Of the 28 players contesting the Southern California Open this week, six have won a Grand Slam title and three have reached the top of the rankings. The only woman to have done both is Victoria Azarenka, who will be playing her first event since she was forced to pull out of Wimbledon with a knee injury. The Belarusian has endured more than her fair share of setbacks this season, but she remains unbeaten on hard courts, and will be determined to get her US Open build-up off to the best possible start.
As a top four seed, Azarenka will receive a bye into the second round. There, she will face the winner of an all-Italian battle between Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone. While neither of those players should pose much of a threat – Pennetta is still on the comeback trail and Schiavone is very inconsistent these days – the top seed could face much stiffer competition in the quarter-finals. Jelena Jankovic awaits at that stage, and although she hasn’t beaten Azarenka since 2009, she has been in good form this year and will have nothing to lose.
Full Draw Here: WTA Carlsbad 2013 Draw
Roberta Vinci is the highest seed in the second section of the draw, but she faces a potentially tricky second round meeting with either Monica Puig or Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Puig thrashed Vinci’s doubles partner Sara Errani at Wimbledon, and is one of the most promising members of the WTA’s generation next. Mattek-Sands has fallen off the radar slightly since the clay court season, but she’ll be keen to play well back on home soil. Ana Ivanovic also has a good chance to come through this section; however, she can never be relied upon to beat lower-ranked players and has one of the toughest possible openers against defending champion Dominika Cibulkova.
Agnieszka Radwanska has signed herself up for the busiest schedule of any top player this summer. No other member of the top ten is playing Stanford, Carlsbad, Toronto and Cincinnati, and the Pole’s many fans will be hoping that fatigue won’t become a factor as she gears up for the year’s final Grand Slam. Radwanska should have few problems taking out either Tamira Paszek or Daniela Hantuchova in the second round. In the last eight, she is seeded to meet Sam Stosur, who took a wild card into the tournament following her early exit in Stanford last week. The Aussie is one of the few players capable of turning her form around from one event to the next. If she doesn’t, she could fall to Varvara Lepchenko at the first hurdle, the American who pushed Radwanska to three sets in Stanford.
At what point do we give up hope that Petra Kvitova will ever recapture the form and confidence that brought her the Venus Rosewater Dish in 2011? The Czech had a prime opportunity to win a second Wimbledon title last month, with Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Azarenka out before the second week. Instead, she lost to Kirsten Flipkens. Kvitova actually hit a purple patch on North American hard courts this time last year, winning trophies in Montreal and New Haven and reaching the semis in Cincinnati. With so many ranking points to defend, she will be looking for a strong result in Carlsbad, but she could face her Australian Open conqueror Laura Robson in round two and, potentially, former US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarter-finals.
While Victoria Azarenka’s fitness may have taken a knock or two this year, her aura certainly hasn’t. One of the fiercest competitors in the game, she is the favourite to win the 2013 Southern California Open. No other player in the top half of the draw has such a lethal combination of power and consistency. Should she face Radwanska in the final, we can only hope that it will be a more intriguing affair than their recent matches. Azarenka, who leads the pair’s head-to-head 12-3, won their last five meetings without dropping a set.