The Asian Swing enters its final stretch this week, as the fifth HP Open gets underway in Osaka. The 32-player draw features a former world number one, a former US Open champion, and several of the most hotly tipped young players on the WTA Tour.
Check out the Full Draw HERE: WTA Osaka 2013 Draw
Keen to secure her place in the WTA Championships in Istanbul at the end of the month, Jelena Jankovic (Player Bio) travels to Osaka fresh from her final appearance in Beijing. The top seed in Japan, she’ll take on Aleksandra Wozniak in the opening round, followed by either Sharon Fichman or Jie Zheng. Jankovic has a winning record over all three women, but she has always been pushed by Zheng, currently ranked 54th.
Aiming to end a brilliant season on a high note is Osaka’s sixth seed Madison Keys (Player Bio). The 18-year old has climbed into the top 40 after starting 2013 with a ranking in triple figures. Powerful, athletic and determined, she is hailed by many as the next superstar of American tennis. Keys will begin her quest for a maiden WTA title against a qualifier, after which she’ll take on Shuai Zhang or Anabel Medina Garrigues. Should Keys and Jankovic meet in the quarter-finals, it would be a rematch of their first round US Open encounter, which Jankovic won in straight sets.
Sam Stosur (Player Bio) won the inaugural HP Open in 2009, and enters this year’s tournament on the verge of tumbling out of the top 20. Aside from a win over Victoria Azarenka in the Carlsbad final in July, the Aussie has endured a miserable season, failing to get past the third round of any Grand Slam. She should beat Johanna Larsson in round one and Lauren Davis in round two, but her loss to Victoria Duval in New York proved that she is vulnerable against unknown quantities.
Laura Robson (Player Bio) has been handed a thankless task in Osaka. In the first round, the British number one will play tennis legend and local favourite Kimiko Date-Krumm, ranked just 17 places below Robson despite being 24 years her senior. If the Londoner can overcome Date-Krumm and her vocal crowd support, she could play another home player in round two, Misaki Doi, who she has never met before. The slated quarter-final meeting between Stosur and Robson could be a brilliant display of power hitting, and a great opportunity for the 19-year-old to avenge her US Open 2012 defeat, but there is no guarantee that either will get that far, let alone both.
Eugenie Bouchard (Player Bio) recently overtook Robson as the highest ranked teenager in women’s tennis. The Canadian did so by reaching the quarter-finals in Tokyo, and she’ll be hoping for another solid run back in Japan this week. Alas, she has one of the toughest draws of any seeded player, opening against Varvara Lepchenko and then playing either Ayumi Morita or fellow up-and-comer Kristina Mladenovic. If Bouchard can clear those hurdles, she’ll likely face US Open semi-finalist Flavia Pennetta (Player Bio) in the last eight.
Sabine Lisicki (Player Bio) heads the bottom quarter of the Osaka draw, and looks to have turned her form around after suffering a post-Wimbledon slump. The German thrashed Venus Williams in Beijing last week before falling to Li Na in a tight two-setter, and has a chance to gain some more confidence in what is likely to be her final tournament of 2013. She’ll play Chanelle Scheepers off the bat, followed by Petra Cetkovska or Polona Hercog.
Undoubtedly, the player under most pressure in Osaka is Heather Watson. The British number two won the trophy last year, and will plummet in the rankings if she fails to reach the latter stages this time around. Watson begins her title defence against Monica Puig (Player Bio), who has risen to 45th in the rankings. If she can pull off that upset, she could face yet another youngster for a place in the quarter-finals, Caroline Garcia. Watson has a solid defensive game and had been working on playing more aggressively, but her recent winless streak leaves her starved of vital match toughness and confidence. It will be a remarkable achievement if she gets anywhere close to the Osaka final in 2013.
There is potential for some brilliant tennis at the Utsubo Tennis Center this week, provided the top players can stay consistent as late-season fatigue becomes a factor. If all eight seeded players live up to their status, the four quarter-finals will be a tale of youth v experience: Keys-Jankovic, Robson-Stosur, Bouchard-Pennetta and Puig-Lisicki. But International events rarely follow a predictable pattern, and each of the aforementioned players will have to overcome at least one tricky customer to get to the last eight.
Predicted semi-finals: Jankovic def. Stosur; Bouchard def. Lisicki
Champion: Jelena Jankovic