By Jane Voigt
Daniel Island, South Carolina — Gone are the palm trees of Key Biscayne and hard-court tennis. Welcome pink azaleas, trees dripping with Spanish moss, and the green clay courts of Family Circle Cup on Daniel Island.
Pink azaleas and Spanish moss of Charleston, South Carolina
After a month of WTA Premier Mandatory and ATP Masters 1000 tournaments from Indian Wells and south Florida, it’s a relief to regroup. The men head home for a rest or Davis Cup and the women fly west to Monterey, or just up the coast to the Low Country of South Carolina most notably centered around historic Charleston.
The top eight seeds of this week’s Family Circle Cup indulged local, regional, national and international media this afternoon at Daniel Island Club, South Carolina’s ‘premier country club,’ for a traditional WTA All Access Hour.
One by one they sat, the center of attention at tables swarming with journalists eager to be heard. The big eight, in order of their seeding — Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic, Sara Errani, Sabine Lisicki, Sloane Stephens, Eugenie Bouchard, Samantha Stosur, Sorana Cirstea — answered questions about their tennis, their progress with it, how they keep fit, how they tame their minds, and which event provides the best chairs at changeovers.
Samantha Stosur, a true lover of Family Circle Cup and Charleston firmly sides with the “Circle couches” that have made this 40-year-old tournament a stand out.
“Certainly helps you relax when you can sink into a big couch,” she said, with a smile. She and doubles partner Lisa Raymond, when playing at the WTA Championships, found themselves sitting on a higher chair, which left there legs dangling. “We felt like little kids sitting in that chair, which wasn’t great.”
Sam won this title four years back in a record 56 minutes. She couldn’t quite say how she did it. In the zone became the impractical assumption, and it didn’t matter. The match was that good! She enters Family Circle as the No. 7 seed.
Jelena Jankovic (left) drew dozens of expectant journalistic ears as she professed her admiration for this tournament. “I always enjoy the beginning of the clay season. It’s nice just to get my sliding going on. And this is such a beautiful venue. I love it, and coming back for so many years.”
As far as game goals, Jelena is looking for balance, which has been a challenge for the feisty and funny Serbian.
“I’m trying to stay calmer on court. Stay focused and make better decisions.” She doesn’t want to continue a habit that drags her mind away from a match … yelling. It’s okay to show her emotions, but, “I cannot go over the limit.”
“I have two personalities,” Jankovic explained. “One on court, and one off court. The one on court sometimes I turn into a beast.”
Jankovic is the 2013 runner-up. She lost in three sets to the No. 1 seed and newly crowned Sony Open Champion Serena Williams.
Williams always wants to be on fashionable edge of fashion and wouldn’t mind bringing back a couple of her favorite outfits. Remember the U. S. Open ‘cat suit’? That’s one she liked; and she still has it in her closet.
In contrast to the sage Serena at 32 are Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard, the two youngsters of our big eight. As close as they are in age lends no insight into their diverse perspective about their game and early career.
“I have a lot of tennis to play in the next ten years,” Stephens said. “So I’m just going to enjoy it and have fun even if my ranking drops to 800; I doubt it’d matter that much.”
Bouchard, though, is uber focused. “I think about myself and I talk to my parents, and agent. I don’t look at other players about their game. I can’t control what other people say. It’s something I don’t focus on. I try to get better.”
Over the last year and a half, since teaming up with Coach Nick Saviano, Bouchard has risen to the top 20, turned 20, and pumped up her power game. “I’ve put more variety in my game, too,” she added.
In Miami Bouchard lost to Elina Svitolina, a 19-year-old hotshot from Odessa, Ukraine. With the erratic scoreline of 16 61 62, Bouchard saw room for improvement just as she did after going out to the No. 6 seed Simona Halep at Indian Wells in a 3-set struggle.
“I feel good mentally,” she said, following that loss. “It’s just never a straight road to the top. It’s just a learning experience.”
Stephens, on the other hand, lost miserably to Caroline Wozniacki in Miami, 61 60. Young Sloane was disappointed, but seemed cavalier in her assessment of her performance.
“Just got my butt kicked. And that’s about it really,” she said. “Yeah, I tried a lot of things. Wasn’t my night. Just didn’t click for me. Not really anything I’m going to cry too much over. I’m just going to get back to work and get ready for Charleston next week.”
Stephens is seeded No. 5 and Bouchard No. 6 this week. How they transition from hard court to soft court tennis, and their attitudes during the shift to the spring season, could portend differing avenues for their years.
As for the other women. Sorana Cirstea likes to relax by sky-diving; and, Sabine Lisicki still fondly remembers Family Circle Cup as her first WTA Career Title. That was in 2009. She accepted a wildcard and went all the way.