The biggest stars in the women’s game (minus Maria Sharapova) will align in Toronto this week for the Rogers Cup. Total prize money of $2.3 million is on the table, and the champion will walk away with a useful 900 ranking points.
Full Draw Here: WTA Toronto 2013 Draw
Last year, Petra Kvitova won the title with impressive back-to-back victories over Caroline Wozniacki and Li Na. The Czech needs to do well again in 2013 if she is to maintain her place in the top eight ahead of the US Open, but is she in good enough form to defend her crown? What can we expect from Marion Bartoli, playing her first event since Wimbledon? And can anyone stop Serena?
The younger Williams sister is playing her first hard court event of the summer in Toronto, with her sights set firmly on a fifth US Open title next month. As a top eight seed, she gets a bye into the second round, where she will face either Francesca Schiavone or a qualifier. Schiavone has served up some decent tennis as she plays what must surely be one of her last years on the tour, but unless Serena is seriously off form, she won’t have much of a chance. The world number one is seeded to meet 15th seed and Wimbledon semi-finalist Kirsten Flipkens in the last 16, but many would prefer to see her take on her big sister. As has been the case with Venus in recent years, all depends on her health. Is her back strong enough to let her blast past Flipkens in round one? Or will the Belgian make her suffer with slices, spins and rally-extending lobs?
Three spots in the next section of the draw will be taken up by qualifiers, which, in theory, makes Marion Bartoli’s route to the third round more straightforward. It will be fascinating to see if the Frenchwoman plays any differently now that she’s a Grand Slam champion. She had been enduring a miserable year prior to Wimbledon – were her All England Club exploits a happy fluke or is she now ready to challenge for big titles on a regular basis? A potential last 16 clash with Caroline Wozniacki would be a good indicator of Bartoli’s post-Wimbledon form, but the confidence-starved Dane will first have to negotiate a way past Varvara Lepchenko and then, most probably, the in-form Magdalena Rybarikova.
Predicted quarter-final: Serena v Bartoli
Agnieszka Radwanska signed up for more hard court tournaments than any other top player this summer. Having failed to produce her best tennis in Stanford and Carlsbad, she’ll be hoping to rediscover the form that almost took her to the Wimbledon final, but she could face a testing opener against Laura Robson, who beat her on clay in Madrid this year. However, that’s only if the Brit, who played a stinker against Kvitova in California last week, can down the solid Yanina Wickmayer in round one. Two other youngsters will be vying for Radwanska’s blood in this section. Sloane Stephens, the 14th seed, meets Kristina Mladenovic in the opening round, a match-up that could become a regular fixture in the next few years.
Sara Errani proved her hard court credentials with a run to the US Open semi-finals last year, but she will have to be at her feisty best if she is to live up to her seeding in Toronto. She could play any one of Elena Vesnina, Alize Cornet or Maria Kirilenko in the third round, and although she has a winning record against all three, many of those victories came on clay courts.
Predicted quarter-final: Radwanska v Kirilenko
Another player in action for the first time since Wimbledon is Li Na. The Chinese star came within a set of the Australian Open title in January and has shown flashes of brilliance since, but inconsistency remains her achilles heel. If she can take care of the equally unpredictable Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round, she could find herself up against yet another hot-and-cold player in the last 16: Ana Ivanovic. The Serb is currently playing without a coach, but looked sharp in Carlsbad, where she upset Stanford champion Dominika Cibulkova.
Speaking of whom, her exit from the top 15 has left Cibulkova at the mercy of the draw gods, and sure enough she will find eight seed Angelique Kerber waiting in the second round (provided she beats a qualifier in the first). Kerber’s 2013 has been less stellar than her 2012, but she is at her best on hard courts and will be keen to atone for a surprise loss to Rybarikova in Washington last week. Roberta Vinci is the other seed in the German’s section and, much like doubles partner Errani, she had a better than expected US Open last year, reaching the quarter-finals. Vinci has beaten Kerber in both of their previous hard court matches.
Predicted quarter-final: Li v Vinci
Victoria Azarenka had originally left Toronto off her playing schedule for this summer; the Belarusian, the top seed in Carlsbad, generally doesn’t like to play consecutive tournaments. But she says she is feeling fit again after suffering a painful-looking knee injury at Wimbledon, and there is a lot to gain from posting a strong result at the Rogers Cup. Currently third in the rankings, a run to the latter stages would see her overtake Maria Sharapova and thereby allow her to avoid a semi-final showdown with Serena at the US Open. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, however, Azarenka needs to get through a section that includes the increasingly impressive Sorana Cristea and the erratic but always dangerous Jelena Jankovic.
Bidding to be Azarenka’s quarter-final opponent are two Grand Slam champions from 2011, Petra Kvitova and Sam Stosur. Kvitova had a tournament to remember at the Southern California. After schooling Laura Robson in the second round, she lost a three hour, 35 minute soap opera to Virginie Razzano – the second longest WTA match of the year. She could face crowd favourite Eugenie Bouchard in the second round in Toronto, but an intriguing third round clash with Stosur will only materialise if the Aussie can beat a qualifier followed by either Jamie Hampton or Carla Suarez Navarro. Given her surprise win over Radwanska in Carlsbad, it seems that the woman who stunned Serena in New York two years ago is, at long last, moving in the right direction again.
Predicted quarter-final: Azarenka v Stosur
Predicted semi-finals: Serena def. Radwanska; Azarenka def. Li
Champion: Serena Williams
Radwanska hasn’t been at her best in her two post-Wimbledon tournaments, but it’s hard to see her losing to a lower-ranked player for the third event in a row. Serena might be rusty in her first hard court match since March, yet even a rusty Serena is better than 90% of the field. While picking Li to come through a section full of dark horses in a risk, tipping Azarenka to reach the semis is not, given how rock solid her results have been over the last 18 months.
The Australian Open champion is one of only two players in the draw to beat Serena in 2013 (the other is Sloane Stephens). Can she pull off another hard court win over the 16-time Grand Slam champion and make things interesting in the lead-up to the US Open? Given Serena’s unquenchable thirst for revenge, the answer is probably no, but that won’t stop the equally competitive Azarenka from trying.