Mother Nature Delays Kentucky WTA Debut

WASHINGTON, August 11, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

“Rain, rain go away, we have Professional Tennis to play!” the Top Seed Tennis Club in Nicholasville, Ky., near Lexington, tweeted Monday morning, shortly after the final day of qualifying had begun just after 10 a.m., but was soon suspended.

Certainly, there’s nothing worse than the first day of a tournament falling behind schedule because of Mother Nature’s plans. As it happened, Monday’s order of play on the first day of the inaugural Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics was to include six qualifying draw singles matches, plus six main draw singles matches and two doubles matches, spread over three outdoor hard courts. Then, the rain came and all the planning by the tournament director went awash for about five hours.

The order of play was bounced around during the delay – qualifying matches were moved indoors and a doubles match was cancelled – and, finally, around 3:20 p.m., No. 3 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain and No. 48 Marie Bouzkova took Center Court as the skies cleared and after the courts were sufficiently dried off. Each player arrived socially distant from one another, masked, and merely following the new normal that is expected of players these days.

Despite the rain, it didn’t dampen the players’ enthusiasm – even if it meant playing in front of no spectators, just team members and a few tournament officials. Bouzkova beat Konta, 6-4, 6-4, in two hours and one minute.

In an area known for horse farms, bourbon and college basketball par excellences, add to it professional tennis as the WTA has arrived in the Bluegrass state of Kentucky.

Around the Top Seed Tennis Club

• Third seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain, fresh off leading the British Bulldogs to the title at the mixed-team Battle of The Brits in Roehampton earlier this month, faced No. 48 Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic in a mid-afternoon featured match on Center Court that became the first one after the rain delay. The 14th-ranked Briton picked up on the WTA Tour where she left off with Bouzkova. In her last match before the tennis shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Konta faced Bouzkova, who reached a career high of 47th earlier this year, on a hard court in Monterey in March. She lost 6-3, 6-4 to the Czech.

Konta came to Lexington hoping to improve upon her 3-4 win-loss record for 2020. She flew from London to Chicago and, along with her team, rented a car to drive from Chicago to Lexington. Anything, she said, to avoid big, crowded airports and flying during the pandemic. Konta will keep the car and use it to drive to New York for the upcoming Western & Southern Open and US Open later this month to avoid further air travel.

Unfortunately, all of Konta’s pre-tournament planning she did didn’t add up to a victory on Monday, as the 6-4, 6-4 outcome suggests. The 15th-ranked Konta is yet to garner a Top 80 win on tour this year after having already lost to Barbora Strycova and Ons Jabeur, and now twice to Bouzkova.

“It would be nice to get a few more matches here,” said Konta during her post-match media session. “It was a good two-hour battle. Too bad I didn’t have a little good fortune this time.”

Just 10 points into the match, Konta required a medical time out after suffering heart palpitations. She had her blood pressure and pulse checked by medical officials, then returned to the court after about a 10-minute break. However, Konta just never quite got on track against Bouzkova.

Afterward, Konta said it was the fourth time she’s incurred heart palpitations while playing and the second time in the last three months. She said her heart rate shoots up for no reason and has had it checked out. While she’s generally not concerned, Konta said she will get an EKG.

Meanwhile, Bouzkova won 67 percent of her first-serve points and followed it with a 63 percent efficiency rate on her second serve. Plus, she won a solid 61 percent of points retuning Konta’s second serve. The Czech also saved six of seven break points to move into the next round. “Today, I felt like I served well when I need to, and I was able to dictate from my serve, and then I just stayed strong in the important moments,” she said in her press conference.

“I had expectations; I felt like I was practicing well all these months. On the other hand, I knew coming into a real match, I shouldn’t have that many expectations, because it’s different.”

At the end of her post-match Zoom news conference, it was time for Bouzkova to head off to give a speech for her speech class at Indiana University East.

“I was doing summer semester and took more classes,” she admitted. “Honestly, I’ve never been so busy these last five months, so much homework.”

• When Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus last played before the tour’s shutdown, she ran the table big in Doha, with wins over Anett KontaveitMaria SakkariZheng SaisaiSvetlana Kuznetsova and Petra Kvitova to win the Qatar Open title. This week in Lexington, she’s seeded second and began her title quest against 80th-ranked American Madison Brengle. After a dominating start, she let Brengle back into the match before finally prevailing in two hours and 27 minutes, 6-1, 5-7 (5), 6-2.

Sabalenka has enjoyed success against U.S. players, holding a winning 15-5 WTA Tour record. She’s currently on a five-match winning streak against Americans.

• No. 6 seed Magda Linette of Poland, ranked 36th, came into her first-round match against No. 62 American Lauren Davis sporting a 3-1 losing record, including a qualifying match at Wuhan in 2015. They’ve already met once this year, with Davis winning in straight sets (6-4, 6-4) in Hobart back in January – what seems an eternity ago. This time, Linette was ready and won a nice clean match, 6-2 6-3, in one hour and 21 minutes to be the first player to advance to the second round. She won 69 percent of service points and was steady on her return, too. Linette broke Davis four times, was broken just once and outpointed her opponent 65-46.

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia owns a career-best ranking of No. 39. She made history earlier this year at the Australian Open, when she became the first Arab player to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event. Seeded eighth in Lexington, Jabeur was paired with American wild card Caty McNally, ranked 124th. Jabeur took advantage of McNally’s service woes – 11 double faults and five service breaks – to win easily, 6-2, 6-4, in one hour and 26 minutes.

• The best matchup on the outer courts pitted Jennifer Brady of the U.S. against Great Britain’s Heather Watson, who went undefeated in singles during The Battle of Brits. Their only previous match came at the 2017 Australian Open, in which Brady triumphed 2-7, 7-6 (3), 10-8, after saving five match points. This time, it was all Brady, who rolled to a 6-2, 6-1 win over Watson in 66 minutes to set up a second-round match with Linette. Brady fired 10 aces and won 70 percent of her first serves. She saved both of the break points she faced and broke Watson’s serve five times in 12 tries.

The No. 51 Watson came in as the lowest-ranked player to win a WTA Tour title this season, when she won in Acapulco while ranked 69th. She also has played in the longest WTA match of the year, three hours and 33 minutes in a loss to Elise Mertens of Belgium in Hobart. This time, her court time was all too brief.

• Also, advancing to the second round was No. 81 Jessica Pegula of the U.S. over wild card No. 267 Vera Zvonareva from Russia, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.

Passing shots

• With six qualifying spots to fill out the main draw, advancing from the final round of qualifying were: No. 96 Kristie Ahn, No. 114 Anna Kalinskaya, No. 120 Leylah Fernandez, No. 134 Caroline Dolehide, No. 135 Olga Govortsova, and No. 358 wild card Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Dolehide will have the unenviable task of facing teen sensation Coco Gauff in the first round on Tuesday while Fernandez will oppose No. 7 seed and 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens.

• The big names come out on Tuesday with World No. 9 and top seed Serena Williams opening play on Center Court at 11 a.m. Eastern (5 p.m. CEST) against No. 60 Bernarda Pera followed by Gauff versus Dolehide. Then, it’s No. 67 Venus Williams against No. 58 Victoria Azarenka with the final match pairing Fernandez and Stephens. Other seeds in action include No. 4 Amanda Anisimova against No. 302 Catherine Bellis and No. 5 Yulia Putintseva versus No. 56 Ajla Tomljanovic.