The final WTA Premier event of 2013 takes place in Moscow this week, featuring six of the world’s top 20. Alas, the fact that all eight of the Istanbul spots have been taken robs the Kremlin Cup of some intrigue, but there is still potential for some exciting match-ups as players aim to end their seasons on a high note.
Full Draw HERE: WTA Kremlin Cup (Moscow) 2013 Draw
Unsurprisingly, the original top seed, Angelique Kerber, has opted to pull out of Moscow. The German, who secured the final Istanbul place last week and backed up her credentials by winning the Linz title on Sunday, has been busier post-US Open than at any other stage of the season, and she obviously wants to rest up ahead of her battles with the elite at the end of the month.
Kerber’s withdrawal means that third seed Maria Kirilenko (Bio) moves into the number one slot, but it doesn’t make the going any less tough for the Russian. In the second round (the top four seeds receive first round byes) she’ll pay either compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Caroline Garcia. Pavlyuchenkova has had her struggles this season, but she won the title in Monterey and recently came within a few games of beating Agnieszka Radwanska in the Seoul final last month. Garcia currently lags behind fellow teens Eugenie Bouchard and Laura Robson, but the Frenchwoman has proven that she doesn’t fear encounters with big name players.
If she can clear that hurdle, Kirilenko is slated to meet eighth seed Dominika Cibulkova in the quarter-finals. The Slovakian has had a similarly up-and-down year, with plenty of early round losses interspersed with highlights such as her run to the Stanford title. She might have to get past the erratic but always dangerous Daniela Hantuchova to reach the last eight, and she won’t relish a showdown with Kirilenko, who has beaten her three times in four matches.
The second quarter of the Moscow draw is now headed by fifth seed Simona Halep (Bio). Aside from an early loss in Beijing, the Romanian has been extremely impressive since the French Open, and seems to be on an unstoppable march towards the top ten. In Moscow, she could face Magdalena Rybarikova in the second round and sixth seed Carla Suarez Navarro in the last eight, provided the Spaniard can overcome a qualifier and then either Varvara Lepchenko or Alisa Kleybanova. Halep is 4-4 in her head-to-head with Navarro, but has won their last two clashes.
The Istanbul field may have been shortlisted already, but Moscow’s second seed, Roberta Vinci (Bio), is still in with a shot at grabbing the first alternate position. The Italian’s quietly successful season includes nine quarter-final appearances and two International titles, as well as six wins over top ten players – pretty impressive for someone once regarded as a doubles specialist. Vinci will open her Moscow campaign against either Yaroslava Shvedova or, more likely, Elena Vesnina. She trails her head-to-head with Vesnina 2-4; the pair have clashed twice in 2013 and gone the distance on each occasion, with Vesnina triumphing in Melbourne and Vinci in Rome. The reward for the victor this time could be a showdown with Svetlana Kuznetsova, but only if the mercurial Russian can dispatch lower-ranked opponents in the first two rounds, something that can never be taken for granted.
Finally, two of the WTA’s most gifted yet frustrating stars find themselves in the same section of the Kremlin Cup draw. Ana Ivanovic (Bio), the third seed, arrives in Moscow on the back of a final appearance in Linz. Sam Stosur, seeded seventh, will jet in from Osaka, where she won the title. A fifth career meeting between these two (Stosur leads 3-2) would make for a fascinating quarter-final, but that will only materialise if both come through their opening rounds. Ivanovic has the easier task against either a qualifier or Klara Zakopalova, but Stosur will have to get past Kaia Kanepi (who has beaten her before), followed by either talented teen Elina Svitolina or 27th-ranked Alize Cornet. She may be riding high after tasting glory in Japan, but we know by now that momentum means little when it comes to the former US Open champion.
Predicted semi-finals: Halep def. Kirilenko; Ivanovic def. Vinci
Champion: Simona Halep
Kerber’s exit leaves the door open for one of the tour’s most improved players, Simona Halep. The 22-year-old may be undersized, but she packs a punch on both wings, is a brilliant mover and has that all-important winning mentality. Others in the Moscow draw may have accomplished more in their careers to date, but few have matched her consistency in the second half of 2013. With late-season fatigue afflicting so many of her rivals, Halep can power the field and pick up her fifth trophy of the year.