The WTA is in a good place as it heads to Cincinnati, and begins to glimpse New York on the horizon. Serena Williams found her game again on the hard courts in Stanford, while Agnieszka Radwanska and Venus Williams added their names to the U.S. Open watch list in Montreal. All in all, the tour has a strong-but-not-unbeatable No. 1, a variety of contenders, and a youth brigade that's making a collective name for itself. The one negative note comes from last year’s Cincy champ, Victoria Azarenka, who hurt her (other) leg in Montreal last week. As of now, she’s slated to defend her title in Ohio.
Here’s a look at what Serena, Aga, Venus, Vika, and the 52 other women in the WTA draw will be dealing with in Cincinnati this week.
Tennis doesn't always give us something new each week. In Montreal, Serena Williams opened with an easy victory over Sam Stosur; this week she'll try to do it again, provided Stosur can win her first round, against Varvara Lepchenko. You would think that, if she does get a rematch, Sam would be determined to put up more resistance this time.
With Serena in this quarter is the woman who beat her in the final here in 2013, Victoria Azarenka. If her leg allows, Vika will start against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, get either Andrea Petkovic or Sloane Stephens after that, and might face Jelena Jankovic, a semifinalist last year in Cincy, or Garbine Muguruza in the third round—a pretty tough little gauntlet to run, just to have a chance at Serena in the quarters.
Already through: U.S. teen Taylor Townsend beat Klara Koukalova in three sets on Monday; she could play Serena in the third round.
First-round match to watch: Andrea Petkovic vs. Sloane Stephens
Aga Radwanska’s first match after her first title of 2014 will come against either Kurumi Nara or Romina Oprandi—Nara was a finalist in D.C. two weeks ago. Radwanska didn’t have any especially long matches in Montreal, but she does tend to wear down; back-to-back titles would be a big ask.
The woman most likely to knock her out in this quarter is Angelique Kerber; Radwanska is 5-4 against the German, but Angie won their last meeting. Kerber, despite losing to Venus Williams last week, has been on a good run overall. Still, she could face a stiff challenges in her opener, from Ekaterina Makarova, and in the third round, from Caroline Wozniacki.
Eugenie Bouchard is certainly rested, but how much confidence does she have at the moment? Since beating Simona Halep in the Wimbledon semifinals, the Canadian has played five sets, and lost three of them 6-0. She’ll try to spend a little more time on the court, at least, when she opens against either Svetlana Kuznetsova or Camila Giorgi.
More ominous for Bouchard is another player she might face down the road. The top seed in this section is Petra Kvitova, the woman who handed her one of those three bagels, in the Wimbledon final. Kvitova couldn’t shake the rust off fast enough in Montreal, where, predictably, she lost early. Is she ready to do more in Cincy? It’s anybody’s guess, really. Kvitova will start against Elina Svitolina or Lauren Davis, and might play Carla Suarez Navarro after that. Kvitova leads their head to head 5-2, but Suarez Navarro won their last meeting, in three sets, in 2013.
It’s rust week for Halep; she's playing her first event in a month. If recent history is a guide, it will take her a week to shake it off. Halep began 2014 by losing in the first round in Brisbane, and she began her clay season by losing in the first round in Stuttgart—both times, she went on to much greater success once she built some momentum. In Cincy, she’ll try to avoid a three-peat of opening losses against either Kirsten Flipkens or Polona Hercog.
On the other side of this quarter is the woman who beat Halep in the French Open final, Maria Sharapova. Maria hasn’t looked particularly good since that match, struggling with her serve and going out earlier than expected at Wimbledon and in Montreal. She'll begin in Cincy against one of the few women who can out-hit her from the baseline, Madison Keys. They’ve never faced each other.
Also here: Dominika Cibulkova, Belinda Bencic
First-round match to watch: Venus Williams vs. Lucie Safarova. It will be tough for Venus to match her runner-up run in Montreal.
Semifinals: Kerber d. Jankovic; Kvitova d. Sharapova