Three questions for the US Open series — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, July 25, 2023

Howdy, y’all and Happy Tennis Tuesday! The summer hardcourt swing is finally here and will eventually wrap up at the US Open next month. This week, we have WTA 250 tournament in Warsaw, followed by a WTA 250 in Prague and a WTA 500 in Washington DC. With the post-Wimbledon blues happening during the final European clay tournaments, I figured this might be a good time to preview what’s to come and get you all thinking!

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Will the “Big Three” dominate?

Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina have dominated most on the WTA Tour this past year, with Swiatek’s No. 1 ranking in Sabalenka’s grasps. Last year, Daria Kasatkina and Liudmila Samsonova each won two WTA 250 events over the summer, but Kasatkina fell in the first round while Samsonova did reach the fourth round. The two WTA 1000 events went to Simona Halep and Caroline Garcia, respectively, but Halep is still fighting with tennis authorities to return from a provisional doping ban she denies and Garcia hasn’t found the spark that ignited her to the Cincinnati title, US Open semifinals and WTA Finals crown. Swiatek did fight off Ons Jabeur to leave the US Open with her first non-Roland Garros Grand Slam and has had dominance in North America before. This year, Rybakina had a fantastic Sunshine Swing by winning Indian Wells and reaching the final in Miami. All three players tend to find their best tennis at the Grand Slams and I think the US Open will be no different, but last year, they didn’t do much leading up to the event. This is where I think things will be different, especially at the WTA 1000 tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati. The Big Three are here and here to stay.

Wimbledon Surprises — Will They Continue?

The two biggest stories out of Wimbledon were Marketa Vondrousova stunning the tennis world to take the title and Elina Svitolina continuing to impress upon her return from maternity leave. Vondrousova is newly-minted as a Grand Slam champion and member of the Top 10. Historically, Wimbledon winners —and finalists, for that matter — not named Venus or Serena tend to have a lull in the North American summer. However, what’s different in Vondrousova’s case is that this time last year, she was sidelined with an injury and didn’t play at all from mid-April to late-October. She has zero points to defend and that should honestly help the 2021 Tokyo Olympic silver medalist. Essentially, the pressure of having to back up the points won at Wimbledon is erased because she’ll only be gaining compared to last year.

Now, while Vondrousova is creating some momentum, Svitolina is continuing hers. Since coming back in April, she made the quarterfinals of Roland Garros, won Strasbourg and reached the semifinals of Wimbledon. It was her tennis in England that really stood out to me — she was playing smarter and was finding some more aggression under the tutelage of Raemon Slutier. This part of the season is Svitolina’s bread and butter. She’s a deep runner on the hardcourts and in fact, of all the WTA 1000s, she boasts a 71% win percentage at the Canadian Open — her highest, which includes a 2017 title. I think the birth of her daughter, Skai, and playing for more than herself in her country of Ukraine will continue to bolster Svitolina to potential new heights. She’s yet to make a Grand Slam final, but three months into her comeback, she’s already in the Top 30. What’s to say she can’t win it all?

Who’s Up and Coming?

Now, my predictions are laughable, at best, but that’s why you all love me, right? Here, I want to highlight a couple of American players you might’ve heard in passing but could be up for something big this next month.

Kayla Day – Day is a former US Open junior champion that was banging on the door of the Top 100 before injuries and the COVID break saw her tumble. She’s been finding her best career form this year and following her win in last week’s ITF 100k in Granby, finally she’s her entry at No. 94. She’s won two ITF 100k titles this year and upset Madison Keys en route to the third round of Roland Garros as a qualifier. Unfortunately, her career-high ranking came a week after the US Open cutoff, so she will likely need a wildcard for the main draw. While I expect that to happen, I think you should check out the lefty if she’s playing a tournament you’re following or watching live.

Emma Navarro – Navarro is also a former junior Grand Slam champion that also captured the 2021 NCAA singles title. She’s also finding her best-career tennis and sits at No. 53 in this week’s rankings. She’s most comfortable on clay courts, but did reach a grass final at a $100k ITF event and semifinal at a WTA 250 back-to-back. She didn’t play last year’s US Open due to injury, but I’ll be curious how she will do at the elite level on hardcourts. She’s done well in the past at ITF World Tour events and WTA 125s, but her experience on the surface above the WTA 250 is limited.

