The second biggest tournament of the “Asian Swing” is already underway in the Japanese capital. Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams have pulled out citing shoulder bursitis and fatigue respectively, but the 56-player draw remains star-studded, with 14 of the world’s top 20 vying for the Premier 5 title, a hefty 900 ranking points and $426,000 in prize money.
Full Draw Here: WTA Tokyo 2013 Draw (Toray Pan Pacific Open)
With her two main rivals absent, Victoria Azarenka (Player Profile) becomes the hot favourite in Tokyo. But although the Belarusian has lost only one hard court match in 2013, she will have a tough time winning her 18th career title. After a first round bye, she’ll take on the winner of the Toray Pan Pacific Open’s most intriguing first round match-up between Mona Barthel and Venus Williams. Venus beat Barthel in a tight two-setter in Luxembourg last year, and her comprehensive defeat of Kirsten Flipkens at the US Open proved that she can still produce brilliant tennis at the age of 33. Venus has beaten Azarenka in both of their previous meetings, but those came before 2010, when Venus had yet to succumb to Sjogren’s Syndrome and Azarenka had yet to fulfil her potential.
If the top seed can secure a first ever win over the elder Williams sister, she’ll face one of four dangerous players in the third round. Andrea Petkovic, Elena Vesnina, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Simona Halep have each been ranked inside the top 25 at some point in their careers. Petkovic is still on the comeback trail following a series of unfortunate injuries, and Vesnina hasn’t done anything spectacular since she won the title in Eastbourne in June. After an inconsistent season Pavlyuchenkova is showing signs of life again – she made the final in Seoul this weekend – and Halep is one of the tour’s fastest-rising players, with titles on three different surfaces this summer. Azarenka has a winning record against all four of these women, but none of them will be a pushover.
Who else is likely to make the quarter-finals from the top section of the Tokyo draw? Jelena Jankovic, back inside the world’s top ten, has enjoyed one of her most successful and consistent seasons in years. The sixth seed in Japan, she’ll play either home favourite Ayumi Morita or Laura Robson in the second round. Sloane Stephens is also having a brilliant year, and a few solid results over the coming weeks would put her in a prime position to reach the top ten before the end of 2013. The 20-year-old will take on Stefanie Voegele in round one, after which she’ll face a fellow member of the up-and-coming brigade, either Eugenie Bouchard or Monica Puig. The projected Stephens-Jankovic last 16 showdown would be a rematch of the marathon they played in Cincinnati last month, which Jankovic won 7-5 in the third.
The second quarter of the draw is headed by two players in need of a successful final chapter this season. Sara Errani (Player Profile) began the year brightly and looked set to emulate her breakthrough 2012, but she lost early at Wimbledon and the US Open, and later admitted that she was struggling to deal with the pressure that comes with being a member of the WTA elite. Making matters even trickier for the counter-punching Italian is a tough draw: she could play heavy hitters in both the second and third rounds in Svetlana Kuznetsova and Sorana Cristea.
Petra Kvitova, the seventh seed in Tokyo, had endured an underwhelming season, the lowlight of which was a failure to take advantage of a wide-open Wimbledon draw. After a third round loss in New York, the Czech needs to recapture her best form if she is to have any hope of making the season-ending WTA Championships. She’ll play either qualifier Daria Gavrilova or hotly tipped youngster Belinda Bencic in the second round, but could run into the troublesome Carla Suarez Navarro in round three. If she can pass that test, Kvitova would fancy her chances against Errani in the quarter-finals: she’s beaten her five times since the beginning of 2012.
Agnieszka Radwanska (Player Profile), a finalist in Tokyo last year, leads the bottom half of the draw. She might have a fun encounter with Francesca Schiavone in the second round if the veteran Italian can negotiate a way past Aleksandra Wozniak; then, in the last 16, she could play either Dominika Cibulkova, who beat her in the Stanford final in July, or little sister Urzsula. As ever, Aga is vulnerable to a big hitter, but the most accomplished power player in her quarter is Ana Ivanovic, to whom she hasn’t lost since 2008. Radwanska won’t fear fifth seed Angelique Kerber either – not only has she won their last three meetings, but the German has looked short of confidence and consistency this season and hasn’t beaten a top ten player all year.
The withdrawals of Serena and Sharapova and the absence of Li Na mean that Caroline Wozniacki (Player Profile) finds herself seeded fourth in Tokyo. The Dane reached the quarter-finals of the Pan Pacific Open last year, and with a lot of ranking points to defend before the end of the year, will be hoping for a strong showing this time around. Her first match will be a clash with either the resurgent Flavia Pennetta, who surprised us all with her run to the US Open semi-finals earlier this month, or another veteran, Daniela Hantuchova. If she can overcome that hurdle, Wozniacki is seeded to face 14th seed Kirsten Flipkens in the last 16, who she hasn’t played in six years.
Another player with a lot of points to defend this autumn is Sam Stosur. The Aussie beat Maria Sharapova to reach the Tokyo semi-finals last year, and an early round loss this week could see her plummet out of the top 20, an ignominious development for the woman who won the US Open in 2011. However, Stosur has a good opportunity to reach the last eight. After an opening round encounter with drama queen Alize Cornet, she will player either local heroine Kimiko Date-Krumm or fellow Aussie Anastasia Rodionova. In the third round looms eighth seed Roberta Vinci, who Stosur has beaten on hard courts before.
Even accounting for her numerous injuries this year, Victoria Azarenka has been a clear-cut world number two. She came within a set of the US Open title despite not playing her best tennis in New York, and with nemesis Serena out of Tokyo, she has a clear edge over the rest of the field. Unless late-season fatigue or an inspired Venus or Kvitova stop her, Azarenka should come through a testing draw to scoop another piece of silverware.