As the Premier Five tournament in Canada looms, four of the top ten women hone their skills at tournaments on opposite coasts. The resort atmosphere at Carlsbad, long a player favorite, contrasts with the urban surroundings of the national capital.
Top half: World No. 3 Victoria Azarenka has not lost a match away from clay all season. Of course, Azarenka has played only four matches away from clay since winning the Doha title in February. Walkovers and withdrawals ended her campaigns at Indian Wells, Miami, and Wimbledon, so attention will hover around her battered knee this week. Azarenka’s health may attract even more attention than it would otherwise because she faces a relatively mild early slate of opponents. An all-Italian battle between Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone tantalizes only for nostalgic reasons, and Urszula Radwanska seems little more likely than her elder sister to vanquish Vika. Among the surprises of the spring was Jelena Jankovic, a semifinalist in Miami and quarterfinalist at Roland Garros. Jankovic troubled Azarenka in her prime, but the momentum has shifted in that rivalry to reflect their divergent career arcs
The most compelling first-round match in Carlsbad will pit defending champion Dominika Cibulkova against former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic. Defeating Bartoli to win last year’s title, Cibulkova exploited a much weaker draw in the week of the Olympics. Still, she will bring plenty of confidence from her title at Stanford, whereas coaching turmoil once again enshrouds the Serb. The route will not grow much smoother for whoever survives that early test. Although the second round looks uneventful, Roberta Vinci could await in the quarterfinals. This crafty Italian has domianted Cibulkova on all surfaces, winning five straight from her, and she has taken her last three outdoor matches from Ivanovic. The relatively slow surface in San Diego should help Vinci outlast the heavy serve of Bethanie Mattek-Sands before then.
Semifinal: Azarenka vs. Vinci
Bottom half: Around this time last year, Petra Kvitova caught fire with a Premier Five title at the Rogers Cup and a semifinal in Cincinnati. The somewhat slower surface in San Diego may suit her game less well than those events, and North America historically has not brought out her best tennis. A rematch of her epic Australian Open loss to Laura Robson might await in the second round. Both women have oscillated wildly in their results this year, suggesting another rollercoaster ahead. A former Carlsbad champion lurks unobtrusively near eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro, enjoying her best season so far. That former champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, has revived her career with two major quarterfinals in 2013. An abdominal injury has sidelined Kuznetsova since Roland Garros, but she should have time to play herself into the tournament.
The fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska reached finals in each of her last two Carlsbad appearances. Disappointed at Stanford on Sunday, Radwanska wil aim to erase that memory with her second title here. She should outmaneuver Daniela Hantuchova, whom she has defeated here before, and may not have much to fear from Samantha Stosur unless the Aussie’s form improves dramatically. Little in Stosur’s dismal performance at Stanford boded well for her chances of escaping a challenging opener against Varvara Lepchenko. That 27-year-old American lefty could meet Radwanska in a quarterfinal for the second straight week.
Semifinal: Kuznetsova vs. Radwanska
Final: Azarenka vs. Radwanska
Top half: Overshadowed by the men’s event at the same tournament, this WTA International event did succeed in luring a top-10 player as a wildcard. World No. 9 Angelique Kerber has fallen on hard times over the last few months, so a dip in the quality of opposition could prove just what the doctor ordered. Some of the women who might face her in the quarterfinals exited early at Stanford. Formerly promising American Christina McHale continues a rebuilding campaign in 2013 against Magdalena Rybarikova. Her period of promise long behind her, Melanie Oudin hopes to stay somewhat relevant nearly four years after her illusory surge at the US Open.
Like McHale, Rybarikova, and Kiki Bertens in the top quarter, Madison Keys looks to bounce back from a disappointing Stanford loss. Anchoring the second quarter, she might meet star junior Taylor Townsend in a second-round preview of future matches on more momentous stages. The reeling but canny Monica Niculescu hopes to fluster Townsend with her distinctive style before then. More young talent stands atop the section in Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and France’s Caroline Garcia. These impressive phenoms must navigate around Australian Open quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova, a lefty like Townsend. Plenty of storylines and suspense will unfold in a very short time.
Bottom half: Building on her momentum from Stanford, Sorana Cirstea eyes one of the draw’s softer sections. Home hope Alison Riske looks to prove herself as a threat outside the small grass event in Birmingham, while Heather Watson traces the same trajectory as McHale on the long, slow road back from mononucleosis. Ending her clay season on a high note, Alize Cornet won an International title in May. But she threatens much less on hard courts and might well fall victim to the enigmatic Yanina Wickmayer at the outset.
