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Pliskova condemns ‘terrible’ level in French Open defeat to Ostapenko

Second seed Karolina Pliskova became the highest-ranked player to fall at the French Open as she lost to former champion Jelena Ostapenko.

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Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko knocked world no. 3 Karolina Pliskova out of the 2020 French Open 6-4, 6-2.

Ostapenko began the match by breaking to love and although she handed the advantage back immediately, went on to break Pliskova’s serve five more times through the course of the 70-minute defeat – not an impressive showing from the player nicknamed the ‘ace queen’.

Pliskova called her own performance ‘terrible’.

The Czech said:

‘I’m sure I could do much better. I know that she can be tough if she’s playing well, but I think everything started with me. I was definitely not playing great. I think maybe same level as the match before but of course she’s a much better player.’

Pliskova had been pushed to three sets by Egyptian qualifier Mayar Sherif in the first round before winning 6-7(9), 6-2, 6-4. The Czech reached the final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, where she was the defending champion, a week before the start of Roland Garros but retired in the final due to a thigh injury.

This is the sixth Grand Slam in a row that Pliskova has failed to make it to the quarterfinals despite being a top-eight seed. It is also the sixth time in nine French Open appearances that she has failed to win back-to-back matches. Pliskova’s best result at the French Open came in 2017 when she reached the semifinals.

Pliskova lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round of the Australian Open and Caroline Garcia in the second round of the US Open. She is 3-2 in Grand Slam matches in 2020 and 13-4 in WTA Tour matches.

Pliskova said:

‘I think I relaxed a bit in the second set. Of course, she was playing an ugly game. There was not much room or not many points where I would really feel great. But I was able to find a bit better level than in the first set. But like, never giving up. That’s the only thing that I can do, no matter how it goes. There’s always a chance against these players. For them it’s tough to close the match.’

Ostapenko never gave Pliskova the slightest chance. The two have played some lengthy matches, including their first meeting on the Grand Slam stage at the Australian Open in 2017 when Pliskova won 10-8 in the third set after Ostapenko had led 5-2. But there were no theatrics from the Latvian today. She played a steady, intelligent match, and displayed a more well-rounded game than the outright ball-bashing which saw her storm to an unlikely French Open victory three years ago as the world no. 47.

Now ranked world no. 43, Ostapenko had a torrid 2018 season which saw her plummet to world no. 83 before starting to rebound at the end of 2019 when she reached WTA Tour finals in Linz and Luxembourg, winning the latter.

Asked how her tennis today compared to the tennis she played to win the title in 2017, Ostapenko said:

‘It’s hard to compare because that was 3 years ago and I was fearless, nobody really knew me but now players get to know me more. Obviously they know me already. They know how I can play. They know how to play against me.’

Ostapenko could face Sloane Stephens, the French Open runner-up in 2018, in the third round.

Aryna Sabalenka, the eighth seed, also made it through to the last 32 on Thursday, squeezing through a tight first set against Daria Kasatkina before running away with the second 7-6(6), 6-0. Seventh seed Petra Kvitova glided through against Jasmine Paolini of Italy 6-3, 6-3.

Second seed Karolina Pliskova faces what could be a rollercoaster battle against 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

Pliskova vs Ostapenko is live from Roland Garros on Wednesday 30 September, 11am local/10am BST

Pushed unexpectedly hard by Egyptian trailblazer Mayar Sherif in the first round, Karolina Pliskova could be in for another stern test as she takes on Jelena Ostapenko for a place in the last 32 at the French Open.

French Open 2020: Find out tournament information for Roland Garros 2020 and how to stream French Open matches live

Ostapenko, the French Open champion in 2017, is the definition of inconsistent but a tremendous shotmaker who has given Pliskova much trouble in the past, including winning their most recent encounter.

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

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Pliskova vs Ostapenko: Head-to-head

Karolina Pliskova has a 3-2 record against Jelena Ostapenko, and won their only clay-court encounter in Stuttgart in 2018 5-7, 7-5, 6-4.
Ostapenko won their most recent encounter, defeating Pliskova 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 in Beijing last autumn.

Pliskova vs Ostapenko: Preview

Karolina Pliskova’s US swing did not go to plan, as she suffered an early US Open defeat to Caroline Garcia, but an impressive run to the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, where she was the defending champion, made her chances of a deep French Open run look much more positive – at least, until she had to pull out of the final against Simona Halep trailing 0-6, 1-2 due to a thigh injury.

