19 of the world’s top 20 are in Cincinnati for another star-studded line-up as the US Open looms on the horizon in just two weeks time. The Western & Southern Open has become one of the fan favourite stops on the tour and it is definitely a tournament i’d love to attend one day. I’ll be working with a local photographer this week, Omar Boraby, and will have some photos to share in the week! The draw has thrown up some brutal openers and it’s one of the most exciting of the year. Note that the top eight seeds all have byes into the second round. Let’s take a look at the draw…
Note – this post has been updated to reflect Sharapova’s withdrawal
Karolina Pliskova returns to Cincy as the defending champion and with her world number one spot well and truly on the line. For the second straight tournament, Pliskova is seeded to meet Caroline Wozniacki in the quarter-finals. The pair played on Friday in Toronto where Wozniacki outlasted Pliskova with a grinding display, 7-5 6-7(3) 6-4. Pliskova looked a little tired at the end of that match and committed a stream of unforced errors to lose the last four games of the match. Pliskova will have a couple of days to prepare for Cincy where she will play a qualifier in the second round.
Pliskova is seeded to meet the number 13 seed, Kristina Mladenovic in the third round. The Frenchwoman has rather stalled since the French Open after being one of the star performers through the first half of the year. Mladenovic looked flat in a 2-6 3-6 loss to Barbora Strycova last week – perhaps the long season is finally catching up with her? Mladenovic faces a similar opener in Cincy against the tenacious, Daria Gavrilova. The pair are tied at 1-1 in their head-to-head and Gavrilova’s energy and intensity could be key. The winner will progress to a second round tie against Katerina Siniakova or a qualifier.
Toronto finalist, Caroline Wozniacki will play her first match of the tournament against Elena Vesnina or Caroline Garcia – the Dane has a combined 9-2 head-to-head record against the pair. Garcia is one to watch as she has become increasingly reliable and gone from strength-to-strength after breaking through at Roland Garros to reach her first Slam quarter-final. The Frenchwoman made the last eight in Toronto.
Wozniacki is seeded to meet the number nine seed, Venus Williams in the third round. The pair haven’t played since 2015 and it remains a match-up that that has thwarted Wozniacki with Williams winning all seven of their previous matches and dropping just one set in the Auckland final of 2015. Williams reached the last 16 in Toronto where she played a fantastic match to beat Katerina Siniakova in the second round, yet couldn’t maintain that level in the third round where she was comprehensively beaten by Elina Svitolina. While she always shows bundles of heart and determination, playing back-to-back days is still challenging. Williams’s first match of the week in Cincy will be against Alison Riske – she has won their two previous matches in straight sets and on paper, it’s a decent opener for the 37-year-old.
Since winning Wimbledon, Garbiñe Muguruza has produced some encouraging performances on the WTA tour. The Spaniard has reached back-to-back quarter-finals in Stanford and Toronto. Muguruza’s focus and intensity have been impressive although she will probably want to forget about a quarter-final loss to Elina Svitolina in Toronto where she committed 55 unforced errors in what was a scrappy match. Muguruza opens against the American, Lauren Davis or a qualifier, before a potential third rounder against Madison Keys.
This section is an ode to Stanford – not only could we see a semi-final rematch between Muguruza and Madison Keys in the third round, we will definitely see a final rematch between Keys and CoCo Vandeweghe, who have been drawn to play each other in a lethal first round match-up.
Keys was superb in Stanford in just her second tournament back since minor wrist surgery. She played the big points magnificently to triumph over Vandeweghe in a high-quality finale in Stanford, 7-6(4) 6-4. Keys pulled out of Toronto with a left forearm injury, likely just precautionary, while Vandeweghe was mostly erratic in a first round straight sets loss to Agnieszka Radwanska The conditions will be slower in Cincy compared to Stanford and i’m not sure that really favours either player significantly in this one as both like a fast court. The winner will play Daria Kasatkina or a qualifier.
The highlight of the first rounders was from the second quarter of the draw where the number 12 seed and French Open champion, Jelena Ostapenko was drawn to face the wild card, Maria Sharapova. I was so excited about this match-up. Sadly, Sharapova has withdrawn from Cincy with same forearm injury that forced her out of Stanford and Toronto. Ostapenko will now get a lucky loser in the first round. She demonstrated some fragility in her first round match in Toronto, particularly on serve, losing out in a third set tiebreak to Varvara Lepchenko.
If Ostapenko wins her opener, she will play either Mirjana Lucic-Baroni or Carla Suárez Navarro in the second round. Ostapenko has a combined 3-0 head-to-head record against Lucic-Baroni and Suárez Navarro in 2017. MLB hasn’t won a match on tour since her retirement win over Sharapova in Rome and has wasted considerable leads in her last three matches, including two from match points up at Eastbourne and Wimbledon.
Svetlana Kuznetsova is the highest seed in this eighth and will be seeking her first win since Wimbledon. The Russian player couldn’t handle a tricky draw in Toronto where she lost out to CiCi Bellis in the second round, 4-6 5-7, unable to convert on a 5-2 second set lead and a set point at 5-4. It was the first time that Kuznetsova had lost her opening match a tournament since Eastbourne 2016. Kuznetsova’s first match in Cincy will be against Yulia Putintseva or a qualifier.
