BY JIM DURHAM
Two women who had great success at the Boone Tennis Center last year – American Ann Li and France’s Jessika Ponchet – are expected back (July 29-August 4) to play for the Kentucky Bank crown that eluded them.

You could tell that Asia Muhammad, who was 27 when she won Lexington last year, had experience over the then 18-year-old Li. In fact, the Las Vegas resident had competed in our main draw twice before – reaching the quarters in 2010 and losing first round in 2015 – besides falling in the qualies several years as well.

While Muhammad appears to be on the downslide at #234, Li is clearly on the upswing at #172. That’s more than a hundred spots since April 1 – and 241 places from a year ago! Yes, the teen from Devon, PA was just getting started at #413 when when she lost the 2018 final 5 & 1 – knocking off our 2012 champ and 7-seed Julia Glushko along the way in a 2nd round 3-setter.

Ponchet – who was ranked #244 when she upset top seed Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands here in straight sets last year, then dropped a 3-set quarterfinal to Quinn Gleason – is also on the rise. This week, the 22-year-old from Angresse (SW France, near border with Spain) vaulted to a career high #169 – from #192 since the Lexington acceptance list came out.

Also back for another try at the top prize in Lexington are Robin Anderson, who downed top-ranked collegian Jamie Loeb at #1 as UCLA beat UNC 4-3 for the 2014 team title; then, Loeb, 2015 NCAA singles titlist for the Carolina Tar Heels; Gail Brodsky, who won her first-rounders here back in 2009 and 2010; and Jennifer Elie, who returns for the fourth consecutive year; after losing first round in ‘16 and ‘17, Elie won her first match here in ‘18, defeating Emina Bektas, who was ranked 240 spots below her.

Anderson, now ranked #173, is likely to be our 2- or 3-seed, if the Acceptance List remains unchanged this weekend. In our 2017 event, she upset 6-seed Irina Falconi 6-2 in the 3rd set, 2nd round; then lost a 3-set quarterfinal to 2-seed and eventual runner-up Sofia Kenin.

Loeb may have had the most success in our 2019 field – winning 7 ITF singles titles and 7 doubles tourneys. Though she brings a #267 ranking here next week, her career-high was #132 in February 2018. Her best Lexington showing was 2016, upsetting 4-seed Lin Zhu of China before losing 6 & 1 in the semis to Arina Rodionova of Australia. Previously in Lexington, the New York native lost in 2014 as an amateur Wild Card in the first round; and, again first round in 2015 after qualifying.

Another to watch is England’s Katie Swan, the likely 6-seed, if the Acceptance List doesn’t change before this weekend. Currently #205, she was a career-high #163 last October. Swan may be the only entrant with a victory at Wimbledon – defeating #36 Irina-Camelia Bego 2 & 2 in 2018.