Pliskova seemed optimistic about bouncing back for Roland Garros, but I’m not sure her first-round performance was terribly convincing. Egyptian qualifier Mayar Sherif, who had made history by becoming the first woman from her country to reach the main draw of a Grand Slam, handled the occasion really well and played some great tennis, but Pliskova didn’t look to me to be moving as well as she might in the 6-7(9), 6-2, 6-4 victory.

The Czech did, however, noticeably loosen up as the match went on, so perhaps it was just a case of needing to get the legs moving.

Pliskova made a semifinal run at the French Open in 2017 and made back-to-back third rounds in 2018-19, but before that she had failed to win consecutive matches in five previous main-draw appearances and she has yet to make the last 16 of a major this year.

Jelena Ostapenko (ChrysleneCaillaud/Panoramic.)

Under these circumstances Jelena Ostapenko is not exactly the opponent she wants to face in the second round. The Latvian memorably stormed to the French Open title in 2017 despite being ranked world no. 47, and was a Wimbledon semifinalist in 2018, but a game plagued by double faults and uncertainty over how best to approach matches tactically – should she go for broke on her shots, knowing she’s going to give up a lot of unforced errors and hit herself off the court a lot of the time but be unbeatable on her day, or should she try to learn how to add more margin? – saw her slump outside the top 80 in 2019.

Ostapenko turned things around at the end of last season by reaching consecutive finals in Linz and Luxembourg, winning the second, and is 6-6 in 2020, winning back-to-back matches in Doha in February and Strasbourg last week, where she made the quarterfinals (helped by a retirement from Kiki Bertens) before losing to Nao Hibino. She crushed Madison Brengle 6-2, 6-1 in the first round, and certainly has a history of challenging Pliskova – in their second career meeting at the Australian Open in 2017, Ostapenko led Pliskova 5-2 in the decider before, as she would herself say, choking and losing 8-10. The last two matches they have played have been tight, with five of six sets going past 4-4; Ostapenko certainly doesn’t find Pliskova’s game intimidating, but her own serve often lets her down, crumbling under pressure and seeing her double fault. I think this will be a lengthy battle.

Pliskova vs Ostapenko: Prediction

Defending champion Karolina Pliskova meets top seed Simona Halep in an enthralling Internazionali BNL d’Italia final on Monday.

Halep vs Pliskova is live from Rome on Monday 21 September, 2.30pm local/1.30pm BST

Will it be third time lucky for Simona Halep? A hard-fought win over Garbine Muguruza put the world no. 2 into the WTA Rome final once again, and for the first time, she won’t be facing Elina Svitolina there.

WTA Rome 2020: Find out tournament information for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia and how to stream WTA Rome matches live

Karolina Pliskova is looking to follow in Svitolina’s footsteps and boost her confidence ahead of the French Open by capturing back-to-back Internazionali BNL d’Italia titles – can she power past Halep in Monday’s final?

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

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Halep vs Pliskova: Head-to-head

Simona Halep leads the head-to-head with Karolina Pliskova 7-4, but has lost their last two encounters.

On clay, the head-to-head is 1-1, with Halep winning in three sets at the French Open in 2017 and Pliskova winning in Madrid in 2018.

Halep vs Pliskova: Preview

It’s hard to imagine a better curtain-raiser for the women’s French Open than the WTA side of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia this week, and the final should be a fitting denouement as top seed and French Open favourite Halep takes on defending champion Pliskova.

Halep hadn’t been pushed too hard in Rome this week and progressed to the semifinals via Yulia Putintseva’s retirement, but she was always going to have to work hard in a bruising semifinal clash against Garbine Muguruza on Sunday and so it proved. In a battle of French Open champions and a rematch of January’s Australian Open semifinal, Halep preserved her perfect record against Muguruza on clay, but not without a fight. The world no. 2 dominated the opening set and led 4-2 in the second, but Muguruza, struggling physically after lengthy matches against Coco Gauff and Victoria Azarenka, shortened the points and began going for broke on her shots, reeling off four straight games to level. The third set was the match in miniature, with a dominant Halep building a 5-1 lead, only for Muguruza to break twice to get back to 4-5; two double faults from the struggling Spaniard, however, saw Halep wrap up a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory.