By far the most established of the home threats, second seed Sloane Stephens faces high expectations this summer. American fans know much more about the Australian Open semifinalist, Wimbledon quarterfinalist, and conqueror of Serena Williams than they did a year ago. The 15th-ranked Stephens has produced much more convincing tennis at majors than at non-majors, where she barely has cracked the .500 threshold in 2013. Her sturdiest pre-semifinal obstacle could come in the form of Andrea Petkovic, still producing results more disappointing than encouraging in her comeback from serious injuries. A relatively minor illness may blunt Petkovic’s injuries this week, though, while compatriot Mona Barthel retired from her last tournament with a sore shoulder.
Final: Makarova vs. Stephens
(July 16, 2013) It was a hot and eventful day at the Nurnberger Gastein Ladies tournament in Austria on Tuesday, as fourth-seed Andrea Petkovic lost a three-hour battle against Petra Martic, while fellow German and No. 2 Annika Beck routed Shahar Peer in straight sets. (Gallery at bottom)
Results – Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Singles – First Round
(2) Annika Beck (GER) d. Shahar Peer (ISR) 75 63
Petra Martic (CRO) d. (4) Andrea Petkovic (GER) 67(5) 75 63
(Q) Viktorija Golubic (SUI) d. (5) Kiki Bertens (NED) 62 62
(6) Chanelle Scheepers (RSA) d. Anna Schmiedlova (SVK) 61 64
Alexandra Cadantu (ROU) d. Maria Joao Koehler (POR) 62 64
Elina Svitolina (UKR) d. (Q) Michaela Honcova (SVK) 62 62
Estrella Cabeza Candela (ESP) d. Tadeja Majeric (SLO) 61 63
Mandy Minella (LUX) d. (LL) Dia Evtimova (BUL) 62 26 63
Andrea Hlavackova (CZE) d. Eleni Daniilidou (GRE) 63 61
(WC) Patricia Mayr-Achleitner (AUT) d. Tereza Mrdeza (CRO) 64 63
(WC) Lisa-Maria Moser (AUT) d. (Q) Elena Bogdan (ROU) 76(6) 26 64
Doubles – First Round
(4) Hrdinova/Peer (CZE/ISR) d. Begu/Svitolina (ROU/UKR) 57 75 119 (Match TB)
Curovic/Scholl (SRB/USA) d. Honcova/Perrin (SVK/SUI) 63 63
Klemenschits/Klepac (AUT/SLO) d. Bogdan/Naydenova (ROU/BUL) 60 36 101 (Match TB)
Barrois/Daniilidou (GER/GRE) d. (WC) Barthel/Beck (GER/GER) 63 46 104 (Match TB)
Simona Halep brings a remarkable winning streak in pursuit of a fourth straight International title. This week, a bit more competition might await her than at the three others.
Top half: The second-ranked Maria Sharapova spent a brief holiday in Sweden this month, but world No. 1 Serena Williams will mix at least some business with pleasure. One would not have expected to see Serena at an International event on clay rather than her usual US Open Series stop at Stanford. But her undefeated clay record this year will go on the line against an overmatched group of opponents—on paper, at least. Sure to collect a huge appearance fee in Bastad, Serena may or may not play with her usual intensity at a tournament that means nothing to her legacy. The top-ranked junior in the world, Belinda Bencic, stands a win away from facing the top-ranked woman in the world shortly after earning the girls’ singles title at Wimbledon. Serena’s own disappointment on those lawns may motivate her to bring more imposing form to Bastad than she would otherwise.
The player who came closest to defeating Serena on clay this year, Anabel Medina Garrigues, might await in the quarterfinals. On the other hand, Medina Garrigues won just two games from projected second-round opponent Dinah Pfizenmaier in Palermo last week. Also suffering an early exit there was Lara Arruabarrena, a Spaniard who shone briefly this spring. Arruabarrena joins Lesia Tsurenko among the women vying with third seed Klara Zakopalova for the right to face Serena in the semifinals. At a similar level of tournament in 2009, Zakopalova outlasted a diffident Serena on the clay of Marbella.
Bottom half: Grass specialist Tsvetana Pironkova holds the fourth seed in a quarter free from any dirt devils. Almost anyone could emerge from this section, perhaps even one of Sweden’s top two women. Johanna Larsson will meet Sofia Arvidsson in the first round, an unhappy twist of fate for home fans. The lower-ranked of the two, Arvidsson has accumulated the stronger career record overall.
Riding a 15-match winning streak at non-majors, Simona Halep seeks her fourth title of the summer. She went the distance in consecutive weeks just before Wimbledon, on two different surfaces no less, so an International double on clay would come as no great surprise. One aging threat and one rising threat jump out of her quarter as possible obstacles. After reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Flavia Pennetta may have gained the confidence needed to ignite her stagnating comeback. Assigned an opening test against clay specialist Alexandra Dulgheru, young French sensation Caroline Garcia looks to unlock more of her potential. And Serena’s notorious assassin, Virginie Razzano, cannot be discounted entirely.
