Week In Preview: Serena returns in Lexington; Halep headlines Prague

Week In Preview: Serena returns in Lexington; Halep headlines Prague

Tennis’ reopening picks up steam as Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Coco Gauff and other familiar faces return to the court.

Serena vs. Pera; Gauff vs. Dolehide; Venus vs. Azarenka; Stephens vs. Fernandez—all first-round matches, all live on Tennis Channel starting at 11 a.m. ET. And visit TENNIS.com on Tuesday for our Lexington live blog.

Did you feel, as I did, that having tennis back in Palermo was like seeing your extended family again? If so, this week should be the equivalent of a long-awaited reunion with old friends and siblings.

Unlike in Palermo, there will be no shortage of familiar faces in Lexington and Prague: Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka, Aryna Sabalenka, Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff are among those making their reopen debuts. Here’s a look at where they’ve fallen in their respective draws, and what we might expect from them out of the gate. We’ll start by keeping our fingers crossed for another safe week.

The Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics (WTA)

Lexington, KY, USA
$225,500; WTA International
Hard court
Draw is here

Getty Images

Whatever Bluegrass Orthopaedics paid to be the presenting sponsor of the Top Seed Open, it’s probably going to be worth the investment. The return of Serena alone guarantees that eyes all over the world will be turned toward this first-time WTA event in Kentucky. But the tournament has also landed a solid supporting cast, including Venus Williams, Johanna Konta, Amanda Anisimova, Azarenka, Sabalenka and Gauff.

Serena says she has learned that you can’t plan for anything in a pandemic, so she’s “literally living for the day.” Like everyone else, she’ll be rusty; her last tournament match was a third-round loss to Wang Qiang at the Australian Open eight months ago. Serena will also turn 39 in September, but—and I know this is hard to remember—she has won a title in 2020, in Auckland in January.

Williams is the top seed at the Top Seed Open, but the draw makers in Lexington haven’t done her any favors. She’ll start against Bernarda Pera; if she wins, she’ll face either Azarenka or her sister Venus. If she wins that, Stephens could be next.

Chances are, though, few things will go according to plan or form as the women find their feet again in Kentucky. So maybe it’s best to focus on the good first-round matches that we know are going to happen. There’s no shortage of them.

First-round matches to watch:
S. Williams vs. Pera
V. Williams vs. Azarenka
Anisimova vs. CiCi Bellis
Ajla Tomljanovic vs. Yulia Putintseva
Ons Jabeur vs. Caty McNally

Potential second-round matches to watch:
Gauff vs. Sabalenka
S. Williams vs. Azarenka or V. Williams

Prague Open (WTA)

Prague, Czech Republic
$225,500; WTA International
Red clay
Draw is here

Getty Images

Halep was scheduled to make her first appearance in Palermo, but deferred due to continued coronavirus concerns. And she’s still on the fence about the US Open, apparently, for the same reason. But in the meantime she’s making the trip to Prague, where she’s the No. 1 seed and will have a chance to ease back onto the court on her favorite surface, red clay. The Romanian will face Polona Hercog, in her opener.

Also in the draw: Petra Martic, Elise Mertens, Dayana Yastremska, Ekaterina Alexandrova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Barbora Strycova, who says she is rethinking retirement.

First-round match to watch: Mertens vs. Italy’s Jasmine Paolini, who played some exciting tennis last week in Palermo

Doubles team to watch: Halep and Strycova