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WTA Eastbourne: Aegon International preview

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With only a week until the third major of the season at Wimbledon, eight of the world’s top ten look to hone their grass court preparation at the Aegon International in Eastbourne.

 

After the women’s grass court season kicked into full gear with big events in Mallorca and Birmingham, eight of the world’s top ten head to the sunny south coast of England for their final preparations ahead of Wimbledon at the Aegon International in Eastbourne. A star-studded field is set for the WTA Premier event on the grass courts of Devonshire Park, where besides a prestigious grass court title lay on the line, the world number one ranking is also up for grabs between current top-ranked Angelique Kerber and world number two and Porsche Race to Singapore number one Simona Halep.

First quarter

Headlining the top quarter of the stacked draw in Eastbourne is world number one and 2014 finalist Angelique Kerber, who as a seed has a bye in the first round before opening against either big-serving British wildcard Naomi Broady or Czech Kristyna Pliskova. Another potentially tough match awaits the German in the third round with 16th seed Daria Gavrilova looming as a possible round of 16 opponent before possibly facing newly-crowned French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko, who begins her grass court campaign against either Ekaterina Makarova or Carla Suarez Navarro, or Eastbourne local and fifth seed Johanna Konta, who opens against a qualifier or Katerina Siniakova, in the quarterfinals.

All makes for a very tough few early rounds for Kerber on the grass, as the already struggling German looks to begin her grass court season strongly ahead of defending her points from her runner-up finish last year at Wimbledon. If the world number one can negotiate some very tough opening three matches than it bodes well for the former finalist’s confidence heading into Wimbledon, but some big-hitters in Broady, Gavrilova, Ostapenko, and Konta could very well trouble the German here in Eastbourne.

Semifinalist: Konta

Johanna Konta hits a forehand at the 2016 Aegon International in Eastbourne/Zimbio/Steve Bardens

Second quarter

In the second quarter of the draw, it’s led by last year’s finalist and third seed Karolina Pliskova along with three of the more in-form players on the WTA at the moment in French Open quarterfinalist and Porsche Race to Singapore number six Kristina Mladenovic, French Open semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky, and Indian Wells finalist and Madrid semifinalist Svetlana Kuznetsova. Pliskova, who cannot become world number one this week due to her finals points to defend here in Eastbourne, anchors the draw, opening against either grass court specialist Alison Riske or Frenchwoman Alize Cornet.

The third seed could then face Bacsinszky, who is not at her best on grass but opens against either a qualifier or Peng Shuai of China. After a pretty comfortable opening two rounds for the big-serving Czech, a potentially mouthwatering quarterfinal could await against ninth seed Kristina Mladenovic or seventh seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, who are on a collision course for a rematch of their highly competitive Madrid semifinal in the third round here in Eastbourne.

While there are many in-form players lined up in this quarter, the clear favorite is Pliskova, who coming off a surprise semifinal showing on her weakest surface at the French Open, is pulsing with confidence heading into the grass court season. If Pliskova can navigate past another of the most in-form and talked about players on tour this season, Kristina Mladenovic, it should be the Czech world number three reaching a second straight semifinal showing on the south coast of England.

Semifinalist: Pliskova

Karolina Pliskova hits a forehand at the 2016 Aegon International in Eastbourne/Zimbio/Tom Dulan

Third quarter

Headlining the third quarter of the draw is defending champion and fourth seed Dominika Cibulkova and another former champion at Devonshire Park who’s suffered a tough year, 2012 Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska. After a bye in the first round, Cibulkova begins her title defense against either Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko or British wildcard Heather Watson. A potentially difficult third round match looms for the Slovak, with possibly 14th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who opens against Timea Babos or Elise Mertens, a round of 16 opponent for Cibulkova. For eighth seed and 2008 champion Agnieszka Radwanska, the Pole has a very dangerous opening round opponent in either big-hitting German Julia Goerges, who is into the final in Mallorca this week, or American rising star CiCi Bellis, who fell to Goerges in the Mallorca semifinals, awaiting Radwanska in the second round. If the former Wimbledon finalist can negotiate her way past her very tough opening opponent, 2016 French Open champion and 2015 Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza could await Radwanska in the third round, barring Muguruza get past a tough first match for her as well against either Czech Barbora Strycova, a talented player on the grass, or 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard.

