American idle: FCC life after Serena
How does a prominent WTA event look without Serena Williams and any trace of American pursuit of tennis excellence?
Intriguing, judging from Friday's display on Daniel Island.
A future star emerged from a terrific match with a career-boosting leap into the semifinals after a mild upset of the No. 2 seed.
A former Family Circle Cup champion scrambled from behind on the green clay, falling just a bit short.
There was high ESPN2 drama over three sets of a two-hour shootout.
And that was just Eugenie Bouchard's Family Circle Cup quarterfinal victory over Jelena Jankovic.
The future is murkier than the small sample size. Serena's early exit offers a glimpse of things to come, not just at the Family Circle Cup but at every tour stop.
How will not having Serena in action impact daily attendance? So far, not much.
How will not having Serena in the field impact pre-sale? Tournament management doesn't want to find out.
Not that she's finished. On the contrary, Serena is a fit 32 and ranked No. 1. She remains dominant.
"Now I know how Serena Williams feels sometimes," Bouchard's semifinal opponent Andrea Petkovic said Thursday after a 6-1, 6-0 rout of Sabine Lisicki in the round of 16.
Aiming for Martina
Serena will be back on Daniel Island in pursuit of glory; she admitted as recently as Monday that she has become aware of her legacy relating to WTA records.
"I never talk about it," Serena said. "I like to leave it there. I like no pressure."
Steffi Graf has a record-22 Grand Slam singles titles. Serena has 17.
Martina Navratilova leads in match wins (314), but Serena has 249 and won 78 matches last year - more than in any other year of her career.
Serena leads in career prize money. Her $55,424,766 is well ahead of No. 2, sister Venus Williams with $29,548,571.
But this won't last forever. Wager that Serena Williams will not stand for mediocrity, will not stick around long as a lesser-ranked player seeking wildcard paths into tournaments.
That's why this Family Circle Cup is an interesting trial run.
Gamecock ties, Clemson colors
The buildup to the tournament was the overwhelmingly popular Serena going for a three-peat and a Family Circle Cup record field of one dozen Americans.
So Serena, clearly tired after winning a two-week tournament in Miami, was bounced out in her first match by No. 78-ranked Jana Cepelova.
And, with all the talk of the young American contingent, the last U.S. player standing was the oldest. Venus Williams, 33, lost to Bouchard on Thursday in the round of 16.
"I'm no pushover," Venus reminded us earlier in the week.
Since the Family Circle Cup moved to Charleston in 2001, there have been only two other years without an American in the quarterfinals, 2006 and 2009.
Not having Serena this week showed other Americans simply can't be trusted to fill in the draw board gap.
But non-American players have a following, too. Supporters within a good crowd for a Friday afternoon tried to get behind Jankovic.
"And I appreciate that," Jankovic said. "You need that when you're fighting and times get tough. I think the crowd was pretty entertained and they enjoyed our match."
Bouchard seems destined to become a fan favorite, too.
"I'm just glad I won," the 20-year-old Canadian said, "and can stay in Charleston another day."
Want dynamic energy on Billie Jean King Stadium Court? Bouchard, determined not to lose to Jankovic in the quarterfinals for a second straight Family Circle Cup, frequently ran in place between games and points.
Bouchard wore orange and purple, Clemson style. In Saturday's semis she will face Petkovic, whose father Zoran played tennis at South Carolina.
Not yet, anyway.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff