Serena Williams returns to competition as the top seed for the new Lexington, Kentucky tournament, the first WTA Tour event…
Serena Williams returns to competition as the top seed for the new Lexington, Kentucky tournament, the first WTA Tour event to be held in the USA since March.
We break down the women’s singles draw, analyse the contenders and predict the semifinalists and champion as the Williams sisters and Aryna Sabalenka lead the field at the Top Seed Open.
WTA Lexington Preview
Officially known as the Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics, WTA Lexington is a new International-level event played for the first time in 2020. An outdoor hard-court tournament in Lexington, Kentucky, the Top Seed Open is the first WTA tournament to be played on hard courts or in the USA since the first week of March.
It has attracted an enviable field led by 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, who is playing for the first time since early February as she warms up for the US Open. But Williams has more than ring-rust to contend with – the world no. 9 could face sister Venus or long-time rival Victoria Azarenka as early as the second round. Things aren’t easy for second seed Aryna Sabalenka either – the world no. 11 could run into Coco Gauff in the second round. And upsets are definitely to be expected, after five months out of competition during what would normally be the height of the season.
WTA Lexington Draw Analysis
All eyes will be on the packed top quarter of the draw which contains both Williams sisters, Azarenka and 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
Serena, whose last match was a narrow defeat to Anastasija Sevastova during a Fed Cup tie in early February, opens against compatriot Bernarda Pera who has a 1-3 record vs top-10 players. If she wins that, she faces a fellow former world no. 1: Either Azarenka, who has only played one match in the last year, or more likely sister Venus in what would be their 30th clash. