First Ball In, 7/28: The Week in Preview

Sunday, July 27, 2014 /by
Serena Williams has won Stanford the last two times she's played the event, 2011 and 2012. (AP Photo)
Serena Williams has won Stanford the last two times she's played the event, 2011 and 2012. (AP Photo)

Summer is flying by, but the tennis tours are taking their sweet time getting the season’s U.S. swing started in earnest. This week, after the men tested the waters, and the heat, in Atlanta, they jump in at a 500 event in Washington, D.C.; the women join them with an unusually well-stocked draw across the country in Stanford, Calif.

But Europe isn’t dead quite yet. The men play the last clay-court event of their season, in Kitzbuhel, Austria. By the end of this week, everyone on both tours will have shipped out for Canada. Here’s a look ahead at the last week of tune-ups for the U.S. Open tune-ups.

*****

Citi Open (ATP)

Washington, D.C.
$1,399,700; 500 ranking points 
Hard courts
Draw is here

In D.C., the field expands, the appearance fees appear, the ranking points increase, and the purse gets richer. Not too surprisingly, the Top 10 also starts to represent. The No. 1 seed is Tomas Berdych, who was last seen wandering madly in the dark at Wimbledon. I’m curious to see how the soon-to-be-29-year-old Berdych fares the rest of this season. He just got waxed by two players ranked below him, Ernests Gulbis and Marin Cilic, at the French Open and Wimbledon. We know he can tweet, but has the Birdman seen better days on court? He starts in D.C. with either Robby Ginepri or Alejandro Falla.

Berdych is joined on the other side of the draw by another Top Tenner, Milos Raonic, who’s making his first appearance since reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal, at Wimbledon. Raonic could face a challenge from Jack Sock in his opening match, though Milos has won all five sets they’ve played in 2014. Down the road, Raonic could also meet John Isner in the quarterfinals. The American was runner-up here last year, and champ in Atlanta this past weekend, and his road has been cleared by Grigor Dimitrov’s withdrawal on Sunday. It will be interesting over the next month to see if Isner can build momentum toward New York without burning himself out. He’s never managed to make his success during this part of the year carry over at the Open.

Also here: No. 4 seed Kei Nishikori, who opens against either Michael Russell or Sam Querrey. 

New faces: Francis Tiafoe, a 16-year-old from the D.C. area ranked No. 1135, has been given a wild card and will face Evgeny Donskoy in a night match on Monday. See what you think of Tiafoe; I’m not sure he can get the most out of his game with the technique he uses now. Jared Donaldson, a 17-year-old Rhode Island native ranked No. 326, qualified and will play Rajeev Ram in the first round. 

Lucky loser: Sam Groth, who takes Dimitrov’s place.

*****

Bank of the West Classic (WTA)

Stanford, Calif.
$710,000; Premier
Hard courts
Draw is here

With the demise of women’s tournaments in Los Angeles and San Diego, Stanford is the last California summer event standing. The draw, stronger than in most years past, reflects that. There aren’t a lot of soft spots in it.

Serena Williams is at the top of that draw, and all eyes will be on her as she takes her first competitive swings since the famously half-hearted serves she attempted in her mysterious doubles debacle with her sister at Wimbledon. Beyond that, Serena is coming off two stunningly bad losses at the last two majors. Is there more shock ahead for the soon-to-be-33-year-old? Or does she right the ship once again in her home state? 

Serena will start against either Kimiko Date-Krumm or Karolina Pliskova. In the next round, she could face the woman who put her out of the Australian Open, Ana Ivanovic. The Serb comes in having recently split with the coach who helped moved her back toward Top 10 over the last year. And she doesn’t have an easy opener, against Sabine Lisicki, who took her out at Wimbledon.

Also here: 

Victoria Azarenka: The world No. 10 will try to make up for lost injury time; she could play Venus Williams in the second round, and Serena in the semis.

Agnieszka Radwanska: The second seed and last year’s Stanford runner-up will start against either Caroline Garcia or Varvara Lepchenko

First-round matches to watch:

Ana Ivanovic vs. Sabine Lisicki: They’re 1-1 this year.

Andrea Petkovic vs. Ajla Tomljanovic: AT beat AP in their only career meeting, last year in Miami.

Dominika Cibulkova vs. Garbine Muguruza: Domi won this tournament in 2013.

*****

Bet-at-Home Cup (ATP)

Kitzbühel, Austria
$652,326; 250 ranking points
Clay
Draw is here

The ATP’s last, orphan clay event is topped by the man who thrives in this part of the world, Philipp Kohlschreiber—call him the Isner of Germany/Austria. With him is No. 2 seed Marcel Granollers, No. 3 Lukas Rosol, No. 4 Andreas Seppi, potential rookie of the year Dominic Thiem, Gstaad runner-up Juan Monaco, and 17-year-old wild card Alexander Zverev. By now, the German teenager should have earned enough from his summer job to buy his first Porsche.

*****

Citi Open (WTA)

Washington, D.C.
$250,000; International
Hard court
Draw is here

Like last week’s ATP tournament in Atlanta, this week’s WTA event in D.C. has something of an American cast. Nine of its 32 players are Statesiders, though the top three seeds are not. Those three—Lucie Safarova, Ekaterina Makarova, and Alize Cornet—all made significant noise at Wimbledon, and will look to do it again here.

Heading the list of Americans are two young ones who have been traveling in opposite directions of late, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys. Sloane, after a first-round loss at Wimbledon, is down to No. 22, while Keys, after a strong grass season, is up to No. 27. Keys has something of a tough first round, against No. 38 Kurumi Nara, while Stephens. who will make her debut with new coach Thomas Hogstedt, faces fellow Yank Christina McHale. 

Also here: U.S. teens Taylor Townsend and Tornado Alicia Black, both of whom qualified.

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