Queens of hard courts: Clijsters, Osaka, Venus playing US Open tune-up

Queens of hard courts: Clijsters, Osaka, Venus playing US Open tune-up

The five women receiving main-draw wild cards for the relocated Western & Southern Open in New York was announced Thursday. Could a US Open wild card be next for Kim Clijsters?

The Western & Southern Open revealed the five women receiving main-draw wild cards into its relocated New York event on Thursday, with Kim Clijsters set to compete in her biggest tournament since coming out of her second retirement in February. 

Clijsters, who returned for her first tour-level event since the 2012 US Open when she fell to Garbine Muguruza in Dubai, won the Western & Southern Open ten years ago at its traditional home in Mason, Ohio. In 2009, the former No. 1 used the Premier 5 tournament as a springboard for her first comeback, reaching the quarterfinals before memorably becoming the first mother in 29 years to lift a major singles trophy in New York. Clijsters will be seeking her first match win in her third WTA stint, following competitive losses to Muguruza and Johanna Konta in Monterrey prior to the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the tour.

Two of the Belgian’s fellow wild-card recipients, Naomi Osaka and Sloane Stephens, could have gained entry directly with their respective rankings three days earlier when Cincinnati's deadline closed. Osaka last appeared on court in early February, losing a Fed Cup match to Sara Sorribes Tormo on clay, 6-0, 6-3. That stunning defeat followed a third-round exit to Coco Gauff at the Australian Open, where Osaka was the defending champion.

Stephens will be hoping to benefit from the extended tour break after beginning her 2020 season at 1-5. Four of the 2017 US Open champion’s losses came at the hands of players ranked outside of the Top 125, and her lone victory was a three-set win over world No. 497 Emma Navarro in her Monterrey opener.

The American’s countrywomen Venus Williams, who turned 40 in June, and Caty McNally, an 18-year-old Cincinnati native, rounded out the selections. Williams has seen her ranking slip to No. 67, and though she is defending quarterfinal points, won’t have the burden of backing it up this year as a result of the WTA’s revised “Best of 2019 or 2020” ranking structure, a response to uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. Last August, McNally lost her Cincinnati debut to Elise Mertens.

Current US Open champion Bianca Andreescu among the players not entered for the Western & Southern Open. With the ability to retain the points earned last year in New York and fact she hasn’t played since withdrawing midway through her second match at the 2019 WTA Finals Shenzhen due to a left knee injury, there are serious questions about Canada’s first major singles champion showing up to defend her title in Queens.

The US Open will directly follow the Western & Southern Open in a two-tournament bubble established by USTA. The relocated Cincinnati event begins August 20 with two days of qualifying, with the hard-court major beginning August 31—sans qualifying. WTA world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty disclosed to Australian media Thursday that she would forgo playing both events due to COVID-19 concerns.

Who will remain in this year's 21 & Under Club, and which new players will join them?

Find out all week on TENNIS.com and Baseline.

Monday, July 27: Sofia Kenin | Monday, July 27: Elena Rybakina | Monday, July 27: Alex de Minaur, Dayana Yastremska, Casper Ruud | Tuesday, July 28: Stefanos Tsitsipas | Tuesday, July 28: Thiago Seyboth Wild | Wednesday, July 29: Amanda Anisimova | Wednesday, July 29: Brandon Nakashima | Thursday, July 30: Coco Gauff | Thursday, July 30: Caty McNally | Thursday, July 30: Jannik Sinner, Iga Swiatek