By Mike McIntyre
The Rogers Cup is ready to begin in Toronto on Monday where Petra Kvitova is the defending champion and Serena Williams is the number one seed. With both Vika Azarenka and Maria Sharapova having to withdraw due to injuries, many will be expecting a Serena victory by the time Sunday comes around.
As one of the top eight seeds in the tournament, Williams received a first round bye and will play the winner between qualifier Chanele Scheepers and Francesca Schiavone. Schiavone won the French Open in 2010 and then lost there in the finals in 2011, the same year she reached her career high ranking of 4th in the world. Clearly stronger on clay, the Italian is now ranked 55th in the world but still represents a quality opponent should she face Serena in round two.
This quarter of the draw has not just one, by two Williams sisters in it. Venus makes her first tournament appearance since the French Open and could face Serena in the third round. The two will play in a doubles exhibition on Monday night against former world number one Monica Seles and Canadian sensation Genie Bouchard. They are not however entered in the office Rogers Cup doubles draw.
Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli will bring her two-handed forehand and backhand to Toronto and is also in this section of the draw as the 7th seed. She will face the winner between qualifier Lauren Davis and former Grand Slam champion and lucky loser Svetlana Kuznetsova. Oddly enough, Davis defeated Kuznetsova on Sunday in the final round of qualifying, but as the Russian was the highest ranked player in the qualifying draw, she takes a spot that was vacated in the main draw by Vika Azarenka's last minute withdrawal. Look for the veteran to make the necessary adjustments to earn the victory over Davis this time.
First Quarter Prediction: Serena Williams d. Bartoli
In the next quadrant of the draw, Agnieszka Radwanska will look to get her confidence going as she aims for her first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open later this month. The third seed will have a tough opening match as she will face the winner between Yanina Wickmayer and Laura Robson. Wickmayer was once ranked as high as 12th in the world and has three career titles to her name. The 23 year old has still not reached her peak and while currently only ranked 57th in the world I feel that she is due for a breakthrough at some point. Robson for her part represents the future of British tennis on the WTA Tour and at only 19 years of age is the 32nd ranked player in the world. Wickmayer defeated Robson in their only career meeting back in 2010 on grass and should expect a much tougher match this time around. This match-up is one I would recommend to anyone attending on Monday and has three sets written all over it.
Up and coming American Sloan Stephens is the 14th seed and also in the second quarter of the tournament. Lookout as well for the future Mrs. Alexander Ovechkin - Maria Kirilenko that is, along with 5th seeded Sara Errani who will threaten Radwanska for a spot in the semi-finals.
The 26 year old Errani is one spot below her career best ranking in singles and has made the finals of two clay court and two hard court tournaments proving she can play well on either surface. She got to the semi finals of the French Open where she was humbled by Serena Williams 6-0, 6-1. Her record at the Rogers Cup is a mediocre 1-5, so I'm not sure if playing in Canada agrees with her too much. Still, given her 5-1 record against Kirilenko I would expect her to make her way to the quarter-finals to face Radwanska against whom she has struggled with a 2-6 head-to-head.
Second Quarter Prediction: Radwanska d. Errani
In the third quarter of play Li Na of China is the 4th seed and made the finals of the event a year ago while Angelique Kerber of Germany is the 8th seed. Kerber has had a solid but not spectacular season and is 1-6 lifetime vs Na. Former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic is also in this section and the 16th seed could also put together a good run here in Canada where she won the event all the way back in 2006 in Montreal.
I'd look a little bit beyond the top seedings in this part of the draw to 11th ranked Italian Roberta Vinci to have a strong outing here. She has made the quarter-finals the past two years and knocked off some quality players while on Canadian soil. Her last tournament appearance was nearly a month ago but she won that event in Palermo on clay.
Don't overlook Dominika Cibulkova as well who could face Kerber in the second round and is currently ranked 21st in the world. The Slovak just won the event in Stanford last week where she knocked-off Radwanska in the final. The win was particularly meaningful to Cibulkova as she was double "bageled" earlier in the year by Radwanska 6-0, 6-0 in the finals in Sydney. Her confidence levels should be enough to carry her through a few rounds.
Third Quarter Prediction: Vinci d. Ivanovic
In the last part of the draw, Caroline Wozniacki replaced 2nd seed Azarenka late Sunday night and will receive a bye even though she is the 9th seed in the event. Azarenka lost for the first time in nine career meetings on Sunday to Sam Stosur in the finals of Carlsbad, California. Her official reason for withdrawing in Toronto was due to a lower back injury.
The 23 year old Wozniacki is still the youngest player in the top ten in the rankings even though it seems she has been there for quite some time now. She brings a modest 21-16 record on the WTA Tour into this event and has been struggling to find consistency all season long. The Dane was 3-6 during the clay court season and then fell in the second round of Wimbledon. Getting back onto hard courts is probably the best thing for her at this point.
Wozniacki, who won here in 2010, could face Jelena Jankovic in the third round and then either defending champion Kvitova or Sam Stosur in the quarter-finals. Jankovic is 29-12 on the season but has lost in the first round of the Rogers Cup in each of the past three years. Stosur made the finals in Toronto two years ago but has also been inconsistent since her U.S. Open victory that same summer. Kvitova meanwhile has won a hard court event in Dubai earlier this year and made the quarter-finals of Wimbledon.
This section of the draw is extremely tough, with rising Canadian sensation Genie Bouchard also present. Bouchard opens with a tough match against Russian Alisa Kleybanova who was once ranked as high as 20th in the world before Hodgkin's Lymphoma forced her to withdraw from the game. Kleybanova played in only one event in 2012 and has only played in three this year that have all been challenger type events. Currently ranked 602nd in the world, it will be a real test for her to get back up in the rankings but something we'd all love to see given the difficulties she has faced.
Fourth Quarter Prediction: Kvitova d. Jankovic
Serena Williams d. Radwanska
Kvitova d. Vinci
Williams d. Kvitova
Serena will be hungry to reclaim the Rogers Cup title and show that her loss at Wimbledon a month ago was just a small blip on the screen in her otherwise stellar 2013 season.
Check back with us often throughout the week as we will be covering the tournament live from the Rexall Centre in Toronto. Follow us on Twitter as well for timely updates on all of the action both here and in Montreal.