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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Home on the Hard Courts

It's mid-July and it's time players settle in for the long haul toward the US Open. The fine red dirt of Paris and the slick grasses of London are in the past, and now we wait for someone to show us they have the all-court game.

I always find the two middle slams interesting for more than the play, but the courts themselves. In May I ask how much speed will be taken away from the WTA's big-hitters on clay and who will have fine-tuned their movement to slide gracefully into their shots. In June I wonder which woman will slip winners along the low-bouncing grass and fire aces off the chalk lines. Now that the French Open and Wimbledon are over, we return to the basic hard court tennis we know and love.

Sure, the speed and bounce of hard courts vary by location, but the general dynamics are the same. We are no longer searching for that one glorious clay courter or the player willing to risk it all on grass. Now, we are looking for the player who has it all—the ability to rally with power, to approach and volley, to serve with consistency and to take chances, all on courts that offer less effect.

So which woman will it be? 

As we move closer to the US Open series and a number of master tournaments, the WTA field is just as open as ever. I feel like a broken record saying that Wozniacki will be searching for her breakthrough slam, but it's a fair and honest statement. The Dane has the game to win and both her movement and consistency seem at their best on hard court. Her scrambling and put-it-back-in-your-face style of play should help her succeed late into the summer, so long as she keeps her forehand from crumbling. If she can't step up and hit a few more winners, she may have to settle for winning New Haven...again.

What about the Williams sisters?  Serena is scheduled to play Stanford, Toronto and Cincinnati, but we know that's questionable to say the least. Neither Serena nor Venus were at their best in London but still showed us they have the skill and drive to win titles. With a little more match play under their belt, they too will be contenders in New York. Even when they don't bring their A-game, they bring the intimidation factor.

I'm holding out for howling sisters Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. Over the past few months we've seen how Sharapova's game has adapted to all surfaces, so her intensity and force should be just as evident on hard court. Then there's Azarenka—she survives on raw athleticism and courage, so her success of late shouldn't surprise anyone. How will they fair this season? The Belarusian won Stanford last summer (against Sharapova, no less) and will want to make her mark again. Perhaps this time she can ride the momentum of victory into a slam championship. No holding your breath though. For now I just want to see her go two months without an injury. Sharapova, on the other hand, has been knocking at the door for titles and we know she won't be content having only won Rome.

There are plenty of other women we should be excited to see compete. Will Bartoli keep up her high level of play, or has all her jumping and fidgeting worn her out? Will Kvitova be able to back up her Wimbledon title with some victories on her way to NY? How about Zvonareva?—I'm waiting to be re-impressed by her and we know she likes hard court matches. The list goes on, but I'm tired of asking questions.

Let's get to the tournaments and start seeing some answers.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor


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