WTA Tennis after WTA Finals
The WTA season is in the books and top players are traveling all around the world, making us jealous with numerous pictures on social media. However, there is still some women's tennis on with two 125k events played in Taipei and Houston, which is part of the Oracle Challenger Series. The four events of that series offer 162k in prize money.
Injury and Illness
Players competing in these late season events are usually looking for ranking points to secure a high enough ranking to be in the draw for the Australian Open (qualifying) or they just want to end their season on good terms. Bethanie Mattek-Sands belongs to the latter category. Being tortured by knee injuries the last two years and suffering another setback at this year's Australian Open, Mattek-Sands started playing singles again at the American hard court swing. The first match proved immediate success as she beat Venus Williams in San Jose. The extrovert American could've just left tennis behind at the age of 34 and call it a career. Yet her passion for the sport and her willingness to fight through all these injury issues helped her to come back on tour and it's great to see the former world #30 compete at a high level again.
Her opponent today, compatriot Allie Kiick, had an even bigger battle to overcome. Apart from reoccurring knee injuries, the 24-year-old was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2015. Writing that preview is a tough task as both their stories are so sorrowful. But on the other hand, they are motivating and show us what both these players had to go through and what they sacrificed to still compete at such a high level.
From Chile Clay to Houston Hardcourts
After successfully fighting cancer, Kiick is getting better and better again and finds herself at #141 in the rankings, meaning she's set to play the Australian Open qualifying. Last year, she played in Houston as well, losing to Belinda Bencic in round one. So she doesn't have to defend any points this week. Other than Mattek-Sands, who only played on hard courts this summer, Kiick is playing a lot of clay events. No wonder as that's her favorite surface. She has 29 wins and 14 losses under her belt on clay this year while having a negative record on hard courts at 9-12.
Only on Saturday, Kiick was in the semifinal of the ITF 60k event in Colina, Chile where she lost to up-and-coming Italian Elisabetta Cocciaretto. While that was yet another good result for her on clay, the long week and short time to travel to North America could also be the decisive factor against Kiick in today's match.
Cruel Change of Conditions
The temperatures in Chile have been very high at 30°C+ (close to 90°F) while Houston was hit with a cold front this week. It will be less than 10°C (<50°F) there today. Not only does Kiick have to overcome an extreme difference in conditions, she also has to leave her favorite surface. The last match she played on hards was at another event of the Oracle Challenger Series. In New Haven, she lost to Veronica Cepede Royg, another clay court specialist, 1-6 0-6.
Summarized, I'm not sure if Kiick will be able to adapt herself to the different conditions in such a short time. Mattek-Sands already played one match in Houston as she beat Danielle Lao 6-3 6-4 yesterday. I would have this as a close matchup under equal conditions. The travel as well as change of temperature and surface make Kiick the underdog for me though. That's why I'm betting Bethanie Mattek-Sands to win at -130.