Cincinnati WTA Preview: Pliskova, Kvitova seek US Open momentum

Cincinnati WTA Preview: Pliskova, Kvitova seek US Open momentum

It's the last chance for many of the top women to build momentum before New York. Who might make the most of that opportunity?

Who’s left standing after Toronto? The winner, Bianca Andreescu, has withdrawn from Cincinnati. Simona Halep and Serena Williams had to retire from their Rogers Cup matches. And one of that tournament’s other top performers, Sofia Kenin, left with a heavily strapped leg.

But even with that trail of walking wounded, Cincy will feature a who’s who of Top 30 players taking some of their last swings before the US Open. Here’s a look ahead at what we can expect to see from them.

FIRST QUARTER

Not long ago, Ashleigh Barty looked unstoppable. She won Miami, the French Open and Birmingham, and she rose, meteorically, to No. 1. But after early losses at Wimbledon and in Toronto, she’s no longer the talk of the tour—and no longer No. 1. Can she regain some of that momentum this week?

She’ll probably have to do it the hard way. Barty will start against either Maria Sharapova or the woman who beat her at Wimbledon, Alison Riske. She could play Angelique Kerber after that, and Petra Kvitova after that.

First-round matches to watch: Riske vs. Sharapova; Kerber vs. Anett Kontaveit; Aryna Sabalenka vs. Petra Martic; Maria Sakkari vs. Camila Giorgi

Semifinalist: Kvitova


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SECOND QUARTER

Karolina Pliskova has been the queen of the tune-ups this season. She won Brisbane before the Australian Open, Rome before the French Open, and Eastbourne before Wimbledon. Can she complete a calendar-year Warm-up Slam in Cincinnati? It wouldn’t be a surprise, considering that she has won the title here before, in 2016. This time she’ll start against either Monica Puig or Lesia Tsurenko; the first seed she could face would be Johanna Konta; and her prospective quarterfinal opponent is Sloane Stephens.

First-round match to watch: Dayana Yastremska vs. an unseeded Caroline Wozniacki

Semifinalist: Pliskova


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THIRD QUARTER

Last year’s finalists, Halep and Kiki Bertens, are the top two seeds in this section. Halep was forced to retire in Toronto with an Achilles’ injury, while Bertens endured a frustrating three-set loss to Andreescu. But they both obviously like this event. Bertens could face Venus Williams in her opener, and Halep is scheduled to play either Carla Suarez Navarro or Ekaterina Alexandrova.

First-round matches to watch: Belinda Bencic vs. Victoria Azarenka; Madison Keys vs. Garbine Muguruza; Amanda Anisimova vs. Daria Kasatkina

Semifinalist: Bertens


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FOURTH QUARTER

Should Serena play Cincy, where she doesn’t have a bye, and presumably will have to be on court by Tuesday? She says she’ll try, and hopefully her back pain will fade. If she stays in the draw, she’ll play either Julia Goerges or Kenin, who beat her earlier in the year at Roland Garros.

Serena or no Serena, the top seed in this section is Naomi Osaka. She says she’s aiming to peak for her title defense in New York, but she might want to start climbing the mountain this week, while she still has a chance. Osaka hasn’t made it past the quarterfinals at any event since Stuttgart in April.

Also here: Elina Svitolina

Wild card to watch: American teen Catherine McNally, who will start against Elise Mertens

Semifinalist: Svitolina


Semifinals: Pliskova d. Kvitova; Svitolina d. Bertens

Final: Pliskova d. Svitolina