Karolina Pliskova (Alfredo Falcone – LaPresse – PA Images)

Pliskova had had her own three-set battle against Elise Mertens in the quarterfinals, but kept things under control in an all-Czech semifinal clash with Marketa Vondrousova, the 2019 French Open runner-up. Pliskova blasted through the opening set with her trademark power, but had to recover a break at the beginning of the second set before squandering a 4-1 lead to be pegged back to 4-4. The crucial game at 4-4 saw the world no. 4 save break point before breaking for a 6-1, 6-4 win.

Pliskova’s win took only 83 minutes, giving her something of a physical advantage over Halep on Sunday, but it shouldn’t be a big factor with Halep not dropping a set coming into the semifinals.

Pliskova has had the best of the rivalry in recent times, winning three of the past four meetings including their most recent clay encounter, but it’s difficult to point to a big reason why this should be as each of those matches was very different. As Halep has worked to make her game more aggressive, she’s got a tendency to make more unforced errors, slightly changing the dynamic which is fundamentally one of counterpuncher against first-strike player. But that by no means suggests that she can’t beat Pliskova on her day.

Both women have been playing really brilliant tennis this week, so it’s a promising final. For me, Halep is still the superior clay-court player, and she’s won their only match which took place in conditions remotely similar; for that reason, I’m backing the two-time Rome runner-up to finally get her hands on the trophy.

Halep vs Pliskova: Prediction

Defending champion Karolina Pliskova must triumph in an all-Czech battle with Marketa Vondrousova if she is to make it back to the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final.

Pliskova vs Vondrousova is live from Rome on Sunday 20 September, 4pm local/2pm BST

After a disappointing US Open swing, world no. 4 Karolina Pliskova has rebounded in style to reach the semifinals at the WTA Rome Premier-5, where she is the defending champion, and is now one match away from making her second final of 2020.

WTA Rome 2020: Find out tournament information for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia and how to stream WTA Rome matches live

Standing in her way in Sunday’s semifinals is Marketa Vondrousova, the 2019 French Open runner-up, who has also found form with a return to clay and is looking for her first win over her compatriot on this surface.

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

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Pliskova vs Vondrousova: Head-to-head

Karolina Pliskova won the only previous match she played against Marketa Vondrousova 6-3, 6-4, on hard courts in Miami in 2019.

Pliskova vs Vondrousova: Preview

The WTA semifinals at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia feature two French Open champions and three women who have been ranked world no. 1, one of them being Karolina Pliskova, and if Marketa Vondrousova has not so far cracked the top 10, she was a French Open finalist in 2019.

Pliskova has yet to get that far at Roland Garros but she was a semifinalist there in 2017 and has won WTA Tour titles on clay in Prague, Stuttgart and, of course, Rome where she defeated Johanna Konta in last year’s final.

The tall Czech started 2020 in style by capturing her 16th career title in Brisbane, but fell in the third round of the Australian Open to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and failed to win back-to-back matches in her next four events including the US Open and ‘Cincinnati’ – particularly galling as she was the only one of the WTA’s top 10 based outside of the USA to make the trip.

The return to clay seems to have done the trick, however. Pliskova didn’t have the toughest draw through the first two rounds, but she was up against a very in-form player in Elise Mertens in the quarterfinals and after taking the first set in solid fashion, ended up being taken to a third by the Belgian. Pliskova responded to her first real challenge of the week in impressive style, bagelling Mertens in the decider and closing out a 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 victory with a clean forehand winner down the line.

Mertens faded physically in the third set for sure; could this be a factor when Pliskova faces Vondrousova? The younger woman played a marathon against Polona Hercog in the third round which ended in a third-set tie-break very late at night, and although she appeared unaffected by the lack of sleep when she beat Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-0 on Saturday, these things often catch up with you later.

Marketa Vondrousova (PA Images)

Vondrousova’s one-sided win over two-time Rome champion Svitolina was a triumph of the Czech’s trademark variety, completely bamboozling a Svitolina who’s not quite found her match sharpness yet (this was her first tournament since the shutdown). Vondrousova knows all about needing matches: Horrible luck for the Czech meant that her run to a maiden Grand Slam final at last year’s French Open was followed by a wrist injury which kept her out from Wimbledon until this January.

On the return, Vondrousova struggled to find her game and it’s really only in Rome that she’s begun looking like the player who made that Roland Garros final – before this week, she had won one match in her last seven tournaments.

