Tennis fans have endured a frustrating time during the lockdown introduced to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. By the time ranking tournaments resume on 3 August, it will have been almost five months since the last ball was struck in a tour-level event.
Thankfully, various players and organisations stepped up to organise exhibition events in June for players in their regions. Most of these events were broadcast either on TV or online and they included the now-infamous Adria Tour arranged by Novak Djokovic and Goran Ivanisevic, the Schroders Battle of the Brits set up by Jamie Murray and the Credit One Bank Invitational team event that took place in Charleston.
Now that we are into July, the exhibition circuit is gathering pace as players seek to gain match sharpness ahead of their competitive returns. The LTA is hosting the British Tour throughout the month at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, the French Tennis Federation (FFT) has organised a series of exhibitions known as the Elite FFT Challenge, and there is an enticing-looking event called the Bett1 Aces taking place this week (13-19 July) in Berlin which features high-profile players such as Elina Svitolina, Dominic Thiem, Petra Kvitova and Roberto Bautista-Agut. That event will be shown on British Eurosport throughout the week.
Heather Watson leads the field at The Progress Tour Women’s ChampionshipsEmbed from Getty Images
It is fantastic to see all these events springing up around the world, but none of them are as exciting for British tennis fans as The Progress Tour Women’s Championships, which begins tomorrow (14 July). After they got the chance to see the top male players in action at the Battle of the Brits last month, this is their chance to watch the best women in action, as the entire event will be broadcast live on the BBC Sport website and the LTA’s social media platforms.
Five of the eight highest-ranked British women are competing – Heather Watson, Katie Boulter (based on her protected ranking), Harriet Dart, Katie Swan and Jodie Burrage – and the line-up for the Premier Division is completed by Maia Lumsden, Eden Silva and Alicia Barnett. These are the groups (photo courtesy of The Progress Tour Facebook page):
The event will follow a similar format to the World Tour Finals, with a round-robin stage follow by semi-finals and a final. There is also Division One event taking place, and the eight women competing in that are Freya Christie, Olivia Nicholls, Danielle Daley, Victoria Allen, Alice Gillan, Nell Miller, Amelia Bissett and Emily Arbuthnott. This is the draw:
Finally, there will be an eight-team doubles competition featuring pairs including Burrage and Christie and Barnett and Nicholls:
What to look out for during The Progress Tour Women’s Championships
It is going to be very interesting to see who comes out on top when some of the best British woman face each other this week. If everyone plays well, we can expect to see a final between Watson and Boulter.
However, Boulter only returned from injury last November, and she has hardly played during lockdown, so it is hard to anticipate what kind of form she will produce. To make matters worse for Leicester’s finest, her first match will be against Jodie Burrage, who has been in excellent form during the recent British Tour events. That encounter is first up on centre court at 11am tomorrow and it is a must-watch.Embed from Getty Images
Boulter and Burrage are joined in Group Anne Keothavong by Dart, and the presence of all three makes it tough to call which two will progress to the last four. Based on past successes, it should be Boutler and Dart, but if Burrage can upset either of them then she has a great chance.
The outcome of Group Elena Baltacha should be more clear-cut, as Watson and Swan are comfortably the strongest players within it. However, the situation does provide Maia Lumsden and Alicia Barnett with a great opportunity to make the British public sit up and take notice.
If you do not want to watch all of the group stage matches, then the best ones to focus on are Boulter v Burrage, Boulter v Dart, Burrage v Dart and Watson v Swan. If four of these five women progress to the last four, then Friday’s semi-finals will be brilliant to watch. Based on past successes, the last four line-up should be Watson v Dart and Boulter v Swan.
As with the Battle of The Brits, the friendships between the players will add an extra element to The Progress Tour Women’s Championships. All the women seem to get on well, many of them have played together in the Fed Cup and some of them have played doubles together. It will be particularly interesting to see what happens if Boulter faces Swan in the semi-finals, as the two Katies became good friends during their years rising through the ranks on the ITF tour.