Clay ushers in excitement and a fresh start
The Volvo Car Open features a loaded field that includes the reigning World No.1 Ashleigh Barty, two former Roland Garros champions in Barty and Garbiñe Muguruza, two young American Slam champions in No.4 Sofia Kenin and Sloane Stephens, champion Madison Keys, and teenage phenom Coco Gauff in her tournament debut.
From Barty and Muguruza’s red-hot form to Keys and Stephens tapping into the good vibes in Charleston to find theirs, here are the best moments from Media Day.
The World No.1 is making her third appearance at the Volvo Car Open and just her second since 2013, where she fell in singles qualifying but made the doubles semifinals with Anastasia Rodionova.
Fresh off her successful title defense at the Miami Open, Barty says she’s pleased with how good she’s feeling physically after two weeks of intense hardcourt action in brutal conditions. Barty is starting her overseas trip without her full team in tow, as her fitness trainer Mark Taylor and physio remain back in Australia.
“It is a challenge, without a doubt,” Barty told reporters at Media Day at the Volvo Car Open. “Even doing a gym session this morning, I just had a quick chat to my trainer last night and said, look, this is the stuff we’ve got this week, this is what we’re able to use, and he flicks me through a program. He also knows that he can trust me in a sense of when I walk into a gym, I can kind of look and see how I can adjust this, I can move this, I can do this instead.
“That comes with experience as well, knowing that Tubbs trusts me, I trust him, and we know that together we can find the program that’s going to work. But without a doubt, you just need to be organized, need to be diligent, and just do the right things.”
As the 2019 Roland Garros champion begins her transition to clay, Barty welcomes the green clay in Charleston as a perfect stepping stone to European red clay.
“Coming here to Charleston, we’re excited to play,” Barty said. “It’s a beautiful city here. I love playing here. I’ve played here a couple of times when I was a little bit younger and have been desperate to get back. It’ll be a quick transition, but one that I look forward to.
“I think we have to obviously be patient this week and not feel like we’re rushing into trying to feel like we’re playing our best clay-court tennis straight away. It’s important to let the body adjust. But it’s also a really fun week where you can start experimenting with how are you going to adjust to play, adjust your game to play on clay as well.”
The winningest player on tour shows no signs of stopping. Now 20-5 on the season, the Spaniard is making her first appearance in Charleston since her debut in 2013, when, ranked No.76, she lost to Jessica Pegula in three tough sets in the first round. Having grown up on European red clay, Muguruza admits she still has to get her head around green clay, but having two-time Charleston champion Conchita Martinez in her corner certainly helps.
“Clay court is my favorite part of the year, and so it’s a good thing,” Muguruza said. “I’m very excited and I have to control my excitement because we don’t have that many tournaments, so you kind of want to do well fast.
“But definitely the green clay, it’s different. I’ve grown up playing on clay and it’s not the same thing. Yes, you can slide and all of that, but I do feel it’s different. It’s been almost 10 years since I didn’t play Charleston. I’ve only played once in my life, was a very long time ago and it is a challenge to be back and to play on this clay because I have zero experience. So just looking to see how I’m going to feel.”
Cambio de superficie… arrancamos la temporada de tierra batida en #WTA500Charleston. Jugaré además en Madrid, Roma y Roland Garros.
Surface change… clay court season begins for me next week in Charleston. Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros to follow. pic.twitter.com/NeaOpnJcy9
— Garbiñe Muguruza (@GarbiMuguruza) April 3, 2021
Muguruza comes into Charleston off a tough three-set loss to Bianca Andreescu in the Round of 16 in Miami. Muguruza was asked whether she takes losses differently these days.
“I would say yes, not because I accept them or anything like that, but it’s just that I waste less energy on being upset or being disappointed,” she said. “I quickly get out of the bad energy and just start thinking faster about what I have to do. OK, what’s next? I don’t stay no more in dark spaces.”
“The wins and losses are more acceptable once you get more mature and it takes less energy. But just in general, knowing more myself and knowing how do I have to work and how do I have to kind of act and proceed in order to put myself in the right direction earlier than probably before.”
The defending champion is playing just her fourth event of the season and is looking to tally back-to-back wins for the first time since the 2020 US Open. Charleston has been a fruitful event for the big-hitting American throughout her career. She made the quarterfinals in her debut in 2013, her first final in 2015, and a semifinal in 2018 before taking home the trophy in 2019.
“I obviously grew up on green clay, so I feel really comfortable on it,” Keys told reporters. “But just constantly coming back and having the good memories here and knowing that there have been lots of matches where I’ve been close to down-and-out and have managed to come back and figure it out, you’re able to rely on kind of those memories and experiences. You just feel really comfortable in certain places and I feel really comfortable here.”
When asked when the last time was that Keys felt like her tennis was in a groove, the 26-year-old laughed.
“Probably the end of 2019,” Keys said. “Obviously, it’s been really difficult for everyone in lots of different ways. So I think if the biggest problem that I’ve had is not feeling like I’ve had lots of matches and been able to feel like I’m playing well, then I feel like I’m in a pretty good spot in my life. But it’s obviously difficult being a tennis player and feeling like you can’t quite get your footing back and getting that rhythm. It’s a tough situation.
“Looking forward, I think there’s a lot of tournaments that are scheduled to happen and look very positive. So I think we’re kind of moving into a stretch where I think we’ll see some really good tennis from everyone because we’re kind of back to almost as normal as we can be.”
The 17-year-old America is making her Charleston debut this year. Currently one off of her career-high at No.36, the junior Roland Garros champion is seeded No.14 and will face Tsvetana Pironkova in the first round.
Gauff told reporters she’s being patient with her game as it develops. To do that, the teenager says she’s had to block out the unwanted noise.
“For me, I think I was just trying not to be on social media as much because a lot of people have opinions on you and how they think you should play. But I think it’s important that you focus on your journey, your path, and you’re going to have a different path than other players. That’s what I’ve been working on lately, is just focusing on my journey and my path.”
“I think you want results to happen fast, but I’m also still developing my game and figuring out how I want to play on the court and how I want to construct my points. So it’s just definitely a learning process and I feel like with every tournament, even though some tournaments I don’t do as well as others, I feel like with each one I’m getting better and getting closer to figuring out my game and figuring out what I like to do.”
The World No.4 is making her fourth main draw appearance in Charleston and is looking for her second main draw win at the tournament. Kenin has not always enjoyed playing on the clay, but after tallying her biggest career win on the surface and making the Roland Garros final last season, the 22-year-old is ready to embrace the dirt.
“Before I used to hate clay, in juniors,” Kenin said. “And then had a good run the year before last year against Serena and I got to the fourth round of Roland Garros. So, of course, from that moment I was like, I really love clay.
“Then, first tournament back in Rome last year, had a bagel. I was obviously a little bit disappointed, but then I knew that it was going to somehow click. And then obviously after last year, Roland Garros is one of my favorite surfaces.”
The 2016 champion earned her first win of the season last week at the Miami Open and is looking forward to getting back on her favorite surface. A finalist at Roland Garros in 2018, Stephens backed up that success in 2019 by making the Charleston quarterfinals (l. Keys), Madrid semifinals (l. Bertens), and Roland Garros quarterfinals (l. Konta).
“Tennis is a very quick turnaround sport,” Stephens said. “You could be having the worst season of your life and then go win the French Open or win a Premier 5 and everything is back to normal. I think for myself, being realistic and knowing where I am in my game, what I need to work on, and where I want to improve, that takes time.
“Tennis is a sport that takes time to get your groove back and get your confidence back. I think for myself, it’s just being like, OK, it’s day-to-day and it’s going to get better. Obviously, no one stays in a rut for the rest of their life, or the rest of their career. It’s just literally not possible.
“At some point, the tables do turn, the tides turn, and you just kind of have to be ready for when that does happen.”