There are many tournaments on the Women’s Tennis Association, or WTA, tour — more than 50. But this one, by all accounts, is special.
The Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, the first tournament of the 2022 U.S. Open Series, was held in San Jose last week. Though not nearly the most important tournament of the tour, this year’s draw was stacked with the field’s top stars, including Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff, Wimbledon runner-up Ons Jabeur and top seed Maria Sakkari.
“Everyone was talking about how great this tournament is, so I had to come and check it out myself,” Jabeur said in a press conference Monday.
Fans from around the Bay Area gathered week-long to watch top tennis players, and ultimately saw last year’s runner-up Daria Kasatkina beat out American Shelby Rogers in the final to take the trophy.
In press conferences and on-court interviews alike, players reiterated how much they enjoyed this tournament.
“Usually (at) these (WTA) 500s in smaller places, sometimes the energy is just not there, but I felt it from the first practice here,” Gauff said in a press conference after her stunning 6-1, 6-0 win over Anhelina Kalinina on Tuesday. “Everyone was so excited to just see tennis in general.”
On the first day of play, former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, now No. 14, beat out British player Katie Boulter in three sets. After a rough first set in which the Brit took control at 6-1, Pliskova fought back and won a second-set tiebreak, going on to take the third set 6-3.
During the night session Monday, fans saw Kasatkina take on Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina. With some great serves and returns, the two made it a thrilling and fast-paced match. After dropping the first set 6-1, Kasatkina regained her composure for the two following sets, showing first-class tennis both at the net and the baseline to snatch the win.
“I was trying to be more consistent, first of all, because she’s an incredible player — she just won a slam and she’s one of the most aggressive players on tour,” Kasatkina said of her opponent in her post-match interview. “What I can do is to make her miss.”
Kasatkina had made headlines in recent weeks for coming out as gay last month. This carries great significance given that she comes from Russia — though she is playing under a neutral flag — where “homosexual propaganda” is outlawed.
The other players rallied around her.
“I’m super happy for her,” Gauff said in a press conference Monday. “Even if I’m not best friends with everyone, I don’t think there’s any judgment when it comes to that, and that’s what I’m really grateful for about tennis.”
Osaka also remarked that it was incredible that Kasatkina came out given the backlash she would face and that the players must rally to support her.
Osaka’s tournament appearance was special, too. She was the talk of the tennis world this week as she made her comeback after some time off the tour. Osaka last won a match in May, in Madrid, and hasn’t played a tournament since Roland Garros.
When asked about her goals for the tournament, Osaka said that she hoped to have fun, especially since she loved being back in San Jose where many of her friends live. After her first-round win against Qinwen Zheng 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, she said she was telling herself that she could just try her best — “whatever outcome happens, happens.”
The tournament got that much more exciting when two of tennis’ biggest stars — Osaka and Gauff — were to face off in the second round. The two had only played each other three times before, with Osaka having the upper hand at a 2-1 head to head.
As two players of color, they both remarked that it was important for younger players to see them on the court as successful players. It would mean a lot, Osaka said, if she watched this matchup when she was younger.
For tennis fans, the match was one of a kind. All seats were sold out, and the crowd was electric. Ecstatic cheers on every ace, winner and great rally — of which there were many — filled the court.
“This is one of the most amazing crowds, where both people were equally supported,” Gauff said to the crowd after the match. “I don’t know about you guys, but I feel like you guys didn’t care who won.”
At 6-4, 5-1 and 0-40 for Gauff, it seemed as though the match was right within her grasp. But, tennis is not always so easy.
Osaka, in a stellar show of tennis, staved off 7 match points before she finally fell, but with a much closer score of 6-4, 6-4.
“Even though it was 5-1, 40-0, I knew I didn’t have the match in the bag yet, and obviously she proved that, because when you play Naomi (Osaka), she can play lights-out tennis,” Gauff said in a post-match interview.
Though Gauff had played great tennis in earlier rounds of the tournament, she lost to No. 3 Spaniard Paula Badosa in the third round. Badosa herself had a great run, losing only to the eventual champion Kasatkina in the semifinal.
Other notable players in the draw included former No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, who found herself victim to Kasatkina’s stellar run to the championship. Jabeur — who was at the tournament without her team, wanting to experience being alone and correcting herself on the court — lost in the quarterfinal to Veronika Kudermetova.
Everything came down to the final: Kasatkina against Rogers, who had a tough draw and beat top seed Sakkari in the second round to get there.
Kasatkina had a tough first set, racking up a total of six double faults. With two breaks each, the players were even and headed for a tiebreak, which Kasatkina lost 7-2 after having her serve broken three times.
Then, regaining her composure and playing some of the best tennis of her life, Kasatkina took the next two sets 6-1, 6-2 to go on to win the fifth title of her career.
As the 2022 U.S. Open Series continues, everyone’s eyes are on the top players gearing up for the rest of the hard court swing. This was just a small glimpse into the world of the WTA Tour and an electric crowd that players and fans love the Bay Area so much for.