Wozniacki will be back to defend the title she won last year in Montréal; the 21-year-old will have her work cut out in the 56-played field, for the entire Top 10 and 19 of the Top 20 have signed up.
It's a similar story the following week at the Midwest's very own mini-major, the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. Offering the same size of field and prize money as Canada, this year the revamped Lindner Family Tennis Center plays host to a combined men's and women's event for the first time. The Top 10 from both tours will be there, including defending champion Clijsters; Serena is on board too.
While some plays will taper their preparations by taking a break from tournament play the week before Flushing Meadows, others will do battle at the final two stops of the Series. On New York's doorstep, the Premier level $618,000 New Haven Open at Yale will be headlined by three-time defending champion Wozniacki, in a classy field that also includes Francesca Schiavone and Daniela Hantuchova.
Meantime, in Dallas - or, to be precise, evocatively-named Grapevine - the new Texas Tennis Open will offer a purse of $220,000. Slovak pocket dynamo Dominika Cibulkova heads a strong International line-up that also includes new US No.1 Bethanie Mattek-Sands, former US Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer and Japanese veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm.
Points will be allocated along the way. Last year, Wozniacki came out on top, in the process setting her course for the top ranking. This year, the player who performs best across the lead-ins will compete for up to an additional $1 million in bonus prize money at the US Open. The second place finisher will compete for as much as $500,000 and third place getter will play for up to $250,000.