When Vondrousova is playing well, however, it is an impressive sight. The 21-year-old is all about variety: Balls loaded with spin, drop shots, slices, lobs, anything to keep her opponents off-balance and off their rhythm. It could work very well against Pliskova, who doesn’t like getting low to the ball and whose movement, especially up and down the court, is her major weakness. The older woman did win their only previous match in straight sets, but on clay it should be closer. I think Vondrousova can push it to three.

Pliskova vs Vondrousova: Prediction

Three sets

Six of the WTA’s top 10 highlight an Internazionali BNL d’Italia draw which will be electric from the word go, with Victoria Azarenka vs Venus Williams among first-round clashes.

We break down the women’s singles draw, analyse the contenders and predict the semifinalists and champion as world no. 2 Simona Halep, defending champion Karolina Pliskova and two-time winner Elina Svitolina lead the field at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

WTA Rome Preview

Usually played in May but rescheduled to September in 2020, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia is among the most prestigious clay-court tournaments on the WTA Tour and is a key battleground ahead of the French Open.

Many of the top players who chose not to travel for the US Open will be playing the first big event of their comebacks to competition, including Halep, Svitolina and Belinda Bencic, while defending champion Pliskova, Sofia Kenin and Garbine Muguruza are among those looking to improve on early US Open exits.

WTA Rome Draw Analysis

Top Quarter

Simona Halep is a two-time Rome runner-up (PA Images)

Projected quarterfinal by seeding: Simona Halep (1) vs Petra Martic (8)
Halep has already picked up a title post-shutdown on clay in Prague, but elected not to travel to the USA.

A Rome finalist in 2017-18, Halep will open against Anastasija Sevastova – who is not in great form, and has lost her last five vs Halep – or Italian wildcard Jasmine Paolini; her third opponent will be one of a cluster of unpredictable power players, with big servers Donna Vekic and Amanda Anisimova facing off in the first round and Camila Giorgi or Dayana Yastremska awaiting the winner.

Martic did play the US Open, and could have a chance to avenge her fourth-round defeat in New York to Yulia Putintseva in the second round. Her projected third-round opponent is Elena Rybakina, who impressed so much in the early part of the year, but has yet to regain that form post-shutdown and will probably go out in the first round to Ekaterina Alexandrova, who leads their head-to-head 2-0. Alexandrova has never had particularly strong results on clay but she’s always a danger at the moment.

Predicted semifinalist: Halep

Second Quarter

Projected quarterfinal by seeding: Sofia Kenin (3) vs Johanna Konta (8)
Konta reached the Rome final and the French Open semifinals last year, proving (including to herself) that she could play on clay, but is having some mixed results at the moment. She could open against Elisabetta Cocciaretto, an Italian wildcard having some good wins recently, but it’s the third round where things get dangerous. Konta’s projected third-round opponent is Garbine Muguruza, who looked so resurgent when she made the Australian Open final but lost early at the US Open to Tsvetana Pironkova; Muguruza faces Sloane Stephens in the first round, with the winner to take on either Ons Jabeur or Coco Gauff.

Australian Open champion Kenin played well at the US Open before losing to Elise Mertens, but she’s got a tough draw: Her first opponent will be either Venus Williams or Victoria Azarenka, although the latter will surely pull out after reaching the US Open final. Angelique Kerber could await in the third round, although clay is probably Kerber’s worst surface. In a quarter full of inconsistent shotmakers, I trust counterpunching consistency.

Predicted semifinalist: Kenin

Elina Svitolina won back-to-back Internazionali BNL d’Italia titles in 2017-18 (PA Images)

Third quarter

Projected quarterfinal by seeding: Kiki Bertens (5) vs Elina Svitolina (4)
A quarterfinal between 2019 Madrid champion Bertens and two-time Rome winner Svitolina would be a real treat, but will we see it?
Svitolina is playing her first tournament since Monterrey in Rome, and she has a hell of a tough draw, with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova a probable opening opponent and Anett Kontaveit, who plays very well on clay, likely to await in the third round if she can get past former French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second.

Bertens’s draw is not so tough – she’ll probably open against Polona Hercog and could face 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova, who is really not on great form at the moment, in the third. I anticipate a powerhouse quarterfinal battle between Bertens and Kontaveit.

Predicted semifinalist: Bertens

Fourth quarter

Projected quarterfinal by seeding: Belinda Bencic (6) vs Karolina Pliskova (2)
Defending Rome champion Pliskova was the only WTA top-10 player based in Europe to make the trip to the USA, and she was not well rewarded, going 1-2 in New York. Pliskova could face Veronika Kudermetova, who beat her in ‘Cincinnati’, as her first opponent and while Alison Riske, on clay, is not a very dangerous opponent, Jil Teichmann could be. Teichmann is 13-8 in 2020 and won two WTA clay titles in 2019.

Bencic, playing her first tournament since February, could face hard-hitting Julia Goerges in the second round – not an easy task – while Elise Mertens, who played very well at the US Open on her way to the quarterfinals, could be a real threat in this section if she’s able to bring that same form to clay.

Semifinalist: Mertens

WTA Internazionali BNL d’Italia Prediction

Semifinals:

Halep d. Kenin
Mertens d. Bertens

Final:

Halep d. Mertens

Top seed Karolina Pliskova faces Caroline Garcia, who has won half of their previous matches, for a place in the third round of the US Open.

Pliskova vs Garcia is live from New York on Wednesday 2 September, time TBC

Karolina Pliskova’s first-round win over Anhelina Kalinina was her first victory since February, having lost her only warm-up match to Veronika Kudermetova, but after some early exchanges of breaks the 2016 US Open finalist was able to assert her authority.

US Open 2020: Tournament information, schedules, latest news and live streaming information for the resilient Grand Slam in New York

It will be a much tougher challenge as the top seed faces Caroline Garcia, a former top-10 player who has won three of the six matches they have played against each other, on Wednesday.

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

How to watch Pliskova vs Garcia live

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Pliskova vs Garcia: Head-to-head

Pliskova and Garcia have played six times, with the head-to-head standing at an even 3-3. It’s also an even 2-2 on hard courts.
Garcia won their last encounter, in the Tianjin Open final in 2018, 7-6(7), 6-3. But the Frenchwoman was ranked inside the top 20 at the time – she is currently world no. 50.

Pliskova vs Garcia: Preview

Bumped up to top seed at the US Open by the withdrawals of Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep, who along with four other top-10 WTA players declined to travel to the USA for health reasons, Pliskova opened play on the fan-free Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday – a tough ask, especially given that she had lost her only pre-US Open match to Veronika Kudermetova at the Western & Southern Open.

The big-serving Czech trailed Anhelina Kalinina by an early break, then was pegged back from 4-1 to 4-4 as she got used to the conditions. But Pliskova took charge of the match after those early travails, winning the last eight games of the match to record a 6-4, 6-0 victory in 64 minutes, serving seven aces and dropping only five points behind her first serve. In the second set, she didn’t lose a single point behind her first serve and only missed her first delivery four times, remaining on course for a third-round clash with the in-form Lexington champion Jennifer Brady.

US Open Predictions and Betting Tips: Outright winner tips for men’s & women’s singles at the 2020 US Open

Ukraine’s Kalinina is a talented player but found herself outgunned against Pliskova, and certainly had a significant disadvantage in experience. That won’t be the case against Garcia, who should represent an early test of the Czech’s mettle and potential champion credentials.

Caroline Garcia has a 3-3 record vs Karolina Pliskova (PA Images)

Garcia is currently ranked world no. 50, but was a top-10 player and even a top-5 player in 2018 after the talented Frenchwoman recorded a sensational 48-22 season in 2017, making the third round or better at each major and winning the Wuhan and Beijing titles back-to-back, something Garcia is still the only player to achieve.

Long considered a potential top player, Garcia recorded eight of the 16 wins she’s got against top-10 players in 2017-18, the last of them against Pliskova in the Tianjin Open final at the end of 2018. Since then, she’s lost every match she’s played against a top-10 player and has generally reverted to her pre-2017 form, going 27-27 in 2019 with her best result an International title on grass in Nottingham.

Garcia was 4-6 in the early part of 2020 before the shutdown, and got a good win over Sloane Stephens in ‘Cincinnati’ last week before losing to eventual champion Victoria Azarenka; she beat Jasmine Paolini 6-3, 6-2 to open her US Open campaign.

Garcia made the third round of the US Open three straight years from 2016-2018, but her record is obviously not as good as that of Pliskova, who has not lost before the fourth round since 2015.