Final: Serena vs. Halep
Top half: To be frank, this tournament boasts one of the least impressive fields on the WTA calendar (if “boasts” is the proper word). On the bright side, Bad Gastein should feature some competitive, unpredictable matches from the first round to the last. The only top-50 woman in the draw, Mona Barthel will seek her third final of 2013 but her first on clay. Barthel wields more than enough power to hit through the slow surface, but her patience can be ruffled in adversity. Her most notable pre-semifinal challenge might come from Kiki Bertens, who won a small title on clay last year. Barthel has dominated their history, though, including a victory this year.
As she builds on an encouraging Wimbledon, Andrea Petkovic holds the fourth seed in a tournament near home. Her family traveled with her from Germany before the draw ceremony, images of which appear elsewhere on this site. A finalist on clay in Nurnberg last month, Petkovic drew one of the tournament’s most notable unseeded players in her opener, Petra Martic. Just as injuries have undermined Petkovic for many months, mononucleosis has hampered Martic’s progress. But her balanced game and keen feel for the ball still emerges, making her a greater threat than other players in the section. Palermo semifinalist Chanelle Scheepers, who solved Martic there, might test Petkovic’s consistency. Nor should one ignore elite junior Elina Svitolina in the draw’s most compelling section.
Bottom half: Romanians enjoyed strong results last week, highlighted by Halep’s extended winning streak and semifinals from Alexandra Cadantu and Victor Hanescu. This week, third seed Irina-Camelia Begu seeks to echo the success of her compatriots as she rebounds from a first-round loss in Palermo. While her only career title came on a hard court, Begu reached two clay finals in 2011, her best season so far. Near her stands home hope Yvonne Meusburger, who surprised by reaching the Budapest final. The star-crossed Arantxa Rus simply hopes to halt the longest losing streak in WTA history, although she has drawn a seeded opponent in Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.
Yet another rising German, second seed Annika Beck has reached the quarterfinals or better at three International tournaments on clay this year. Beck can look forward to a second-round meeting with doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka with resurgent Italian Karin Knapp awaiting the winner. Knapp returned to the top 100 when she exploited an imploding section of the Wimbledon draw to reach the second week. Her skills suit clay less smoothly than some of the women around her, such as Palermo semifinalist Cadantu.
Final: Petkovic vs. Beck
Today features the first edition of a daily Roland Garros preview series that offers a few notes on the next day’s most interesting matches. After each day ends, moreover, a recap of similar length will guide you through the key headlines.
Pablo Carreno-Busta vs. Roger Federer: This qualifier reeled off a long winning streak at lower-level events over the last year and reached the Portugal semifinals, also as a qualifier, with victories over Julien Benneteau and Fabio Fognini. Carreno-Busta also upset defending champion Pablo Andujar in Casablanca, shortly before the latter stormed to the Madrid semifinals, and won a set from Stanislas Wawrinka in Portugal. Paris is not Portugal or Casablanca, though, nor is it even Bordeaux, where Carreno-Busta lost in the first round of a challenger.
Gilles Simon vs. Lleyton Hewitt: This tournament might mark Hewitt’s final appearance at Roland Garros. If it does, a match on a show court against a fellow grinder, likely with a strong crowd, seems a fitting way to go. Simon has flown under the radar for most of the year, stringing together some victories at small events and upsetting two top-ten opponents. He reached the second week at the Australian Open despite largely unimpressive form, so he should muddle through here too.
Andreas Seppi vs. Leonardo Mayer: The Italian must defend fourth-round points at Roland Garros, where he won two sets from Novak Djokovic last year. Seppi’s 14-14 record this year does not bode well, and he has survived his first match at only one of six clay tournaments. Fortunately for him, Mayer lost his only clay match this year.
Marcel Granollers vs. Feliciano Lopez: A quarterfinalist in Rome, Granollers owes Andy Murray twice over in recent weeks. First, the world No. 2 retired from their match there, allowing the Spaniard to gobble extra ranking points. Then, Murray’s withdrawal nudged Granollers into a seeded position at Roland Garros. He should take advantage of it against the fading serve-volley specialist Feliciano Lopez, although matches between two Spaniards often get trickier than expected.
Serena Williams vs. Anna Tatishvili: Everyone remembers what happened to Serena in the first round here last year. Nobody remembers it more clearly than Serena does. Expect her to put this match away early, exorcising Razzano’s ghosts.
Urszula Radwanska vs. Venus Williams: Both of these women must cope with being the second-best women’s tennis player in their respective families. Hampered by a back injury, Venus has played just one match on red clay this year, losing routinely to Laura Robson. Urszula is not quite Robson at this stage, but she recorded clay wins over Dominika Cibulkova and Ana Ivanovic this year. Venus should pull through in the end after some edgy moments.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Andrea Hlavackova: When Pavlyuchenkova gets through her first match, she has reached the semifinals at four of five tournaments this year, winning two. The problem is that she has lost her first match no fewer than seven times against opponents of varying quality. (Azarenka and Ivanovic are understandable, Lesya Tsurenko and Johanna Larsson less so.) Since reaching the second week of the US Open, Hlavackova has won one main-draw singles match, over the hapless Melanie Oudin. Surely Pavlyuchenkova won’t double that total?
Kiki Bertens vs. Sorana Cirstea: Their big weapons and questionable movement would seem better designed for fast-court tennis. But both of them have found their greatest success on clay, Cirstea reaching the Roland Garros quarterfinals four years ago and Bertens winning her only WTA title so far at Fes last year. This match looks among the most evenly contested of the day with plenty of heavy groundstrokes to go around.
Mallory Burdette vs. Donna Vekic: One of the top American collegiate prospects, Burdette left Stanford last fall to turn pro and has reaped some solid results. Her victims so far include Lucie Hradecka, Ksenia Pervak, and Sabine Lisicki as well as fellow American rising star Madison Keys. Burdette will train her vicious backhand on Croatian rising star Donna Vekic, who reached her first WTA final last year as a qualifier. Vekic has not accomplished much above the challenger level since then, losing her only clay match this year to Chanelle Scheepers in Madrid.
Ayumi Morita vs. Yulia Putintseva: Is Paris ready for Putintseva? The volatile French crowd pounced on fellow pocket rocket Michelle Larcher de Brito, but the distant venue of Court 7 should take some of the scrutiny off the strong-lunged youngster. Putintseva took Serena to a first-set tiebreak in Madrid but will have her work cut out with Morita’s double-fisted strokes. Unlike Coco Vandeweghe, the Japanese star will win points with more than her serve.
After a weekend filled with Fed Cup, the ladies of the WTA dig into the clay for the first time this year with a prestigious event in Stuttgart that features most of the top ten. In North Africa, meanwhile, a smaller International tournament attracts a group of clay specialists and younger stars.
Top half: As Maria Sharapova once said, you never can have too many Porsches. Proving herself right, the Russian will launch a title defense at the tournament that launched her spectacular clay campaign last year, culminating with a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros. Sharapova has looked just as brilliant—if not more so—during the first few months of 2013 as she did during the same period of 2012, while the indoor conditions reward her precise first strikes. Of a similar mentality are several of her potential early opponents, such as home hope Mona Barthel. The German nearly upset then-No. 1 Victoria Azarenka here last year at a tournament where her compatriots typically have fared well, although she produced mixed results in Fed Cup there this weekend. Sharapova long has throttled the quarter’s other seed, Nadia Petrova, so she might face more compelling competition from fellow Roland Garros champion Ana Ivanovic at that stage. In her two losses to the Russian last year, Ivanovic produced a set or more of quality tennis. She has enjoyed plenty of clay success against Petrova but little against anyone in Stuttgart, where she will face friend and occasional doubles partner Andrea Petkovic in the first round.
More likely than Barthel or Petkovic to venture deep into the draw, the third-seeded Angelique Kerber will start against one of two flammable Russians in Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Ekaterina Makarova. Kerber routinely defeated former Stuttgart finalist Caroline Wozniacki here last year, so she still may feel confident if they meet in the quarterfinals despite her loss to the Dane at Indian Wells in March. In fact, Wozniacki may struggle to survive the first two rounds with the swiftly rising Carla Suarez Navarro and veteran clay specialist Roberta Vinci setting their sights on her. While the former world No. 1 enjoyed an apparent breakthrough by reaching the Indian Wells final, both the Spaniard and the Italian have produced steadier results than she has this year, and the latter stands just two rankings slots behind her at No. 12. On the other hand, Stuttgart’s relatively fast surface can produce results more like hard-court tournaments than those on outdoor red clay. Like the Caja Magica in Madrid, the Porsche Arena somehow retains some vestiges of its origins after transitioning from fall to spring.
Bottom half: Among those who might have preferred a more conventional clay court, Sara Errani must feel relieved to avoid another quarterfinal date with Sharapova, as happened at Indian Wells and Miami. Her projected quarterfinal opponent intimidates much less in Stuttgart, for she not only defeated Samantha Stosur in a memorable three-set semifinal at Roland Garros last year but repeated the feat at the year-end championships in Istanbul. Delayed to a Sunday/Monday Fed Cup schedule, the Australian No. 1 may arrive a bit weary at a tournament that she came within a set of winning three years ago. The draw also has handed her what could prove a stiff opening test in Jelena Jankovic, who has shown signs of a revival by reaching the semifinals in Miami and the final in Charleston. Nobody other than Serena has defeated Jankovic on clay this year, and even Serena needed a third set.
