The Western and Southern Open is our last opportunity to see all the top players in action before the US Open. Like the Rogers Cup, it’s a Premier 5 extravaganza boasting a $2.5 million dollar prize money pot as well as hundreds of ranking points for those reaching the latter stages. And like the Rogers Cup, it features a stacked draw promising intrigue and entertainment from the get-go.
Check out the Draw Here: WTA Cincinnati 2014 Draw
Cincinnati is one of the few tournaments on Serena Williams’ hit list. She’s played the event four times since it was upgraded in 2009, but has never hoisted the trophy – the closest she came was in last year’s final where she lost a classic to Victoria Azarenka. After deep runs in Stanford and Montreal, the world number one might find it difficult to break through this time, but, barring injury, she’ll certainly try.
As luck would have it, Serena’s first match in Ohio could be a repeat of her opener in Canada. There, she demolished Sam Stosur in under an hour, making a fool of those who thought the Aussie might be able to push the legend. Even if Stosur gets past a battle-tested qualifier in her first round, there’s no reason to expect a different result this time. Serena is then slated to meet Flavia Pennetta in the third round, but the Italian has been off the boil of late and could struggle to emerge from a section that includes two more qualifiers and the always-tricky Klara Koukalova.
The Montreal draw gods were kind to Azarenka, but karma has come back around in Cincinnati. Not only has she missed out on an opening round bye for the time in years, she’ll have to play Wimbledon quarterfinalist Barbora Zahlavova Strycova at that stage. Assuming she can grit her way through that match, she’ll face either Sloane Stephens or Andrea Petkovic in round two, with the likes of Garbine Muguruza and Jelena Jankovic lurking in the last 16.
Vika needs match practice and she needs to defend at least some of her points from last year’s title run, but she also needs to prioritise her health. She suffered a nasty knee injury in Montreal that severely hampered her movement. Is it wise to enter another event a few days later, and against such fierce competition? Even if she doesn’t pull out, it’s difficult to see her coming through this part of the draw. Maybe this is Sloane Stephens’ chance to make an impact. She’s beaten Petkovic before, and will be keen to avenge last week’s narrow defeat to Jankovic.
Predicted quarter-final: Serena def. Stephens
After a forgettable few months, Agnieszka Radwanska was more like her old self in Montreal, and she’s been handed a manageable route to the Cincinnati quarter-finals. She’ll play Romina Oprandi or Kurumi Nara in the second round, and in the last 16 she’ll meet either the slumping Roberta Vinci or the never-reliable Sabine Lisicki, who she beat in three sets last week.
Bidding for the role of Radwanska’s last eight opponent are three women who produced some of their best tennis at the Rogers Cup. Caroline Wozniacki pushed Serena to the limit in one of the matches of the tournament, and will be eager to maintain that momentum. Ekaterina Makarova recorded one of the best wins of her career when she upset Petra Kvitova, and Angelique Kerber very nearly got the better of a resurgent Venus Williams. Kerber is the only member of this trio to have a winning record over the other two, but if Wozniacki can continue the form that troubled Serena, she’ll have a great chance here. And if she can beat Kerber, she can beat Radwanska for the first time since 2011.
Predicted quarter-final: Wozniacki def. Radwanska
Eugenie Bouchard endured a miserable homecoming last week, getting bagelled twice in a three-set loss to Shelby Rogers played in a funereal atmosphere. Will that experience stay with the young Canadian, or can she rebound immediately with a solid run in Cincinnati? Even if she’s willing to accomplish the latter, she might not be able: awaiting her in round two will be either Camila Giorgi or Washington champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, two players who can blast anyone off the court when they’re in the zone. Bouchard will probably be less fazed by her slated third round opponent, Ana Ivanovic. She’s beaten the Serb in both of their previous meetings.
If Bouchard can live up to her seeding in Cincinnati, what price Petra Kvitova doing the same to set up a Wimbledon final rematch? The Czech bombed in Montreal, but she was clearly rusty after a four-week post-Wimbledon holiday. Carla Suarez Navarro is the most dangerous name in her vicinity here, and Petra has beaten her five times out of seven. Bouchard v Kvitova The Sequel promises a lot and could deliver. Will the youngster be scarred by memories of the Wimbledon beatdown? Or will the hotter, higher-bouncing conditions in Ohio spur her on to a cathartic victory?
Predicted quarter-final: Bouchard def. Kvitova
Another player hopping to hit back from a disappointing result in Montreal is Maria Sharapova. The Russian will open against the winner of an interesting clash between Alize Cornet and Madison Keys, after which she could run into Dominika Cibulkova or, perhaps more likely given the Slovak’s dire from recently, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Making her North American hard court debut a week later than her peers is Simona Halep, who chose to skip Montreal in order to recover from a busy – and extremely successful – European summer. The Romanian is second only to Bouchard in terms of Grand Slam match wins this season, and will be expecting a lot of herself at the US Open. But she’ll need to build some momentum first. An opener against either a qualifier or Kirsten Flipkens shouldn’t pose too many problems, but will she find her groove in time for a possible last 16 bout with Venus Williams? The American was in superb form in Montreal, and is more than capable of spoiling Halep’s return to hard courts.
Predicted quarter-final: Sharapova def. Venus
Predicted semi-finals: Serena def. Wozniacki; Sharapova def. Bouchard
Champion: Serena Williams
No player has even won in Stanford, Canada and Cincinnati in the same season, and very few have gone deep at all three. It wouldn’t be a total shock if Serena made a late withdrawal from the Western and Southern Open, content with her US Open preparations at the first two events. But if she’s playing, she’s playing to win, and yet again it’s hard to see who’ll stop her. She might pull the rip-cord in a potential semi-final with Wozniacki if the Dane looks like keeping her on court all day, but if she has enough left in the tank Serena will not be content with letting another Cincinnati trophy slip from her grasp.
A Serena-Halep final would be a fascinating watch, their first encounter since the Romanian gained elite status, but Halep would have to hit peak form fast to set that one up. She might do just that, but if she doesn’t, we’re likely to see Sharapova battle her way through the bottom half, atoning for her Montreal mess. Could Maria then get the better of an exhausted Serena in the Cincinnati showpiece? Their notoriously one-sided head-to-head record suggests not.