Matches between these two have generally been serving duels, with three of the past six sets they have played going past 5-5. Garcia has lost the effectiveness on her serve that she had in 2017-18, but this match still requires a focused, disciplined and aggressive performance from Pliskova. After such a long lay-off, I would expect a few lapses from Pliskova on her way to the win.

Pliskova vs Garcia: Prediction

Top seed Karolina Pliskova must find her feet quickly against Anhelina Kalinina if she is to avoid her first opening-round defeat at the US Open since 2015.

Pliskova vs Kalinina is live from New York on Monday 31 August, 12pm local/5pm BST

The last time Karolina Pliskova lost in the first round of the US Open, it came at the hands of qualifier Anna Tatishvili in 2015. Since then, the Czech has made the final once, the quarterfinals twice and, in 2019, the round of 16.

US Open 2020: Tournament information, schedules, latest news and live streaming information for the resilient Grand Slam in New York

Pliskova has rarely approached the US Open with so little match practice, however – she has played just one match since February, and lost it in straight sets. Can she stamp her authority on world no. 145 Anhelina Kalinina?

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

How to watch Pliskova vs Kalinina live

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Pliskova vs Kalinina: Head-to-head

This is the first meeting between Pliskova and Kalinina.

Pliskova vs Kalinina: Preview

World no. 3 Pliskova is the only WTA top-10 player based outside of the USA to travel for the two-tournament US Open swing, and she has been rewarded with the top seeding – the second time she’s lead the field at a major (the first time was at the 2017 US Open, when she reached the quarterfinals).

Pliskova’s most consistent majors are the Australian and US Opens, and New York was the location for her so-far only run to a Grand Slam final, when she beat Venus and Serena Williams to make the title match only to lose to Angelique Kerber.

Pliskova could have to contend with Kerber this year, too, as well as with the in-form Jennifer Brady. But first the Czech has to get through the first round – not as simple a prospect as you might usually expect. Pliskova started 2020 with an excellent run to her sixteenth WTA singles title in Brisbane, but was knocked out of the Australian Open in the third round then failed to win back-to-back matches in Dubai and Doha. Since the latter tournament at the end of February, Pliskova has played just one match: At the Western & Southern Open last week, where she lost 5-7, 4-6 to Veronika Kudermetova.

World no. 41 Kudermetova, who had two previous wins over top-10 players, was a more intimidating prospect than Anhelina Kalenina, Pliskova’s opponent on Monday – but it’s still not great preparation.

Ukraine’s Kalenina wasn’t far off breaking into the top 100 at the end of 2018, a season which saw her reach the second round of the US Open as a qualifier, but she lost in the first round of qualifying in 2019 and took a hit in the rankings. Currently ranked world no. 145, Kalenina made the final of the $100k Midland ITF tournament earlier in the year, but she hasn’t played since the WTA Tour resumed, so she’s even rustier than Pliskova.

Kalenina’s solitary match against a top-10 player came against Sloane Stephens, then the defending champion, at the US Open in 2018 and I remember being really impressed with her ballstriking – she came very close to defeating Stephens before falling 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. The Ukrainian has nothing to lose, and I think she can turn in a good performance against Pliskova, pushing the match to a decent scoreline if not a third set, while the Czech adjusts to competition – and an empty Arthur Ashe Stadium – once more.

Pliskova vs Kalinina: Prediction

Serena Williams could face Coco Gauff at the Western & Southern Open while top US Open contenders warm up in New York.

We break down the women’s singles draw, analyse the contenders and predict the semifinalists and champion as Serena Williams, Karolina Pliskova and Sofia Kenin lead the field at the Western & Southern Open.

WTA Western & Southern Open Preview

Relocated from Cincinnati to New York, the Western & Southern Open marks the first big tennis event to be played since the sport shut down in early March – and the only opportunity for many of the top players to compete and tune up their games ahead of the forthcoming US Open.

A prestigious Premier-5 event, the Western & Southern Open is taking place at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre, home of the US Open, and using its Grandstand Court as centre court.

A significant number of WTA top-10 players based outside the USA bowed out, but the field remains immensely strong. Top four seeds Serena Williams, Karolina Pliskova, Sofia Kenin and Naomi Osaka are joined by Petra Kvitova, Coco Gauff, Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters and defending champion Madison Keys among others. With the WTA’s usual depth exacerbated by the fact that most players have competed little if at all in the past six months, we should expect upsets from the beginning.