Jessie Aney – I’m going to mix it up this time and include a doubles player! Aney played collegiately at UNC, where she was an All-American and did her final year at UConn playing hockey! She has since grinded out all over the world on the ITF World Tour and sits at Nos. 348 and 112 in singles and doubles, respectively. She is a phenomenal doubles player that just reached her first WTA final this past week in Budapest. She took advantage of her WTA debut last year, winning a round in Cincinnati and didn’t play at above the WTA 125 level until Budapest. While she shockingly didn’t get a wildcard into the US Open last year, I expect that might change this summer as she’s knocking on the Top 100 and is playing her best tennis in both disciplines. However, for her, she’s at the point in her career where she may have to choose between singles and doubles due the disparity in rankings. Considering she’s one of two three-time Doubles All-Americans for UNC, I think the choice might be clear.

Anywho, onto links!

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

Zheng Qinwen has been long touted as one to watch and she finally won her first WTA singles title at the Palermo Ladies Open with a win over Jasmine Paolini. The doubles title went to Kimberly Zimmerman and Yana Sizikova, who beat Angelica Moretelli and Camilla Rosatello. It was the third consecutive Palermo title for Zimmerman, all with different partners.

At the Hungarian Grand Prix, Maria Timofeeva stunned the field by losing in qualifying, getting in as a lucky loser, playing her first WTA main draw match and then winning the entire event. The Russian downed Kateryna Baindl to seal a dream week, while Fanny Stollar and Katarzyna Piter downed Jessie Aney and Anna Siskova to win the doubles crown.

At the WTA 125 BCR Iasi Open, there was an all-Romanian final with Ana Bogdan defending her title with a win over Irina-Camelia Begu. In doubles, Veronika Erjavec and Dalila Jakupovic upset top-seeded Irina Bara and Monica Niculescu to win the event.

Donna Vekic and Borna Coric won the new version of the Hopman Cup, which honestly doesn’t feel like the original tournament held prior to the Australian Open. I loved the fact that they tried to continue the tournament when the ATP Cup and eventually United Cup took over, but there wasn’t much promotion or starpower aside from Carlos Alcaraz. Being on clay the week after Wimbledon certainly didn’t do the event any favors.

Wheelchair tennis legend Esther Vergeer won 470 consecutive matches at one point, but her dominance finally was rewarded with an induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

I’d be a fool not to mention the drama this week in Budapest. In case you missed it, Zhang Shuai — in the middle of a long losing streak and an even longer period of homesickness — hit a ball that was called out that set off a series of events that ended in a shock retirement. Tensions were high during the drama, but the tournament then doubled down with some insensitive comments on their social media to defend wildcard Arissa Toth, who rubbed the mark out mid-argument and cheered not even seconds after Shuai shook her hand in protest.

While the ITF hasn’t given any stance on Russian players playing in next year’s Paris Olympics, Vera Zvonareva was banned from entering Poland for the WTA 250 this week in Warsaw. Though she had a visa, the former World No. 2 was on a list of athletes not allowed to enter the country due to the Ukraine-Russia war.

I loved this feature on Diana Schnaider by Alex Macpherson, which confirms the Russian has turned pro following her freshman season at NC State.

Congratulations to Petra Kvitova, who announced her marriage to coach Jiri Vanek!

In other wedding news, Mirjam Bjorlkand and ATP player Denis Shapovalov are engaged after four years of dating.

Francesca Curmi made WTA history last week by qualifying for Palermo and becoming the first player from the country of Malta to play in a main draw on tour.

Coco Gauff was born and grew up in Atlanta and she’s helping transform a park by investing in renovations to include tennis courts.

Although injuries cut her career way too soon, Cici Bellis is hoping to change the sports landscape through her own venture capital firm:

Tweet of the Week

This is just too good:

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon