By Matt Cronin
FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AT STANFORD – The Emirates Airline US Open Series kicked off on the WTA side when Jamie Hampton strode into her first all access hour as she is seeded for the first time at an event, and is No. 4 seed at at Stanford. At WTA 700 level tournaments, all four top seeds must do pre-event press. On the same Monday, last year’s finalist CoCo Vandeweghe had to qualify for the tournament, even though she’s American and performed wonderfully last year before being stopped by Serena Williams, but tennis tends to have short memory and IMG, which owns the tournament, has its own set of priorities when it comes to handing out wild cards.
Two ex Stanford players – Mallory Burdette (who lost) and Nicole Gibbs (who won) – got WCs and that’s understandable given that the Stanford community has always supported the tournament and you have to take care of your committed (and paying) fan base. Daniela Hantuchova got another, as she’s a proven decent draw, and the fourth was given to IMG client Ajla Tomljanovic, a promising up and comer from Croatia who was promptly wiped out by Stefanie Voegele.
The Bank of the West suffered two big pullouts this year and a significant no-entry: Maria Sharapova decided not to try and test her hip injury too early and also wanted to spend time with her new coach Jimmy Connors and sent her regrets; Wimbledon champ Marion Bartoli decided at the last minute that she needed some rest and she withdrew from Stanford and Carlsbad; and Serena decided not to defend her title and instead compete last week on clay in Sweden, where she easily won the title against a weak field.
So Stanford is left with a very decent, but not great field headed by the creative No. 4 Aga Radwanska, whom almost everyone loves to watch play but not as many show up see in person as they would for a Sharapova or Williams; the up and down veteran Sam Stosur, who is trying to put together her first good two-month stretch this season; the fun yet volatile Dominika Cibulkova, who has been injured way too much this year; and Hampton, whom few are talking about as a Bank of the West title contender even though she’s cracked the top 30 and her US Open doubles partner, Madison Keys, has not yet. But because of Keys’ enormous potential she is the one who is being tagged as the young American who could actually win the Stanford title. Keys, who crushed eight seed Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2 6-2 on Monday, surely does have a chance to reach the quarters and possibly face, believe it or not, Hampton, her friend whom she practices with constantly and whom she will play doubles with at the US Open.
But make no mistake – Hampton is very, very good. She may not have Keys’ outright power but she has a lot of pop and she moves more fluidly. As she is becoming more comfortable in her own skin and has become a more self-aware player, her shot selection has become more intelligent and she can also rip the ball off both wings, especially with her forehand. Plus she is a real jock who loves her sport and spends many waking hours thinking about it, and she likely dreams about it, too. She has no points to defend until the US Open, so it’s entirely possible that she could grab a top 16 seed in New York if she stays healthy.
After playing eight matches at Eastbourne and reaching the final, she fell in tired fashion to Sloane Stephens in the first round of Wimbledon. Like Stephens, at this point, she is ahead of Keys’ on the learning curve. But she is 23, while Stephens is 20 and Keys only 18. Everyone knows that Madison is coming hard, but at least for this year, its possible that Hampton and Stephens—who have done better at the Slams – may be the players outside of Serena Williams to watch at the US Open.
Here’s Hampton on being seeded for the first time at Stanford – or anywhere for that matter.
“It’s nice to go into a tournament fresh and it’s really excited for me and shows how far I come,” she said.
Radwanska on the ESPN the Body Issue
In a piece I did for Reuters here, Radwanska says she was upset about the reaction from some of Poland’s large Catholic population over her decision to pose nude for ESPN the Body Issue. I didn’t read every comment leveled at her, but did read a few which contained the word ‘immoral.’ Anyone who saw the ‘semi-nude’ issue – which celebrates athletic bodies and is not gratuitous in the least — and thinks that it was immoral is not thinking clearly. As someone who grew up in a large Catholic family that contains priests and was an altar boy until I could get a real job (uh, that’s a joke), I can attest to a diversity of opinion amongst the Catholic community as to the what is moral and what is not. However, at the end of my interview with Radwanska, I mentioned how crazy it is for any Catholic to object to those photos given that anyone who has looked at the works of the great Catholic painters (does Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel ring any bells?) and not seen nudity celebrated amongst the saints and she agreed: it’s absolutely nuts to suggest that she was doing anything but showing that a healthy physical lifestyle can be beneficial to everyone. People who live a lifestyle that includes constant exercise and a pursuit of excellence are not only worth looking at, but are great examples for kids. I am pretty sure that the man who inspired the writing of the New Testament would agree with that.
This is the first of 21 straight reports/bogs/columns that I will be doing from Stanford, Carlsbad and Toronto, so stay tuned.