Bethanie Mattek-Sands began the Credit One Bank Invitational with the first pick, and finished it with the last shot. The five-time Grand Slam doubles champion struck a routine putaway volley after a weak return—set up by a wide serve from, in all likelihood, that first selection in the draft, Sofia Kenin—to give Team Peace the win over Victoria Azarenka and Amanda Anisimova, and an unassailable 26-16 lead.
Captain and Kenin, who played together four times in January and February, exemplified what Mattek-Sands was looking for as she chose her eight-player team. On paper, it looked weaker than Team Kindness, captained by Madison Keys and including Sloane Stephens, Alison Riske, Victoria Azarenka, Amanda Anisimova and Leylah Fernandez. Monica Puig, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist, and Shelby Rogers, a Charleston native, rounded out a squad that perhaps in a normal year, with regular match play, might have come through.
But in this decidedly abnormal year, familiarity and comfort was more important than the accolades on one’s resume, and Mattek-Sands looked for players who were able to do two things: play well in both singles and doubles, and complement one another as a tandem.
“Today’s idea was actually to put strong net players with strong baseline players,” said Mattek-Sands, seated to the right of Kenin, one of the strongest baseliners in tennis. “I split up Caroline Dolehide and Jen Brady; they’ve done well, they were almost my number two team. But I paired them up with baseline players. I don't know if I’m a little biased, because I’ve played with a lot of good baseliners, and I like that dynamic, because you can have a strong returner, strong person at the back, and then someone who puts it away at net.
“That was kind of my thought, so I guess it worked this time. I’m proud of my whole team.”
Mattek-Sands and Kenin have been a formidable doubles team all year long. (Credit One Bank Invitational)
Dolehide and Brady were quarterfinalists at this year’s Australian Open, so Mattek-Sands was tinkering with a known strength. Lo and behold, Brady won both of her doubles matches: a two-point match with the inexperienced Emma Navarro, who surely benefited from Brady’s presence; and a three-point match on Sunday alongside Eugenie Bouchard, who on the right day can still rally with the best of them.
It didn’t hurt that Navarro and Bouchard played well for much of the week in Charleston. The 19-year-old, ranked No. 504 in the world, nearly beat No. 19 Alison Riske on Thursday, and Bouchard looked nothing like the 332nd-ranked player on tour.
Then there was Brady, who won all four matches she played, contributing nine points to Team Peace’s haul.
“I think we gotta give her MVP,” said Mattek-Sands.
As it turned out, the Credit One Bank Invitational was largely a continuation of what was happening before the sport’s stoppage. Brady cracked the Top 50 after a 12-5 start in singles that included a quarterfinal in Brisbane and a semifinal in Dubai (both as a qualifier). Kenin won the Australian Open, and while she went 1-1 in singles this week, she nearly pulled off a stunning comeback against Keys and won both doubles matches with Mattek-Sands. Dolehide won the only live doubles match she contested, partnering with Ajla Tomljanovic—who went 3-1 at the event.
“All these girls can play, they can all ball,” said Mattek-Sands.
Brady, tapping racquets with Bouchard, went 4-0 this week in Charleston. (Credit One Bank Invitational)
The camaraderie of Team Peace and the format of the Credit One Bank Invitational raises a question about the sport’s future: should this type of event be a permanent fixture on the women’s tennis calendar?
Given what has happened to Fed Cup—which, like Davis Cup, hardly resembles the competition it once was—a “women’s Laver Cup” should absolutely exist. The lack of fans and (commendable) enforcement of social distancing in Charleston hurt this test run significantly; not only was the crowd reaction missing, but so was the close contact, impromptu celebrations and unlikely moments of emotion from teammates, right at court level. These have been hallmarks of Laver Cup in its short existence, elevating what might be considered an exhibition into something not at tour-level, but something entirely different—and special.
Considering the Charleston’s appeal to WTA players, why not try out the real thing at Volvo Car Stadium when the world is back to normal?
“It was super fun,” said Kenin with a laugh. “I’m really happy I was able to bring the feisty out there for Team Peace!”
“For me it was a lot of fun,” said Mattek-Sands. “It was a fun group of girls, so hopefully I’ll get to do this again.”
Shelby Rogers (Team Kindness) d. Bethanie Mattek-Sands (Team Peace), 7-5, 7-5
Team Peace leads Team Kindness, 20-16
Eugenie Bouchard/Jennifer Brady (Team Peace) d. Madison Keys/Alison Riske (Team Kindness), 6-3, 6-2
Team Peace leads Team Kindness, 23-16
Sofia Kenin/Bethanie Mattek-Sands (Team Peace) d. Victoria Azarenka/Amanda Anisimova (Team Kindness), 6-3, 6-4
Team Peace leads Team Kindness, 26-16—and clinches victory:
Shelby Rogers/Sloane Stephens (Team Kindness) d. Caroline Dolehide/Ajla Tomljanovic (Team Peace), 7-5, 6-3
Team Peace leads Team Kindness, 26-19
Monica Puig/Leylah Fernandez (Team Kindness) vs. Danielle Collins/Emma Navarro (Team Peace)