Stanford will become the center of the tennis universe again next week with plenty of the brightest stars in the women’s game on hand, including the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena.
Qualifying for the Bank of the West Classic, an annual stop on the women’s pro tour, starts today. The main draw begins Monday, culminating with championship matches in singles and doubles on Sunday.
The tournament enters its 43rd year with one of its strongest fields — eight of the world’s top 20 players after injured Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova withdrew Wednesday. There are four players who have reached No. 1 in the world.
Top 10 players Angelique Kerber and Agnieszka Radwanska will play, as will former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, who is ranked 10th after recovering from a foot injury that sidelined her for nearly all of the first half of the season. Fifth-ranked Radwanska is the highest-ranked player in the field other than Serena, who is ranked No. 1 in the world for the sixth time in her career.
As usual, all eyes will be on Serena, who begins play Wednesday at 7 p.m. She has won three tournaments this year but has struggled in Grand Slam events. She failed to reach the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, French Open and at Wimbledon.
Venus will be a fan favorite, too. Her first action is not yet scheduled. It will be against a qualifier, probably Monday or Tuesday in an evening session.
Serena, the Bank of the West champion in 2011 and 2012, will be in action for the first time since Wimbledon, where she was stunned in the third round by France’s Alize Cornet, then withdrew in a bizarre scene in the middle of a doubles match with her sister. Serena became eerily disoriented, looked as if she could barely stand, and was unable to continue.
Wimbledon officials said she had a viral illness. There are many who believe it was not a viral illness, with rumors swirling about her personal life.
Her coach and boyfriend, Patrick Mouratoglou of France, gave weight to the notion of personal problems when he told France’s Tennis Magazine that Serena has been “clearly going through a difficult period,” but since Wimbledon “we have had long hours of talks and we are getting back to work. … There have been difficult things. For sure, Serena is in a difficult phase, but I will leave it there” and not comment further about her personal life.
Serena withdrew from the Swedish Open last week. At 32, she is the oldest player to be ranked No. 1 on the women’s tour. She first achieved that lofty status in 2002. She is the winningest player in the history of women’s tennis, the only player to have pocketed more than $50 million in prize money, and perhaps the most closely watched player in the game’s history.
For her and other top players, the Stanford tournament is a tune-up for next month’s U.S. Open, where Serena is the defending champion. Serena has won 85 percent of her singles matches since turning pro in 1995, primarily as a baseline player who relies on power.
Things have not gone as well lately for her sister Venus. She has won 45 times on tour, only once this year (Dubai). At 34 — ancient in tennis terms — Venus is fighting Sjogren’s syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disease that drains her energy and causes arthritis-like pain as well as dryness of the mouth and eyes.
The former world No. 1 is ranked 25th after losing in the third round at Wimbledon. That loss left her with a sub-.500 record in Grand Slams over the past three years and led to speculation about retirement for the former child prodigy. She insists that is not happening any time soon.
Venus, who has lost six of eight against her sister in Grand Slam finals in their careers, is playing the Stanford tournament for the 12th time in her 20-year career. She has reached the Bank of the West final each of the past four times she has entered and won the title in 2000 and 2002.
The seven-time Grand Slam singles champ told the Philadelphia Tribune last week that her passion for the game remains strong.
“The best part is that I’m still doing what I love,” she said.
She also has a love for fashion design and interior design and has been successful as a designer in both fields since getting a degree in fashion design from The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.).
“(Design) helps me appreciate tennis more,” she told the Philadelphia newspaper. “It’s a lot of work. You have to start at the bottom and build, build blocks at a time. I appreciate being at the top of my game. I appreciate where I am. It took many years to build. I do something I love. I love to design. So, that makes it a lot easier to work at it.”
Other notable players in the field:
? Bank of the West defending champion Dominika Cibulkova, the world’s 12th-ranked player who reached the final at the Australian Open this year;
? 11th-ranked Ana Ivanovic, a former world No. 1 who has won three times on tour this year;
? Former U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur;
? Fan favorite Daniela Hantuchova; and
? Kristie Ahn, an All-American at Stanford last spring.
The Bank of the West has a 28-player singles draw and a 16-team doubles field competing for $710,000 in prize money with $120,000 going to the winner. The qualifying draw will have 32 players vying for four spots.
The tournament is the oldest women-only event in the world and boasts a list of past winners that reads like a hall of fame index. Among the titlists are Billie Jean King, who won three times at Stanford in the 1970s, and Martina Navratilova, who owns the all-time tournament record for singles titles with five between 1979 and 1993.
Other champions have included four-time winner Kim Clijsters, three-time winner Lindsay Davenport, Chris Evert, Margaret Court, Martina Hingis and Monica Seles.
The Tennis Channel will provide coverage beginning Tuesday at 1 p.m. ESPN2 will pick up the coverage beginning with Friday’s quarterfinals. Evert will join Pam Shriver and Mary Joe Fernandez on the broadcast team.
There will be day and night sessions each of the first four days, beginning at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. For ticket info, visit BankOfTheWestClassic.com or call 866-WTA-TIXS.
Tennis stars align at Stanford tournament – San Jose Mercury News