Did someone speed up time or something because I can’t believe that the US Open is only a week away. The final tournament before the women head to Flushing Meadows is the Connecticut Open in New Haven. There have been string of withdrawals with the likes of Garbiñe Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Belinda Bencic and Ekaterina Makarova all pulling out. However, some impressive wildcards and an already stacked entry list have produced a tasty looking draw with the top eight seeds all being rounded out by top 16 players. In case you missed it, the tournament director, Anne Worcester spoke with Ben Rothenberg on the No Challenges Remaining Podcast which gave a facinating insight into the running of a tournament. I’ll put up some full draw predictions soon
to give everyone a good laugh but for now with so many qualifier placements and potential pull-outs, let’s just focus on the first round matches…
1. Barbora Strycova v Camila Giorgi (winner plays Halep in R2)
Well done, draw gods. Exhibiting two completely different game styles and temperaments on court, i’m all in on this first round match between Barbora Strycova and Camila Giorgi. After her best ever start to a WTA season with 10 wins at her first four tournaments, it’s all gone a little quiet for Babs. She didn’t do so well on the grass, drawing the short straw by having to play the unseeded, Sloane Stephens in the first round of Wimbledon. In Cincy last week, Strycova had one of those matches you want to forget very quickly. Against Varvara Lepchenko who she had already beaten the previous week in Toronto in straight sets, Strycova missed four match points and blew a 5-1 third set lead, eventually losing, 2-6 7-5 7-6(6) with Lepchenko converting on her fourth match point.
Giorgi pulled out of Toronto and came back to the tour in Cincy where she had a decent first round win over Christina McHale before losing in three sets to Andrea Petkovic. In their only previous match-up, Strycova comfortably defeated Giorgi at Charleston in 2012, 6-1 6-3. This feels like the kind of match-up where Giorgi could struggle as Strycova never plays the same ball and throws in a lot of funk to disrupt the rhythm. Both players have had some tough losses this year but my instinct is that Giorgi will win this one.
Prediction: Giorgi d. Strycova in 3 sets
2. Lucie Safarova v Daria Gavrilova (winner plays Diyas/Begu in R2)
Screw you, draw gods! In a rematch of their match in Toronto, Lucie Safarova and Daria Gavrilova will play each other for the second time in three weeks. On that occasion, Gavrilova came from a set and a break down to score a gutsy win, 4-6 7-5 7-5. Lucie reached the quarter-finals in Cincy, enduring a bit of a miserable loss to Elina Svitolina, 6-4 2-6 6-0… that was the first bagel set that Lucie has been on the receiving end of since 2013 when she lost to Valeriya Solovyeva in Budapest, 6-1 6-0. Gavrilova had a great win over Sara Errani in the first round of Cincy but failed to back it up with a straight sets loss to Karin Knapp in the second round.
Peak Safarova will win this match-up but we haven’t seen that for quite sometime. She was the better player against Gavrilova in Canada for a set and a half before she tightened up as Gavrilova’s feisty determination won through. In Lucie’s favour, she overcame a loss to CoCo Vandeweghe at Wimbledon last week in Cincy so it can be done. I think Lucie will be motivated to get a few more matches under her belt before the Open but it’s not a great match-up so i’m pretty much on the fence…
Prediction: Safarova d. Gavrilova in 3 sets
3. Timea Bacsinszky v Caroline Garcia (winner plays Pennetta/Qualifier in R2)
2015 has been an incredible year for Timea Bacsinszky. The Swiss player has catapulted up 34 places in the rankings and is now on the cusps of the top ten thanks to 32 tour wins in 2015. This has included a Grand Slam semi-final at the French Open, a Grand Slam quarter-final at Wimbledon, back-to-back titles in Monterrey and Acapulco, a final appearance in Shenzhen and a quarter-final showing at Indian Wells. Since Wimbledon it has gone a little quiet for Bacsinszky with two losses to Alison Riske in Toronto (3-6 7-6 7-6) and Madison Keys in Cincy (6-4 6-3). I like how Bacsinszky hasn’t overplayed this year; she made the wise decisions to skip Miami and all the grass court warm-up tournaments. However, I do wonder whether the year may be catching up with her.
Bacsinszky plays Caroline Garcia in the first round. The pair played in back-to-back finals in Monterrey and Acapulco with Bacsinszky winning both matches; the first one in two easy sets (6-3 6-0) and the second one in three tight sets (4-6 6-2 6-4). Garcia’s recent form has been wild. She stopped the rot in Cincy, snapping a four match winning streak with very respectable three set wins over Sabine Lisicki and Petra Kvitova. However, it was the case of one step forward and two steps back as she was comprehensively defeated by Elina Svitolina in the third round, winning just three games. Bacsinszky feels like a bad match-up for Garcia because she gets so many balls back and plays with plenty of variety. Garcia will have to play a very clean match. I remain unconvinced that she has the patience right now even with Bacsinszky on a three match losing streak.
Prediction: Bacsinszky d. Garcia in 2 sets
4. Caroline Wozniacki v Alison Riske (winner plays Bouchard/Qualifier in R2)
This time last year everyone was buying shares in Caroline Wozniacki… the Dane had a stunning US Open Series in 2014, reaching the quarter-finals of Montreal, the semi-finals of Cincy and the final of the US Open. A leg injury has marred her summer hard court season in 2015, so much so, that she is still seeking her first win since Wimbledon. Wozniacki lost straight setters to Varvara Lepchenko in Stanford, Belinda Bencic in Toronto and Victoria Azarenka in Cincy. While she seems to be recovering well from the injury, it has left her short of matches ahead of defending a big chunk of her ranking points at Flushing Meadows.
Wozniacki lost early in the second round of New Haven last year. It was a surprise not to see her name on the original entry list considering she’s played this tournament every year since 2008 and won it four consecutive times between 2008 and 2011. Also, she has always performed well at the US Open the week after, which is by far and away her best Slam. Woz took a late wildcard and plays Alison Riske in the first round. The pair have never met before which makes it an intriguing match-up. Riske’s form since the grass court season, her best surface, has been pretty good with top 15 wins over Carla Suárez Navarro in Stanford and Timea Bacsinszky in Canada. A lot depends on her injury but I think Wozniacki can get a win in this one.
Prediction: Wozniacki d. Riske in 2 sets
5. Madison Keys v Elina Svitolina (winner plays Kvitova in R2)
In another never-seen-before WTA match-up, two of the “rising stars” of the tour, Madison Keys and Elina Svitolina will meet in the first round of New Haven. At 19 and 20 in the world, the pair couldn’t be closer in the rankings. Their games though couldn’t be further apart. Keys is built on a powerful first serve and flat groundstrokes with little margin. Svitolina though relies more on defence and wearing her opponents down. In Cincy, Svitolina reached the semi-finals with victories over Alison Riske, Eugenie Bouchard, Caroline Garcia and Lucie Safarova… all decent wins.
Keys started the Cincy tournament with a superb straight sets win over Timea Bacsinszky. However, as has been the case with Madison this year on a number of occasions, she fell in the second round, failing to back up early promise. Keys was reportedly crying after the match :-(. While it feels like a potentially bad match-up for Keys because Svitolina is the type of player that can frustrate her into making the errors, I think the American player will be much more motivated than Svitolina to have a good result this week. It feels potentially brainless on my part (haha) but i’ve got a feeling Madison will win this one…
Prediction: Keys d. Svitolina in 2 sets