WTA Lexington Draw Analysis

Top Quarter

Projected quarterfinal by seeding: Karolina Pliskova (1) vs Aryna Sabalenka (5)
World no. 3 Pliskova is the only WTA top-10 player based outside of the USA to be playing Cincinnati-New York, and for good reason – some of the best results of her career have come on American hard courts, including her maiden Grand Slam final appearance at the US Open in 2016 and the Western & Southern Open title the same year.

Karolina Pliskova won the Western & Southern Open in 2016 (PA Images)

Playing for the first time since Doha, the Brisbane champion starts against hard-hitting Ajla Tomljanovic, whom she has won five straight matches against, or Veronika Kudermetova, a more dangerous opponent who has had a quietly superb past 18 months before the shutdown. She could meet Elise Mertens, runner-up on clay in Prague last week, in the third round; former US Open semifinalist Anastasija Sevastova, who leads their head-to-head 2-1, is also in this section, but Sevastova is 1-7 in 2020 (before and after the hiatus).

Doha champion Sabalenka lost a tight second-round match with Coco Gauff in Lexington, and is a player to watch this week and next. She’ll open against a qualifier, but must face the winner of a packed mini-section in the third round: 11th seed Alison Riske taking on 2019 French Open semifinalist Amanda Anisimova, with the winner likely to face very in-form Lexington champion Jennifer Brady (Brady was supposed to face wildcard Kim Clijsters, who withdrew).

Predicted semifinalist: Brady (20/1 to win the tournament with Unibet)

Second Quarter

Projected quarterfinal by seeding: Naomi Osaka (4) vs Petra Kvitova (6)
With neither Osaka nor Kvitova exactly a model for consistency and both women playing their first tournament since before shutdown, this seems like a recipe for a ‘surprise’ semifinalist.

Osaka could start off against last year’s Wimbledon quarterfinalist Karolina Muchova, who is not a model of consistency herself and who might not find these courts the best fit for her attacking game, although she’s beaten Garbine Muguruza at the US Open before.

Venus Williams debuted a remodelled service action in Lexington (PA Images)

Venus Williams meets Dayana Yastremska in an intriguing first-round clash – Williams looked in great form in Lexington where she narrowly lost to Serena, while Yastremska was a quarterfinalist in Palermo on her return from shutdown. The winner will likely face American lefty Bernarda Pera, who showed the benefits of playing World Team Tennis during the hiatus when she pushed Serena Williams hard in Lexington; nevertheless, the winner of Venus-Yastremska should make the quarterfinals.

Kvitova could be in for an all-Czech clash with Marie Bouzkova, who has not long broken into the top 50 after an excellent year or so of results and was a quarterfinalist in Lexington. Match sharpness could see Bouzkova upset Kvitova; the unpredictable Danielle Collins is also in this quarter, but Anett Kontaveit – a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open in January, and runner-up in Palermo two weeks ago – is the player to watch in this section.

Predicted semifinalist: Kontaveit (33/1 @ 888Sport to win the tournament)

Third quarter

Projected quarterfinal by seeding: Johanna Konta (8) vs Serena Williams (3)
Serena Williams looked brilliant in a victory over her elder sister in Lexington – then fell in the next round to Shelby Rogers, showing it’s still very difficult to know what to expect from Serena from one day to the next.

Coco Gauff could face Serena Williams in the third round (PA Images)

The six-time US Open champion isn’t going to push herself too hard the week before the US Open, but after opening against a qualifier or Alison van Uytvanck, she could face an intriguing third-round encounter with Coco Gauff. The 16-year-old looked great when she made the semifinals in Lexington, and is capable of beating Maria Sakkari and Yulia Putintseva to make a clash with Serena.

Johanna Konta and Marketa Vondrousova both lost their only matches since shutdown in Lexington and Palermo respectively; Konta didn’t look good at the Battle of the Brits, either. Poland’s Magda Linette could possibly take advantage, but this would be a good section for a qualifier to make a run.

Predicted semifinalist: Gauff (33/1 @ Unibet to win the tournament)

Fourth quarter

Projected quarterfinal by seeding: Madison Keys (7) vs Sofia Kenin (2)
Defending champion Keys will be tested from the beginning as she plays her first match since the Australian Open (!) against either a qualifier or, more likely, the unorthodox Ons Jabeur, who warmed up with a quarterfinal run in Lexington.

