Rogers Cup—Montreal, Canada
After gauging and tweaking their hard-court skills during the Cincinnati event in Ohio, the ladies of the WTA Tour will make their yearly trek to Rogers Cup in Montreal.
With the US Open rapidly approaching, the Montreal event will once again become a pivotal indicator toward choosing the favorites for the year's final Grand Slam. With both Williams sisters sidelined due to injury, the 56-player field will be carried by Jelena Jankovic, and No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki.
While the top-seeded Serb exited Cincinnati after a disappointing quarterfinal exit to Akgul Amanmuradova, Wozinacki was bounced from the event in the third round (in convincing fashion no less) by Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli. The dynamic top two seeds will descend to Montreal with the intention of reaching the weekend's festivities, and gain ideal preparation for the US Open.
Canadian representation will also be out in full force in Montreal. Led by Canada's top-ranked player Alexandra Wozniak, the field will also include Valerie Tetreault and Stephanie Dubois. Wozniak will be returning to action from an injured wrist, and the world No. 53 will face Swiss player Timea Bacsinszky in her opening hurdle. Tetreault and Dubois will also have stern opening round matches against No. 17 seed Bartoli and Klara Zakopalova, respectively.
With $350,000 in prize money, and 900 Sony Ericsson WTA Tour points on the line, let's now take a look at the top and bottom halves of the 56-women field.
Tumbling out of Cincinnati earlier than she would have liked, top seed Jankovic was given a difficult quarter to say the least. Starting off against either Sara Errani or a qualifier, Jankovic could face either Nadia Petrova or No. 17 seed Bartoli in the third round.
Struggling to win her first match in Cincinnati over Vera Dushevina, Jankovic was out-aced and out-gunned by Akgul Amanmuradova in the round of 16. Jankovic has been inconsistent off of her serve as of late, and that has resulted in a lack of confidence in her groundstrokes.
Other dangerous players in Jankovic's quarter will include Victoria Azarenka, Maria Kirilenko, and Na Li.
Azarenka began her summer with a much needed win in California, while Kirilenko and Li will attempt to recapture the form that they obtained at the Australian Open in January.
Azarenka did suffer a first-round loss to Ana Ivanovic in Ohio, and could have a tough first-round tussle against Kateryna Bondarenko. If anything, Kateryna's plans of advancing deep in the tournament were given a roadblock with a potential third-round match against her sister Alona.
Kirilenko will enter Montreal off of two straight second-round losses, while Li will look to improve on her 12-9 hard-court record on the season. The flamboyant Chinese woman has never been afraid to express herself, either through body art or her wrecking ball backhand. Coming in as the No. 9 seed, Li could find herself in the final weekend based on her hard-court proficiency.
Reigning US Open champ Kim Clijsters returned to action in Cincinnati last week in resounding form. Using her off-the-rise ball-striking to advance to the weekend's festivities, Clijsters' hard-court dominance should continue in Montreal. The Belgium was granted a relatively smooth road to the semifinals, with struggling American Melanie Oudin as a potential second-round opponent.
Oudin stole the hearts of everyone in New York last year by reaching the quarterfinals of the US Open, but she hasn't made it past the second round of a Tour event since April. Her flat-hit forehand still provides a level of concern for her opponents, but there's no question that her confidence is subpar at the moment.
Shahar Peer and Yanina Wichmayer also lurk as potential adversaries for Clijsters, but No. 8 seed Vera Zvonareva remains the Belgium's toughest opponent in this quarter.
The Wimbledon finalist was ousted from the third round of Cincinnati by Flavia Penneta, but should round into form on the quicker hard courts in Montreal.
In a truly loaded top half, where upsets can take place in any round, Na Li and Zvonareva should have enough in the tank to persevere through the field.
With that being said, Zvonareva could be ready to make some serious noise heading into the US Open based on her willingness to win and clean-ball striking.
Holding entertainment value to the fullest, look for the temperamental Russian to become the surprise of the week.
No one ever said that playing in Montreal would be easy. No. 2 seed Wozniacki could find that out the hard way with the draw she was dealt. Facing either a qualifier or French veteran Virginie Razzano in the second round, Wozniacki would bump heads with either Daniela Hantuchova, Alisa Kleybanova, or Pennetta in the third round.
Pennetta became one the hottest players entering the US Open last year, showcasing her wily Italian flair on the hard courts of North America. Pennetta hasn't provided that same kind of form during this year's US Open Series, but she still remains a formidable foe for the top players.
Hantuchova has arguably plateaued in her talents, but that does not negate the fact the she still provides enough reach and pop on her shots to become a factor. Hantuchova does have three career hard-court titles to her name, and will face Pennetta in the first round.
Currently ranked No. 27 in the world, Kleybanova will look to inflict her devastating ground game on the watchful field. Reaching the semifinals in Toronto last year, Kleybanova proved that her fitness was in check by battling through a grueling three-hour win over Jankovic in the quarterfinals.
Holding a distinctive head snap as she hits her forehand, Kleybanova possesses more than enough firepower to advance deep in Montreal.
Maria Sharapova, Francesca Schiavone, and Dinara Safina will also highlight Wozniacki's quarter.
Sharapova, who has been playing better as of late, battles Tomas Berdych's girlfriend Lucie Safarova in the first round. Fighting through a multitude of injuries throughout the years, Sharapova finally appears healthy on her beloved hard courts.
However, the same cannot be said for Schiavone and Safina. Both players have enjoyed great success throughout their careers—most notably Schiavone's shocking French Open victory this year—but both players have struggled to gain any sort of momentum on the hard courts this season. Safina hasn't advanced past the second round of any tour event since April, while Schiavone has only captured one match win since Roland Garros.
I think it's safe to that Safina and Schiavone's struggles will continue in Montreal.
The top quarter of this half will feature No. 7 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 11 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 16 seed Aravane Rezai, and No. 4 seed Elena Dementieva.
Radwanska was defeated in the third round of Cincinnati last week, and would likely face Anabel Medina Garrigues in the second round. Radwanska possesses a lot of fire power for her relatively light frame, and backed up her power quotient by reaching the finals of the Mercury Insurance Open.
Kuzentsova suffered a crushing defeat to Sharapova last week, and the two-time Grand Slam champ will be keen on holding her own in Montreal. Winning one title this year, the 25-year-old Russian faces Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her first hurdle.
Rezai will feel at home in the French speaking city, and her intense and well-versed game could be in line for a deep showing. Slated to meet Dementieva in the third round, Rezai would likely have to defeat Petra Kvitova, and Jie Zheng to set up that encounter.
Dementieva, who was ousted early in Cincinnati, arrives in Montreal as the defending champ. Defeating Sharapova in last year's final, Dementieva has captured one title in 2010. The Russian's serve as improved vastly over the past 12 months, and her forehand and backhand groundstrokes are some of the best in the business.
Dementieva has looked a little shaky in recent weeks, and missed Wimbledon due to injury. Taking her recent lack of match play into account, I'd say that a title defense will be difficult to achieve.
In saying that, Wozniacki is exactly the type of player that knows how to take advantage of an inconsistent and fatigued field. With Sharapova and Clijsters reaching the weekend in Cincinnati, their success in back-to-back weeks will be tough to duplicate.
Wozniacki, though, is in need of a good showing heading into New York. The flashy Dane remains adamant on proving that her finals march at Flushing Meadows last year was the real deal, and she'll be eager to get that train started in Montreal.
Expect a lot upsets along the way, but Wozniacki's unbreakable groundstrokes should last until the final Sunday.