With the men dominating the headlines of late, the women return to competitive play in the United States on Tuesday, with Sofia Kenin and Sloane Stephens headlining the Credit One Bank Invitational from 23-28 June at LTP Daniel Island, Charleston in South Carolina behind-closed-doors.
I can’t think of a better way to start up tennis again than at the Credit One Bank Invitational. The uncharted waters that we are currently facing calls for something completely fresh and new. It’s an absolute honour to be selected as one of the captains for this team event. Madison Keys
The 2020 Australian Open champion and 2017 US Open winners lead a field of 16 players invited to play in the two-team event.
As captain of Team Kindness, Keys will be on opposite sides of the tennis court from fellow American player Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who leads up Team Peace.
The pair will split a high-quality field of players, with Mattek-Sands getting the first pick between reigning Kenin, Sloane Stephens, Victoria Azarenka, Amanda Anisimova, Monica Puig, Ajla Tomljanovic, Danielle Collins, Alison Riske, Shelby Rogers, Genie Bouchard, Jennifer Brady, Leylah Fernandez, Emma Navarro and Caroline Dolehide.
“I’m excited to be playing in the Credit One Bank Invitational and being named team captain,” said Keys. “Looking forward to a competitive event in my favourite tournament city and venue!
“I can’t think of a better way to start up tennis again than at the Credit One Bank Invitational.
“The uncharted waters that we are currently facing calls for something completely fresh and new.
“It’s an absolute honour to be selected as one of the captains for this team event.”
Mattek-Sands added: “We will fill the sporting world with hope again and show our gratitude and appreciation for all essential workers around the world, and especially in Charleston.”
The unsanctioned tournament will feature 16 single matches and eight doubles matches and half the proceeds will be donated to the Medical University of South Carolina, who will ensure the event has a safe playing environment.
Keys, the reigning Volvo Car Open champion, joined Mattek-Sands for a ‘virtual press conference’ on Friday ahead of the Credit One Bank Invitational
Gearing up to take her first steps back onto the Charleston green courts, Keys is determined to not take a moment of it for granted after spending months away from the game.
“It’s really difficult to keep practicing when you don’t really have a goal in mind,” Keys said, speaking via Zoom to a group of journalists. “So being able to have some of these tournaments back on the calendar has been really great even just for my mentality, just because I know I’m working for something.”
Ben Navarro, Owner of Charleston Tennis LLC, said: “Charleston has proven time and again to be the poster child for resiliency – and in my mind, this special tournament will help accomplish three very critical things.
“First, it is a tangible way to show the world we are able to bring back live sport for public enjoyment; Second, it allows our community and tennis fans all over to support the tennis professionals whose opportunities to compete this year have been severely limited; Third, it helps us show our frontline medical professionals how much we care, with half of the proceeds going directly to support MUSC.”
The tournament, which will be conducted without fans and televised on the Tennis Channel within the US, is currently the largest-scale tennis event confirmed since the sport was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Ever since the unfortunate cancelation of this year’s Volvo Car Open due to the Coronavirus, we have been working tirelessly to figure out how and when to appropriately bring a world class event back to Charleston as quickly and safely as possible,” said Bob Moran, President of Charleston Tennis LLC.
“This tournament will have two equal beneficiaries – traditional prize money for the athletes, and a large fundraising structure to support frontline healthcare workers at MUSC.”
The event will work closely with MUSC, who will ensure the execution of a secure environment for all players and staff through its health and safety protocols.
To minimise the amount of individuals on-site, players will call their own lines and receive assistance from only one ball kid and one official on court.
Players will also be expected to handle their own towels and grab their own drinks, and the ones who are not playing will be spaced out in socially distant ‘pods’ in the stands around show court, which will be empty of fans and media.
All of that is just fine with Keys, who opened up on how the time away from the game has given her a new perspective on the sport she loves.
Removed from the week-in, week-out grind, all the American wants to do now is play some tennis again as the world settles back into its ‘new normal’.
“Now we’re all like, please put me on a center court, break point down in the third, because I would love to have that feeling again,” Keys said, laughing.
“I think we all really just take for granted how much we love competing,” she added. “And even those days where you lose, you get to go out and compete and you get to play a sport that you love, and I don’t think we’re ever going to forget that.
“It was just something that we really took for granted before… I don’t think any of us are ever going to complain about, you know, the stresses of playing tennis quite as much.”
Mattek-Sands pointed out: “I think it’s funny because I think every tennis player kind of dreams of being home, especially when we’re in the middle of some of our stacked scheduling.
“Even in the off-season, even when we’re injured, we usually have a date. We have a deadline when we’ve got to be ready for, and we can time it up.
“So I think it’s been challenging for everyone to stay motivated… I mean, I’ve been pretty busy at home, but now that I’ve been home for a few months, as much as I love it ,I’m super stoked to get back on the road.”
The Credit One Bank Invitational is part of Tennis Channel’s Re(Open) Tour, a series of events and exhibitions taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic.