Yay for Charleston! Along with Stuttgart and Eastbourne, Charleston is one of my favourite stops on the WTA calendar. It’s shame that it now runs side-to-side with Miami but there’s still a decent line-up including the likes of Angelique Kerber, Belinda Bencic, Venus Williams and Lucie Safarova. Charleston has also been renamed from the Family Circle Cup to the Volvo Car Open… I think we’ll just stick with Charleston! Great news this week is that all matches from Charleston will be streamed thanks to a live streaming app called Stre.am… here’s the link. Let’s take a look at the seeds and the draw…
Charleston Top 8 Seeds
Angelique Kerber (1):
Overview and recent form: After losing her first round matches in Doha and Indian Wells, Kerber got back on track in Miami with her first victories on the WTA tour since winning the Australian Open. Kerber reached the semi-finals in Miami, eventually falling to Victoria Azarenka, 2-6 5-7, in a super semi-final. This result couldn’t have come at a better time for Kerber who will begin the first of four title defences in Charleston. It was at this tournament in 2015 where Kerber somersaulted into sensational form and has never looked back since. A leg injury, which affected her in both Indian Wells and Miami, could be an issue though…
Draw Projections: Kerber’s title defence will begin in the second round against either Shelby Rogers or Lara Arruabarrena. The German player is seeded to meet Misaki Doi in the third round. Kerber and Doi last met in the first round of the Australian Open where Kerber saved a match point to prevail in three sets. If they both make it, this would be a fun rematch.
Charleston previous best performance: Champion (2015)
Charleston 2015 performance & points: Champion (470 ranking points)
Belinda Bencic (2):
Overview and recent form: Bencic retired just five games into her first match in Miami against Kristyna Pliskova, citing a lower back injury. After a fruitful start to the year that saw her score 12 match wins, Bencic’s year has gone a little sour with just one victory since reaching the final of St. Petersburg. Bencic returns to Charleston where she had her first big breakthrough on tour in 2014, qualifying for the main draw and going all the way to the semi-finals where she played Jana Cepelova (BEST. MATCH. EVER.) Reports on Twitter in the week suggested that Bencic’s participation in Charleston may be in doubt.
Draw Projections: If Bencic does take to the court, she’s got a reasonable draw. After all the withdrawals and chopping up of the draw, it’s actually tougher than it previously was! Her first match will be against a qualifier, either Elena Vesnina or Cindy Burger. She is projected to play Eugenie Bouchard in the third round.
Charleston previous best performance: Semi-final (2014)
Charleston 2015 performance & points: R32, lost to Danka Kovinic (30 ranking points)
Venus Williams (3):
Overview and recent form: Venus began the year at number seven in the rankings but is down to number 13 after a slow start to the year. Aside from winning an International title in Kaohsiung, Taiwan (where she arrived from Fed Cup action in Hawaii and didn’t drop a set), Venus has gone 0-4 elsewhere in Auckland, Melbourne, Indian Wells and Miami. Venus has looked troubled with a leg injury and had the strapping on again during her second round loss to Elena Vesnina in Miami last week. Venus arrives in Charleston having skipped the tournament in 2015.
Draw Projections: Venus’s first match will be against either Alison Riske or Frances Altick, the latter who will be playing her first WTA tournament. The other seed in this eighth of the draw is Sabine Lisicki.
Charleston previous best performance: Champion (2004)
Charleston 2015 performance & points: Did not play
Lucie Safarova (4):
Overview and recent form: It’s been a tough, tough, tough start to 2016 for Lucie Safarova. Complications from the bacterial infection that she picked up during the latter half of 2015 ruled Safarova out until Doha. Three tournaments in and she is yet to win a set in singles action. This led to Safarova posting some poignant, sincere and honest words about her struggles on Facebook. On a big positive, Safarova has teamed up with Bethanie Mattek-Sands in Miami, aka Bucie, and have rekindled their magic, winning the doubles title in Miami. This is just what the Czech player needed, to get both match practice and confidence.
Draw Projections: Safarova will play either Louisa Chirico or Naomi Osaka in the second round. Her draw is filled with “rising stars” as the Czech player is seeded to meet the in-form, Daria Kasatkina in the third round.
Charleston previous best performance: Final (2012)
Charleston 2015 performance & points: Did not play
Sara Errani (5):
Overview and recent form: With the clay court season on our doorsteps, Sara Errani is one player that will have a big smile on her face! This is always Errani’s favourite time of the year and it couldn’t have come soon enough for the Italian player. While she swept up in an upset-riddled Dubai draw, winning her first Premier title, Errani is currently on a three match losing streak with losses to Anett Kontaveit (1-6 3-6, Monterrey), Lesia Tsurenko (4-6 3-6, Indian Wells) and Naomi Osaka (1-6 3-6, Miami). While the green clay of Charleston is probably a little quick for Errani’s liking, the Italian player has reached the quarter-finals in her last two appearances.
Draw Projections: Errani’s first match of the week will be against either Yaroslava Shvedova or Evgeniya Rodina in the second round. Errani and Shvedova last met in Dubai where Errani won, 6-3 6-0. Sam Stosur is a potential third round opponent for the Italian player.