Arguably the least formidable quarter of this formidable draw, the lowest section includes 2011 champion Julia Goerges. Nothing for over a year has suggested that the German can reel off a similar string of victories again, nor has Miami quarterfinalist Kirsten Flipkens honed a game suited to clay. Thus, this section may not produce much action of interest until the quarterfinal between its two seeds, both scintillating shot-makers who have claimed notable clay titles. Able to spring back into action at Miami after a long injury hiatus, former Roland Garros champion Li Na has lost only to top-five opponents this season while nearly notching her second major title in Melbourne. She has split her two clay meetings and her four overall meetings with former Madrid champion Petra Kvitova, the last three of which have reached a third set. In general, one would guess that Li’s game will ebb and flow less than the Czech whose major breakthrough came in the same summer.
Semifinals: Sharapova vs. Kerber, Errani vs. Li
Final: Sharapova vs. Li
Top half: The successor of a tournament in Fes, Marrakech would not have featured any woman in the top 25 had not Dominika Cibulkova accepted a wildcard to become the top seed. The fifteenth-ranked Slovak looks to move past the disappointment of letting a 2-0 lead slip away against Russia in a Fed Cup semifinal. A former semifinalist at Roland Garros, and a quarterfinalist there last year with a victory over Azarenka, Cibulkova finds herself in the same section as 2012 Fes champion Kiki Bertens. The Dutchwoman won this tournament’s ancestor as a qualifier last year, and she looks to rekindle memories of that Cinderella run by overcoming veterans like Flavia Pennetta. Bertens defeated Cibulkova at the Paris Indoors this February, although that indoor hard court differs dramatically from outdoor clay.
Accompanying Cibulkova to the brink of glory in Moscow this weekend was her compatriot Daniela Hantuchova, stopped just a few key points short of the clinching victory there. Always a streaky player who veered wildly between dramatic highs and lows, Hantuchova opens against Florianopolis runner-up Olga Puchkova, who defeated Venus Williams at that International event this year. Either of them might fancy her chances against Romina Oprandi, delayed by the same Switzerland-Australia tie that detained Stosur, but the fourth-seeded Kaia Kanepi seems a more ominous threat. Returning from injury at Katowice last week, where she won one match, Kanepi will use events like these to rediscover her rhythm ahead of Roland Garros. She has reached two quarterfinals there, and she will grow more dangerous with every win here.
Bottom half: After going winless all season, promising youngster Petra Martic finally awakened to post two victories in Katowice. She opens here against a veteran almost equally moribund this year but with a far more imposing resume, 2010 Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone. In this quarter also are found the two Moroccan wildcards, one of whom faces the third-seeded Alize Cornet. Nearly a surprise quarterfinalist in Miami, Cornet has lost her last seven meetings with Schiavone as the Italian’s versatile, crafty game has wreaked havoc on her fragile emotions. She will hope that someone like Simona Halep halts her nemesis before then.
Anchored by the second-seeded Sorana Cirstea, who defeated Kerber in Miami, the lowest quarter showcases some notable young talent. Former junior No. 1 Yulia Putintseva will accumulate more main-draw experience after winning one main-draw match each at the Australian Open and Dubai. While she probably is not at her best on clay, neither are most of the women around her other than Cirstea. French fans will look forward to seeing more of Kristina Mladenovic, who reached the quarterfinals or better at three straight February tournaments. Having cooled off in March, Mladenovic could edge inside the top 50 by stringing together a few victories here.
Final: Bertens vs. Cornet
KATOWICE (April 12, 2013) — Full Thursday gallery including No. 1 seed Petra Kvitova defeating Mandy Minella, No. 2 seed Robert Vinci ousting Kiki Bertens, the Pliskova twins losing a heartbreaker against Raluca Olaru and Valeria Solovyeva, and an Alexandra Cadantu autograph session with young fans!
KATOWICE (April 9, 2013) — Tuesday at the BNP Paribas Katowice Open included a special doubles exhibition match featuring Poland’s top talent, Agnieszka Radwanska, and also saw two seed bow out, No. 5 seed Alize Cornet and No. 4 Julia Goerges as she was forced to retire down 4-1 in the third set. Full results and gallery below.
SINGLES – FIRST ROUND
Mandy Minella (LUX) d Vesna Dolonc (SRB) | 3 – 6 | 7 – 6 (4) | 6 – 2 |
Anna Schmiedlova (SVK) d  Alize Cornet (FRA) | 6 – 3 | 6 – 0 |
Kiki Bertens (NED) d Lara Arruabarrena (ESP) | 6 – 1 | 6 – 1 |
 Kaia Kanepi (EST) d Sandra Zaniewska (POL) | 6 – 1 | 6 – 1 |
Maria Elena Camerin (ITA) d Jana Cepelova (SVK) | 7 – 6 (2) | 6 – 3 |
Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) d Mathilde Johansson (FRA) | 5 – 7 | 7 – 6 (5) | 6 – 1 |
Shahar Peer (ISR) d Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) | 5 – 7 | 7 – 6 (4) | 7 – 6 (4) |
Jill Craybas (USA) d  Julia Goerges (GER) | 6 (5) – 7 | 6 – 3 | 4 – 1 retired |
DOUBLES – FIRST ROUND
K Pliskova / K Pliskova (CZE/CZE) d  A Groenefeld / J Husarova (GER/SVK) | 7 – 6 (3) | 2 – 6 | 10 – 4 |
 R Voracova / K Zakopalova (CZE/CZE) d A Cadantu / S Klemenschits (ROU/AUT) | 6 – 4 | 5 -7 | 10 – 4 |
While eight of the top ten men are active in the week before Indian Wells, only two of the top ten women have chosen live matches over practice sessions. Two clay tournaments in the Western Hemisphere accompany an Asian hard-court tournament as the last chance to reverse or extend momentum before the March mini-majors.
