To make up for my lack of a preview for Shanghai (and hilarious predictions!), here’s some bumper previews for the three WTA tournaments this year. We’re on the final stretch now! The WTA tour has just four weeks left (that’s if you want to include the Tournament of Champions event in Sofia which I normally ignore). This week features two more tournaments in Asia and the indoor hard court event in Linz, which is always an excellent tournament. Let’s take a look at all three draws…
Once again, Linz has attracted a very solid line-up for this indoor event in Austria. Eugenie Bouchard is the top seed and opens against Patricia Mayr-Achleitner. Bouchard laboured to a straight sets loss against Sabine Lisicki in Beijing having made the final of Wuhan the previous week. Bouchard was struggling with a left adductor injury and also, an injury to her middle finger, which she managed to do in the final of Wuhan after a follow through on the forehand side (see more details about Bouchard’s loss to Lisicki HERE). Bouchard went straight to Linz where she should be acclimatised to the time zone, but I am wondering whether those injuries will prevent her from going deep in this draw. Bouchard could face a rematch with Lisicki in the quarter-finals, who accepted a late wildcard into this tournament.
The second quarter is headlined by Andrea Petkovic and Caroline Garcia. Petkovic had two really lengthy matches in Beijing; one of them she won, saving match points to beat Monica Niculescu (2-6 7-6(4) 6-4 in two hours and 47 minutes) and one of them she lost, falling short in a third set tiebreak to Simona Halep (6-7(4) 7-5 6-7(1) in two hours and 35 minutes. Petkovic faces a tricky opener against Camila Giorgi; the Italian player has won both their previous encounters this year. Since losing a semi-final match to Magdalena Rybarikova at New Haven, an encounter that exposed Giorgi’s flaws, she has gone on to lose her next three matches. But Giorgi can hit a hot streak at anytime…
Dominika Cibulkova is the highest seed in the third quarter and opens against a qualifier. Cibulkova snapped a four match losing streak to reach the quarter-finals of Tokyo, but injuries ended her chances in China. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova is the other seed in this quarter, but the one to watch out for is Timea Bacsinszky. The world number 46 made a name for herself in Wuhan, defeating Maria Sharapova in straight sets. Bacsinszky has had an all-round consistent year, rising from world number 285 to inside the top 50. Bacsinszky has come through qualifying to make the main draw of six tournaments and reached six ITF finals, winning two at the start of the year. She could be one to watch in Linz.
Ana Ivanovic bookends the Linz draw. After reaching the last four in Beijing, I think Ana’s participation in Linz is 50/50. In her semi-final match with Sharapova, which she lost 6-0 6-4, Ivanovic admitted to feeling “really flat” on court (see more quotes HERE). If she does play, then it is unlikely she would be troubled in her first two rounds. In the first round, Ivanovic will play Pauline Parmentier. In the quarter-finals, Ivanovic would be seeded to meet Karolina Pliskova.
Rising up the rankings at a rapid rate, Pliskova has been one of the hottest players on the WTA tour through the Asian Swing. She reached the final of Hong Kong, won Seoul and then pushed eventual champion, Petra Kvitova to three sets in a last 16 showing in Wuhan. Furthermore, Pliskova defeated Ivanovic at the US Open earlier this year. Before that potential match-up, Pliskova will need to overturn a 1-2 H2H record against Kirsten Flipkens in the first round.
1st Round Predictons: Bouchard d. Mayr-Achleitner in 2 sets, Rybarikova d. Kanepi in 3 sets, Lisicki d. Knapp in 2 sets, Petkovic d. Giorgi in 3 sets, Garcia d. Erakovic in 3 sets, Zahlavova Strycova d. Voegele in 2 tight sets, Bacsinszky d. Cepelova in 2 tight sets, Pliskova d. Flipkens in 3 sets
Final Prediction: Petkovic d. Ka.Pliskova
Returning to Osaka for the sixth consecutive year, Sam Stosur will be the number one seed in Osaka. Stosur loves Osaka and her form at this tournament has been reasonably strong. She won the title in 2013 and 2009, and also reached the final in 2011. Stosur is also coming into this tournament in some reasonable form after reaching the semi-finals in Beijing this week. Her first match of the week will be against the world number 129, Misa Eguchi. Stosur has had some puzzling losses this year against players outside of the top 100. She lost to the world number 251, Yafan Wang in Guangzhou and to the world number 406, Naomi Osaka in Stanford so no match is a given.
