WHITE SULFUR SPRINGS, W. Va.—With so much uncertainty about how the rest of 2020 will look, the 50-plus players at The Greenbrier are making the most of their experience.
"We don't have many tournaments all the [ITF events] are actually canceled right now and that was kind of my plan because of where my ranking is," world No. 332 Eugenie Bouchard says.
All ITF events have been canceled through August 31. The first steps in the reopening for WTA players include Palermo (August 3) and Lexington and Prague (August 10). ATP players have no such options. They'll have a few weeks off before Cincinnati and the US Open both take place in New York City, with Cincinnati qualifying starting on August 20. It makes for a tricky decision, especially for the foreigners.
"We'll see what happens," Bouchard says. "I think those tournaments are going to happen no matter what: Palermo, Prague and Lexington."
As excited as the Chicago Smash star is to get back out there after receiving a wild card into Prague, the pressure is bigger than ever with no guaranteed opportunities.
"I'm just going to put so much pressure on myself because it's like you have literally one chance to make points," she says. "It's your only opportunity. It's your one tournament in the past six months. I've got to be ready. I'm just hard on myself."
Her Chicago teammate Sloane Stephens will have a much shorter trip from West Virginia to Kentucky. It's significant progress for the 2017 US Open champion because at the start of WTT, she had no idea what was next.
"I don't even know what I'm doing tomorrow," she said. "Honestly, I have no clue what my life looks like. This is the most unorganized and hectic time I've ever had. Things are changing every day and I can say for the first time in my life, I literally have no idea what I'm doing. "
Even with more chaos ahead (the WTA canceled the Asia swing but the European clay swing seems very much on), everyone at WTT has been using the month as a training block, both mentally and physically. The gym alongside the indoor stadium has gotten heavy use.
Many players also brought coaches and fitness trainers including Kenin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Kim Clijsters, Monica Puig, Jessica Pegula, Steve Johnson, CoCo Vandeweghe, Caty McNally, Taylor Fritz and Brandon Nakashima.
Chicago Smash's Nakashima has his sights set on playing in New York, and he's hoping to be as lucky in the wild card bidding game as his teammate Bouchard.
"We will see if he will deserve that famous wild card for the US Open or Cincinnati this year," says Dusan Vemic, Nakashima's coach. "That is not up to him. It's up to him to be ready and prepared."
Then there's Orlando Storm's Pegula, who has been crushing it in singles and doubles after Danielle Collins was dismissed for breaching COVID-19 protocols. Pegula plans to play Kentucky where it will technically be a title defense for her. She won the Washington crown last year, which saw its WTA event moved to Lexington for this year, and later pulled the plug on staging its 2020 ATP tournament. The Top Seed Open field also includes Washington Kastles' Venus Williams (and Serena).
"It's been kind of weird," Pegula says. "I know they were eyeing the Citi Open as the first tournament back which was kind of awkward for me, but also kind of fun. They moved [the WTA International] to Kentucky so it's not the same as it was last year. Still we're excited to just go out there and get back into tournament play. "
Given the current climate, pros have little choice but to prepare to compete in August, even with the risk of tournament cancellation in the back of everyone's minds.
"First and foremost, we need to make sure that the US Open is 100 percent happening," Chicago's Mattek-Sands says. "Because I don't even want to get too ahead of myself. I think there's so much up in the air right now."
Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, who's playing for the Philadelphia Freedoms, is eager to get back out on tour. The world No. 4 will begin her WTA restart with Cincinnati.
“We’re working out, we’re practicing, and if I want to do something in between I can just to make sure I’m fit and I’m ready,” Kenin said. “My father is obviously here and it’s good. Team practice can get a little bit fun which is good to have and we’re just helping each other out.”
Doubles stars aren't exempt from the confusion as nine-time major champion Mattek-Sands isn't sold on the new US Open without the famous New York crowd energy.
"I really want competition to get started again but at the same time there's so many things that have to be taken care of before then," Mattek-Sands says. "I think they have a really big job ahead of them still even though we're only a month out."
It's been a confusing and chaotic year, but one thing is for certain: players have been glad to have work this WTT season. A paycheck and steady schedule—at least for three weeks—has been a welcome change from weeks of nothing.
"Being able to [come here] with the schedule set for the next few weeks is nice and will give players the time to work hard on the things they want to work hard on," Clijsters says. "And at the same time play a lot of matches with good competition."
Philadelphia clinched the top seed in the playoffs by beating Chicago on Wednesday. Orlando has snagged the third playoff spot, and one more team will make the cut by week's end.
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