World TeamTennis (WTT) kicked off its 3-week season on Sunday, as the world of professional tennis moves forward in the United States despite the coronavirus outbreak, and with Kim Clijsters looking to continue her comeback after 8 years off the tour.
In the last three weeks, the intensity has definitely gone up. The first few weeks, I just took time off to let a few little injuries heal and then, when we were able to fly back to Belgium, started training there. Kim Clijsters
“The most important lesson for me, is to just kind of trust the process,” said Clijsters, 37, who spent part of the coronavirus hiatus in New Jersey and part in her native Belgium.
“It doesn’t mean because COVID happened that I’m not interested in playing more tennis,” said the 37-year-old,
Her many fans will welcome her return as she gets valuable match play playing with the New York Empire franchise of World TeamTennis from 12 July- 2 August.
“In the last three weeks, the intensity has definitely gone up,” she said of her preparation. “The first few weeks, I just took time off to let a few little injuries heal and then, when we were able to fly back to Belgium, started training there.”
Clijsters retired in 2012 after winning 4 Grand Slams, is married to Brian Lynch, an American former basketball player and now coach, and they have 3 children, Jada, Jack and Blake.
Last week the Belgian media reported that the family are moving to the United States where Lynch could work with an NBA team.
“There are some challenges and combining parenting at home and teaching the kids at home and still going to practice and things like that,” Clijsters admitted.
“So it was challenging but at the same time you get through that together and we’ve had great family moments. So you learn.
“You just try to see the positive things out of moments that you’re in and that’s another big lesson that you learn.”
Clijsters was all set to compete at Indian Wells in early March, which would have been her 3rd tournament back, having lost to Garbiñe Muguruza in Dubai and Johanna Konta in Monterrey.
“In a way, it’s been good to be able to work on the things that maybe when you’re playing tournaments you don’t always have a lot of time to work on,” the former World No 1 said. “So that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
The New York Empire play its first match on Monday afternoon against the Washington Kastles.
— Kim Clijsters (@Clijsterskim) July 12, 2020
On Sunday, 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens defeated reigning Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig 5-1 to help expansion franchise Chicago Smash defeat the Vegas Rollers in the kickoff of World TeamTennis’ (WTT) regular season.
One of only a few live sports to welcome fans in North America amid the coronavirus outbreak, roaring crowds were replaced with masked, socially distanced spectators at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, where the entire 3-week WTT regular season will take place.
The Smash won 24-18 over the Rollers, while the Orlando Storm took down returning champions Springfield Lasers with an overall score of 21-18.
Standouts for the day included 28-year-old American Tennys Sandgren, who fired off 5 of Orlando Storm’s 8 aces, with his team winning 75% of their first-serve points.
On the Chicago team, 18-year-old Brandon Nakashima took down Sam Querrey 5-3 in the men’s singles, as teammates opted for elbow bumps over high-fives.
“At the beginning I definitely was a little bit nervous,” Nakashima said on the televised broadcast. “I just tried to stay solid on the baseline on my end.”
On a warm Sunday evening at The Greenbrier, the San Diego Aviators, coached by Britain’s John Lloyd, captured 4 of the 5 sets in impressive fashion as they overcame their Southern California rival, the Orange County Breakers, 23-16.
Ryan Harrison gave the Aviators an early lead with a 5-4 win over Steve Johnson in men’s singles in a set dominated by serve and deadlocked to 4-4.
Harrison took an early 3-1 lead in the tiebreak, struck an ace for a 4-1 advantage, clinching the set for San Diego on the following point when Johnson sent a crosscourt backhand long.
In the second set of the evening, CoCo Vandeweghe & Nicole Melichar of the Aviators scored the first service break of the match in women’s doubles against the Breakers’ Jennifer Brady & Andreja Klepac.
Serving at 3-3 in the set, Klepac fended off 2 break points but on the 3rd, Melichar knocked off a backhand volley for the break and a 4-3 lead.
Melichar then dug deep and fought off 2 break points to win the set 5-3 and extend the Aviators lead over the Breakers to 10-7.
Orange County cut the lead to 13-12 when Johnson and Britain’s Luke Bambridge capitalised on an early service break in Men’s Doubles and went on to defeat Harrison & Jonny O’Mara, another Brit, of the Aviators 5-3.
Christina McHale put on a thrilling performance for the Aviators with a 5-4 victory over Brady in the women’s singles.
The Aviators saved their best for last in mixed doubles as doubles specialists O’Mara & Melichar took a 2-0 lead over Klepac & Bambridge.
Orange County substituted Johnson for Bambridge at the start of the third game, but with O’Mara’s excellent service returns and Melichar’s outstanding net play, the Aviators continued to dominate and increased their lead to 4-0.
Harrison replaced O’Mara in the fifth game and proceeded to serve out the set to seal the season-opening win for the Aviators.
The event includes several safety measures designed to mitigate the potential spread of coronavirus, including COVID-19 testing for participants and regular temperature checks, with WTT letting a maximum of 500 fans inside the 2,500-person stadium while all are required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks.
World TeamTennis features top players such as Sofia Kenin and Venus Williams, but 22-year old Frances Tiafoe, the American who reached the quarter-finals at the 2019 Australian Open, was forced to drop out after testing positive for COVID-19.
The event takes place weeks after the Adria Tour was cancelled following its second leg in Croatia due to numerous positive coronavirus tests among participants, including Novak Djokovic, the top-ranked player in the world.
WTT says it has several precautions in place to minimise the risk of COVID-19 exposure, with all players and staff having self-quarantined for two weeks in the United States.
“I feel like I can protect myself the best I can,” 27-year-old Stephens told reporters. “I can protect others by following what the protocols are and the guidelines and just make sure that I’m following all the rules so I don’t harm anyone else or myself.”
2020 marks the 45th season of World TeamTennis.
The entire WTT regular season and WTT Playoffs will be contested at The Greenbrier ‘America’s Resort’ in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
- Regular Season: 12-30 July (Teams play 14 regular season matches)
- WTT Semi-finals: 1 August – The top four teams from the regular season compete against each other. Matchups are No 1 vs No 4 and No 2 vs. No 3.
- WTT Final: 2 August – The semi-final winners play for the King Trophy, awarded to the year’s WTT champion.