First comes the Slam, then comes the rebuilding period. This is our fourth and final one of 2013, as the game gathers itself in the wake of the U.S. Open and begins the two-month homestretch toward the off-season. That stretch consists of a tour through Asia, and the women have already arrived in Korea and China. The men, though, spend the next few days in a nether zone, in St. Petersburg, Russia and Metz, France. Call it the pre-Asian swing. Or moment. Or something.
Let’s see what this transitional week might bring us.
$548,000; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
The best news of the week happens in this historic little city in northeastern France. That's where top seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will make his first appearance since a left knee injury forced him to retire in the second round at Wimbledon. He also returns without the man who had been coaching him this season, Roger Rasheed.
It’s as good as place as any for Tsonga to get started again. He’s the two-time defending champion in Metz, and he typically thrives at the end of the season, when the Big 4 take their collective feet off the pedal. Tsonga also has motivation. After missing the summer, he’s currently at No. 10 in the race to London, 500 points behind the man at No. 8, Stanislas Wawrinka.
Jo has hit work cut out for him. He’ll get started against countryman Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Metz draws a local crowd in general, with 11 Frenchman populating its 28-player draw—the No. 2 seed is Gilles Simon, No. 5 is Benoit Paire, and No. 7 is Jeremy Chardy. There’s also a French qualifier I’ve never heard of before, but whose name certainly stands out: Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
An American in Metz: Sam Querrey
St. Petersburg Open
St. Petersburg, Russia
$455,775; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
Remember Fabio Fognini the world-beater? This summer the Italian won two straight tournaments and reached a third final on the post-Wimbledon Euro-clay swing. That must not have been the same Fabio Fognini who showed up in New York a month later for the U.S. Open. That Fabio Fognini lost to No. 118-ranked Rajeev Ram, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.
Now the Fog has returned to Europe as the top seed in St. Petersburg, and so far his mood has improved: He won his opening match 4 and 4 over Dominic Inglot. But title No. 3 for 2013 won’t be easy. Also in this draw are Mikhail Youzhny, Janko Tipsarevic, Fernando Verdasco, and Ernests Gulbis. That might not be a murderer’s row of mental toughness, but there’s some talent there.
Most surprising new name: Russian wild card Karen Khachanov, who beat Victor Hanescu in the first round.
$500,000; WTA International
Draw is here
Remember Sorana Cirstea? Finalist in Toronto? Top seed this week in Guangzhou? Like Fognini, her world-beating form didn’t last long. Cirstea is already out, 2 and 1, to last week’s winner in Tashkent, Bojana Jovanovski.
Who among the sub-Top 25 field in Guangzhou is most likely to take advantage of this opening? Last year’s finalists, Su-Wei Hsieh and Laura Robson, have won their openers, as has teen upstart Monica Puig. But a third semi-known name, Urszula Radwanska, is already out, to Yvonne Dolonc. A weird week for the women could be in store.
KDB Korea Open
$500,000: WTA International
Draw is here
You know, I was just wondering where Aga was. No matter how slow the week, you can usually count on Agnieszka Radwanska to be in action somewhere, and here she is, the top seed in Seoul. She’s even won a match already. As she did at Stanford in the U.S. this summer, the world No. 4 is getting a jump on the Asian swing. You might think she could use a rest after her lackluster performance at the U.S. Open. You might say she’s still running from that crushing loss to Sabine Lisicki in the Wimbledon semifinals. You might be right on both counts. But Radwanska likes Asia: Two years ago, she won in Tokyo and Beijing; last year she was a finalist again in Tokyo.
She should win in Seoul, too. The second seed is Maria Kirilenko; third is Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova; fourth was Klara Zakopalova, who has already lost. We’ll see if Aga, who has undyed her hair, can get her post-blonde career off to a good start.