Elina Svitolina will play Lesia Tsurenko or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her first match of Cincy. The Ukrainian player reached the semi-finals of Toronto with wins over the Wimbledon finalists, Venus Williams and Garbiñe Muguruza. Pavlyuchenkova would be a really tricky opener for Svitolina as she has won three of their four previous encounters including a three set win at this year’s Australian Open. Pavlyuchenkova is 2-2 during the US summer hard court season – she has displayed great form in the opening rounds of Stanford and Toronto with a comfortable straight sets win, but was unable to sustain it in the next round, swiftly followed by a straight sets loss.
The number ten seed, Agnieszka Radwanska will take on Julia Goerges in the first round. Radwanska enjoyed two good wins in Toronto but went out in rather convincing fashion to Wozniacki in the third round, 3-6 1-6. It was a match that showed there is still a long way to go for Radwanska before she comes close to achieving her best form again. Goerges is a very dangerous opponent – while her record in finals this year stands at 0-3, the fact that she has managed to reach three finals in as many months on three different surfaces is not to be overlooked. Radwanska leads the head-to-head, 3-1, but the pair haven’t played for over two years. Peak Goerges will take this… who knows if she will make an appearance?!
As the kids would say, this section is well and truly LIT. The number three seed, Angelique Kerber will do well to get out of this eighth. The German player suffered a pretty resounding loss at the hands of Sloane Stephens in Toronto. First up for Kerber in Cincy will be the winner of a first rounder between Ekaterina Makarova and Barbora Strycova. Fun stat alert – three of their five matches have taken place at Wimbledon with Strycova leading the head-to-head, 3-2. Makarova looks a different player after winning her first title in three years in Washington. Saving two match points in a superb second round match, Makarova scored her 7th top ten win of 2017 against Johanna Konta.
The number 14 seed, Petra Kvitova gets Anett Kontaveit in the first round for a first career match-up. Kontaveit is enjoying a stunning breakthrough year with a career best 41 wins in 2017. The Estonian player is competing for the first time though since reaching the final in Gstaad on clay. While the threat of Kontaveit is not to be ignored, Kvitova may take advantage of having played two hard court events in past two weeks.
The winner of Kvitova-Kontaveit will play the winner of a Toronto quarter-final rematch between Lucie Safarova and Sloane Stephens in the first round. On Friday night, Stephens saved three match points in a gutsy display to win, 6-2 1-6 7-5. As draws go, this is a stinker for Lucie. She’ll need to be tough mentally if she is to turn around the result against Stephens from Toronto and if she does get through it, she *could* be rewarded with a second round showdown with Kvitova. Do I even need to bring up the head-to-head record? I don’t want to talk about it… 😂😂😂
In her first match since Wimbledon, Johanna Konta succumbed to an early loss to Ekaterina Makarova in a brutal draw. No doubt though she will have been disappointed to have missed out on two match points having led 7-5 5-2. Cincy looks much more favourable on the draw-front with Kiki Bertens or Oceane Dodin up first. Dodin produced a series of committed displays in Washington, yet was forced to retire within 20 minutes of her opener in Toronto due to dizziness. Bertens is technically riding a six match winning streak (withdrew from Bastad before her second round match) although all those wins came on clay. Konta’s played both Dodin and Bertens before but this would be a first meeting at the WTA main draw level.
Konta’s third round opponent will be from a dazzling quartet containing Dominika Cibulkova, Ana Konjuh, CiCi Belllis and Alizé Cornet. Cibulkova vs. Konjuh and Bellis vs. Cornet are two matches we have seen very recently. Konjuh beat Cibulkova in the third round of Wimbledon, while Bellis comfortably saw off Cornet just two weeks ago in Stanford. Cibulkova has failed to win more than two matches at the same tournament since the WTA Finals in Singapore last year. Konjuh is a tough draw, but has yet to really get going since Wimbledon – the Croatian player retired from her first round match in Toronto due to a gastrointestinal illness. Bellis is looking mightily impressive in her first full year on tour, while Cornet is riding a six match losing streak and has won just six games in her last two matches.
Simona Halep will arrive late in Cincy having gone deep at the Rogers Cup. The draw gods have been very kind though as she heads up the weakest eighth of the draw. First up will be a qualifier, followed by a potential third rounder against the number 15 seed, Anastasija Sevastova. The pair have played twice this year, both times on clay, and Halep has won both encounters in straight sets dropping just nine games.
Sevastova plays Peng Shuai in the first round. The Chinese player was forced to pull out of doubles in Toronto with Sania Mirza due to a knee injury. Peng has been plagued throughout her career by injury and it would come at an unfortunate time as she has been building momentum and won her second WTA title in Nanchang last month. The winner of Sevastova-Peng gets Roberta Vinci or Timea Babos in the second round – Vinci has won five of her last six meetings vs. Babos. An open section for all to take advantage of…
Records in Cincy
The top three seeds have all reached at least the final in the past two years with Pliskova and Kerber contesting the 2016 final in Cincy. Wozniacki’s playing her ninth Cincy – considering she has been so solid on hard courts, it’s a surprise she has only made one semi-final. In contrast, this will be only Konta’s second appearance at this tournament. Five of the seeds between 9 and 16 have never made it past the second round in Cincy.