There are lots of "optic yellow" tennis balls bouncing around the dark green clay at the Family Circle Cup, but the most compelling match is a tiebreaker thriller pitting local tournament management against injuries.
So far the gritty Daniel Islanders are hanging in there vs. the demanding and evolving world of top-notch women's tennis, with a big weekend on the way.
It isn't easy returning serve, including the injury withdrawal of stars Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, and defending Family Circle Cup champion Sabine Lisicki.
But the tournament countered with an insurance policy featuring tennis royalty John McEnroe, Anna Kournikova and Jim Courier in a Saturday night exhibition.
Then on Tuesday added former star Monica Seles as a fourth participant.
A sweet ace, and a positive surprise for fans that bought advance tickets.
"With having Serena and Maria both withdraw, we really wanted to add a little more star power to Saturday night," Family Circle Cup tournament director Bob Moran said Wednesday. "It was more last- minute than anything. It was something to add more power boost."
Grand Slam shortage
The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour is working the wrinkles out of its new "Road Map" designed to enhance tournament draws with mandatory appearance rules and strict withdrawal guidelines.
Sounds like a noble concept.
Check it out: Five of the top 12 ranked players in the world are here, including No. 2-ranked Caroline Wozniacki, No. 7 Jelena Jankovic and No. 9 Victoria Azarenka ...
Wait. Scratch Azarenka -- she was forced to withdraw Wednesday with a hamstring injury.
More disturbingly, this is the first time since the tournament moved from Hilton Head to Charleston in 2001 that the draw did not include a single player who has won a Grand Slam singles title.
"The Road Map is the right direction," Moran said. "We all support it and believe in it. Injuries happen; I don't think the Road Map can prevent injuries. But it can deter them by limiting the schedule a little bit. Last year, there were 30-plus events the players had some type of commitment, to and now it's down to 20 events the players have a commitment to and you're hoping it lessens the injury bug.
"Last year, we didn't have as many withdrawals (at the Family Circle Cup), but this year we happened to have Maria, Serena and Lisicki all hit at the same time."
Pass the grits
It's very much like minor league baseball and the Charleston RiverDogs depending on their parent big league club to supply a competitive group of players. Fortunately for the RiverDogs, they have been able to count on the New York Yankees.
More and more, the Family Circle Cup is leaning on rising young stars and/or bankable exhibition match star power of yesteryear.
There is a large green and white sign in the Family Circle Cup Media Center that says "Gambling Prohibited."
But odds are tournament excitement will endure this week through trying times.
Not a big fan. Gimme the good local stuff. With grits.
Tennis from all over the world?
Still a good time, and even better with grits.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or firstname.lastname@example.org.