Acapulco: One of those two top-ten women playing this week, Errani hopes to begin repeating last year’s success on red clay while extending her success from reaching the Dubai final. Little about her section suggests that she should not, although she stumbled unexpectedly on clay against Lepchenko in Fed Cup. Considering that mishap, she might find Arantxa Rus a worthy test in the quarterfinals. Rus once upset Clijsters at Roland Garros and owns a lefty forehand smothered with topspin that cause damage on this surface. She might struggle to survive an all-Dutch encounter in the opening round against Kiki Bertens, though, who broke through to win her first career title at a clay tournament in Morocoo last year.
Gone early in Bogota, where she held the second seed, Alize Cornet will hope for a more productive week in a draw where she holds the third seed. The Frenchwoman lacks weapons to overpower her opponents but will find few in this section who can overpower her. The most notable name here (probably more notable than Cornet) belongs to the returning Flavia Pennetta, who got through one three-setter in Bogota before fading in a second. Tiny Lourdes Dominguez Lino hopes that this first-round opponent still needs to shake off more rust.
An odd sight it is to see an American, a Croat, and a Swede all playing on clay during a week with a hard-court tournament, and yet all of them occupy the same section in Acapulco. Perhaps more notable than Glatch or Larsson is Ajla Tomljanovic, a heavy hitter from a nation of heavy hitters who once looked like a sure rising star before recent setbacks. Facing this Croatian wildcard in the first round, fourth seed Irina-Camelia Begu knows better how to play on clay, as 2011 finals in Marbella and Budapest showed. Begu won her first career title last fall in Tashkent, which places her a notch above the other seed in this quarter. Spending most of her career at the ITF level, Romina Oprandi recorded a strong result in Beijing last fall.
Handed a wildcard to accompany her sixth seed, Schiavone searches for relevance after a long stretch in which she has struggled to string together victories. The sporadically intriguing Sesil Karatantcheva should pose a test less stern than second seed Suarez Navarro, who shares Schiavone’s affinity for the surface. Humiliated twice in one week at Dubai, where she lost resoundingly in both the singles and the doubles draws, the small Spaniard owns one of the loveliest one-handed backhands in the WTA since Henin’s retirement. Schiavone owns another, which should make their quarterfinal pleasant viewing for tennis purists.
Final: Errani vs. Begu
Florianopolis: In the first year of a new tournament, the presence of a marquee player always helps to establish its legitimacy. The outdoor hard courts at this Brazilian resort will welcome seven-time major champion and former #1 Venus Williams as the top seed, and her draw looks accommodating in its early stages. While young Spaniard Garbine Muguruza showed potential at the Australian Open, the American’s sternest challenge may come from a much older woman. Extending Venus deep into a third set at Wimbledon in 2011, Kimiko Date-Krumm could unsettle her fellow veteran with her clever angles and crisp net play, although her serve should fall prey to her opponent’s returning power.
In the quarter below lies Kirsten Flipkens, who lost early as the top seed in Memphis after reaching the second week of the Australian Open. Also a potential semifinal opponent for Venus, Caroline Garcia possesses much more potential than her current ranking of #165 would suggest. Unlike most of the counterpunchers in Florianopolis, she will not flinch from trading baseline missiles with the top seed should she earn the opportunity. Another young star in the eighth-seeded Annika Beck might produce an intriguing quarterfinal with Garcia.
Counterpunchers dominate the third quarter, bookended by Medina Garrigues and Chanelle Scheepers. When the two met at the Hopman Cup this year, endless rallies and endless service games characterized a match filled with breaks. The heavy serve of Timea Babos might intercept Scheepers in the second round, while Medina Garrigues could encounter some early resistance from the quirky Niculescu or Shahar Peer. With her best years well behind her, the Israeli continues to show her familiar grittiness in attempting to reclaim her relevance.
Midway through 2012, the second-seeded Shvedova climbed back into singles prominence by reaching the second week at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Starting with her three-set loss to Serena at the latter major, she has suffered a series of demoralizing setbacks in early rounds since then, often in tightly contested matches that hinged on a handful of points. Shvedova once led the WTA’s rankings for overall pace of shot, though, and her power might overwhelm those around her. Aligned to meet her in the quarterfinals is Kristina Mladenovic, the surprise semifinalist at the Paris Indoors who delivered the first signature win of her career there over Kvitova.