Polish teenager Iga Swiatek is in this section, but the first-round match to watch is the clash between Elena Rybakina – who made four finals already in 2020 but hasn’t played since February – and Ekaterina Alexandrova, who beat Rybakina in the Shenzhen final and was also having a great 2020 season before the shutdown (1-2 since). Rybakina is the more promising player but will greater match practice in recent weeks benefit Alexandrova?

Sofia Kenin’s last tournament saw her win the title in Lyon (PA Images)

Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin will be taking the court for the first time since winning Lyon on indoor hard courts in February, but the American’s counterpunching game should help her ease back into competition and she doesn’t have the worst draw: A first-round bye followed by either tenacious veteran Alize Cornet or wildcard Caty McNally. In the third round, she would face either Donna Vekic, last seen losing to the world no. 156 in Palermo; the slumping Victoria Azarenka; Sloane Stephens, who’s lost her last two matches to the same Canadian teenager; or Caroline Garcia, playing for the first time since February.

Semifinalist: Kenin (6/1 @ 888Sport to win the tournament)

WTA Cincinnati-New York Prediction

Semifinals: Anett Kontaveit d. Jennifer Brady
Coco Gauff d. Sofia Kenin

Final: Gauff d. Kontaveit

The first ATP or WTA Tour event since early March, the Palermo Ladies Open has a stellar lineup of players led by world no. 2 Simona Halep.

The Palermo Ladies Open is set to be the first elite international tournament since the ATP and WTA Tours were suspended in early March.

World no. 2 Simona Halep leads five of the top 20 currently slated to play, including world no. 14 Johanna Konta and 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova. For a WTA International-level event, which was won last year by then-world no. 82 Jil Teichmann, the field is very strong – the lowest-ranked player with direct entry into the main draw is world no. 69 Kristyna Pliskova.

Tournament director Oliviero Palma told the AP in a phone interview:

‘The entry list is incredible. It’s practically like a Premier.’

The prize money for the Palermo Ladies Open has been reduced from $250,000 to $225,500, but it has not reduced interest from top players in competing.

Palma said:

‘A top-10 player could care less about the prize money here. They’re coming just because they want to play and return to their normal lives.’

The field could get even stronger for the Palermo Open when it begins on 3 August – world no. 3 Karolina Pliskova has requested a wildcard into the tournament, but only if the US Open is cancelled.

The US Open is supposed to be played behind closed doors in New York from 31 August-13 September, but doubts persist about whether or not it will take place, especially after the cancellation of the ATP 500 Citi Open which was supposed to take place two weeks earlier in Washington, D.C. Not only is the USA the nation in the world worst hit by COVID-19, but players could be forced to quarantine on their return to Europe from the USA, which would jeopardise their ability to compete in three big clay-court events set to take place within a four-week span beginning on the day of the US Open men’s final: The Madrid Open, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome and the French Open in Paris.

Even if the US Open does take place, it seems likely that some players, especially those based in Europe, will choose to stay in Europe and prioritize clay-court tournaments over what would now be a three-week American swing of events played behind closed doors.

Palma said:

‘These tournaments are going to become more like regional events in these conditions. There’s going to be an American circuit and a European circuit.’

The Palermo Ladies Open plans to permit 280 spectators in for each session. Players will be required to abide by several rules aimed at ensuring safety: Handling their own towels instead of the ballkids fetching them; no handshakes at the end of matches and no showers for players at the venue.

Players and their teams will be administered nasal swabs to test for COVID-19 before they leave for Palermo, when they arrive and then every four days thereafter.

All eyes will be on the Palermo Open as it is the first tournament since March, especially because there have been a few high-profile exhibition events which have not gone well. The Adria Tour, organized by Novak Djokovic in the Balkans, was cancelled after a slew of players tested positive for COVID-19. The first tournament in the USA to allow spectators promptly had a player, Frances Tiafoe, test positive, while the World Team Tennis (WTT) exhibition league dismissed WTA player Danielle Collins for breaching health and safety protocols this week; Collins said she was not made aware of the rules she was dismissed for breaking.

Each tournament which takes place will be a test case for the ones that follow, as Palma is well aware:

‘It’s certainly a big honor for us but also a matter of great responsibility. We’re the first in the world and we need to experiment all of the new rules.’

The news that all 11 ATP and WTA Tour events scheduled to be played in China in 2020 have been cancelled means that playing opportunities are looking more and more scarce, especially for the WTA, which further adds to the pressure on the Palermo Open.