WTA Rogers Cup Preview

by Jack Suffers on August 8, 2015

Preparations for the US Open will be stepped up a notch this week as the WTA Tour descends on Toronto in Canada for the Rogers Cup. The Premier 5 tournament has a very strong field, as 24 of the 25 highest ranked players are taking part, with the only absentee among the elite group being Maria Sharapova, who pulled out on Friday night with a right leg strain suffered in training.

This means Simona Halep has been bumped up to number 2 seed behind Serena Williams, with Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki taking up the remaining two top four spots. Here’s a breakdown of the draw and what to expect from each section.

Serena Williams quarter

Semi-finalist: Serena Williams
Vulnerable seed: Lucie Safarova
First round match to watch: Roberta Vinci v Karin Knapp

World number one Williams is a three-time former champion here and all of her successes – in 2001, 2011 and 2013 – have come in Toronto as opposed to Montreal. Clearly, the American enjoys the hot and humid conditions here and will enjoy the sight of a kind draw. However, her preparations haven’t been ideal due to a right elbow injury which forced her to pull out of her Swedish Open round of 16 match against Klara Koukalova and the Stanford Classic.

After a first round bye, she will face either Flavia Pennetta or Canadian number two Gabriela Dabrowski, before a potential third round clash with Andrea Petkovic, who lost to eventual champion Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarter-finals last year, but is coming off a second round loss in Stanford. A win there may set up a rematch of the French Open final against seventh seed Lucie Safarova in the quarter-finals. For that to happen, the Czech may need to beat Sam Stosur, who recently celebrated 500 match wins on the WTA Tour, and fellow compatriot and 12th seed Karolina Pliskova, who made her debut in main draw last year as a lucky loser.

Should Safarova and Williams meet in the last eight, the American would be seeking a fourth straight head-to-head win at this tournament, having also halted the Czech’s run at this stage in 2009 and 2011 and last year’s third round. However, despite beating Azarenka to win Doha in February, Safarova has been largely poor in the big hard court events this season, having lost her opening matches in the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami, and there are question marks over whether she will be able to adapt to the surface quickly enough.

Caroline Wozniacki quarter

Semi-finalist: Ekaterina Makarova
Vulnerable seed: Caroline Wozniacki
First round match to watch: Eugenie Bouchard v Belinda Bencic

WozniackiFourth seed Wozniacki has been placed in Serena’s half of the draw, but she faces a tough route to the last four as she will face either Belinda Bencic or local hope Eugenie Bouchard in round two before potentially last year’s finalist Venus Williams in round three.

The Dane won the title in 2010 but, for some reason, she seems to reserve her best Rogers Cup performances for Montreal instead of Toronto, where she has lost her opening match the last three times. In terms of form, she beat a weak field to win Kuala Lumpur in March, but she suffered early exits at the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami.

Meanwhile, Venus Williams faces a very tricky opener against big-serving Sabine Lisicki, who is playing in Toronto for the first time. Neither player has had great preparations leading up to the tournament, with the American losing her first round match in Istanbul to qualifier Kateryna Bondarenko and Lisicki falling at the first hurdle against veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm in Stanford.

The bottom section of the quarter is much more straightforward with three qualifiers included, and it’s likely that 5th seed Ana Ivanovic and 11th seed Ekaterina Makarova will clash in the third round. Makarova looks like a decent bet to make a good run, given she has racked up a few wins in Washington this week and reached the semi-finals last year in Montreal. The form book is less convincing for Ivanovic who, despite winning the title in 2006 as an 18-year-old, has not reached the quarter-finals since. She has also failed to land a title so far in 2015 and has suffered three defeats in her last four matches, including a second round loss to Bethanie Mattek Sands at Wimbledon.

Petra Kvitova quarter

Semi-finalist: Victoria Azarenka
Vulnerable seed: Sara Errani
First round match to watch: Victoria Azarenka v Elina Svitolina

kvitovaThe Czech number one is obviously looking to bounce back after her shock third round exit at Wimbledon to Jelena Jankovic, and she will take heart from the fact she won the title in Montreal three years ago, defeating Wozniacki in the final. However, it’s likely she will be a little rusty on hard courts, having chosen to skip both Indian Wells and Miami this year due to ‘exhaustion’. She won Sydney title in January, beating Pliskova in the final, but puzzlingly fell early on to Carla Suarez Navarro in both Doha and Dubai.

She could face Victoria Azarenka in round two, who has pedigree in the competition having reached the semi-finals in 2008, 2010 and 2011, and looks primed for an excellent hard court swing if she can get past Svitolina. Also in the mix is French youngster Kristina Mladenovic and Sara Errani, who is only 9-7 on hard this year. Plus, there’s Canadian wildcard Carol Zhao, who is ranked 371 but goes into the tournament with confidence after posting good results at the Gatineau and Granby Challengers, and she opens against Madison Brengle, who has lost her last eight matches.

The other section of this quarter involves three women who enjoyed excellent runs at Wimbledon – Timea Bacsinszky, Coco Vandeweghe, and finalist Garbine Muguruza. Bacsinszky faces a tricky start against Alison Riske, who won the Tianjin Open earlier this year, but the Swiss has been as good as anyone on hard this year, going on a 15 match win streak which saw her pick up titles in Monterrey and Acapulco.

Simona Halep quarter

Semi-finalist: Agnieszka Radwanska
Vulnerable seed: Carla Suarez Navarro
First round match to watch: Sloane Stephens v Dominika Cibulkova

Simona halepRomanian 2nd seed Halep is competing at the Rogers Cup for first time since 2012, and is seeking a boost after some poor recent form which included early exits at Wimbledon and the French Open. However, it’s easy to forget her hard court performances this season have been impressive – she secured back to back titles in Dubai and Indian Wells, before reaching the quarter-finals in Miami. However, she could face a big test from Jankovic in round two, before Angelique Kerber is a likely third round opponent. The German has a relatively easy route to the third round in that she is guaranteed to play two qualifiers.

The other section includes defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska, who beat a quality field last year en route to the title and lost a tight semi-final to Serena in her last appearance in Toronto two years ago. In fact, the last time the Pole didn’t reach at least the quarter-finals was 2010 and she will hope to take these good memories into the tournament as she continues to recover from a poor first half of the season.

Radwanska doesn’t seem to have too difficult a path to the quarter-finals, with the highest seed standing in her way being the streaky Suarez-Navarro, while Sloane Stephens has never been beyond the third round and Dominica Cibulkova is still rusty after her Achilles injury. A Radwanska v Halep quarter-final is therefore on the cards.

Semi-final 1: Serena d. Makarova
Semi-finals 2: Azarenka d. Radwanska

Final: Azarenka d. Serena

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