The US hard court summer begins on the WTA Tour next week, with the first US Open Series event taking place at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford.
With last year’s finalists, champion Johanna Konta and runner-up Venus Williams, not going to be in action, there will be a brand new champion at the tournament, with no one in the draw having ever won the title before. Only two women in the field have reached the final before; America’s Coco Vandeweghe, who is the sixth seed, and five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova, who will be in action for the first time since May after taking a wildcard into the tournament.
The tournament also sees the return of Garbine Muguruza, following her triumph at Wimbledon, whilst Petra Kvitova will continue her return after taking a wildcard in. The tournament also sees the likes of Madison Keys, Stanford graduate Nicole Gibbs, and rising stars Catherine Bellis and Claire Liu in action.
Projected Q/F: (1st) Garbine Muguruza vs (5th) Ana Konjuh
One of the most interesting things to follow at this tournament will be the performances of Muguruza; after her second Grand Slam triumph, will the Spaniard be able to finally find consistency and become a dominant force on the tour? A slight letdown following her SW19 triumph could well happen, though (just as in the other top four seeds) she receives a bye in the opening round, and a second round match against Misaki Doi or Kayla Day should not be too challenging.
There are, however, dangers in her section. Fifth seed Ana Konjuh made the second week of Wimbledon and has been in encouraging form of late; so has fellow rising star, Natalia Vikhlyantseva, who reached her first WTA final this year. Both women face qualifiers in the opening round, and a potential second round match between the two could well be a glimpse into the future.
Prediction: Muguruza def Konjuh
Projected Q/F: (3rd) Madison Keys vs (7th) Lesia Tsurenko
Though Keys and Tsurenko are the seed players here, there is no doubt that the interesting factor is probably Sharapova. The Russian may well be rusty, though a first round clash versus Jennifer Brady should be fairly straightforward. She would then be expected to face Tsurenko in the second round, and though Sharapova would be the favorite, the Ukrainian, who won in Acapulco and has much more match practice, undoubtedly has a shot.
Keys heads into this tournament looking for some much needed confidence. The American, who reached the WTA Finals last year, didn’t play for the first couple of months due to injury and has only won five matches on tour this year. She has the advantage of receiving a bye to begin with, though could face Naomi Osaka in the second round; the Japanese came close to beating Keys at the US Open last year, and, assuming she win her first round against a qualifier, will fancy her chances.
Prediction: Sharapova def Osaka
Projected Q/F: (6th) Coco Vandeweghe vs (4th) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
It has arguably been a mixed year for both Vandeweghe and Pavlyuchenkova, though the American comes into Stanford after a run to the last eight at Wimbledon, and should be able to see off Ajla Tomljanovic in her opening match; assuming she wins that, she will face either Nicole Gibbs, a former college tennis player at Stanford, or junior world number one Claire Liu, in what would be an interesting all-American battle.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see what Pavlyuchenkova shows up in Stanford. The Russian has played some great tennis this year, though has also put in some poor performances. She receives a bye in the first round, though a potential second round clash against either Magda Linette or Alison Riske will be extremely difficult; Riske reached the last four in 2016, and will fancy her chances once again.
Prediction: Vandeweghe def Riske
Projected Q/F: (8th) Catherine Bellis vs (2nd) Petra Kvitova
One of the biggest stories in recent months has been the return of Kvitova, and the Czech took a late wildcard into the tournament as she looks to build on a second round loss at Wimbledon. After a bye in the first round, it seems likely that either former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone or Kateryna Bondarenko will provide a test; Kvitova should be able to pass either of them, if she plays well.
Bellis heads into Stanford following the best 12 months of her career, and will undoubtedly be looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd once again, though a first round match against Alize Cornet is certainly a tough draw for both women. The winner of that will face a qualifier or Kristie Ahn in the second round.
Prediction: Kvitova def Bellis
Muguruza def Sharapova
Vandeweghe def Kvitova
Muguruza def Vandeweghe