The UTR Pro Match Series is back, this time featuring four talented women’s players. The initial men’s version of the event took place a couple of weeks ago in Palm Beach, Florida, won by American Reilly Opelka. The women’s event will take place on May 22-23 at the same private club in Palm Beach. Play begins each day at 12:00 PM EST/4:00 PM GMT with four matches back-to-back. Matches will be televised live in the United States on Tennis Channel as well as streamed on the UTR Twitter and Facebook pages (@MyUTR).
Although the event is an exhibition, the competition level should be fairly high. There will be an undisclosed amount of prize money paid out, and similar to the men’s event, the players will be glad to finally get back on court and play real matches. It is also a unique chance for fans to watch top professionals compete in a club-like environment similar to ones they are used to playing at home. The global nature of the sport has unfortunately cast serious doubts on the chance of the full tour coming back soon, but this does show that tennis is one of the best sports to play while socially distanced while giving fans a chance to finally enjoy live tennis again.
The women’s event features a diverse range of the experience levels, unlike the men’s event which feature four young standouts. The field is led by American world #19 Alison Riske. Riske is the veteran in the field at 29-years-old, but she is coming off a career-best season in 2019 where she reached three tour-level finals, capturing the title in ‘S-Hertogenbosch, her second career WTA title. She also reached her first grand slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon, and added on her best ever showing at the Australian Open reaching the round of 16 this year. The next competitor is the youngest in the field, 18-year-old budding American star Amanda Anisimova. The world #28 seems destined for future success, and is coming off an incredible 2019 where she won her first title in Columbia, reached the round of 16 at the Australian Open, and made an incredible run to the semifinals at the French Open. Sadly, tragedy struck at the end of 2019 when her coach and father passed away suddenly, leading to her withdraw from the US Open. Her form was never the same after, so she is looking to tune her game to make serious noise once the tour returns.
The final American in the field is world #51 Danielle Collins. The 26-year-old is still fairly new on tour after playing collegiate tennis at the University of Virginia, where she won two NCAA singles titles. Her aggressive style has led to up and down results on tour, but at her peak can play high-level tennis against any opponent. She reached the semifinals at the 2018 Miami Open and the 2019 Australian Open, and won in Newport Beach in 2018 against a strong field for a 125k event including all three other competitors here. The final and only non-American in the field is the Australian world #56 Ajla Tomljanovic. While not as decorated as her other competitors, Tomljanovic has enjoyed some recent success on the WTA Tour reaching her career high ranking of #39 last year. She has made four WTA finals but has yet to capture a title. She is still a dangerous player with two wins over top-10 players last year, against Kiki Bertens and Aryna Sabalenka.
The event will take place over two days with round-robin play followed by a championship and third place match. Each player will play each other and after all matches have been played, the players with the top two records will advance to the championship. Total set win/loss record followed by game win/loss record will be used as tiebreakers if necessary. Matches will be played in an abridged best-of-3 fast fours format. Sets are played first to four games with no-ad scoring, and a seven point tiebreak is played to decide the set if the score reaches 3-3. The abridged format should help players physically after less training due to quarantine and having to play two matches per day. This is the same format used by the men’s event, where most matches didn’t last much more than an hour and play was competitive.
Just as in the men’s series, social distancing measures will be taken to avoid contact between players and minimize personnel involved. No line judges or ball kids will be used, so the only people on court will be the two players, a chair umpire, and camera operators. Each player will have a basket on both sides of the court with assigned tennis balls to serve with, so they will not touch the same tennis balls. Post-match handshakes were avoided in the men’s, with some players touching rackets in lieu of a handshake while some simply exited the court once the match was over.
Ansimova is the favorite coming into the event, although the competition is really up for grabs. Collins and Tomljanovic are the two underdogs to make the final with their lower rankings, but their ability to compete with top players coupled with the shorter matches give them a real chance of winning the title at the end. Collins is a fierce competitor and showed she can compete with anyone with her 2019 Australian Open performance, highlighted by her 4th round win over former champion Angelique Kerber. Tomljanovic scored a pair of top-10 wins last year as mentioned above, and while inconsistency hurt both of them throughout the season, they are still a threat most of the time they step on court.
Riske is the most accomplished player in the field, but she plays her best tennis on grass courts which has led to her top results. She has still had plenty of strong results on hard, but the surface will help even the playing field against her other competitors. If she serves well and plays up to her potential however, she will be very tough to stop from reaching the final. Anisimova is the most talented player in the field, and the format should play to her advantage. She is a strong all-court player with excellent groundstrokes and return of serve. The first to four game sets will play to her advantage with her return, as one quick break will often make the difference for the set. Being the youngest in the field will also help, as she should more easily be able to regain her fitness level after the long layoff without match play.
Interestingly, only two of the competitors have faced off at tour-level, last year in Beijing when Riske defeated Tomljanovic in a tight three set match. After not seeing any of them play since late February/early March, it is hard to predict whose game will be in the best form. Anisimova and Riske should reach the final, with Anisimova having the advantage in the matchup. After seeing a competitive men’s event where no player went undefeated through their four matches, slim margins could very well lead Collins and Tomljanovic to face off in the final. Overall, Anisimova is incredibly talented and a solid overall player, and if she plays the tennis that took her into the top-30 as a teenager, she should be able to win the event.
Main Photo from Getty.