For eighth seed and 2008 champion Agnieszka Radwanska, the Pole has a very dangerous opening round opponent in either big-hitting German Julia Goerges, who is into the final in Mallorca this week, or American rising star CiCi Bellis, who fell to Goerges in the Mallorca semifinals, awaiting Radwanska in the second round. If the former Wimbledon finalist can negotiate her way past her very tough opening opponent, 2016 French Open champion and 2015 Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza could await Radwanska in the third round, barring Muguruza get past a tough first match for her as well against either Czech Barbora Strycova, a talented player on the grass, or 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard.

Despite a quarter loaded with former Wimbledon finalists, this draw does present an opportunity for Spanish 11th seed Muguruza to reset following a tough French Open title defense and set herself up well for a deep run at Wimbledon. With a very tough opening match for an already struggling and ailing Radwanska, it’s tough to see the 2008 winner making it to the third round, and with possibly Cibulkova or Pavlyuchenkova awaiting Muguruza in the last eight, the Spaniard seems primed to reach the last four here in Eastbourne.

Semifinalist: Muguruza

Garbine Muguruza hits a forehand at the 2015 Aegon International in Eastbourne/Zimbio/Ben Hoskins

Fourth quarter

Arguably the most loaded quarter of them all in this jam-packed Aegon International draw, second seed and recent French Open finalist Simona Halep, 2009 champion and former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova all feature in this stacked bottom quarter. For Halep, a semifinal appearance this week on the south coast of England guarantees the Romanian claim the world number one ranking regardless of Kerber’s results this week. Halep’s campaign begins against either American Christina McHale or a qualifier before a possible mouth-watering third round clash with 13th seed Petra Kvitova, who is into the final in Birmingham despite only playing her second tournament of the year in her inspiring comeback from a potentially life-threatening knife attack in her home.

For 2009 champion and sixth seed Caroline Wozniacki, the Dane has a potentially very dangerous opening match opponent, with big-hitting Japanese Naomi Osaka or a qualifier awaiting the former world number one in the second round. Wozniacki could have another tough test in the third round, with 2013 champion and defending Wimbledon semifinalist Elena Vesnina a possible round of 16 opponent for the former world number one. If Wozniacki can get past two very tough opening matches on the grass, her reward would be a possible quarterfinal meeting with Halep or Kvitova, a tough draw for all four seeds in this section.

If Wozniacki can hold off the powerful play of Osaka and crafty grass court game of Vesnina, the Dane should reach the quarterfinals, but with a strong, fresh Kvitova looming in the quarterfinals despite possibly having to play Halep in the third round, the two-time Wimbledon champion looks hard to beat on the grass, and that looks like it will continue this week at Devonshire Park.

Semifinalist: Kvitova

Petra Kvitova hits a forehand at the 2016 Aegon International in Eastbourne/Zimbio/Steve Bardens

Predictions:

Semifinals: Pliskova def. Konta, Kvitova def. Muguruza

Final: Pliskova def. Kvitova

ATP

Cincinnati Daily Preview: Serena Williams Plays Emma Raducanu, Venus Faces Karolina Pliskova

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Serena Williams practicing on Monday in Cincinnati (twitter.com/cincytennis)

In what is expected to be the next-to-last event of her storied career, Serena Williams will play her opening round match on Tuesday.  And in a blockbuster matchup, she faces reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu.  Can the 19-year-old defeat the GOAT, or can Serena pull off one more high-profile victory before her career comes to an end?

 

Tuesday’s schedule in Cincinnati features many other top names as well.  Center Court alone also includes Naomi Osaka, Daniil Medvedev, Nick Kyrgios, and Venus Williams, who takes on Karolina Pliskova in a battle between two of the WTA’s all-time best servers.

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Tuesday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.


Karolina Pliskova (14) vs. Venus Williams (WC) – Second on Center Court

This will only be Venus’ third singles match of the season, as multiple injuries have hampered the 42-year-old in recent years.  Williams has only earned one singles win in the last 18 months.  Pliskova has struggled this season since a hand injury caused her to miss the first two months of 2022.  But Karolina had her best run of the season last week in Toronto, where she reached the semifinals, which included a three-set win over fourth-seeded Maria Sakkari.  Venus and Karolina played three times between 2015 and 2017, with Pliskova taking two of those three encounters.  Their most notable match was in the fourth round of the 2016 US Open, which Karolina won in a third-set tiebreak.  In 2022, Pliskova is a considerable favorite to prevail.


