WTA Toray Pan Pacific Open 2012, Tokyo Draw Preview and Analysis

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The first major tournament of the Asian Swing is already underway. The Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo offers a hefty 900 ranking points for the winner, as well as a total prize money pot of over $2million. Most important for fans though, is the opportunity to see the WTA’s top players in action for the first time since the US Open. The tournament features twelve of the top thirteen players in the world, the notable absentee being Serena Williams.

Even without the unique buzz that the Wimbledon and US Open champion generates, the event promises a lot of interesting match-ups, especially if the elite players hit top form and meet towards the end of the week. The top eight seeds all receive byes into the second round, but the competition will be stiff from thereon in.

World number one Victoria Azarenka leads the field, hoping not only for her first title since Indian Wells in March, but also to cement her position as the most dominant player on tour not named Serena. Azarenka was proud of her performance in the US Open final, in which she was just two points away from winning her second Grand Slam title. Nevertheless, the loss must have been heartbreaking, and she will dearly wish to be the one hoisting the trophy in Tokyo next weekend. Hers is arguably the tougher half of the draw. A potential rematch of her Wimbledon quarter-final against Tamira Paszek is on the cards for the second round, and could be followed by a tricky last-16 encounter with crafty Italian Roberta Vinci. In the quarter-finals, Angelique Kerber will most likely await the Australian Open champion. The German is following up her breakthrough 2011 with a stunning 2012, and has notched more wins than any other player this year.

Agnieszka Radwanska is the tournament’s third seed and defending champion. The Pole made a superb start to 2012, making it all the way to May without losing to anyone but Azarenka. Since then, with the exception of her first Grand Slam final appearance at Wimbledon, she has struggled to find her best form, tending to overplay and thereby exacerbate nagging injuries. She should make it past Jelena Jankovic in her first match, and will probably be too consistent for Kaia Kanepi, her likely opponent in the third round. In Radwanska’s quarter, however, lurk Li Na and Caroline Wozniacki. Li had an unexpectedly excellent summer on American hard courts, making the final in Montreal and winning the title in Cincinnati (thrashing Radwanska in both of those events for good measure). Wozniacki’s woes have been well-documented this season, but she will enter Tokyo fresh from her first tournament victory in over a year in Seoul, and is desperate to regain her consistent winning ways.

The third section of the draw is perhaps the least “star-studded”. The highest seed here is Petra Kvitova, who continues to frustrate her admirers with inexplicable mental collapses and dubious shot selection during high-profile matches. Many believe that the former Wimbledon champion has the tools and the talent to become not only a multiple Slam winner, but also one of the game’s truly great players. Although she has performed solidly this year, making three Grand Slam quarter finals and winning two titles, her results have not lived up to the promise she showed during her stellar 2011. To make the last eight in Tokyo, she will have to negotiate her way past a barrage of dangerous opponents, including the promising Petra Martic, wily veteran Nadia Petrova and either the diminutive-but-feisty Sara Errani or the eccentric-but-deadly Marion Bartoli, who dumped Kvitova out of the US Open 2012.

The final section of the draw is spearheaded by Maria Sharapova, enjoying one of her best ever years on the tour. Completing her Grand Slam collection by winning the French Open 2012 was the obvious highlight, but she also reached the Australian Open final and won the Olympic silver medal. Bitterly disappointed after losing a thrilling three-setter to Azarenka in the US Open semi-finals, the Russian will be eager to reassert herself in Tokyo, especially since a strong finish to the season could see her recapture the number one ranking. The second seed has a tricky opening match, against either promising Brit Heather Watson or the dangerous Sabine Lisicki, to whom she lost at this year’s Wimbledon. Other potential opponents on her route to the semi-finals include Lucie Safarova, Dominika Cibulkova and eighth seed Sam Stosur.

One of the WTA’s banner “Premier 5” events, the Toray Pan Pacific Open serves up Grand Slam-level tennis with an elite, packed field, but compressed into one week: to win the title, contenders will have to rebound quickly from potentially draining matches. The tournament promises entertainment and excitement for fans as players seek to end their season on a high.

See full draw here: Toray Pan Pacific Open 2012 Singles Draw

Semi-final predictions:

Victoria Azarenka vs Caroline Wozniacki

Maria Sharapova vs Petra Kvitova

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