WTA PREVIEW: THE WESTERN & SOUTHERN OPEN
Serena Williams’s stellar record this year has finally had just its second ‘L’ on it. Do the other players smell blood in the water or was that just a minor blip on the defending champion’s radar?
The penultimate Premier 5 tournament of the year brings with it the return of World No. 2 Maria Sharapova, Madison Keys and Camila Giorgi.
So far, for the Toronto – Cincinnati leg of the American tennis swing, the script has resembled 2014. If it was Venus Williams who bounced her sister out in the Toronto semi-finals last year, in 2015, it was eventual winner Belinda Bencic.
The Williams sisters and Bencic, interestingly, share the same half again.
The top seed opens against Tsvetana Pironkova and while the three other seeded players in her quarter – Ana Ivanovic, Carla-Suarez Navarro and Sara Errani – are all excellent players in their own right, unless Serena withdraws mid-tournament (not uncommon considering she has done so three times this year) or plays, in her own words, like an “amateur”, a blow-out is very much on the cards.
Bencic, has drawn Stanford winner, Angelique Kerber in the opening round. It only gets tougher from there since the winner of the match is slated to meet 7th seed Lucie Safarova.
Safarova herself is no lock to get to the third round given she faces her Wimbledon-conqueror, wild-card Coco Vandeweghe in the first round.
Mononucleosis is not an easy disease to get over quickly and though its latest victim 4th seeded Petra Kvitova has been given the all-clear by the doctors, it is unlikely she gets very far or even plays in Cincinnati.
SEMI-FINAL PREDICTION: Serena Williams vs Angelique Kerber
DARK HORSE: Sloane Stephens
Returning to the tour after being hampered with a leg-strain in Toronto is Maria Sharapova. Easing back into the thick of it, she faces Varvara Lepchenko in the first round. Third round though, is going to be no ‘gimme’ with 13th seed Agnieszka Radwanska firmly in her way.
Draw Gods haven’t been kind to Caroline Wozniacki of late and that continues here. Victoria Azarenka, who has chewed out Wozniacki in straight sets the last four times they’ve met, is unlikely to budge this time either.
3rd seed and Toronto finalist Simona Halep and 15th seed German Andrea Petkovic also populate this half of the draw.
Injured and forced to retire in the third set of the Toronto final, Halep opens against Kristina Mladenovic or Daniela Hantuchova.
SEM-FINAL PREDICTION: Victoria Azarenka vs Maria Sharapova
DARK HORSE: Madison Keys
FINALISTS: Serena Williams vs Victoria Azarenka
WINNER: Serena Williams
Top seed and defending champion Serena Williams leads the betting stakes at Cincinnati. Bet365.com has her at 11/10 to lift the trophy while it’s an even money bet at bwin.com
Maria Sharapova is 7/1 at Bet365 and 15/2 at bwin.
Unseeded Victoria Azarenka looks to be a great bet and is offered at 8/1 at Bet365.
Finally, Toronto finalist and 3rd seed Simona Halep is 11/1 at Bet365 and 10/1 at bwin.