The women’s US Open Series launches in California with one of the oldest tournaments in the WTA. In the tranquil setting of Stanford University, the Bank of the West Classic a particularly cozy and rewarding tournaments. Here is a look ahead at what to expect this week at Stanford and at the International event half a world away in Azerbaijan.
Top half: Rarely do Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka all spurn Stanford. Their absence this year offers world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska an opportunity as the only top-10 player in the draw. The top seed probably still can taste the bitter disappointment of a greater opportunity squandered at Wimbledon. Radwanska will seek to bounce back on a relatively fast hard court, where she has reached the semifinals before. She should reach that stage again with no pre-semifinal opponent more formidable than Varvara Lepchenko, just 2-9 away from clay this year. A potentially intriguing first-round match between youthful energy and veteran cunning pits Stanford alum Mallory Burdette against Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone.
Sandwiched between two unimpressive seeds, Madison Keys should showcase her power on a court suited to it. American fans will enjoy their glimpse of the woman who could become their leading threat to win a major in a few years. Keys will look to deliver an opening upset over eighth seed Magdalena Rybarikova en route to a possible quarterfinal against compatriot Jamie Hampton. Climbing into relevance with an Eastbourne final, Hampton holds the fourth seed and may face another Stanford alum in Nicole Gibbs. Hampton stunned Radwanska at Eastbourne last month, while Keys took a set from her at Wimbledon.
Semifinal: Radwanska vs. Keys
Bottom half: The third quarter features another unseeded American hopeful—and another Radwanska. Stanford’s depleted field allowed Agnieszka’s younger sister, Urszula, to snag the seventh seed, while Christina McHale looks for momentum on the long road back from mononucleosis. Still elegant as she fades, Daniela Hantuchova brings a touch of grace that should contrast with the athleticism of first-round opponent Yanina Wickmayer. Often a presence but rarely a threat at Stanford, third seed Dominika Cibulkova has not won more than two matches at any tournament since January.
The only US Open champion in the draw, Samantha Stosur might face a challenging test against Julia Goerges. This enigmatic German has won three of their four meetings, including both on hard courts, although the last three all have reached a third set. Of course, a 14-17 record in 2013 does not bode well for her chances of surviving Olga Govortsova in the first round. The road might not get any easier for Stosur in the quarterfinals, though, where she could meet Sorana Cirstea. A product of the Adidas training program in Las Vegas, Cirstea upset Stosur at last year’s Australian Open. None of the women in the lower half ever has reached a final at Stanford.
Semifinal: Cibulkova vs. Stosur
Final: Radwanska vs. Stosur
Top half: Not one of these women will hold a seed at the US Open unless their rankings rise between now and then. Holding the top seed is Bojana Jovanovski, who owes many of her poitns to a second-week appearance at the Australian Open. Jovanovski has two victories over Caroline Wozniacki but few over anyone else since then. Former junior No. 1 Daria Gavrilova and fellow Serb Vesna Dolonc offer her most credible competition before the semifinals.
At that stage, Jovanovski might meet Andrea Hlavackova, the runner-up in a similarly weak draw at Bad Gastein a week ago. Although she has fallen outside the top 100, meanwhile, Shahar Peer will hope to rely on her experience to stop either Hlavackova or third seed Chanelle Scheepers. The speed of the surface may determine whether a counterpuncher like Peer or Scheepers overcomes the heavier serve of fifth seed Karolina Pliskova.
Bottom half: Unheralded players from the home nation often play above expectations at small tournaments like Baku. Wildcard Kamilla Farhad, an Azerbaijani citizen, will hope to echo Yvonne Meusberger’s astonishing title run in Bad Gastein. Surrounding her are clay specialist Alexandra Cadantu and the stagnating Polona Hercog. A tall Slovenian, the later woman seems the best equipped to win on hard courts from this section. Cadantu will need to blunt the explosive serve of Michaella Krajicek to survive her opener.
