The universal sign for peace is two fingers held aloft. For Team Peace, those fingers can also represent two potentially game-changing players at this week’s Credit One Bank Invitational: Sofia Kenin, the most recent Grand Slam singles champion, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the most decorated doubles player in a loaded clay-court competition.
Captained by Mattek-Sands—a five-time Grand Slam doubles champion, an Olympic gold medalist in mixed doubles and twice a winner in Charleston, where the six-day event will be held—Team Peace lacks the depth of its opposition, Team Kindness, but it has Kenin. It may feel like a lifetime ago now, but in February, the 21-year-old American took home the Australian Open trophy. Kenin’s WTA ranking remains frozen at a career-high No. 4, and her UTR ranking—which will change based on this week’s matches—isn’t far behind at 12.
“She’s going to be really hyped, so she’s going to get the team spirit going,” says Kenin, who teamed with Mattek-Sands at four tournaments earlier this year. “Hopefully we’ll play some doubles together.”
“You can’t pass up this year's Australian Open champ; we’ve played doubles together,” said Mattek-Sands during Monday’s team draft. “And I don’t think there’s anyone feistier than her right now.”
Kenin’s UTR trails only that of Madison Keys, the captain of Team Kindness. Based on the draft results, it will be a showdown of Team Peace’s quality—its highest-ranked singles player after Kenin is Jennifer Brady, 48th in the WTA and 24th in UTR—against a quantity of talented veterans and youngsters.
Keys’ squad boasts a two-time Grand Slam champion (Victoria Azarenka), another major titlist (Sloane Stephens), another French Open semifinalist (Amanda Anisimova) and an Olympic singles gold medalist (Monica Puig). Not to mention Alison Riske, who at No. 19 is one ranking position off her WTA career-high; Shelby Rogers, a Charleston resident who has roamed its green clay since childhood; and Leylah Fernandez, one of the hottest players in tennis before the stoppage of play.
Plus, of course, there’s Keys, the defending Charleston singles champion and a four-time Grand Slam semifinalist.
Practice Pass: Madison Keys back on the court in Charleston
All that said, individual accolades don’t count for as much as they do when a player is competing for something more than just themselves.
“Team competition is really different, especially for tennis players,” says Keys. “We’re not super used to it. Speaking personally, I get so nervous during Fed Cup, just because I’m playing for other people.
“Playing for a team, you care so much about how you’re doing, because you want to do well for your teammates.”
In what will likely be the only round of Fed Cup competition to be completed in 2020, the United States took on Latvia in Everett, Wash. shortly after Kenin’s Australian Open victory. The Americans won both singles matches on Saturday, but couldn’t close out a game Latvia side, forcing a doubles decider.
Who won that match, 6-4, 6-0? Mattek-Sands and Kenin.
Kenin and Mattek-Sands after clinching a U.S. victory in Fed Cup. (Getty Images)
Playing this week in a format that rewards doubles success—the final day’s slate is entirely doubles matches—Mattek-Sands will look to coax the most out a scrappy team that includes Kenin, Brady, Eugenie Bouchard, Caroline Dolehide, Danielle Collins, Emma Navarro (who grew up in Charleston), and Ajla Tomljanovic, who has recent matches under her belt from late May’s UTR Pro Match Series.
“I personally love team competition,” says Mattek-Sands. “I’m a big team player; I think it’s a lot of fun; I think you can get a lot of energy out of it. It’s all about energy. What better way to do that than with a team?”
Over the past few years, team competitions have become more common in professional tennis, with the ATP Cup and Laver Cup garnering impressive fields and generating worldwide buzz. (The fact that just two new events feels like a dramatic shift indicates how low the team-tennis bar was set.) But those events, of course, are men’s only.
With its progressively increasing point structure and team format, the Credit One Bank Invitational is the women’s answer to Laver Cup. And depending on player response, the event may herald future iterations, even when the pandemic has passed.
Credit One Bank Invitational scoring format:
But in these austere times, it’s hard to look too far ahead—a week may be ambitious, let alone a year. For now, the present is in Charleston: a return to competitive tennis for many of the WTA’s best, and a reunion at the same time.
“It’s been months since I’ve seen all my friends,” says Mattek-Sands. “Obviously I’ve FaceTimed them, I’ve done some Instagram Lives with a lot of them. But, really, we miss each other.”
Tuesday’s Order of Play
—Sofia Kenin (Team Peace) vs. Alison Riske (Team Kindness)
—Emma Navarro (Team Peace) vs. Fernandez (Team Kindness)
—Danielle Collins (Team Peace) vs. Anisimova (Team Kindness)
—Ajla Tomljanovic (Team Peace) vs. Rogers (Team Kindness)