WTA Brussels 2013 Draw Preview and Analysis

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For the full WTA Brussels draw, please click here: WTA Brussels 2013 Draw

The Brussels Open, a WTA Premier event that offers players a last chance to fine-tune their clay court games ahead of the French Open next week, is underway in the Belgian capital. The top eight have elected to rest before the year’s second Grand Slam, which leaves Caroline Wozniacki as the tournament’s top seed.

The Dane is enduring her worst slump in a long time. Semi-final appearances in Dubai and Indian Wells in February and March indicated that she was beginning to recapture her best form, but she has won only two matches since then, and none on red clay. Wozniacki, the winner of the inaugural Brussels Open in 2011, was once criticised for playing relatively small events in the run-up to Grand Slams. This year, however, she is in desperate need of extra matches in order to gain a measure of confidence before travelling to Paris.

Wozniacki has been awarded a bye into the second round, where she will face either Zheng Jie or a qualifier. Although the top seed has a 2-3 losing record against the Chinese player, she thrashed her for the loss of only one game in Dubai a few months ago. Wozniacki could well run into another qualifier in the last eight, but she is seeded to face her erstwhile nemesis, Julia Goerges. The German beat her twice on clay in 2011, yet her career momentum has stalled somewhat since then, and she too enters Brussels with a poor clay court record this year. Overcoming a powerful opponent that has upset her several times in the past would be a perfect tonic for Wozniacki following early defeats in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome.

Yet another slumping player, Sloane Stephens, showed signs of life in Rome last week. The young American snapped her losing streak by reaching the third round of the Italian Open, where she was soundly beaten by Maria Sharapova. Stephens, who reached the last 16 of the French Open in 2012, has a very winnable opening match in Brussels against grass court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova, and will play either a qualifier or 53rd-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova in the second round. Stephens’ opposition gets tougher in the last eight, however: she could face either the 2011 Brussels runner-up Peng Shuai, or Sofia Arvidsson, who upset her during the USA-Sweden Fed Cup clash last month.

The third quarter of the draw features another rising American, Varvara Lepchenko, who takes on the erratic but talented Serb Bojana Jovanovski in the first round. Britain’s Elena Baltacha has been handed a wild card into the Brussels Open, but will need to play well to get past Stefani Voegele, the woman who beat a slew of top players to reach the semi-finals in Charleston in April. Dominika Cibulkova, the third seed, is favourite on paper to come through this section, but the diminutive Slovakian was humiliated by Serena Williams in Rome and faces a tough opener against Kaia Kanepi, who reached the quarter-finals in Madrid two weeks ago.

The only other player to receive a first-round bye at the Brussels Open is second-seeded Roberta Vinci. The Italian will have a quick turnaround after competing in the doubles final in Rome, but she has an excellent opportunity to aim for her second clay court singles title of the season, following her recent triumph in Katowice. If she can get through a second round match against either a qualifier or 19-year-old Belgian wild card Alison Van Uytvanck, Vinci will face any one of Jamie Hampton, Madison Keys, Yanina Wickmayer or Kirsten Flipkens in the quarter-finals. Hampton and Keys are exciting American prospects who are climbing the rankings fast; Keys recently posted a career-best win over Li Na in Madrid. Wickmayer and Flipkens will undoubtedly have the support of the home crowd in Brussels, but the former hasn’t won back-to-back matches since Australia, and Flipkens has only a single victory on clay under her belt this season.

The Brussels Open could be a very intriguing event, especially if the top players in the draw live up to their seedings. A Wozniacki-Goerges clash would be one to watch, and a Wozniacki-Stephens semi-final would be a fascinating mental battle between two players who would dearly love a title. Heavy-hitters such as Cibulkova and Kanepi are capable of reaching the final, but the steady and experienced Vinci will likely stand in their way.

Predicted semi-finals: Wozniacki def. Stephens; Vinci def. Kanepi

Champion: Roberta Vinci

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