I am intrigued by a potential all-Aussie second rounder against Jarmila Gajdosova (who plays a qualifier in R1). Gajdosova hasn’t received a great deal of attention, but she has really turned her form around in 2014. Back up to world number 68, she has won 12 matches at her last four tournaments including six top 100 wins with the best of those coming against Flavia Pennetta in Wuhan. Gajdosova has also won two ITF titles this year in Nottingham (June) and Vancouver (July). Gajdosova has a 2-0 H2H lead against Stosur. In this case, it’s not a H2H that should be given much weighting, but Gajdosova’s aggressive and smash-and-grab game make her a very dangerous opponent considering the number of wins she has picked up over the past few months.
Stosur’s projected quarter-final opponent is former Osaka champion, Heather Watson. There have been some really encouraging results for Heather this year, but she is currently on a five match losing streak. Against Jovana Jaksic in the first round, she will attempt to snap that streak and end 2014 on a high. Elina Svitolina headlines the second quarter and opens in the most intriguing of the first round matches against Shelby Rogers. Both players have shown some great form over the past few months so I would expect the winner of that match to go all the way.
The bottom half features Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe, Zarina Diyas and Christina McHale. Since winning Eastbourne, Keys has had a rough time on the tour. She hasn’t won more than one match at a tournament since Wimbledon, but this will be her best chance in Osaka. Keys opens against Sachia Vickery, who reached the quarter-finals of Stanford earlier this year. Diyas has been impressive this year, rising from number 163 to well inside the top 50 at number 39. This is the kind of draw where she could have a really great result.
Vandeweghe’s section features a duo of potentially interesting match-ups. Vandeweghe plays Kristina Mladenovic in the first round, meanwhile Zheng Jie takes on Ana Konjuh. Mladenovic v Vandeweghe is likely to be a close match with both players having similar game styles, orientated around a big serve Vandeweghe won their last match in s’Hertogenbosch earlier this year on her way to a first WTA title. Zheng v Konjuh will be experience against youth. Zheng missed the Asian Swing playing the Asian Games, meanwhile Konjuh hasn’t won a match since reaching the semi-finals of Istanbul in her break-out tournament of the year.
International events are still very unpredictable so I would expect some upsets in this draw… it’s just trying to pick them out that is the challenge!
1st Round Predictions: Stosur d. Eguchi in 2 sets, Watson d. Jaksic in 3 tight sets, Svitolina d. Rogers in 3 sets, Zheng d. Konjuh in 2 sets, Mladenovic d Vandeweghe in 3 tight sets, McHale d. Kumkhum in 2 sets and Keys d. Vickery in 2 sets
Final Prediction: Svitolina d. Diyas
The weakest of the three draws this week is at a new WTA tournament in Tianjin, China. Jelena Jankovic headlines this event and will be looking for her first title of the year. Jankovic was recently confirmed as a wildcard for the Tournament of Champions in Sofia. She will play Alla Kudryavtseva in the first round. On paper, she should waltz through and win this tournament, but her form has been wobbly of late. Jankovic hasn’t made it past the quarter-final stage of a tournament since Rome in May. Other players of interest in the first quarter of the Tianjin draw are Monica Puig, Sorana Cirstea, Zheng Saisai and Andrea Hlavackova.
The second quarter features two American seeds in Varvara Lepchenko and Alison Riske. Since Wimbledon, Lepchenko has had some excellent results. She reached the semi-finals of Stanford, the third round of the US Open and her first WTA final in Seoul. Two of those tournaments also featured victories over Agnieszka Radwanska. Her section of the draw up to the quarter-finals looks favourable on paper; a qualifier, Wang Qiang (#108) and Liu Fangzhou (#271). Riske opens against Cagla Buyukakcay with the winner playing Francesca Schiavone or Olga Govortsova in the second round.
A US Open quarter-final rematch could be on the cards in the semi-finals with Peng Shuai and Belinda Bencic headlining the fourth and third sections respectively. It’s astonishing to see Bencic seeded at number three at a WTA tournament, but this demonstrates how far she has risen this year. This has been her first proper year on the tour so it wouldn’t surprise me if she starts to feel the effects of it all at this tournament. On the other hand, it also wouldn’t surprise me if she sails through the draw and wins the whole caboodle. I’m torn on this one! Peng’s section features plenty of qualifiers as she continues her hunt for a first ever WTA title. This is one of her better draws so it’s certainly not out of question.
1st Round Predictions: Jankovic d. Kudryavtseva in 2 sets, Zheng d. Babos in 3 sets, Cirstea d. Linette in 2 sets, Puig d. Hlavackova in 3 sets, Schiavone d. Govortsova in 3 sets, Zhang d. Kovinic in 3 sets and Bencic d. Zhu in 2 sets
Final Prediction: Bencic d. Lepchenko