WTA Washington Preview and Prediction: Stars converge on the Capitol

RealSport preview the WTA Washington, with a number of the biggest names in the sport, including two Grand Slam champions, having made the trip to D.C.

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(Photo credit: Keith Allison)

The WTA event in Washington never fails to attract some of the game’s best and brightest to the US capital. This year is no exception as a star-studded field will compete for one of the biggest titles of the North American hard court swing. Of course, for many getting into top form ahead of the US Open in New York at the end of August will be the primary goal, but that won’t make the competition any less fierce. Who will come out on top?

Who’s playing?

The draw is led by world #2 and Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane has struggled somewhat to kick on from her early season success and she has reached just one final since claiming her maiden Slam in Melbourne, winning in Eastbourne in the lead up to Wimbledon. But her defensive qualities and her preference for hard court tennis ensure that she will always be a threat throughout the North American hard court swing.

Joining her in Washington is Sloane Stephens, the reigning US Open champion and a winner in Washington threes year ago. Since returning from a serious foot injury that kept her out for nearly a year last July, Stephens has rapidly re-established herself as one of the game’s best, and indeed gone onto reach even greater heights. Her two Major final appearances in the last year are a testament to her quality and a run to the title in Washington looks eminently achievable for the American.

Seeded third is Japan’s Naomi Osaka, who made good on her evident potential earlier this season by storming to the Indian Wells title, crushing Daria Kasatkina in the final. Still just 20, results have not been entirely consistent for Osaka, and the manner of her defeat in the third round at Wimbledon this year to Kerber will be frustrating, even if the German did go on to lift the title. But when Osaka is firing she’s almost impossible to stop.

Defending champion and fourth seed Ekaterina Makarova will be desperate to maintain her good form after an impressive Wimbledon campaign which saw her stun Wozniacki in the second round. There’s no doubting her quality and she’s won in Washington before. She could well do so again. Fifth seed Alexandra Krunic remains the model of consistency on Tour, and she’s scored some impressive wins of late and lifted the title in Rosmalen. One to watch out for this week.

The past few months have brought a return to form for both Belinda Bencic, seeded sixth, and Donna Vekic, the seventh seed. Both made a run to the fourth round at Wimbledon and will be looking to carry those improvements forward into the hard court season where they could do real damage. Rounding out the seeds is Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva who recently reached her second Roland Garros quarterfinal and will be hoping to show that she’s not just a clay court specialist.

First round matches to watch

Surely the pick of the first round matches is the clash between second seed Stephens and doubles specialist Bethanie Mattek-Sands. A terrible knee injury sustained by Mattek-Sands remains fresh in the memory, but the American has returned to play some fine tennis, in both singles and doubles. Her unorthodox, attacking style will put the pressure on Stephens and some fine rallies are to be expected from this one.

Eighth seed Putintseva also faces an intriguing early challenge against the talented Tatjana Maria, who scored an impressive win against Elina Svitolina at Wimbledon. Putintseva has traditionally preferred the slower European clay courts to the fast hard courts of North America, but Maria’s attacking style should be perfectly suited to the courts at Rock Creek Park. A real battle could well be in the offing and both will feel they have a good chance of advancing.

Prediction

Sloane Stephens may have disappointed at Wimbledon where she fell in the first round to Donna Vekic, but that was a hard first round draw and she looked a little fatigued after her exploits in Paris. After the better part of a month away from the Tour, she should be refreshed in both mind and body and ready to go all the way in Washington. Expect Stephens to get her preparations for her title defence in New York off to the perfect start with another Washington title.

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