United States’ Alison Riske returns to action.
United States’ Alison Riske returns to action.|Ben Curtis | Associated Press
Tennis

Bet Women's Tennis! West Palm Beach hosts Riske, Collins, Anisimova and Tomljanovic in the UTR Pro Match Series – Abrams previews

Matches start Friday at noon EDT on the Tennis Channel.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Lines available at Parx Online Casino.

It’s on! Friday’s Women's live re-opener of professional tennis will actually take place starting at noon EDT on a private hard court in West Palm Beach. Keeping with the excitement for four darn good women’s players playing live tennis, Mr. Sun has agreed to cooperate, as he has graciously agreed to shine through the late afternoon seasonal showers that South Florida has already begun to receive. The commentators won’t be courtside but will be sitting in either their homes or the offices of The Tennis Channel in L.A., but that in no way should diminish this occasion at all, as we all go back to the land of Oz.

If you’re like me, you are looking forward to these matches with bated breath. Part of it, I’ll admit, is the return of live tennis. The last time I was courtside was in February just a bit south of West Palm, at the ATP Delray Beach tournament. But I’m really anxious to actually see these players scheduled to play. I’ve been an Amanda Anisimova fan for a number of years, having heard about her since her older sister played in the Ivy League at Penn. I love watching Danielle Collins play because you either get an exhibition of perfection and competitiveness, or you get to see a live car crash, which can be just as interesting.

American Aly Riske is the highest ranked of the four players on the itinerary (#19), but probably less known than her two compatriots. Yet Riske has been playing the best tennis of her career, and last year’s nuptials to Stephen Armitraj seem to have steadied her, and made her tennis better. Ajla Tomljanovic is an enigma to me, having nothing to do with her excellent tennis. But anyone who can date seriously Australian bad boy Nick Kyrgios has some interesting neurons firing in her cranium, and I want to figure out what those are. Calling their own lines will be nothing new for these pros, but I’m still real curious to see how that plays out.

Who's ready?

They are all terrific athletes, with Collins perhaps a bit ahead on the comparative scale. They’re all young enough for us not to expect either injuries or fatigue to play any role. But who really knows which of the four has been able to maintain a sense of normalcy during her time off? And who may be a tad rusty because of the situation the lock-down has thrust us all into?

My guess is that Riske has been able to maintain her level of fitness and strength of shot better than the rest because she now has so many terrific and available sparring partners that would go out of their way to help her. Not only is her husband a former ATP Touring pro, but so is Stephon’s first cousin, Prakash. She also now has three former professional men’s players (Vijay, Anand, and Ashok), however old, who would do anything to chip in and help her if possible, including the mental and strategic side of the game. Whether they were available, as all currently live in India, is unknown. But so many things about this period are, that it’s hard to discount any situation.

All four players are experienced and old enough for them to realistically recognize this situation for what it is: a human hardship which could present an opportunity for someone who could take advantage of the situation just a bit better than the other pros. Anisimova has a tennis playing sister who would help her in a matter of minutes. Riske, as we know, has so many family members to hit with and talk tennis with that this two-plus months hiatus may actually serve her well in the long run. Collins, having played college tennis at both UVA and Florida probably has a bunch of guys (and guys are who these women would prefer to hit and drill with) ready, willing, and able to overcome a few obstacles and bend a few rules to help out a fellow tennis player in need. Collins also lives in Orlando with a number of young tennis pros in Lake Nona, FL at the National Tennis Center there. So she’s got some neighbors who share her values and goals, and I could easily see her neighbor Maddy Keys, as an example, as a great partner for running, working out, drilling, hitting, and fraternizing with. Ajla Tomljanovic may be the wild card here, as she is the only one of the four who is not a native American and probably doesn’t have similar roots here in the States as the other three do, with respect to where to go and who to call when in need of some hitting partners and venues that would agree to possibly bend the rules a bit to help a local pro. But my radar says that she would have no problem finding both hitting partners and hitting locales that would host her, because simply having her on the premises would bring her back when things get back to normal, and having an active Touring pro coming to your venue is a coup for any tennis locale. I don’t want to sound sexist, but it doesn’t hurt when that touring pro is a statuesque 5’11”, 27-year-old with fashion model looks….and could bring former boyfriend Nick Kyrgios or current boyfriend Matteo Berrettini with her.

What to expect

I think a lot depends on Collins this weekend. She is older, more experienced, and a bit tougher than, let’s say, Anisimova. But Anisimova has enough strength of shot to move Collins around and capture clumps of points. Should Collins have the strength to resist, this match could be the headliner. But I’m going with Anisimova against Collins on the basis of her shot making abilities. I’d say pretty much the same thing when Anisimova takes on Tomljanovic, except that the Aussie has a bit less resolve than Collins, and aside from her ability to potentially dominate her service games, Tomljanovic probably won’t be able to stand up to Amanda. Collins has too much resolve to give in to Tomljanovic, but you never know when a point here or a shot there could set off the combative former UVA star. I like Collins to win this match, but her short fuse could ignite if the wrong circumstances arise.

Riske, as the highest ranked player, is the favorite. Her match with Collins, should be awfully entertaining. Riske will try to push Collins around, and how much Collins can resist early should set the tone for the match. If Riske doesn’t allow Collins to defend, she’ll run away with this match and make Collins look weak and frustrated. If Collins keeps her cool, however, she could steal a win and make this round-robin very even. Riske should have her way with Tomljanovic, but the Aussie will find a way to walk away from this weekend with at least one win, and it could come against the Pittsburgh native. Riske’s match with Anisimova should be the match of the weekend, with Anisimova’s shot-making against Riske’s all-court game. I think Riske has just a bit too much experience for the young American to deal with in this situation. Although Riske could go through this weekend without a loss, if she were to lose, it would probably be to the New Jersey native.

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