The 18-year-old Elina Svitolina showed promise in Bad Gastein by reaching the semifinals. That experience will have served her well heading into another International event with an open draw. She even holds a seed here, as does another rising star in Donna Vekic. Nearly two years younger than Svitolina, Vekic already has reached two WTA finals. A quarterfinal between the two teenagers might offer a preview of more momentous matches in the future.
Final: Pliskova vs. Vekic
In a quiet week for the ATP outside Davis Cup, the WTA features a Premier tournament on the unique green clay and the only Mexican hard-court tournament on the calendar. An old event and a new event, Charleston and Monterrey feature fields surprisingly strong in view of the two marquee tournaments that filled last month.
Top half: A moment of silence, please, for Mandy Minella and Camila Giorgi. These two women, who have struggled in recent moments, battle for the honor of sharing a court with world No. 1 Serena Williams. Fresh from her Miami triumph, the defending champion in Charleston might face her first meaningful test in 2009 Charleston champion Sabine Lisicki. The German has struggled to gain traction outside the grass season, though, as her unreliable groundstrokes undo the contributions of her explosive serve. A rematch of last year’s Charleston final could await against Lucie Safarova in the quarterfinals, although Sorana Cirstea will aim to build upon her fourth-round appearance in Miami, where she upset world No. 6 Angelique Kerber.
The fourth-seeded Sloane Stephens has struggled to profit from the favorable draws that she has received with a ranking inflated by her Australian Open semifinal appearance. Although she won a set from Agnieszka Radwanska in Miami, she has not won more than one match at any tournament since that Melbourne breakthrough. In her vicinity stand two compatriots at opposite ends of their careers, the veteran Bethanie Mattek-Sands and the teenage star Madison Keys. The formidable serves of either or both women could threaten Stephens more than Tamira Paszek, a grass-court specialist mired in yet another slump. Three more Americans will vie to become her quarterfinal opponent, including the first-round winner of a contest between Varvara Lepchenko and Christina McHale. Both Lepchenko and McHale could use a strong result to boost their confidence, but the real name to note here is Venus Williams. A finalist in Charleston four years ago, Venus needs to conserve her energy with comfortable wins in the early rounds.
Semifinal: Serena vs. Venus
Bottom half: Another former Charleston champion, Sam Stosur, aims to kick off her clay campaign in style as she recovers from an Indian Wells injury. Her closest challengers range from the aging but still elegant Daniela Hantuchova to Laura Robson, the latter of whom urgently needs some positive energy. Robson has lost demoralizing three-setters early in each of her last three tournaments, two after winning the first set, in a test of her volatile temper. Another woman with mercurial tendencies, Jelena Jankovic hopes to prove that her unexpected surge to the Miami semifinals marked more than a mirage. Jankovic excelled on clay when at her peak but has landed in a challenging section near March sensation Garbine Muguruza and the heavy-hitting German Mona Barthel. A surface faster than its red counterpart, green clay has rewarded such power hitters before.
Arguably the weakest quarter of the draw offers Caroline Wozniacki an opportunity to recapture her former mastery of this surface. A former champion both here and at the defunct companion event in Amelia Island / Ponte Vedra Beach, the second seed probably eyes her last chance to leave an impact until the US Open Series. Much happier for the clay season’s arrival is Carla Suarez Navarro, well inside the top 25 now and likely hoping to rise even higher on her favorite surface. Near her lie both the fiery young star Yulia Putintseva and the dormant Julia Goerges, who has recorded several upsets on clay with her elongated but penetrating groundstrokes. Wozniacki may feel grateful to avoid Goerges, her nemesis more than once, but she could face an even more talented German in her second match. Still rebuilding her confidence following a series of debilitating injuries, Andrea Petkovic hopes to justify her wildcard in this soft section and string together some victories.
Semifinal: Jankovic vs. Wozniacki
Final: Serena vs. Wozniacki
Top half: The only top-ten player in the field, Angelique Kerber did not waste the opportunity to collect a few more points on her favored hard courts before the clay season arrives. Gifted uneventful early matches, she could face top-ranked Japanese woman Ayumi Morita in the quarterfinals. This double-fister recently reached the semifinals at Kuala Lumpur and delivered a competitive effort against Serena in Miami, not long after she had upset top-seeded Ivanovic in Pattaya City. While she has split her four previous meetings with Kerber, the German won the last two comfortably and has not lost to Morita since 2007.
