Story & photos by Stephanie Smith
Beautiful Daniel Island, located just outside of Charleston, SC, hosted the 41st Family Circle Cup tennis tournament from March 30 to April 7. Over 90 players fought for a chance at the championship, including names such as Caroline Wozniaki, Samantha Stosur, Sloane Stephens, and the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. The week was filled with tension and disappointment for many on the courts, but fans were charged with excitement over the pending pairings throughout the competition. Semifinals contained the highly anticipated match-up between Serena and Venus Williams, landing the highest attendance on record in Family Circle Cup history at 9,538 for the afternoon session.
Leading up to the semi-finals, Thursday left fans in a cold funk with heavy showers that lasted nearly all day and postponed play until Friday, forcing both Williams sisters to play two sets each to catch up for the Semi-Finals on Saturday. Venus tells us, “I was thinking it was a quadruple header. I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen again.” Heading out first, Venus dominated Varvaro Lepchenko, in three sets, 6-2/4-6/6-2, lasting just over 2 hours. Venus’ only break occurred when Serena hit the Billie Jean Court to defeat Mallory Burdette, 6-4, 6-2 in less than an hour and a half.
Facing Madison Keys, an 18 year old from the US and youngest player to ever win a WTA match, Venus earned her way into the semi-finals by taking over the younger player in a speedy 70 minute match, 6-4/6-4. Spent and exhausted, she avoided post-match interviews in order to rest for the exciting yet challenging day ahead.
Meanwhile, Serena, the younger Williams sister, having suffered from a back injury earlier in the season and withdrawing from the Dubai Championships, still seemed to be having lingering back issues during play. Nevertheless, she pummeled her next opponent effortlessly, beating Lucie Safarova 6-4/6-1 in her second match of the day and saying, “It was really motivating to see Venus win today. I figured if she can win two matches, I have no excuse not to win my two matches.”
Anxious about playing her sister for the first time since 2009, Serena said, “She’s my toughest opponent that I’ve ever played. I think she’s the one who has beaten me the most,” and admits playing two singles matches in one day “is harder for her than it is for me,” referring to Venus’ autoimmune disorder Sjogren’s syndrome. Even though playing against Venus wasn’t Serena’s favorite competition, she still brought her game and won in two straight sets, 6-1/6-2 in a widely popular match. The crowd wildly cheered for Venus as the underdog, but an unfazed Serena dominated her sister in what was probably the most one sided victory between the two in their extended rivalry.
Jelena Jankovic fought a long battle with Stefanie Voegele in a tight match whose second set landed them in a tie-breaker and forcing them into a third set. Jankovic eventually won against Voegele, 6-4/6-7/6-2 in the semi-finals that landed her in the finals against Serena Williams.
Early on, Jankovic started off with a powerful set hitting Serena often with hard serves in the corner, quickly winning the first set 6-3. Having a 44% winning percentage against the Williams sister, it seemed that Jankovic might have a good chance of taking over the match.
Serena, on the other hand, stepped up and the final score of the match determining Serena’s championship at the Family Circle Cup for the second time in a row was 3-6/6-0/6-2.
Upon winning the championship, both players shook each other’s hands, smiling and settling into the famously comfortable sofas on the sidelines while awaiting the awards ceremony. Mayor Joe Riley from Charleston opened with a few remarks and the presentation of the beautiful crystal vases to the finalists. Serena was awarded $125,000 for her win in a check given to her by Family Circle Cup and said to her fans, “I love playing this court. I love this tournament, and I think it’s a good clay court. Sometimes, you play on certain clay courts and they’re not good, and they’re funny, and you can’t really slide or it’s just weird. This one I think is a really good one, particularly this year. The past two years I’ve played, it’s been really, really good.”
As the players head off to their next tournaments and play against each other again in other competitions, Daniel Island’s Family Circle Cup looks forward to next year’s tradition for women’s tennis in the Lowcountry. As Brian Caneda, a long-time volunteer at the facility during the tournament, revealed, “With 13 Family Circle Cups under our belt, (after having been moved from Hilton Head in 2001) Charleston has proven time and time again, with key (people) as Eleanor Adams and Rob Moran running Family Circle Cup, strong personable chair-people (organizing) the different volunteer departments, and world class pros looking forward to visiting our lovely city– Charleston, I would say, is the Milan of the US for quality, charm and the tradition of tennis.”