Serena Williams (DA) vs. Emma Raducanu (10) – Not Before 7:00pm on Center Court

This will only be Serena’s fourth singles match of the season, and she’s 1-2 since returning at Wimbledon.  Last week in Toronto, she made a tearful exit from the court after her straight-set loss to Belinda Bencic, as the Canadian crowd gave the 23-time Major singles champion a standing ovation.  With this mini-retirement tour being new territory for Serena, how will she react to what will be a boisterous American crowd on Tuesday?  She’ll surely feel nervous, but Raducanu will as well, as she likely assumed she would never get to play Serena.  Emma has understandably struggled since her shocking, life-changing run a year ago at the US Open, as she’s just 11-14 on the year.  But she’s still played a lot more tennis of late than Serena.  This match was originally scheduled for Monday evening, and reports indicated it was postponed until Tuesday due to an injury concern regarding Serena.  That’s advantage, Emma.  But as we’ve learned over the course of the last several decades, Serena is fully capable of willing her way to victory even when she’s far from her best.


Other Notable Matches on Tuesday:

Naomi Osaka vs. Shuai Zhang – Osaka is just 1-2 this summer, and was forced to retire last week in Toronto due to a back issue.  She is 3-2 against Shuai, though they haven’t played in nearly four years.

Nick Kyrgios vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina – Kyrgios has won 14 of his last 16 singles matches, and is on an eight-match win streak in doubles.  Davidovich Fokina is only 4-9 this season on hard courts.

Coco Gauff (11) vs. Marie Bouzkova (Q) – Gauff is now the new world No.1 in doubles, and is on the brink of making her top 10 debut in singles.  Bouzkova has claimed 18 of her last 22 matches at all levels. 

Mackenzie McDonald (WC) vs. Carlos Alcaraz (3) – McDonald was a finalist last year in Washington, but arrived in Cincinnati on a three-match losing streak.  Alcaraz was upset last week in an extended affair with another American, Tommy Paul.  Earlier this year at Indian Wells, Carlitos beat Mackie 6-3, 6-3.

Daniil Medvedev (1) vs. Botic van de Zandschulp – Medvedev needs to win at least two matches this week to ensure he maintains his No.1 ranking.  He’s 2-0 against van de Zandschulp, taking seven of their eight sets contested, all on hard courts.


Tuesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Cincinnati Daily Preview: Major Champions Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka Square Off

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Andy Murray practicing this past week in Cincinnati (twitter.com/cincytennis)

For the second consecutive week, a combined ATP Masters/WTA 1000 event is being staged in North America.  This week, it’s the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The singles draws in American’s heartland are loaded: the ATP draw features 14 of the world’s top 16, while the WTA draw features all 16 top-ranked players.

 

Most notably, Serena Williams will play what is assumedly the next-to-last event of her career, and will face reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu in the first round.  And Rafael Nadal will play his first match since withdrawing from the Wimbledon semifinals due to his ongoing left foot issues.

Monday’s action is headlined by Major champions Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, who will play each other for the 22nd time. 

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Monday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.


Stan Wawrinka (PR) vs. Andy Murray – Third on Center Court

Their rivalry dates all the way back to 2005, when Wawrinka defeated Murray in Davis Cup.  Their most prominent encounter took place in the 2017 Roland Garros semifinals, when Stan outlasted Andy in a five-setter that lasted over four-and-a-half hours.  And neither man has been the same since that grueling battle.  Just weeks later, Murray’s hip problems derailed his career, while Wawrinka would undergo knee surgery.  Both men have now battled multiple serious injuries over the last five years.  Overall Andy is 12-9 against Stan, and 8-4 on hard courts.  Murray has gritted his way to 22 victories this year, while Stan is only 3-7 since returning from foot surgery this spring.  Based on current form, as well as Murray’s history at this event, where he is a two-time champion, the Brit is the favorite on Monday.


Matteo Berrettini (12) vs. Frances Tiafoe – Not Before 7:00pm on Center Court

Berrettini returned from surgery on his right hand in June, and promptly went on a 12-match win streak.  However, he unfortunately missed Wimbledon due to testing positive for COVID-19.  And last week in Montreal, Matteo lost in the opening round, though that one-sided loss to Pablo Carreno Busta doesn’t look quite as bad after Pablo’s fantastic run to his first Masters 1000 title concluded on Sunday.  Meanwhile, it’s been a disappointing year for Tiafoe, who is only 20-17 and has suffered some painful losses.  At Wimbledon, he lost a four-and-a-half hour fourth round match to David Goffin despite having a two-sets-to-one lead.  And just last week in Montreal, Frances was up 4-0 in the third over Taylor Fritz before losing the last six games of the match.  Their only previous meeting occurred four years ago on clay in Rome, where Matteo was victorious in his home country in straight sets.  Can Tiafoe avenge that loss in his own home country?  Frances often excels during night matches in the United States, with his five-set win over Andrey Rublev at last year’s US Open serving as a prime example.  But Matteo has been the much stronger performer for a few years now, and his potent serve/forehand combo makes him the favorite.


Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Amanda Anisimova vs. Daria Kasatkina (9) – Anisimova has reached the second week of every Major this season, while Kasatkina has won 18 of her last 24 matches, which includes a title run this month in San Jose.  Amanda leads their head-to-head 2-0, and dominated Daria 6-2, 6-0 at the beginning of this year.

Jil Teichmann vs. Petra Kvitova – Teichmann was a surprise finalist here a year ago.  Kvitova is only 17-15 this season, though she did win a title on grass in June.  They’ve played three times since last year, with Jil claiming two of those three matches.

Denis Shapovalov vs. Grigor Dimitrov (16) – Shapovalov has now lost nine of his last 10 matches dating back to May.  Meanwhile it’s been over four months since Dimitrov has won more than two matches in a row.  Grigor is 2-1 against Denis, and 2-0 on hard courts.

Sloane Stephens (WC) vs. Alize Cornet – It’s been a streaky season for Stephens, with nine of her 11 victories coming at just two events.  Cornet has achieved two noteworthy results this season: reaching her first Major quarterfinal in Melbourne, and ending Iga Swiatek’s 37-match winning streak at Wimbledon.  This is their first career meeting.


Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Canada Daily Preview: Championship Sunday Features Halep/Haddad Maia and Hurkacz/Carreno Busta

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Hubi Hurkacz this week in Montreal (twitter.com/OBNmontreal)

On Sunday in Toronto, Simona Halep plays for her third title at this event.  She faces a surging 26-year-old in Beatriz Haddad Maia, who has already defeated four top 15 players this week, including world No.1 Iga Swiatek.

 

In Montreal, Hubi Hurkacz is vying for his second Masters 1000 title, after winning his first last year in Miami.  In Sunday’s championship match, he plays Pablo Carreno Busta, who at 31-years-old has reached his first Masters 1000 final in his 52nd appearance.


Beatriz Haddad Maia vs. Simona Halep (15) – 1:30pm on Centre Court in Toronto

What a season Haddad Maia is having.  She started the year ranked 83rd in the world, but with 43 match wins and three titles at all levels, she will debut inside the top 16 on Monday.  She is the first Brazilian to reach a WTA 1000 singles final.  Beatriz credits her 2022 success to focusing on being more aggressive.  But Halep is a player who has achieved much success by absorbing her opponents’ power and using it against them.  And after a solid yet underwhelming season, Simona says her fire is back this week in Toronto.  This will be her fourth meeting with Haddad Maia, and her third this year.  She leads Beatriz 2-1, though they split their two 2022 encounters.  In a match of this magnitude, which is new territory for Haddad Maia, Halep’s experience and more consistent style make her the favorite to win her third title in Canada.


Hubert Hurkacz (8) vs. Pablo Carreno Busta – Not Before 4:00pm on Court Central in Montreal

Hubi’s path to this final has been a complicated one.  All four of his matches went the distance, and he even had to save a match point against Albert Ramos-Vinolas.  Meanwhile, Pablo had advanced to his first Masters 1000 final rather decisively, only dropping one set to this stage.  Hurkacz and Carreno Busta are 1-1 at tour level, as each earned a hard court victory over the other last year.  Three of the four sets they contested were decided by tiebreaks, which is not surprising given their contrasting styles.  Hubi will look to dictate matters with his serve, while Pablo will look to extend points and force Hurkacz into long baseline rallies.   However, Hubi often doesn’t mind participating in long rallies.  As impressive as Carreno Busta’s level has been this week, Hurkacz has been the better player this season.  Hubi’s serve and powerful groundstrokes make him a slight favorite to win his second Masters 1000 crown.


Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula (3) vs. Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Ellen Perez – Gauff and Pegula were finalists this year at Roland Garros.  If they win on Sunday, Gauff will become the new world No.1 in doubles, and be the youngest player to do so since Martina Hingis.  Melichar-Martinez and Perez have already defeated three seeded teams this week.

Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski (3) vs. Dan Evans and John Peers – Koolhof and Skupski lead the year-to-date doubles rankings, and are playing for their sixth title of the season.  This is only the second event in 2022 for Evans and Peers as a team.  Evans was also a semifinalist this week in singles.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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