Several potential future stars occupy the second quarter, such as USC women’s star Maria Sanchez. Struggling to emerge from qualifying draws at most of the tournaments that she has played, Sanchez did register a key main-draw victory at Indian Wells. Halted by Agnieszka Radwanska there, she faces the Pole’s less renowned sister, Urszula, in a match after which the winner might meet Donna Vekic. Still early in the evolutionary process, this teenager won main-draw matches at the Australian Open and Miami, the latter over fellow rising star Yulia Putintseva. The question remains whether any of these women can threaten third-seeded Maria Kirilenko, who exited Miami early after reaching an Indian Wells semifinal. Among the best results of her career, that accomplishment built upon a Pattaya City title and second-week appearance at the Australian Open. Curiously, Kirilenko never has faced Kerber.
Bottom half: Accepting a wildcard at the last moment, former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic represents the tournament’s most compelling attraction for fans. Her early draw looks tranquil, although she sometimes has failed to take care of business in these situations. The hard-serving Hungarian Timea Babos will pose her most credible pre-quarterfinal challenge, but she has won only a handful of matches since the US Open. A more intriguing series of tests lie ahead for the sixth-seeded Yanina Wickmayer, who could meet Kimiko Date-Krumm in the second round. The Japanese veteran with the knack for creating uncanny angles nearly stunned Venus in Miami, revealing strong form ahead of a clash with Florianopolis champion Monica Niculescu. Either of those women could disrupt Wickmayer’s rhythm with their idiosyncratic play but would struggle to protect their serves from Ivanovic.
The woman whom Niculescu defeated in the Florianopolis final, Olga Puchkova, finds herself sandwiched between two talented but slumping seeds. Despite starting the year by reaching the Brisbane final, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has sunk back into her dismal slump since then with opening-round losses in five of six tournaments. At a tournament where she has won two of her three carer titles, she will need to draw confidence from those memories. The second-seeded Marion Bartoli has displayed form more encouraging but has not won more than two matches at any tournament this year as uncertainty has swirled around her coaching situation. In addition to Puchkova, young Americans Lauren Davis and Coco Vandeweghe lurk in her vicinity, while Pavlyuchenkova may encounter top-ranked junior Daria Gavrilova in the second round. This event provides an excellent opportunity to catch a glimpse of developing talents like Gavrilova.
Final: Kirilenko vs. Ivanovic
Since Anastasia Myskina, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova announced Russia’s arrival in women’s tennis in 2004 with their Grand Slam triumphs, the nation took a stranglehold on the WTA rankings. Serena Williams once joked that she should just be called “Williamsova” at the 2009 Wimbledon Championships, where the main draw contained 24 -ovas and seven -evas. “I just know the standard: everyone is from Russia,” she quipped. “Sometimes I think I’m from Russia, too. With all these new -ovas, I don’t know anyone, I don’t really recognize anyone.”
At one point during 2008, Russians made up 50% of the world’s top 10, with Kuznetsova, Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina, Vera Zvonareva and Anna Chakvetadze all occupying places in the elite. That came in the period when Sharapova was sidelined with a shoulder injury. They swept the podium at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, with Dementieva winning gold, Safina taking silver and Zvonareva winning bronze. However, in the 2012 year-end rankings, there were only four in the top 20, or 20%.
That led to the question: where have all the Russians gone? Dementieva’s retirement, coupled with injuries to Safina, Chakvetadze and Zvonareva, made many feel as though the days of Russian dominance on the WTA were over. Their mantle of churning out multiple quality WTA players all at once had now been taken up by nations such as Germany and the Czech Republic, and the longstanding tennis powerhouses of the United States and Great Britain have multiple young stars with bright futures.
The answer is: the Russians never really left, they were just taking a vacation.
With Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Maria Kirilenko, Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina all making the second week Down Under, it marks the first time that Russia has had more than two players reach the second week of a major event since the 2011 US Open.
Little needs to be said about Sharapova and Kuznetsova, arguably the two greatest Russians in terms of career accomplishments, who have six Grand Slam titles between them and 40 overall titles. Kuznetsova’s reascension has been particularly notable, as she missed almost half of 2012 due to a knee injury.
Kirilenko, perhaps one of the hardest workers on the WTA, makes the most of what she has. In addition to being a standout doubles player, Kirilenko reached her career-high ranking in singles in 2012. She and countrywoman Nadia Petrova, who’s had a late-career renaissance in her own right, won the bronze medal in doubles at the Olympics; she finished fourth in singles, losing to Victoria Azarenka in the bronze medal match. Kirilenko’s had success Down Under before, as she reached the quarterfinals in 2010 after upsetting Sharapova in the first round; she’ll have an extremely tough test against Serena Williams.
Makarova has had her greatest successes in places called ‘bourne. The lefty stormed to the title at the WTA Premier event in Eastbourne as a qualifier in 2010, beating Flavia Pennetta, Nadia Petrova, Kuznetsova, Samantha Stosur and Azarenka in the final. She’s perhaps best known for her upset over Serena Williams at the Australian Open last year en route to the quarterfinals, and matched the feat this year by taking out Angelique Kerber. Her 11-5 record Down Under is her best mark out of all the majors. If the US Open was held in Bourne, Massachusetts, she’d probably win it.
Vesnina, who reached the fourth round of the Australian Open in her Grand Slam debut in 2006, matched the feat this year. In her seventh career final to open the year in Hobart, she dethroned defending champion Mona Barthel to finally win a WTA title. She’s taken out two seeds this week, No. 21 Varvara Lepchenko and No. 16 Roberta Vinci.
In addition, Valeria Savinykh scored an upset win over Dominika Cibulkova in the second round and junior standout Daria Gavrilova qualified for her first Grand Slam main draw and had a second round showing.
As the old cliché goes, it’s always about “quality, not quantity.” As the Russians on the WTA have proved over the past decade, you can have both.
Leaving Federer vs. Davydenko for a special, detailed preview by one of our colleagues here, we break down some highlights from the latter half of second-round action on Day 4.
Brands vs. Tomic (Rod Laver Arena): A tall German who once caused a stir at Wimbledon, Brands has won four of his first five matches in 2013 with upsets over Chardy, Monfils, and Martin Klizan among them. As sharp as Tomic looked in his opener, he cannot afford to get caught looking ahead to Federer in the next round. Brands can match him bomb for bomb, so the last legitimate Aussie threat left needs to build an early lead that denies the underdog reason to hope.
Lu vs. Monfils (Hisense Arena): Is La Monf finally back? He somehow survived 16 double faults and numerous service breaks in a messy but entertaining four-set victory over Dolgopolov. Perhaps facilitated by his opponent’s similar quirkiness, the vibrant imagination of Monfils surfaced again with shot-making that few other men can produce. This match should produce an intriguing contrast of personalities and styles with the understated, technically solid Lu, who cannot outshine the Frenchman in flair but could outlast him by exploiting his unpredictable lapses.
Falla vs. Gasquet (Court 3): The Colombian clay specialist has established himself as an occasional upset threat at non-clay majors, intriguingly, for he nearly toppled Federer in the first round of Wimbledon three years ago and bounced Fish from this tournament last year. A strange world #10, Gasquet struggled initially in his first match against a similar clay specialist in Montanes. He recorded a series of steady results at majors last year, benefiting in part from facing opponents less accomplished than Falla. The strength-against-strength collision of his backhand against Falla’s lefty forehand should create some scintillating rallies as Gasquet seeks to extend his momentum from the Doha title two weeks ago.
