Saturday night, off went my plane to Charleston, South Carolina for the Volvo Car Open, a 56-player WTA event that commences the spring clay court season. Granted, this event is played on green clay, while the European events are played on red clay. More in the week to come on the differences between the two surfaces.
For now, though, the marquee offers a range of players and plotlines: Madison Keys, playing her third tournament since wrist surgery, keen to showcase her considerable weapons; Johanna Konta, confidence soaring in the wake of winning the Miami Open; Venus Williams, enjoying a pleasing resurgence; BNP Paribas Open winner Elena Vesnina, playing the best tennis of her life; Caroline Wozniacki, runner-up in Miami, climbing back up the ranks.
Dipping into the draw, the first round match that most captures my attention pits two Americans: Kayla Day versus Alison Riske. Day is 17 years old, last year won the US Open junior title and is now ranked #153 in the world. A left-hander, Day right now in the fresh bloom of her career. She can swing freely and savor every moment. Just last month, at Indian Wells, Day’s big forehand and slick serve helped her knock off two top 100 players, Kurumi Nara and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, before losing a tight three-setter to reigning Roland Garros champion Garbine Muguruza.
Riske has reached a career high ranking of #38 in the world. Now 26 years old, Riske is a hard worker with a pleasing attitude towards life on the tour and a game based on flat, powerful drives. Not too long ago, Riske was the youngster, seeking ways to move up the ranks and establish herself. But such is the rapid cycle of the tennis life that Riske is now the one guarding territory. This is a cross-generational match she doesn’t want to lose. Well, who wants to lose any match? But you get the idea. It will be fascinating to see how Riske’s baseline game matches up versus Day’s lefty mix. Toss in the patience required for clay, the emotions of a first round and the stage is set for high drama.