NEW YORK, NY, USA - A six-month shutdown as the world deals with a pandemic has been unprecedented in professional tennis - and as players reconvened in the New York bubble where the Western & Southern Open and US Open will take place over the next month, a selection sat down with wtatennis.com to share how they have been handling it and their goals for their sport's resumption.
For those who had begun 2020 in strong form, maintaining that was a worry. Tunisia's Ons Jabeur had posted career-best results in the first two months of the year, becoming the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam at the Australian Open and backing that up by also making the last eight in Doha. "I was hoping I wouldn't lose the rhythm coming back after five months," she said.
Jabeur, who ended up stuck in New York at the start of the lockdown period and had to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks when she finally returned to Tunisia, said that this break wasn't necessarily bad for her: "I'm not the kind of person who wants to practice every day - or I will lose it, you know?" Last week, another quarterfinal run in Lexington gave her "a few matches that I was satisfied with", and the pause has not dimmed the World No.39's ambition. "I'm still keeping good memories from all the tournaments, I still have the same goals," she asserted. "I want to be in the top 20... I want to go far in this tournament, and I feel I have the level to go far - and at the US Open I want to do better than I did at the Australian. Why not?"
Lexington champion Jennifer Brady is evidence that strong form can be picked up immediately again. The American had posted wins over Ashleigh Barty, Maria Sharapova and Garbiñe Muguruza in the first two months of 2020 - but says she wasn't too disappointed at having to down her racquets. "I honestly wasn't too frustrated about it," Brady - who spent the 2019 off-season away from home for the first time, basing herself in Germany with new coach Michael Geserer - admitted. "I was a little bit happy because I got to spend time at home. I had been away for so long travelling, I hadn't seen my family in so many months, so it was a blessing in disguise for me."
Having focused on her fitness throughout the shutdown - "I spent a lot of time walking, I would walk for hours a day - it's actually a lot harder than you think, so for those of you who are laughing, try it!" - Brady continued to make the most of her time on home soil by capturing her maiden title in her first week back, lifting the inaugural Lexington trophy last week. "It showed me that all the time I'd spent during the time off training and practising definitely helped," she said with satisfaction.
By contrast, Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova had only just returned from a six-month layoff due to wrist surgery when another one was forced on her. "I was maybe warming up for three tournaments and then it stopped - so I think I'm warming up now also!" the Czech laughed. Nonetheless, she's been keeping busy at home with significant life milestones: "I moved to my first apartment and I graduated high school," she revealed.
Also filling every minute of her time was World No.53 Danielle Collins, who declared: "I feel like I've been busier than I normally would be when I'm competing." The American wasn't joking: she's applied for a Masters program, embarked on home renovations and "become a bit of a cook" - all on top of four hours of fitness training every day. "[I've been] training my butt off," Collins said. "I love working out, I love doing fitness, I love training, I love running. It feels like it takes up most of the day. When I focus on competing and doing my thing and I'm happy on court, that's when I perform my best. Right now getting my head back in the game, switching into competitor mode is the biggest goal of the next few weeks."
Collins says that the time off allowed her to spend time thinking about "her next steps in life" - something World No.21 Maria Sakkari can relate to. The Greek player says she thoroughly enjoyed her time at home: "I had an amazing time with my siblings, parents and friends... to think about what I want to do in life, deep inside." All of this only rejuvenated her passion for tennis, though. "After a while... I was like, you know what, I really love what I'm doing so I want to get back to it," she said.
Sakkari, who reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time at the Australian Open but fell in the first round of Palermo in her first tournament back, says she is not going to be over-ambitious in her goals: "I have high expectations for myself - but I have to think a bit realistic that I cannot play the way I was playing when we stopped."
Unlike others, Alison Riske felt no need to stay busy. "I had the inkling that once Indian Wells and Miami got cancelled, it wasn't going to start any time soon," the World No.19 recalled. "So I took advantage of it. I took some time off and it was honestly fantastic. I've never had the opportunity in my 12 years on tour - and even before that, because I was playing a junior schedule - to just be. I spent abnormal amounts of time on my couch and didn't do a whole lot, which was awesome. I think I took about six weeks off in total, not doing much of anything."
The much-needed sedentary spell doesn't mean Riske hasn't prepared for competition again, though. "Once the WTA started again I did a full off-season block as if it was November," the American revealed. "I definitely have no excuses now not to be ready. The passion's back, knowing that we have a few tournaments to compete in."
Click here to view more video interviews with WTA stars from the 2020 Western & Southern Open.