The Citi Open in Washington DC always produces one of the best line-ups for a WTA International event. This year is no different with the top eight seeds all in the top 35. The draw could have been stronger though if it hadn’t been for the late withdrawals of Victoria Azarenka (shoulder), Eugenie Bouchard (abdominal) and Sara Errani (knee). The world number 11, Ekaterina Makarova is the number one seed and it’s the one of the toughest draws to pick out a winner because there really isn’t a stand-out name. Makarova’s recent form has been poor by the consistently high standards she has set over the past 18 months. She reached the last 16 of the French Open, but won just one match on the grass… what happened to the Bourne GOAT?! Her quarter in DC looks fair although a first round match against Alison Van Uytvanck won’t be straightforward. AVU reached the quarters of the French Open and is the kind of player that can cause Makarova problems with her variety.
Belinda Bencic is the highest seed in the second quarter and should arrive brimming with confidence after a stunning grass court season. Bencic won 14 matches on the grass including reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon for the first time in a career and probably more significantly, winning her first WTA title in Eastbourne. To put that into context, Bencic won just 9 matches on the tour between Sydney (January) and ‘s-Hertogenbosch (June). Bencic plays Tereza Smitkova in the first round. The Czech player won their only previous match at a $10K ITF in Leimens in 2012. Smitkova is teetering on the edge of the world’s top 100 and has lost in the first round at her last five WTA tournaments.
If Bencic is to match her seeding and reach the semi-finals, she will face some tough competition. If she reaches the second round, she will play either Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Magdalena Rybarikova; Pavs reached the semi-finals in Baku where she lost to the world number 154, Patricia Maria Tig in straight sets. It was still a decent tournament for Pavs which demonstrates how miserable her year has been so far. Rybarikova maintained her decent form from the grass court season with a semi-final showing in Istanbul including wins over Elina Svitolina and Roberta Vinci. Rybarikova won Washington back-to-back in 2012 and 2013 including trouncing Pavs in the 2012 final, 6-1 6-1. However, Rybarikova was on the other end of a 6-1 6-1 scoreline in her first match in DC last year up against Makarova.
All four first round matches in this second quarter are notable hence i’m still writing about it! There’s the possibility of a second round match between CoCo Vandeweghe and Yulia Putintseva, which would be joyous. In my recent post about 15 WTA match-ups I want to see on the tour, Yulia and CoCo got a brief mention. Their last match was… EVENTFUL. Before the entire legion of WTA tennis fans starts booking flights to Washington for that match, both have tricky openers. Putintseva plays last year’s Washington finalist, Kurumi Nara, while Vandeweghe takes on fellow American, Christina McHale. Vandeweghe reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final at Wimbledon last month although her form between Australia and the start of the grass court season had been pretty lacklustre with just three wins in four months. McHale’s results have been steadily improving since Charleston and this should be a decent first round match. The pair have split their two previous meetings on the tour.
Alizé Cornet and Svetlana Kuznetsova are the two seeds in the third quarter of the draw. The chances of a Cornet-Kuznetsova quarter though seem unlikely if you go on their form this year. Kuznetsova comes in as the defending champion and has had a typically Kuznetsovian year. The Russian player was at her very best in Madrid, beating five top 30 players to reach the final. Heavily tipped to do well at Roland Garros, Kuznetsova missed a match point in an EPIC second round match against Francesca Schiavone. She was unlucky at RG but also fell at the second round of Wimbledon too in a much more ragged fashion, losing in three sets to Kristyna Pliskova. Cornet has lost a lot of close matches that she would have toughed out last year. She has won multiple matches at just four tournaments this year and two of them were Slams. Kuznetsova could play Sloane Stephens in the second round which would be a tough one. I’m not sure if i’m going loopy but I think Sloane could go all the way in this draw.
Sam Stosur props up the draw and faces one of the toughest openers against Kristina Mladenovic who behind Sloane, was next in line for a seeding. When I scrolled through the draw, Mladenovic was the name I was looking out for! The Frenchwoman has enjoyed solid results on the tour in the last few months and is in my opinion, one to watch over the next year. This is a horrible first rounder for Kiki though; she’s 0-3 against Stosur, who also won a title last weekend in Bad Gastein. I want to go for Kiki but my head says Sam will edge it. Stosur is seeded to meet Zarina Diyas in the quarters; Diyas is the highest ranked player in a mini section that also features Lauren Davis, Monica Niculescu and Lara Arruabarrena… you could easily stake a claim for all four players reaching the quarters.
1st Round Predictions: Makarova d. Van Uytvanck in 2 tight sets, Begu d. Brengle in 3 sets, Bencic d. Smitkova in 2 tight sets, Rybarikova d. Pavlyuchenkova in 3 sets, Putintseva d. Nara in 2 sets, McHale d. Vandeweghe in 3 sets, Watson d. Chirico in 2 sets, Diyas d. Davis in 3 sets and Stosur d. Mladenovic in 3 sets
Final Prediction: Stephens d. Bencic
Photo in this post by mootennis.com