Final: Williams vs. Mladenovic
Kuala Lumpur: With a direct-entry cutoff even lower than Florianopolis, this tournament features only eight players in the top 100. Headlining the list, however, is a former #1 who still occupies the fringes of the top 10. After she produced solid results in the Middle East, reaching a quarterfinal in Doha and a semifinal in Dubai, Wozniacki should feel confident in her ability to secure a first title of 2013. Few of the names in her quarter will strike chords with most fans, although some might remember lefty Misaki Doi as the woman who upset Petra Martic in Melbourne before eating a Sharapova double bagel. Aussie lefty Casey Dellacqua sometimes can challenge higher-ranked foes but has struggled with injury too often to maintain consistency.
Doi’s highest-ranked compatriot, the double-fister Ayumi Morita holds the fourth seed in Kuala Lumpur. Like Wozniacki, she could face an Aussie in the quarterfinals, and, like Wozniacki, she should not find the test too severe. Although she has won the Australian Open wildcard playoff twice, Olivia Rogowska has stagnated over the past few years since winning a set from then -#1 Safina at the US Open. Evergreen veteran Eleni Daniilidou rounds out this section with one of the WTA’s more powerful one-handed backhands—and not much else.
Surely pleased to recruit another player of international familiarity beyond Wozniacki, Kuala Lumpur welcomes Pavlyuchenkova as a third-seeded wildcard entrant. The Russian often has excelled at this time of year, reaching the Indian Wells semifinals before and winning consecutive titles at the Monterrey tournament that has shifted after Miami. This year, Pavlyuchenkova has shown a little of her promising 2011 form by reaching the final in Brisbane to start the season and much more of her dismal 2012 form by dropping three straight matches thereafter. She could end her four-match losing streak here in a section filled with qualifiers. But yet another Aussie in Ashleigh Barty hopes to continue what so far has become an encouraging season for WTA future stars.
When not conversing on Twitter with our colleague David Kane, 16-year-old phenom Donna Vekic has compiled some notable results. Seeded at a WTA tournament for the first time, she will look to build upon her final in Tashkent last year, a win over Hlavackova at the Australian Open, and a solid week in Fed Cup zonal play. Vekic does face a challenging first-round test in the powerful serve of American wildcard Bethanie Mattek-Sands, but no match in her section looks unwinnable. While second seed and potential quarterfinal opponent Hsieh Su-wei won her first two titles last year, the late-blossoming star from Chinese Taipei still does not intimidate despite her presence in the top 25.
Final: Wozniacki vs. Pavlyuchenkova
(Actually, can we just combine these last two draws and have Venus play a super-final against Caro?)
While some of the stars opening play in Melbourne should encounter little resistance, others might want to tread carefully. We look at some of the most notable matches on Day 1 from Rod Laver Arena to the outer courts.
Chang vs. Stosur (Rod Laver Arena): A flustered bundle of nerves on home soil, Stosur has lost six of her last seven matches in Australia and exited in the first round here last year to Sorana Cirstea. Despite her smooth game, Chang lacks Cirstea’s intimidating weapons and thus should pose a less severe test. But an 0-2 start to 2013 with losses to unheralded opponents in Brisbane and Sydney inspire little confidence in Stosur as she rebounds from an ankle injury.
Hewitt vs. Tipsarevic (RLA): Quite the contrast to Stosur, the greatest Aussie champion in recent memory typically thrives under the adoring gaze of his compatriots. In his 17th Australian Open appearance, Hewitt thoroughly deserves this showcase setting in the first night session on Rod Laver Arena. Recent years have seen him deliver upsets over opponents like Baghdatis, Safin, and Raonic on this court, so Tipsarevic cannot take this match lightly. The second-ranked Serb looked solid but mortal while winning Chennai, and he won’t overpower Hewitt like many opponents near his ranking.
Ivanovic vs. Czink (RLA): This match may start very late indeed in the aftermath of Hewitt-Tipsarevic, possibly a bad sign for Ivanovic. A morning person, the Serb can grow weary quickly when she plays late at night, and she has struggled against lefties sporadically in her career. That said, Czink has declined since she upset Ivanovic on the much faster court of Cincinnati in 2009, and the former finalist built confidence with three decisive wins at the Hopman Cup before Medina Garrigues outlasted her in the final. She should aim to avoid a third set whenever possible, and probably will here.
Goffin vs. Verdasco (Hisense Arena): Four years after he reached the semifinals (and nearly the final) here, Verdasco has regressed back to his former incarnation in which he can win or lose to anyone on any given day. Startlingly boyish in appearance, Goffin reached the second week of Roland Garros last year and recorded fall upsets over Troicki and Isner, among others. The 22-year-old must refine his game, especially his shot selection, to rise further into the top 50, although Verdasco can teach him little in that area.
