Barely has Wimbledon finished before the Tour’s professionals are off again, carrying on all the way up the US Open. For the big players, and by big we mean the Rafas and Rogers, July offers the chance for a holiday, or, if you're Andy Murray, an intense training block in the Miami heat. But for many players it's straight back on the court to amass as many points as possible in order to be in the best position for the US Open, the year's fourth and final Grand Slam.
So it's a good thing that there is certainly no shortage of tournaments. The clever marketing bods in America have even packaged them all up into the US Open Series – a six-week hard court swing that links 10 events together for a total sum of $40 million, meaning players can earn points and (a lot of) prize money in their bid to become US Open Series champion.
The action begins in the post-Wimbledon July haze, after the July Davis Cup weekend, when players put away their whites, strap up their ankles and knees and start to think about grinding it out on the hard courts. There’s no substitute for match time for the year’s final Slam, particularly at a time of year when injuries can come thick and fast. Juan Martin del Potro is the perfect example of what the US Open Series can do for a player; he jumped from a ranking of 64 to within reach of the top 10 after a sizzling summer in 2008. A year later, he was the one with the trophy at Flushing Meadows.
The men’s series kicked off in Atlanta from 18-24 July, where Mardy Fish successfully defended his title, before moving swiftly on to Los Angeles, or the Farmers Classic, from 25-31 July. Fish made that final too, only to be ousted by a new hot-to-trot Ernests Gulbis. Next was the Legg Mason Classic in Washington DC from 1-7 August, claimed by Radek Stepanek, and then, and perhaps most importantly, the two back-to-back Masters Series 1000 tournaments, which kick off this week. Andy Murray will bid to defend the Rogers Cup in Montreal from 8-14 August, while Roger Federer will be trying to do the same in Cincinnati from 15-21 August. As if that wasn’t enough, the six-week swing finishes up with a new men’s event, the Winston-Salem Open.
And the women? Well, they had a break in the first week, beginning in Stanford, California, from 25-31 July for the Bank of the West Classic, won in such impressive style by Serena Williams. Then they shuffled on to San Diego from 1-7 August for the Mercury Insurance Open, which was picked up by Agnieszka Radwanska, and now they are all in Toronto, Canada, for the female Rogers Cup, won by Caroline Wozniacki in 2010. Cincinnati is next, at the same time as the men, from 15-21 August, claimed by Kim Clijsters last year, and then, the last event of the Series before hitting Flushing Meadows, the New Haven Open at Yale, another title for world No.1 Wozniacki in 2010.
As well as much-needed match practice, there is also a large amount of money up for grabs. Players earn bonus points based on their performance at each event, while the men and women with the largest number of points at the end of the six weeks take home a whopping $1 million pot. If a player wins the series and the US Open to boot, they take home an even bigger sum. Roger Federer did the deed in 2007 and was rewarded with $2.4 million, the largest single payout in tennis history.
The US Open Series has been won by an illustrious bunch, including Roger Federer, Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova. Andy Murray picked up the top prize last year, despite finishing on equal points with Roger Federer, 170 each, and it was Caroline Wozniacki who scorched through the US hard courts for the second year in a row, with 185 points, Kim Clijsters behind her in second place.
With Novak Djokovic on his current run of form, it could well be him in 2011. Or newly 30-year-old Roger Federer? Or a leaner and meaner Murray? And the women? It’s anyone’s to play for. Kim Clijsters? New top 10-er Andrea Petkovic? Li Na? We can but wait and see.