Mayer vs. Berankis (Court 6): While Berankis comfortably defeated the erratic Sergei Stakhovsky in his debut, Mayer rallied from a two-set abyss to fend off American wildcard Rhyne Williams after saving multiple match points. He must recover quickly from that draining affair to silence the compact Latvian, who punches well above his size. Sometimes touted as a key figure of the ATP’s next generation, Berankis has not plowed forward as impressively as others like Raonic and Harrison, so this unintimidating draw offers him an opportunity for a breakthrough.
Raonic vs. Rosol (Court 13): The cherubic Canadian sprung onto the international scene when he reached the second week in Melbourne two years ago. The lean Czech sprung onto the international scene when he stunned Nadal in the second round of Wimbledon last year. Either outstanding or abysmal on any given day, Rosol delivered an ominous message simply by winning his first match. For his part, Raonic looked far from ominous while narrowly avoiding a fifth set against a player outside the top 100. He needs to win more efficiently in early rounds before becoming a genuine contender for major titles.
Robson vs. Kvitova (RLA): Finally starting to string together some solid results, the formerly unreliable Robson took a clear step forward by notching an upset over Clijsters in the second round of the US Open. Having played not only on Arthur Ashe Stadium there but on Centre Court at the All England Club before, she often produces her finest tennis for the grandest stages. If Robson will not lack for inspiration, Kvitova will continue to search for confidence. She found just enough of her familiarly explosive weapons to navigate through an inconsistent three-setter against Schiavone, but she will have little hope of defending her semifinal points if she fails to raise her level significantly. That said, Kvitova will appreciate playing at night rather than during the most scorching day of the week, for the heat has contributed to her struggles in Australia this month.
Peng vs. Kirilenko (Hisense): A pair of women better known in singles than in doubles, they have collaborated on some tightly contested matches. Among them was a Wimbledon three-setter last year, won by Kirilenko en route to the quarterfinals. The “other Maria” has faltered a bit lately with six losses in ten matches before she dispatched Vania King here. But Peng also has regressed since injuries ended her 2011 surge, so each of these two women looks to turn around her fortunes at the other’s expense. The Russian’s all-court style and fine net play should offer a pleasant foil for Peng’s heavy serve and double-fisted groundstrokes, although the latter can find success in the forecourt as well.
Wozniacki vs. Vekic (Hisense): Like Kvitova, Wozniacki seeks to build upon the few rays of optimism that emanated from a nearly unwatchable three-set opener. Gifted that match by Lisicki’s avalanche of grisly errors, the former #1 could take advantage of the opportunity to settle into the tournament. Wozniacki now faces the youngest player in either draw, who may catch her breath as she walks onto a show court at a major for the first time. Or she may not, since the 16-year-old Donna Vekic crushed Hlavackova without a glimpse of nerves to start the tournament and will have nothing to lose here.
Hsieh vs. Kuznetsova (Margaret Court Arena): A surprise quarterfinalist in Sydney, the two-time major champion defeated Goerges and Wozniacki after qualifying for that elite draw. Kuznetsova rarely has produced her best tennis in Melbourne, outside a near-victory over Serena in 2009. But the Sydney revival almost did not materialize at all when she floundered through a three-setter in the qualifying. If that version of Kuznetsova shows up, the quietly steady Hsieh could present a capable foil.
Putintseva vs. Suarez Navarro (Court 7) / Gavrilova vs. Tsurenko (Court 8): Two of the WTA’s most promising juniors, Putintseva and Gavrilova face women who delivered two of the draw’s most notable first-round surprises. After Suarez Navarro dismissed world #7 Errani, Tsurenko halted the surge of Brisbane finalist Pavlyuchenkova in a tense three-setter. Momentum thus carries all four of these women into matches likely to feature plenty of emotion despite the relatively low stakes.
Our esteemed tennis photographer is currently at Melbourne Park and will be providing daily tennis galleries from the 2013 Australian Open. Make sure to check back each day for a new gallery and don’t miss the fun from down under!
January 12, 2013 — Our Tennis Grandstand photographer is back and today’s featured gallery includes Daria Gavrilova, Chanel Simmonds, Estrella Cabeza Candela, Julie Coin, and Johanna Konta.