Cibulkova vs. Barty (Hisense): The Slovak pocket rocket unleashes impressive power when on a hot streak and can collapse completely when she loses her range even a little. Last week in Sydney, Cibulkova showed her best and worst in defeating three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel from Radwanska. Which memory lingers longer in her mind may define how far she goes here, while Aussie prodigy Barty will try to gain confidence from the Hopman Cup memory of upsetting Schiavone.
Bobusic vs. Radwanska (Margaret Court Arena): For winning the Australian Open wildcard playoff, Bobusic received a berth in the main draw—against the world #4. Radwanska also happens to have won both of her tournaments this year, so the challenge looms very large for the home hope. The Pole sometimes does need time to settle into an event, though, wobbling through uneasy three-setters in the first round here before.
Youzhny vs. Ebden (MCA): Yet another Aussie faces a Russian well into the twilight of his career. Still lovely to watch with its one-handed backhand and crisp volleys, his game matches up well to the net-rushing style of Ebden. Both men feel comfortable all over the court, which should create some variety in the ways that points unfold.
Dellacqua vs. Keys (MCA): After reaching the Sydney quarterfinals, the 17-year-old American should have soared in self-belief by proving that she could compete with much more experience and accomplished opponents. She eyes a winnable match against an Aussie returning from injury, not for the first time, but with a memorable run here five years ago to inspire her.
Medina Garrigues vs. Bartoli (Show Court 3): The Spaniard enters on a somewhat hot streak from winning the Hopman Cup with Verdasco, although she defeated no notable opponent other than Ivanovic. Bartoli has dominated their head-to-head on hard courts but has suffered a series of early upsets at the Australian Open in recent years. The match will rest on her racket, for better or for worse.
Harrison vs. Giraldo (Court 8): From their last meeting at the Olympics came the regrettable temper tantrum that led to Harrison’s equally regrettable apology. He still lets his competitive fire burn too brightly at times, although a victory over Isner in Sydney may bode well for this fortnight. Not averse to emitting some sparks himself, Giraldo will fancy his chances in the best-of-five format if he can claim an early lead.
Bolelli vs. Janowicz (Court 8): The toast of Paris last fall when he reached the Bercy final, Janowicz reverted to ordinary toast this month in a sloppy loss to Brian Baker. The moribund game of Bolelli, an Italian with much more flair than power, should not trouble the huge-serving Pole as long as he stays out of his own way better than he did in Auckland.
Barthel vs. Pervak (Court 11): Reaching the fourth round here last year, Barthel recalled her strong start to 2012 when she finished runner-up in Hobart (becoming the first woman ever to lose a final to Vesnina in the process). The gawky German owns a formidable but fickle serve and can climb into double digits in aces and double faults during the same match. Russian by birth and Kazakh by passport, the lefty gunslinger Pervak upset Wozniacki in Brisbane by showing more fortitude than usual.
Benneteau vs. Dimitrov (Court 13): At Wimbledon last year, the French doubles specialist came within two points of upsetting Federer as he proved again how lethal his game can become when all of its parts coalesce. A strong server with a penetrating two-hander and excellent net skills, Benneteau held match points in the Sydney semifinal last week before his habit of losing close matches resurfaced. The bad news for him is that he faces a man who served for the first set in the Brisbane final the previous week. The good news is that Dimitrov never has brought his best game to any major, nor has he developed a habit of stringing together solid results.
Makarova vs. Larcher de Brito (Court 19): Once at the vortex of the shrieking controversy, Larcher de Brito plunged into the tennis wilderness shortly after her uniquely piercing yodels had alienated fans. She returns to the main draw of a major for the first time in years. Is she ready for her comeback? Perhaps more to the point, are we?
Bogomolov vs. Baker (Court 20): From an American perspective, this match presents a good guy vs. bad guy narrative. Fans around the world warmed to Baker when he completed an odyssey through several injury absences to rejoin the ATP with a bang last year by reaching the final at his first tournament. His results faded a little afterwards, as one would expect, so his confidence probably rose when he defeated Janowicz in Auckland. Whatever one thinks of Bogomolov’s shifting national allegiances, they did nothing to disturb his reputation as one of the players least likely to induce empathy in the ATP.
Hradecka vs. Bertens (Court 22): Half of the world’s second-ranked doubles team, the Czech with an explosive serve faces one of last spring’s most surprising headlines. Bertens became the first Dutchwoman to win a title since 2006 when she took home the hardware from Casablanca as a qualifier who never had played a main-draw match at the WTA level. Summer upsets over Safarova and Petrova consolidated that breakthrough, so she will look to take the next step forward in 2013.
Excited about these matches and others on Day 1? Join our live chat at newyorkobservertennis.com, which extends from the start of play through the Rod Laver Arena night session.