The WTA in Preview: Linz, Osaka
It was supposed to be a quiet, calm-before-the-storm kind of week on the WTA tour. With the big Premier Mandatory event in Beijing behind, and the bigger WTA Championships in Istanbul ahead, the women were scheduled for two modest, innocuous tournaments in Linz and Osaka. Then things blew up a little, in opposite directions.
In Osaka, top seed Jelena Jankovic was a last-minute pullout. In Linz, the current top seed, Angelique Kerber, was a last-minute pull-in. Kerber, who is currently No. 8 in the eight-woman race to Istanbul, asked for a wild card after the draw had been made. Rather than do the whole thing over, officials grabbed another wild card, from world No. 337 Lisa-Marie Moser of Austria, handed it to Kerber, installed her as the No. 1 seed, and gave Moser a wild card for the doubles draw as a consolation prize. Some people—i.e., the other seeds who were bumped down to make room for Kerber—weren’t happy.
If that’s hard to follow, don’t worry about it too much. Play is underway at both events, and the draw hijinks are, hopefully, all over. Now that we know what’s behind us, here’s a look at what may lie ahead for the women this week.
Generali Ladies Linz
$235,000; WTA International (280 rankings points)
Hard court (Deco-Turf on Wood)
Draw is here
The most noticeable upshot of l’affaire Kerber is that the Linz draw appears to be upside down. Sloane Stephens, the former top seed, has been left on the top bracket but knocked down to No. 2 in the seedings. Meanwhile, the new No. 1, Kerber, resides at the bottom of the draw. The woman who was most annoyed by this turnabout was the former No. 2 seed, Ana Ivanovic, who is now at No. 3 and in the same half with Stephens. Apparently, though, Ana has moved on. She won her opener today over Yanina Wickmayer in straight sets and will play Francesca Schiavone next. As for Sloane, she starts against Rybarikova, and would play Petkovic after that.
On the other wide, Kerber begins against Monica Niculescu; the seeds in her half are Flipkens, Suarez Navarro, and Cirstea. Kerber is currently 205 points ahead of Caroline Wozniacki for the final spot in Istanbul (Wozniacki is scheduled to play in Luxembourg next week) and 320 ahead of Stephens.
Also here: Elina Svitolina, a 19-year-old Ukrainian who has been largely overlooked, by myself and others, in the WTA's Next Big Thing sweepstakes. We’re going to have to start looking—she beat fellow youngster, and sometime Next-er, Mona Barthel in straights.
Along the same lines, 21-year-old Italian Camila Giorgi, briefly the belle of Flushing Meadows this year, won her first rounder over last year’s Linz finalist, Julia Goerges.
HP Japan Women’s Open
$235,000; WTA International (280 ranking points)
Draw is here
Welcome to the week’s second upside-down draw. When Jankovic, who has clinched a spot in Istanbul, withdrew this weekend, the top seed left was No. 2 Sabine Lisicki—like Kerber in Linz, Lisicki is now the No. 1 seed in Osaka, but she occupies the last bracket. Lisicki has won her first rounder and will face Polona Hercog next.
Apropos of an end-of-season event, Osaka is giving us a glimpse of the WTA’s possible future(s). As of today, the tournament features four teens, or near-teens, of note:
Madison Keys, 18, of the U.S., has won her first round and will play Shuai Zhang next.
Belinda Bencic, 16, of Switzerland, has qualified, won her opener, and now faces Sam Stosur.
Eugenie Bouchard, 19, of Canada, beat Varvara Lepchenko 3 and 0 and will play Luksika Kumkhum.
Monica Puig, 20, of Puerto Rico, beat Heather Watson in the first round and faces Kurumi Nara next.
Unfortunately for the future, 19-year-old Laura Robson lost today to 43-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm. Score one for the (distant) past.