WASHINGTON, August 11, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
As former No. 1 and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka awaits her first match since the relaunch of the WTA tour, she’s ready to restart the season. Her opportunity will come Tuesday against 40-year-old future Hall of Fame star Venus Williams in the inaugural Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics in Lexington, Ky, the first WTA tournament to be played in the U.S. since the coronavirus pandemic struck five months ago and shut down the tour.
“Obviously, I want to just start from somewhere,” Azarenka said during a Zoom video conference call over the weekend. “You know, just start competing and try to feel again that feeling of competitions and momentum swings. We practice for so long but there’s nothing like playing actual matches where you feel the atmosphere. I don’t really know what to expect.”
With a talent-rich field that includes 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and four major champions including herself, Azarenka feels like “it’s just a good starting point. And it’s going to be a super competitive field here – so many great names, so many players.” The field includes Aryna Sabalenka, Johanna Konta, Amanda Anisimova, Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff. “So, it’s going to be a great opportunity to have some good matches with such high-quality players,” she said.
With just one match under her belt in 2020 – five months ago in Monterrey, Mexico, a 6-2, 6-2, loss to Tamara Zidansek – it is understandable that the 58th-ranked Azarenka is eager to restart her season. “I was just ready to restart play and I was excited. I had just one tournament in,” said Azarenka looking back to earlier this year.
The 31-year-old Azarenka said coming back this time is a little bit different than coming back from an injury. But, she’s no less excited to be back playing. “When the first tournament was cancelled, I was like, ‘Well, I still need time to practice, so I’m going to take a month off. It’ll be okay. And then six months… it was just too long!
“So, I guess everyone will start from the same starting point, but I don’t think I can compare any other layoffs to this one.”
When a reporter questioned Azarenka whether it will be easier or harder to play in the US Open with so many players having withdrawn for various reasons, the native of Belarus said: “At the moment I’m looking forward to going there, but I respect everyone’s decision for coming or not coming. Your safety and health should be a priority anyway.
“At first, with all of the (Covid-19) restrictions, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. I mean, there’s a lot of restrictions – for our safety – but obviously it’s something to get used to,” she said.
“It’s going to be a little tough to adjust. None of us does know when it’s going to be over, so I think if everyone takes 100 percent seriousness and awareness of the situation that is happening right now and brings their best responsibility, then I hope we can have something safe and successful.”
When she was asked to state her objectives for the rest of the year, Azarenka said: “For me personally, there’s a waste of time trying to predict anything or what’s going to happen or trying to plan, because I think more than anything this time has taught us that sometimes our plans, no matter how much we plan, can just be wiped out by some other things. So, I’m just here in Lexington for the first tournament, try to do my best. I’m actually excited to play and it’s been a while where I was actually excited to go out on court and play. So, that’s my objective, to hopefully continue to keep that mentality and the joy I have on the court right now. That’s definitely my objective, for as long as I will play or not.”
Kontaveit gives props to Ferro
When No. 4 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia lost for the fifth time in six WTA title matches she played in losing to unseeded Fiona Ferro of France in the final of the 31st Palermo Ladies Open Sunday night in southern Italy, she was complimentary in her remarks toward the champion.
“I don’t feel like I did too much wrong, she was just too good today,” Kontaveit said. “I’m just really happy we’re back playing tennis and able to compete.
“At the beginning it was terrifying but also really exciting at the same time.”
Speaking of Ferro, she became the answer to what undoubtedly will become a trivia question: Who won the first WTA title after the relaunch of the 2020 season?
As it is, Ferro has now won both career WTA finals she’s played in. Her first title came last July in Lausanne, when she beat Alizé Cornet in what was the first all-French WTA title match in almost a decade.
— Palermo Ladies Open (@LadiesOpenPA) August 10, 2020
Guess who’s not coming to the Open …
Day by day, the number of withdrawals for the 2020 US Open keeps mounting. At this writing nine of the Top 40 women have confirmed their withdrawal from this month’s US Open: World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, No. 5 Elina Svitolina, No. 7 Kiki Bertens, No. 29 Wang Qiang, No. 30 Anastasia Pavlychenkova, No. 31 Barbora Strycova, No. 32 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 34 Zheng Saisai and No. 38 Julia Goerges.
Among the men, missing will be: World No. 2 Rafael Nadal, No. 4 Roger Federer, No. 9 Gaël Monfils, No. 11 Fabio Fognini, No. 17 Stan Wawrinka, No. 40 Nick Kyrgios, No. 49 Jo-Wilfried Tonga, No. 58 Lucas Pouille, No. 71 Pierre–Hugues Herbert and No. 103 Alexei Popyrin.
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Друзья! В связи с неблагоприятной ситуацией из-за короновируса, а также отсутствием возможности организовать необходимые перелеты для сбора моей команды, я приняла сложное для себя решение – отказаться от участия в Cincinnati и US Open 😔 Мне очень жаль, так как я сильно ждала этих турниров, но пандемия изменила все планы. Надеюсь, что к следующим соревнованиям ситуация в мире станет стабильнее. Всем участникам и болельщикам желаю удачи и здоровья! Берегите себя и своих близких! 🙏 // Dear friends, Due to an unfavorable situation caused by coronavirus, and therefore the inability get together all my team I made a difficult decision to refuse to participate in Cincinnati and the US Open 😔 I feel very sad, because I have been waited for these tournaments so much, but the pandemic changes all plans. I hope the situation will be more positive by the next tournaments. I wish good luck and strong health to all participants and fans! Take care of yourself and your family! 🙏
What they’re writing
Reem Abulleil, columnist for The National in Abu Dhabi, on Egyptian tennis trailblazer Mayer Sherif, who earned a main draw berth in this week’s Prague Open.
With wins over Gatto-Monticone, Eikeri and Kung, Egypt’s Mayar Sherif qualifies for her first WTA main draw in Prague. Here’s more on Mayar and her history-making feats for women’s tennis in Egypt👇🏼https://t.co/76cOcjOwhI
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) August 10, 2020
What they’re sharing on social media
Petra Kvitova / My favorite emoji?
— Petra Kvitova (@Petra_Kvitova) August 10, 2020