The Volvo Car Open — the Charleston WTA Tour stop — occupies a unique place on tour. From that unique identity comes results which should not be given too much weight… and yet can offer some idea of where players’ minds reside.
It is fascinating: Charleston comes one week after Miami. It is the first event of a new surface-based portion of the larger tennis season. Yet, because Miami is not a major — existing in an in-between place on the tennis calendar precisely because the Australian Open is the BEGINNING, not the END, of the winter hardcourt season — Charleston does not follow a major.
The tour’s change of surfaces is far more pronounced when it moves from Roland Garros to Stuttgart grass, or from Wimbledon lawns to Atlanta hardcourt (or European summer clay). The presence of a major and the transition to a distinctly different place imprints on the mind an awareness that a new part of the season has arrived.
Miami to Charleston is such a quiet change for a few reasons. The change is not highly disruptive partly because Charleston is not that small an event (a WTA Premier tournament as opposed to the International level event one is inclined to expect in the week immediately following a major). The point differentials between Miami and Charleston are not nearly as profound as the difference in points between Roland Garros and Stuttgart grass or Wimbledon and Atlanta.
This change is also quiet because Charleston is such a short hop from Miami in terms of geography. Europeans preparing for clay can rather easily move from South Florida to South Carolina. It doesn’t really interrupt their schedules — not to a severe extent.
So, when the tour gathers in Charleston, there IS a change of surfaces from hardcourts. There IS a reunion with one of the rarer surfaces on the main tour — Har-Tru green clay is not a commonplace surface because, as people in the drier American state of Arizona have told me, the surface isn’t easy to sustain in less humid climates. It therefore can’t exist pervasively.
So much of this tournament is different from the larger flow of the tour in each and every year. Viewed through that lens, this tournament shouldn’t be given much importance.
And yet: In recent years, the results of this tournament have — coincidentally or not — provided players who had solid seasons.
Jelena Ostapenko made the 2017 Charleston final. She won Roland Garros two months later.
Kiki Bertens beat Julia Goerges in the 2018 Charleston final. Bertens and Goerges both had their best seasons as pros, Bertens making the WTA Finals on the strength of a Wimbledon quarterfinal plus a Cincinnati title, and Goerges making her first career major semifinal at Wimbledon.
Does this mean that Charleston made the central difference in these players’ seasons? I highly doubt it… and yet, it certainly provided a positive moment these players could draw from as the season continued.
Therefore, while it is hard to assign much of any value to Charleston results in a larger sense, one can’t completely ignore or disregard these results either.
This tournament provides bracket carnage, but in addition to that, it offers cause for concern… and yet also caution.
Proceed with care when evaluating this tournament.