International Field Makes for Another Crowded Charleston Title Path

For any of the top women’s tennis players in the world, finding their way through a crowded Volvo Car Open field is never easy. And in 2015, the story is no different on Daniel Island.

At least six of the top 20 players have made the trip to Charleston this year, including three past champions, nine Americans, a local player on the rise and a youngster with the talent to be the next big thing. 

Defending champion Andrea Petkovic of Germany headlines the field, the 27-year-old having won three more titles since her triumph here last April and making the semifinals of the French Open in Paris. She welcomes the challenge of fellow top 10 residents Genie Bouchard of Canada and Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova, two players who have a combined five Grand Slam semifinal appearances between them in the last 15 months.

The familiar names to Charleston area tennis fans are almost too many to mention. Along with Petkovic, former winners Jelena Jankovic (2007) and Sam Stosur (2010) are in the draw, as is local native Shelby Rogers and 20-year-old American Madison Keys, a semifinalist at the Australian Open in January, and American star Sloane Stephens.

Other top 20 residents include Sara Errani and Angelique Kerber.

Still only 22, it’s been a top-notch year for Rogers, who grew up in Charleston and last year reached a career-high ranking of No. 70 in the world after making her first WTA final in Austria, where she lost to a familiar face in Petkovic.

Keys, an Illinois native, made international headlines with her run in Melbourne in January. She beat Venus Williams en route to her first major semifinal, bowing out to eventual champion Serena Williams. Big things are expected of the big-hitting U.S. gal, who tapped former world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport as her coach in November.

Bouchard, 21, took a late wild card into the Cup and is the No. 1 seed. The world No. 7 was runner-up at Wimbledon a year ago, part of a breakout 2014 for the Canadian who also upset Venus Williams and Jankovic in Charleston last year before succumbing to eventual champ Petkovic.

Overall, more than 25 countries are represented in the 56-player main draw. Makarova, the Russian, makes a return here for the first time since 2010, when she lost in the first round.

Yet the depth of this field is what makes it most remarkable: 18-year-old Belinda Bencic is included in it, the Swiss player who had a breakout event here last year as a semifinalist. Other dangerous names include Christina McHale, Alison Riske, Ajla Tomljanovic and Madison Brengle.

And who walks away with the title? It’s as hard of a question as any we’ll face this week.