This is always my least favourite part of the tennis season after the excitement of Wimbledon as many of the top players take a well earnt rest from competing. This week, a new WTA tournament is being staged in Baku, Azerbaijan. There have been a few new tournaments added to the circuit this year, notably in Brussels the week before the French Open. The one in Brussels managed to attract a stellar field; however the one in Baku has been blighted with withdrawals. Vera Zvonareva and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova are the top two seeds (and the only players in the draw in the world’s top 30) and will fancy their chances of scooping the title.
Zvonareva opens up against Nigina Abduraimova and has other notable unknown names such as Arefyeva and Khrisanova in her section of the draw. Under closer inspection, these three names all reside outside the top 250. Pavlyuchenkova has a much trickier draw with a first round match-up against Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, who has hit a rich vein of form in the last two weeks. This has included a run to the final in Bad Gastein where she handed a double bagel to Ksenia Pervak in a 49-minute semi-final encounter.
Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova are the number three and four seeds, respectively. Vesnina opens up against a qualifier before a potential 2nd round encounter with Aravane Rezai, who remains a threat despite her woeful recent form. Makarova often struggles against lesser opponents and I would fancy her to fall early; Kateryna Bondarenko has hit some good form of late and will be a difficult opponent in round 2.
The number six seed, Elena Baltacha looks to have a good draw and should push on from a solid grass court season. The remaining seeds I would all fancy to be knocked out before their seeding. The number 7 seed, Ksenia Pervak has shown some real promise in recent weeks, including a 4th round run at Wimbledon but still continues to blow hot and cold at times. The number 5 seed, Monica Niculescu is a crafty player but she could face Galina Voskoboeva in round 2 who has had some solid results this year. The number 8 seed, Evgeny Rodina has a difficult first round match with Anna Tatishvili, who should knock out the seed.
Overall its a disappointing line-up before the real action starts next week in Stanford. I am predicting that Pavlyuchenkova will win this week. She struggled during the grass court season but back on the hard courts, I expect her to push through with the potential she has shown in her short career so far. On another note, I was extremely sad to hear the news that Alisa Kleybanova is battling cancer. She is one of my favourite players and I enjoy watching her hard-hitting baseline tennis. I wish her all the best for a speedy recovery and hope to see her playing tennis again soon. Its really nice to see the support she is getting from all her fellow tennis players on twitter.
Round 1 top tip: Savinykh to beat Yakimova at 6/4 with most bookmakers
Predictions for the Quarters:
Predicted winner: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova