Apple pie, anyone? U.S. tennis roars at the Family Circle Cup
The next thing you know, the green clay will turn red, white and blue.
Everywhere you look, Americans are making noise deep in the Family Circle Cup singles bracket, and not all of them are named Williams.
Daniel Island is celebrating the Fourth of July in April.
Is this a WTA tournament, or a Fed Cup training camp?
U.S. women’s tennis is back, here and beyond the friendly confines, marsh backdrops and sweet tea refills. Seven Americans made it to the eight third-round singles matches.
There were qualifiers: Mallory Burdette and Jessica Pegula.
Fed Cup participants: Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Vavara Lepchenko.
An 18-year-old with a monster serve: Madison Keys.
Icons: Serena and Venus.
“I’m not surprised,” Family Circle Cup general manager Bob Moran said Thursday. “I’ve been talking about it for a while and I’ve seen it coming. Mallory had some good tournaments and has been playing well. Jessie, maybe a little bit more of a surprise but she’s had some good results recently.”
Part of the Americanization of the Family Circle Cup is by design. Lowcountry fans have embraced the likes of Samantha Stosur (Australia), Justin Henin (Belgium), Jelena Jankovic (Serbia) and Patty Schnyder (Switzerland). But citizenship begets popularity.
More Americans in the draw is strength against competition that includes a WTA tournament in Monterrey, Mexico, that goes head-to-head with the Family Circle Cup for the first time.
Green clay edge
It helps that 11 U.S. players are ranked in the top 100, from Serena Williams at No. 1 to Burdette, sure to vault from No. 99 with a Charleston run including Wednesday’s upset of 2009 Family Circle Cup champion Sabine Lisicki.
Green clay edge
By the way, No. 16 Sloane Stephens, No. 55 Christina McHale, No. 66 Jamie Hampton, No. 86 Melanie Oudin and No. 187 Grace Min were here but lost early. So was promising 16-year-old Taylor Townsend.
So many Americans.
Too many Americans for a tournament seeking world-wide appeal?
“We get pulled from both direcdirections, from our international partners and ESPN,” Moran said. “But the women who come are here because they’re the best qualified to come.”
They come with good stories, some with South Carolina ties.
Pegula, 19, grew up on Hilton Head Island. Her father is Terry Pegula, a billionaire businessman who owns the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and generously supports Penn State (Pegula Ice Arena is on campus).
Burdette, 22, is a Georgia native and former Stanford All-American. Her mother, the former Judy Bernat, is from Charleston.
Southern women also have an edge on green clay. It’s a common surface in the South, but Charleston is the only green clay stop on the WTA Tour.
The top seeds at the Monterrey Open were Angelique Kerber, Marion Bartoli, Maria Kirilenko and Ana Ivanovic.
The Family Circle Cup got the Williams sisters, Stosur, Caroline Wozniacki and Lucie Safarova.
Big edge, us.
“We’re definitely happy with the field we have,” Moran said, “both from a star side and a depth side.”
This week’s U.S. upset streak extends to the hardcourts of Monterrey, where No. 96 Coco Vandeweghe ousted Bartoli in three sets.
But most of the American fun is in Charleston.
“It’s definitely helpful to have so many other up and coming Americans,” Burdette said. “Madison Keys, Grace Min, Melanie. And to see Bethanie Mattek-Sands coming back and doing well. And, obviously, Sloane. It’s awesome to have such a great group around.”
Pass the apple pie.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.