In a week when the ATP Tour returns with two Challenger events in Prague and Todi, the WTA Tour takes a pause after successfully running three tournaments in Palermo, Prague and Lexington giving cause for some celebration.
I was unhappy that the people couldn’t see my smile, because I was smiling all the way! But we have to respect the rules and I’m happy to see that all the people are respecting it. We have to be safe first, with everything. We can smile under the masks, so it’s all good. If we feel like smiling, it’s enough. Simona Halep
Sighs of relief that health protocols were robust enough to keep players, officials and staff safe are clear as attention turns to the USA and the up-and-coming Cincinnati in New York, which starts on 23 August.
Simona Halep celebrated by lifting her 21st title and taking a dip on Sunday in Prague after a 6-2 7-5 win over Elise Mertens and posing for mask and mask-less photos during the champion’s photoshoot, switching seamlessly between the two.
“I was unhappy that the people couldn’t see my smile, because I was smiling all the way!” she said.
“But we have to respect the rules and I’m happy to see that all the people are respecting it. We have to be safe first, with everything. We can smile under the masks, so it’s all good. If we feel like smiling, it’s enough.”
Then, honouring a bet she had made with Tournament Director David Trunda at the start of the tournament, she jumped in the river for a brief swim, joined by Trunda, one of her coaches Artemon Apostu Efremov and her physiotherapist Cosmin Diaconeasa.
Halep has opted out of travelling to America, saying that she is putting her health first and prefers to stay in Europe amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“After weighing up all the factors involved and with the exceptional circumstances in which we are living, I have decided that I will not travel to New York to play the #usopen,” the World No 2 announced on Twitter.
“I always said I would put my health at the heart of my decision and I therefore prefer to stay and train in Europe.”
Halep has a few options she could play instead, with Istanbul, Strasbourg and Rome scheduled ahead of the French Open.
Six of the top eight women in the WTA rankings have now decided not to play in New York, led by World No 1 Ash Barty and defending champion Bianca Andreescu (No 6), as well as Elina Svitolina (5), Kiki Bertens (7) and Belinda Bencic (8).
“I know the USTA and WTA have worked tirelessly to put on a safe event and I wish everyone there a successful tournament,” Halep added.
Rafael Nadal, the men’s defending champion, has also withdrawn from the tournament, but top-ranked Novak Djokovic says he will play, while Roger Federer is out for the rest of the season after two operations on his right knee.
Stan Wawrinka, the 2016 US Open champion, is also out, along with Gael Monfils and Nick Kyrgios.
Wawrinka is currently playing the Prague Open where he is the top seed and the prize money of the Challenger event is a lowly €137,560 in total.
Jennifer Brady may have struggled to open the bottle of champagne in celebration of her first WTA victory after winning the first women’s tournament to be played in America after the tour’s 5-month hiatus, but remains on a high following her impressive week in Lexington.
The former college player has been in many people’s sights for a while now as a real contender on the tour and 2020 could well prove to be her year as she enters the US Open ranked No 40 with the prospect of being seeded.
Brady has some of the best shots in the business and throws off opponents with a combination of spin, power and bold shot-making, plus she has a mighty serve.
Last week, she finally strung it all together, obliterating the Lexington field en route to her first WTA title, including Heather Watson in round one with the loss of just 3 games.
In fact, she won every set she played, and only dropping 24 total games in her 5 matches, while she lost her serve just 3 times.
According to the WTA, Brady’s serving performance ranks among the best by a title winner in the last 12 years, winning 40 of her 43 service games.
The dominant display caught the attention of some of the biggest names in the sport, prompting 18-time Grand Slam champion Chris Evert to join Billie Jean King in her praise of the remarkable performance.
“Congratulations to Jennifer Brady on winning #TopSeedOpen, her first #WTA singles title!” tweeted King.
“So proud of the player/lady you’ve become…” messaged Evert.
“She’s always had the shots… Recent improvements in maturity and fitness…@jennifurbrady95 It’s going to be a fun ride!” observed Evert later.
Fellow American Sloane Stephens was also quick to congratulate her friend, while Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi is, no doubt, excited by the possible future addition of another singles star to her already formidable lineup.
“It feels great to win my first title,” Brady said after the match. “There’s only winner each week, so walking home with the trophy for the first time, at home in America, I’m really happy.”
In 2020, Brady holds a 15-2 record against players ranked outside the Top 10 and if she can maintains her Lexington form, a deep run in Flushing Meadows should come as no surprise.
This week, players should be in Tokyo competing in the Tokyo Olympic Tennis Event which, of course, has been postponed for a year.
Celebrating the four-year anniversary of their Rio Olympics medal victories, players are scattered around the globe in Prague, Kentucky and New York.
British flagbearer Andy Murray was the defending champion from London 2012, played at Wimbledon, and he successfully defended his title four years, defeating Juan Martin del Potro in the final, 7–5 4–6 6–2, 7–5.
With the victory, Murray became the first player, male or female, to win singles gold at two consecutive Olympics and the first player to defend an Olympic title since Serena & Venus Willams won the women’s doubles title in Beijing and London.
Monica Puig, unseeded and a huge underdog, also made history by becoming the first Puerto Rican to win a gold medal.
Gold really makes for quite the throwback Thursday, but that’s not all the hardware Instagram is seeing – Lucie Safarova & Barbora Strycova are proud winners of bronze medals, having beaten compatriots Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka for the coveted spot on the podium.
Petra Kvitova also picked up a bronze four years ago, with a three-set win over Madison Keys.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands won the mixed doubles gold medal with Jack Sock, and while she hasn’t posted a throwback this week as yet, she has done so many times in the recent past.
She and Sock took out fellow Americans Venus Williams & Rajeev Ram in the final.
Interestingly, several players opted out of playing Rio because of health concerns over the Zika virus.