May 13, 2021

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WTA Prague 125K turned into “Slam Challenger”

Prague

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The WTA is trying to create playing opportunities for its players – especially in the wake of the cancellation of the US Open qualifying.

But already, Open Court has learned that one of the two 125K-level tournaments it had planned for the first week of the US Open has been cancelled.

The tournaments in Portschach, Austria and Prague, Czech Republic were announced only a week ago. But now, the Austrian event has been cancelled.

Both were supposed to have 64-player singles draws with no qualifying, and increased prize money (more than $1.5 million for the two instead of the usual eponymous total of $125,000 each indicated by the category). That purse was to be subsidized by the USTA, as part of its reparations for cancelling the US Open qualifying.

But … the Portschach event will not happen.

Slam-sized draw in Prague

As a result, the draw in Prague will be a Grand Slam-sized … 128 players – the same size as the singles draw at the US Open. And, as at Flushing Meadows, eight of the spots will go to wild cards.

You’d have to think they’ll need more than one club, at least for the first few rounds. So far, the International-level tournament in the same city this week appears to be going off safely and without a hitch. The added bonus is that top seed Simona Halep has reached the final there.

It was already a surprise that the Austrian city of Portschach would host an event of that size. Three weeks ago, it had cancelled a major ITF seniors event – the European Senior Championships – which was originally scheduled for June, then postponed, and ultimately cancelled.

What that means is that the players’ entry list for Portschach is being folded into the one for Prague. And the deadline has been pushed back to Monday.

The doubles draw will be 32 teams, with five teams able to sign in on site.

Huge number of matches

PragueBecause of the sheer size of the draws, the singles will start two days early, on Saturday, Aug. 29. Still, they will have to complete a Slam-sized draw in nine days. And we’ve seen this week during the regular WTA event that it is not immune to weather delays (not to mention there are no lights at that club).

The WTA event is being held at the TK Sparta Praha club. Next week’s big ATP Challenger event will take place at the I. Cesky Lawn-Tennis Klub, which is about three miles and perhaps a 12-minute drive away.

The tournament isn’t open to anyone who would be accepted into the main draw of the US Open. So it’s not an option for players, even those ranked outside No. 130 who could make New York but would prefer not to travel, to stay home in Europe and still have an opportunity to earn some money.

There is nothing available in North America – or even on hard courts at all – that week. So clay is it, for the moment. Unless you wanted to play a $25,000 ITF event in Portugal; that’s the only option.

As an aside, a player has already tested positive ahead of next week’s men’s Challenger in Prague – the first steps by the ATP side to return to action.