Remarkable Gauff Poised For Big Things In Lexington

WASHINGTON, August 10, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

The inaugural Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics in Lexington, Ky., features World No. 9 Serena Williams, who is the top seed and one of four major champions in the talent-rich 32-player main draw of this WTA International event. It is the first pro tour tournament – women or men – to be played in the United States since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered pro tennis worldwide for five months.

Play in the main draw begins today and continues through next Sunday.

Joining the 23-time Grand Slam champion will be Serena’s older sister, 40-year-old Venus Williams as well as Victoria Azarenka and No. 7 seed Sloane Stephens. Others who hope to go deep in the week include No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, No. 3 seed Johanna Konta and No. 4 seed Amanda Anisimova. Other seeded players include: No. 5 Yulia Putintseva, No. 6 Magda Linette and No. 8 Ons Jabeur.

Then, there is also unseeded American teen sensation Coco Gauff, currently ranked 52nd, who last summer made her big splash at the Wimbledon Championships by defeating Venus Williams.

While Azarenka has the misfortune of having to face Venus Williams in the first round with the winner likely facing Serena Williams in the second round, Gauff drew a qualifier to be named for her first opponent and could face Sabalenka a round later. (Qualifying for six spots in the main draw concludes on Monday.)

On Sunday morning, the 16-year old Gauff held a 20-minute Zoom news conference with tournament media, in which she spoke at length about her activism – finding her voice in the Black Lives Matter movement – in speaking out about social justice reform following the death of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

In early June, Gauff gave a viral speech during a Black Lives Matter protest in her hometown of Delray Beach, Fla. She said it was completely unplanned. “It was definitely from the heart,” said Gauff. Talk about poise personified. As she explained when asked by Tennis TourTalk:

“When I went to protest in the peaceful protest, I wasn’t initially supposed to do a speech,” Gauff said. “They asked me maybe two minutes before to do so. I would say, why I felt calm is because of my grandmother. She’s taught me a lot over the years. My grandmother was the first to integrate Seacrest High School in Florida, so I learned a lot about her stories over the years. I felt like that kind of prepared me from that moment. I also felt responsible since I do have a big platform that it would be wrong for me to stay silent when this is obviously an issue going on. So, I felt the need to use my platform to just spread awareness about the topic and just educate people on it.”

Other takeaways from Coco’s conversation with the media:

For me, I missed competing and I missed playing. The break for me I was able to train. I consider myself to still be in a developmental stage. Plus, I got to be home with my brothers and sisters and family. That was probably the longest time I’ve been home in a long time. I’m excited to be back competing, I miss being on the court.” 

Halep to decide on US Open after Prague Open

World No. 2 and Prague Open top seed Simona Halep has entered the doubles draw with current doubles World No. 2 Barbora Strycova. Halep and Strycova are both reigning Wimbledon champions. “We were chatting and I said it was great that you’re coming back to Prague and I’m really happy to have you here,” Strycova said in a WTA Insider interview Sunday. “I was like do you want to play doubles with me? And she said yeah, I wanted to ask you the same question but you were first!”

Murray into the main draw at the US Open

With Alexei Popyrin of Australia officially out of the US Open, his place in the main draw has gone to Great Britain’s Andy Murray, who won the 2012 US Open men’s singles title. American Mitchell Kruger will receive Murray’s wild card.

A moment we’ve all been waiting for: Serena is back

With her physios based in Europe, Serena Williams needed an alternate means to maintain her fitness at home in Palm Gardens, Fla. So, her husband, Alex Ohanian, created her own gym to go along with a brand-new tennis court, complete with the same hard-court surface that will be used at this year’s US Open.

“We built a tennis court and we built a gym. It’s so cool,” said Williams, who is top seed at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., this week, during a Zoom news conference with tournament reporters on Saturday. “The gym’s not quite done. The tennis court is so fun. I go there and it’s my own sanctuary. I’m like, ‘why haven’t I done this 20 years ago?’ We had a few players out there. I’m like, ‘this is the US Open surface, so come hit with me. I tried to get people to come.

“Tennis is naturally a socially-distanced sport so it was kind of easy to go back and walk on my side of the court.”

Happy Birthday, Rod Laver!

Sunday was Hall of Famer Rod Laver’s 82nd birthday. One of the great champions of tennis was born on August 9, 1938.

What they’re sharing on social media

Petra Kvitova / How I feel being in a gym …

Garbiñe Muguruza / I’d rather be on horses …

Stan Wawrinka / Cross court, down the line or …?