Charleston, where the annual WTA tournament scheduled for early April became just the third tennis event forced to cancel because of the coronavirus pandemic, will have a pro tennis event in 2020 after all. But it will look nothing like the event that has been a staple of the tour since the early 1970s.
The tournament, which will start June 23 and happen without fans, will be the most expansive event to jump-start tennis since the game went dark in mid-March. It will feature 16 WTA pros led by four Grand Slam singles champions: Sloane Stephens, Bianca Andreescu, Sofia Kenin and Victoria Azarenka. Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig is also competing, as are Madison Keys and multiple Grand Slam doubles champion Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
The event marks the return to competition of Andreescu, the 19-year old Canadian who defeated Serena Williams in the 2019 US Open final but left the tour in October because of a knee injury. She hasn’t played an official match since.
Keys and Mattek-Sands will serve as the captains of two teams that will play 16 singles and eight doubles matches. The details of the format have not yet been announced.
The Charleston event, founded in 1973, has featured a 64-player draw and traditionally served as the first WTA event in the transition from the North American hard courts at Indian Wells and Miami to red clay. It has been extremely popular with players and was due to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its move from two previous locations to Charleston.
Ben Navarro, owner of Charleston Tennis LLC, told local news station WCDB that the event will accomplish three critical things: “First, it is a tangible way to show the world we are able to bring back live sports for public enjoyment; second, it allows our community and tennis fans all over to support the tennis professionals whose opportunities to compete this year have been severely limited; third, it helps us show our frontline medical professionals how much we care.”
Half of the proceeds from the event, which will be broadcast on the Tennis Channel, will be donated to the Medical University of South Carolina healthcare workers, the group that will work with the tournament to implement health and safety protocols to ensure that a secure environment exists for all players and staff.