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Western & Southern Open 2019 draw preview and predictions: Pliskova, Osaka could go deep in Cincinnati

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 11 Aug 2019
  • The draw for the 2019 Western & Southern Open has been released
  • New world no. 1 Naomi Osaka and defending champion Kiki Bertens lead the draw
Kiki Bertens returns to defend her title at the Western & Southern Open (PA Sports)

New no. 1 Naomi Osaka and defending champion Kiki Bertens among the stars at the Western & Southern Open but who will claim the title?

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The entire WTA top 10 and six former champions are in the draw for the 2019 Western & Southern Open, the last big event before the US Open, but as the way events unfolded at the Rogers Cup reminded us, nothing can be taken for granted.

We break down the draw and predict the semifinalists and beyond in Cincinnati.

Top quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Ashleigh Barty (1) vs Petra Kvitova (6) (1-4)

Ashleigh Barty (PA Sports)
A rematch of the Australian Open quarterfinal in Cincinnati looks unlikely this week with a host of tricky players eager to bust it up and reason to doubt the form of both Ashleigh Barty and Petra Kvitova.

Seeded first despite having relinquished the top spot in the rankings to Naomi Osaka after her second-round defeat to Sofia Kenin in Toronto, Barty is looking for her first win since Wimbledon – but she is going to have to work so hard to get it, because after a first-round bye she will face either Maria Sharapova or the player who put her out of Wimbledon with a stellar performance, the flat-hitting, in-form Alison Riske. Should she get through that, two-time finalist Angelique Kerber might await in the third round – should Kerber herself get through the powerful Anett Kontaveit in the first round, although a slumping Caroline Garcia shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge in the second.

Petra Kvitova, meanwhile, is playing her first match since her own early exit at Wimbledon, with her left forearm injury still a question mark hanging over her head. Kvitova has made two semifinal runs in Cincinnati, including one last year, but she could face Maria Sakkari in the second round and one of four dangerous players – Petra Martic, Aryna Sabalenka, San Jose champion Zheng Saisai and rising Viktoria Kuzmova – in the third, so I don’t see her reaching the final four for a third time this year.  

Semifinalist: Riske

Second quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Karolina Pliskova (3) vs Sloane Stephens (8) (1-3)

Karolina Pliskova (PA Sports)
The 2016 Western & Southern Open champion Karolina Pliskova might have missed out on retaking the world no. 1 ranking last week, when she was defeated in the quarterfinals by Bianca Andreescu, but her draw looks good for a deep run in Cincinnati.

Pliskova was originally drawn to meet Andreescu again in the second round, but the Rogers Cup champion unsurprisingly withdrew to be replaced by lucky loser Monica Puig, helping to clear a path for Pliskova to the third round, where she is projected to meet Johanna Konta, and beyond.

Sloane Stephens made the semifinals of Cincinnati in 2017 but comes in on a three-match losing streak, and has been losing badly, too. The US Open champion is always unpredictable but there’s been no real indication she’s ready to pull out of her slump, and she’s got some players in her path who will relish the chance to take advantage of her out-of-sorts state: Jelena Ostapenko or, more likely, Yulia Putintseva in the second round, and then the victor of a fascinating mini-section in the third. There’s US Open semifinalist Anastasija Sevastova, the Latvian’s first-round opponent Svetlana Kuznetsova (who played a good match against Simona Halep in Toronto even if she is just back from a lengthy injury break), Caroline Wozniacki (battling with physical issues but always a phenomenal competitor) and the very talented Dayana Yastremska, who beat Konta and Victoria Azarenka last week. Sevastova or Yastremska to meet Pliskova in the quarterfinals?

Semifinalist: Pliskova

Third quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Kiki Bertens (5) vs Simona Halep (4) (3-3)

Simona Halep (PA Sports)
A quarterfinal rematch of last year’s final would be a very enticing prospect ahead of the US Open, but will we see it?

One of Andreescu’s victims in Toronto last week, Bertens is 41-16 on the season and I don’t think she’s been playing too badly, but she also doesn’t come in with the kind of momentum which carried her to the title last year. 

An early blockbuster could be in prospect for Bertens as she might face Venus Williams in the second round – both their matches have been three-set thrillers – but the American comes in on a four-match losing streak. Belinda Bencic, from whom I expected more than she showed in her straight-sets last-16 defeat to Elina Svitolina in Toronto, could be Bertens’s third-round opponent as she faces Victoria Azarenka in the first round and Katerina Siniakova or Donna Vekic in the second. Bertens has a good 3-0 record vs Bencic and Vekic or Azarenka are also good match-ups for her.

Simona Halep has made the final in Cincinnati three of the past four years, and the injury that saw her retire at the Rogers Cup hopefully won’t stop her from playing at the Western & Southern Open. If she is fit, the Wimbledon champion has a good draw, starting with the hard-hitting Ekaterina Alexandrova or Carla Suarez Navarro and projected to face Madison Keys in the third round; Amanda Anisimova is the only potential disruptor in that little section. The only reason I’m predicting Bertens instead of Halep to make the semifinals is because of Halep’s injury.

Semifinalist: Bertens

Fourth quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Elina Svitolina (7) vs Naomi Osaka (2) (3-3)

Naomi Osaka (PA Sports)
Naomi Osaka looked a lot brighter than she has done recently when she played Toronto last week, winning two matches before being defeated by Serena Williams in the quarterfinals – will that newfound positivity survive being returned to world no. 1 with a US Open title defense looming?

Osaka’s got quite a decent draw as draws go through the early rounds – she could face Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who loves an upset, in the second round, but Sasnovich is on an eight-match losing streak and I don’t think the courts in Cincinnati will suit her; and Wang Qiang, projected third-round opponent, is not playing well at the moment. A more likely third-round opponent for Osaka is the always tricky Su-Wei Hsieh, who maddened Osaka to defeat in Miami, but Osaka still leads their head-to-head 3-1.

It gets interesting after that. However. Svitolina is Osaka’s projected quarterfinal opponent, but Svitolina still to me isn’t playing that well in the wake of her knee injury (despite her Wimbledon semifinal run) and could well meet Sofia Kenin, who beat her in Toronto, in the third round. That’s if Svitolina doesn’t meet Serena Williams there instead. The two-time Cincinnati champion had to retire after four games in Toronto with back spasms, but she also said that these spasms generally go away after 24 hours and leave her fit to play again, so it’s by no means guaranteed that she will pull out. Should Williams play, it could be a fascinating rematch with Kenin – who beat her at the French Open – and beyond, perhaps, another crack at Osaka?

Semifinalist: Osaka

Semifinals: Pliskova d. Riske
Osaka d. Bertens 

Final: Osaka d. Pliskova

WTA Western & Southern Open tennis is live from Cincinnati from 12-18 August 2019

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Western & Southern Open 2019 draw preview and predictions: Pliskova, Osaka could go deep in Cincinnati

WTA Cincinnati 2019 draw preview, predictions and tips: Defending champion Kiki Bertens could face Simona Halep in the quarterfinals, with Ashleigh Barty and Maria Sharapova on a potential collision course

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