New Tournament, New Excitement For Serena Williams

WASHINGTON, August 9, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Twenty-three time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams never expected to be playing in Kentucky, but it’s close to her Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., home and easy to get to. That’s why she’s excited to be playing in the WTA’s newest tournament, the inaugural Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics, which begins main draw play on Monday at the Top Seed Tennis Club in Nicholasville, Ky., near Lexington in the heart of Kentucky bluegrass country.

During a Zoom news conference during the tournament’s All-Access Hour on Saturday, the World No. 9 Williams, the highest-ranked player in the 32-player draw and the only one in the Top 10, said it will be fun and interesting to see how everyone plays after having gone through the same hiatus while pro tennis was locked down due to the coronavirus pandemic. She will face 60th-ranked Croatian-born American Bernarda Pera in the tournament’s first round and could face either her older sister, 40-year-old Venus Williams or fellow mom, Victoria Azarenka, in the next round.

“It’s obviously been super different… I think everyone has gotten used to the new normal,” said the 38-year-old Williams, who turns 39 on September 26. “Sports is one of the things that can provide a breath of fresh air. … At the end of the day, yeah, it’s cool to play tennis.

“There won’t be fans here… but it’s cool. We’ve been stuck at home for six months – a part of me loved it – and I’ve never even home for that long since I was a teenager. Even when I was pregnant, I was traveling a lot to so many different places, so it’s been a long time since I’ve been home that long. It was nice, but it’s also a really cool opportunity to come to Kentucky and be isolating in a different place. It’s the same thing all over again, but it’s nice to kind of get out, I guess, because I’m so used to traveling. But I’m still trying to see how I like everything.

After winning her first title as mom in January in New Zealand, Williams has been idle since representing the U.S. in Fed Cup play at Everett, Wash., last February against Latvia. Her last WTA tournament appearance was at the Australian Open, where she lost in a third-round upset to Wang Qiang of China.

Having just arrived in Kentucky on Friday, Williams came ready with her masks – some 50 of them – and there’s a caution that’s born of her history of blood clots. “I don’t have full lung capacity so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” she cautioned. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out that kind of thing.

“I’m super, super careful with what I’ve been doing, and everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected. Yeah, it’s cool to play tennis, but this is my life and this is my health, so I’ve been a little neurotic to an extent, but that’s just what I have to be right now.”

Besides Williams, the Top Seed Open main draw includes former Grand Slam champions Sloane Stephens, Azarenka and Venus Williams, Top 20 stars Aryna Sabalenka and Johanna Konta, and American teens Amanda Anisimova and Coco Gauff. The tournament was added to the WTA schedule in July as a replacement for the Citi Open, a WTA International tournament usually held in Washington, D.C., at the beginning of August. The Top Seed Open is the first WTA tournament hosted in Kentucky.

August will be a busy month for Serena Williams. After the Top Seed Open, she’s also entered in the Western & Southern Open and the US Open, both in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., which will be held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Williams will continue her pursuit of tying Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.

Halep returns to action in Prague

World No. 2 Simona Halep returns to action in her first WTA match in six months when she faces Polona Hercog of Slovenia in the first round of the Prague Open.

The main draw of the WTA International red clay event was released Saturday. Halep, who is making her Prague tournament debut, headlines a field that includes six Top 30 players: No. 15 Petra Martic, No. 23 Elise Mertens, No. 25 Dayana Yastremska, No. 27 Ekaterina Alexandrova, No. 30 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and No. 31 Barbora Strycova.

There are five Czech players in the draw. Joining Strycova will be doubles champions Barbora Krejcivokova and Katerina Siniakova, plus Kristyna Pliskova and 15-year-old wild card Linda Fruhvirtova.

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