This is the week when everyone gathers again to start the hard-court season in earnest, right? In theory, yes, the Rogers Cup, a lucrative Premier 5, is designed to draw a crowd. But the reality is often a little different. Last year the Olympics decimated the field for this event; this year things are a little better, but injury has still snuck up at the last second to take its toll. Yesterday world No. 2 Victoria Azarenka joined world No. 3 Maria Sharapova on the sidelines by pulling out with a back problem.
Other than that, though, the 56-player field is strong (see the draw here). If there’s a theme to this event, it’s a post-apocalyptic one: Who will rise first from the ashes of Wimblegeddon?
Typically, this is the moment when we ask: Can anyone beat Serena Williams? While she is still the top seed and the favorite, the question is not quite as applicable at the moment. At Wimbledon, we saw that someone, Sabine Lisicki, could indeed beat her. Serena has since bounced back with a tiny title in Bastad, but I think it’s safe to say now that she’s not going to win every match until she’s 40.
How she’ll do in Toronto is up in the air as well. Two years ago she won the tournament, but she hasn’t always been at her best or most motivated during the U.S. Open Series—last year, after her Olympic decimation, she skipped this event and lost early in Cincinnati to Angelique Kerber. In 2013, Serena will start with the winner of Francesca Schiavone and Chanelle Scheepers. Of greater interest is a player she could face in the round after that—her sister Venus. Serena won their last meeting, in Charleston this year, 6-1, 6-2.
Just as intriguing is the second seed in this quarter, Marion Bartoli. Will her Wimbledon win give her confidence and momentum, or will the inevitable distractions that came with it make her ripe for a letdown here? Bartoli begins with the winner of Lauren Davis and lucky loser Svetlana Kuznetsova.
First-round match to watch: Venus Williams vs. Kirsten Flipkens
Semifinalist: S. Williams
What is the state of Agnieszka Radwanska? The last two weeks she’s fallen to players outside the Top 10, Dominika Cibulkova and Sam Stosur. I think this says less about Aga’s form at the moment than it does about her continued and probably eternal vulnerability to streaky sluggers. Radwanska, who lost in the quarters here last year to streaky slugger Li Na, will open against the winner of Yanina Wickmayer and Bethanie Mattek-Sands—the latter certainly counts as an SS. If Aga wins that, she's scheduled to face Sloane Stephens, though Sloane is certainly no lock to get there. A first-round loser in D.C., she has a tough opener against Kristina Mladenovic, and then would get the winner of Jie Zheng vs. Mona Barthel.
Also here: No. 11 seed Maria Kirilenko and No. 5 seed Sara Errani; the Italian starts with the winner of the all-Czech battle between Zakopalova and Safarova.
Li had a good summer run last season, losing in the final in Canada and winning the title in Cincinnati. Her partnership with coach Carlos Rodriguez was new and fresh in those days. Since then it has seen its share of ups and downs, but Li remains No. 5 in the world and a contender everywhere. In Toronto, she’ll begin against either Pavlyuchenkova or qualifier Carol Zhao.
The second seed in this section is Angelique Kerber. After her career season in 2012, the German is down to No. 9 in the world, and she was an upset victim in D.C. last week. She could have a tough opener against Cibulkova.
Also here: No. 10 seed Roberta Vinci, a winner last month in Palermo, and a coach-less Ana Ivanovic, semifinalist in Carlsbad.
Sleeper: Roberta Vinci
Petra Kvitova is so unpredictable that she went out and won this tournament last year. What are the chances of that happening again? Probably about the same as her losing in the first round. Capricious K fell to 92nd-ranked Virginie Razzano this past week in California.
Any draw can be a tough one for Petra, but this definitely has its dangers—which means she’ll roll right through it, right? She’ll start with the winner of Eugenie Bouchard and Alisa Kleybanova. Later she could face Carlsbad champ Sam Stosur, Carla Suarez Navarro, or Jamie Hampton.
Also here: 15th seed Jelena Jankovic, and Caroline Wozniacki; the 9th seed fills in the draw’s bottom bracket, left open by Azarenka.
First-round match to watch: Hampton vs. Suarez Navarro
Welcome return: Alisa Kleybanova, who is returning after a two-year bout with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
Semifinals: S. Williams d. Errani; Li Na d. Stosur
Final: S. Williams d. Li Na