Charleston previous best performance: Quarter-finals (2014 and 2015)
Charleston 2015 performance & points: Quarter-finals, lost to Lucie Hradecka (100 ranking points)
Andrea Petkovic (6):
Overview and recent form: Petkovic didn’t win a match through Indian Wells and Miami; that had a lot to do with those pesky draw gods who dealt the German player a tough hand. Petkovic lost to Barbora Strycova in Indian Wells (7-5 4-6 5-7) and Caroline Garcia in Miami (6-7(5) 6-3 6-7(2)). Petkovic’s play has been pretty steady at the start of 2016 and the only concern would be the mental impact of these losses. Petkovic is one of those players who needs a few matches in a tournament to get her game going.
Draw Projections: The draw gods have been a little kinder in Charleston although her first match will be a tricky one either way; she could play Lucie Hradecka (who reached the semi-finals in Charleston last year) or Monica Puig. Both players have a superior head-to-head record over Petkovic…
Charleston previous best performance: Champion (2014)
Charleston 2015 performance & points: Semi-final, lost to Angelique Kerber (185 ranking points)
Sloane Stephens (7):
Overview and recent form: 2016 has been a rollercoaster ride for Sloane Stephens; the American was the first player to win two titles in 2016, extending her career record in finals to 3-0 with silverware in Auckland and Acapulco. However, Stephens has failed to win a match anywhere else, going 0-3 at the three biggest tournaments of the year in Melbourne, Indian Wells and Miami. Her last loss against Heather Watson, admittedly a player she has struggled against in the past, ended with an inexplicable second set performance, eventually going down, 3-6 0-6.
Draw Projections: Stephens will open her campaign in Charleston against either Danka Kovinic or Cagla Buyukakcay If she progresses past the second round, her third round opponent will be one of Daria Gavrilova, Zarina Diyas, Shuai Zhang or Lesley Kerkhove.
Charleston previous best performance: Second round (2013, 2014 and 2015)
Charleston 2015 performance & points: Second round, lost to Mona Barthel (30 ranking points)
Madison Keys (8):
Overview and recent form: Just three tournaments into her 2016 season and it’s been a positive start for Madison Keys. Injuries ruled the American out of all the pre-Australian Open tune-ups (arm injury) and the Middle East swing (leg injury); a last 16 showing in Melbourne was a solid effort at defending semi-finals points and if she had not re-aggravated a leg injury, the draw was fairly open for her to go further in the tournament. An early loss in the desert to Nicole Gibbs was more than made up for with a quarter-final showing in Miami. The manner of the loss to Kerber (3-6 2-6) was a little disappointing but on the whole, Keys played an excellent tournament.
Draw Projections: This is a pretty good draw for Keys… she will play Laura Siegemund or Patricia Maria Tig in the second round, followed by a potential third round match against Kristina Mladenovic.
Charleston previous best performance: Finalist (2015)
Charleston 2015 performance & points: Final, lost to Angelique Kerber (305 ranking points)
Unseeded Players to Watch
Daria Kasatkina: The 18-year-old Russian has already halved her ranking from 72 to 36 in 2016 and we’re only just getting onto the clay now, her supposed best surface. Kasatkina, who plays Saisai Zheng in the first round, has drawn into Safarova’s eighth which on paper looks favourable. In a wide-open draw with some of the top seeds potentially having niggly injuries, Kasatkina could be a title contender in Charleston.
Danka Kovinic: Last year’s surprise quarter-finalist is most at home on the clay and will be one to watch this week. Kovinic has a competent game but hasn’t had that big result, therefore attracting less attention compared to some of the other “rising stars” on the WTA tour. Despite showing some promise this year (she nearly upset Petra Kvitova in Indian Wells), Kovinic has only won back-to-back matches once in 2016 on the red clay of Rio.
Kateryna Bondarenko: At 14 match wins for the year, Bondarenko is enjoying a superb year. The Ukrainian player, who came back to the WTA tour almost exactly two years ago after giving birth to her child, is back up in the world’s top 60. Bondarenko’s first match in Charleston will be against Misaki Doi. Positioned in Kerber’s eighth of the draw, if it does become Kerber-less then Bondarenko could be one of the players to sweep up.
First round matches worth watching…
Naomi Osaka v Louisa Chirico: This should be a fun one… the 18-year-old, Osaka came through two rounds of qualifying, saving a set point in the second set tiebreak of her win on Sunday over Jana Cepelova, 6-4 7-6(9). The 19-year-old, Chirico, was given a wildcard into the tournament. The American has yet to find her rhythm in 2016 after suffering an ankle sprain at the start of the year. In their only previous match, Chirico beat Osaka at the ITF tournament in Midland last year, 7-5 5-7 7-5.
Daria Gavrilova (12) v Zarina Diyas: Rematch! Gavrilova and Diyas played just last week in Miami where Diyas won in straight sets, 7-5 6-3. It was another stuttering loss for Gavrilova who failed to serve out the first set. After an encouraging start to 2016, the Aussie will be seeking to get back on track in Charleston.
Charleston Tweets and Videos
Hmmm… I remember that I picked Caroline Garcia to win last year and this is another wild pick. It’s a tough one because so many of the top seeds have issues and question marks – Kerber (leg injury), Bencic (back injury), Venus (leg injury and form), Safarova (struggling with match fitness) and so on. For me, my champion pick is a toss-up between Kasatkina and Petkovic. Kasatkina has been steadily improving each week and has a potentially favourable draw in Charleston; while it’s obviously a long shot, i’m not confident about any of the top seeds in Charleston, so i’m being bold on this occasion…
Final Prediction: Kasatkina d. Keys