By now you’d think the "U.S. summer hard-court season" would be in full swing, with no more glances back across the pond. After all, we’re just three days away from August, and the men and women have each played at least one event in the States. But in this age of European dominance, clay doesn’t go down without a long, drawn-out fight. The ATP, alongside its well-sponsored, 500-level Citi Open in Washington, D.C., will also stage a last hurrah on dirt for 2013 in Kitzbühel, Austria, this week. As for the women, they’ll also be on hot cement in D.C., and at the newly named Southern California Open in Carlsbad, Calif.
Tennis may not be completely Americanized yet, but the money is getting bigger, the draws are getting better, and a few European stars, including Victoria Azarenka and Juan Martion del Potro, will be making their post-Wimbledon debuts this week. You might, if you’re a lover of all clichés, say that the U.S. Open Series is about to heat up.
Here’s a look at what will be happening on both sides of the Atlantic.
Citi Open (ATP)
$1,565,590; 500 ranking points
Draw is here
The men get an upgrade at the Citi Open. Prize money crosses the million and a half mark, and the draw brackets go from 32 to 64. Though the fact that 16 players get byes into the second round seems a tad generous. I know Ivan Dodig has had a good run, and a lot of people seem to like to watch Michael Llodra, but do they really deserve a free pass into the second round at a 500?
There's also an upgrade at the top of the draw: Juan Martin del Potro, the highest-ranked man to enter an Open Series event so far, is the top seed. The big man will come to the U.S. in the midst of one of his periodic surges, after beating David Ferrer and doing everything he could to turn his semifinal with Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon into a classic—everything, that is, except win the match. So the question arises, not for the first, or the third, or maybe even the 10th time since his return from surgery two years ago: Is Delpo back?
He’ll give us his first answer in a potentially difficult second-round match against the winner of Lleyton Hewitt and Ryan Harrison. Both of those guys made the semis this week in Atlanta, while Del Potro will be coming in cold to the hot hard courts. It won’t get easier, or at least it won’t get any less tricky, in the next round, where he may play Bernard Tomic. It’s hard to known which Bernie we’ll see in D.C., considering that his father is currently on trial for assault. Del Potro's two great summer runs, in 2008 and 2009, began with titles in D.C.
Also here: No. 2 seed Kei Nishikori; the indefatigable Tommy Haas; Atlanta winner John Isner, who may have already begun exhausting himself for the U.S. Open; Grigor Dimitrov; Mardy Fish.
Question Mark: Milos Raonic. Grass was a bust; we’ll see if the work he has done since with Ivan Ljubicic will change his luck on hard courts.
Young Americans in the Nation’s Capital: Harrison opens with Hewitt; Jack Sock starts with Igor Sijsling
Southern California Open
$795,707; WTA Premier
Draw is here
Agnieszka Radwanska jumped the Atlantic last week in Stanford; this week she’s joined by Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova at the top of the draw down the coast in Carlsbad.
The last time we saw Azarenka, she was writhing in pain after injuring her knee in a fall at Wimbledon. After a practice block in the L.A. area, she’ll try her oft-injured legs out on asphalt. Vika will start with the winner of an all-Italia first-round affair between Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta. The next highest seeds in Azarenka’s half are Roberta Vinci, Jelena Jankovic, and Ana Ivanovic. On the other side, in descending order, are Radwanska, Kvitova, Stosur, and Suarez Navarro.
Players of interest: Laura Robson, who will begin her post-Wimbledon campaign against Ayumi Morita; and Allie Kiick, a young American wild card who has been known to miss an easy shot and ask herself, out loud, “Who does that?”
First-round matches to watch: Monica Puig vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands; Stanford champ Dominika Cibulkova vs. Ana Ivanovic
Citi Open (WTA)
Draw is here
The women’s draw in D.C. is smaller and less competitive than either the men’s event there, or the women’s event in Carlsbad. But for U.S. fans, it may be the more interesting of the two WTA tournaments. Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Christina McHale, and Taylor Townsend, among others, will be representing the USA here, though the top seed goes to Germany’s Angelique Kerber.
I’m especially interested in Sloane. We’ve seen her do well at the majors, where she has never been seeded high or expected to reach the semis or better. We haven’t seen her follow those performances up well in smaller events. In D.C., she’s the second seed; can she meet that expectation and make it all the way to the final? It may be a little tournament, but that would be a big step forward. Barthel and Cirstea are the next highest seeds in her half.
Also here: Andrea Petkovic, Eugenie Bouchard
First-round match to watch: Madison Keys vs. Michelle Larcher de Brito
Bet-at-Home Cup Kitzbuhel
$544,000; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
Clay makes its final appearance for 2013 with an unfortunate name—the Bet-at-Home Cup—and a middling draw. Philipp Kohlschreiber, one of the kings of the Central European 250 circuit, is the top seed. No. 2 is Juan Monaco, followed by Fernando Verdasco. Dyed in the wool dirt lovers, get your fill while you can. We’ll be waiting for you next week in Montreal.