October 27, 2020

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Team Peace vs. Team Kindness in Charleston Tuesday

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The draft was held Monday to determine the two eight-women squads that will battle at the first significant women’s exhibition during this tennis shutdown, the Credit One Bank Invitational in Charleston.

It will be … different – played inside the main stadium used for the Volvo Open but without any fans.

And the format will be something the women aren’t used to – very much a “Laver Cup”-like atmosphere in which the point value of matches won will increase as the event goes along, culminating in three-point wins on the final Sunday.

Captain Keys reunites with bestie Sloane Stephens on Team Kindness.

The selection of players, chosen alternatively from the field by captains Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Madison Keys, was done ahead of time.

That allowed the players to be announced … alphabetically. If anyone has any lingering primary school scars from being the last to get picked for dodgeball, they can understand how this was actually a brilliant move.

Here is Team Peace, led by Mattek-Sands.

And here is Team Kindness, led by Madison Keys.

News from Canadian Fernandez

With the late withdrawal of top Canadian Bianca Andreescu, there are still two Canadians in this largely-American field.

Genie Bouchard ended up on Team BMS, while Leylah Fernandez is Team Maddie.

Fernandez is sporting a new ‘do as she plays her first competitive match since early March. The 17-year-old was on a roll at a career high No. 118 in the rankings and earned a wild card into the Indian Wells main draw. Then tennis stopped.

Fernandez, who turns 18 in September, arrived having made a massive change: she has cut off those long locks and looks quite grown up. She also said during the Tennis Channel draft broadcast that she was just days away from finishing high school.

Now living in Boynton Beach, Fla., Fernandez was not off the court much during the shutdown and likely arrives in good shape to play.

Her first match will be against Emma Navarro, a 19-year-old former junior standout currently ranked No. 392, whose father Ben owns the Volvo Open. Navarro was the No. 1 recruit in the nation and is scheduled to go to the University of Virginia in the fall (where American-Canadian Carson Branstine will also be, having transferred from USC).

Fernandez played Navarro a year ago, in the final of the junior French Open.

Puig, Azarenka back in action

As we come up on the four-year anniversary of Monica Puig’s singles gold medal at the Rio Olympics, she is about to make her return to the game after undergoing elbow surgery last December.

Social distancing went out the window during the draft ceremony as Azarenka shared something social with Puig.

Puig last played in Oct. 2019 in Luxembourg – so she’s been out of action a long time.

Also back in action? Former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.

Azarenka ended her 2019 season with a first-round loss to countrywoman Aryna Sabalenka at the US Open.

She skipped the Asian swing last fall, and also missed the Australian summer to start the 2020 season as she was focused on getting life off the court straightened away.

Azarenka was just getting back into action in Monterrey, with Indian Wells next on the agenda, when tennis shut down.

It was a tough return, as she was beaten 6-2, 6-2 by Tamara Zidansek.

A new coach for Bouchard?

As for the other Canadian, Bouchard may have a few reveals as she returns to action for the first time since losing 6-1, 6-2 to Alexa Glatch in the first round of the Newport Beach Challenger in late January.

https://twitter.com/TennisChannel/status/1275225241170649088?cxt=HHwWgIC1ybamwbIjAAAA

After a fine start in the season opener in Auckland, Bouchard lost in the final round of Australian Open qualifying to Martina Trevisan, and then in Newport Beach. Selected for the Fed Cup team that took on Switzerland 10 days later, she had to withdraw after injuring her left wrist in the final practice before she was to face Belinda Bencic.

She was literally about to leave for the WTA 125K in Guadalajara, Mexico when that tournament, along with many others, was cancelled in March. And she hasn’t played since.

https://twitter.com/matteksands/status/1275183391302807552

But a lot has changed. For one thing, even though Bouchard has been seen wearing old Nike apparel on her social media (even Monday, she was practicing in it), she no longer is a Nike athlete as of the end of March.

That’s a tough blow; Bouchard has been sporting the swoosh since the 2012 Australian Open, when she was a 17-year-old junior.

After wearing adidas earlier in her junior career, Bouchard arrived in Melbourne in early 2012 sporting the iconic Nike swoosh. That era ended after eight years.

So it will be interesting to see what she’ll be wearing on court. Currently ranked No. 332, she retains market value. But the middle of a pandemic, with the tennis business at a standstill, is hardly an ideal time to try to strike a deal.

As well, we’re reliably told that there will be a new face on the coaching beat for Bouchard in Charleston. Bouchard and former Aussie doubles No. 1 Rennae Stubbs have been spotted practicing together there, although there’s no word yet on whether it’s a one-off.

Stubbs was last seen on the coaching court with Karolina Pliskova, and then with countrywoman Samantha Stosur earlier in the season.

(All screenshots, except Stubbs/Pliskova, from Tennis Channel’s Credit One Bank Invitation draw coverage Monday night).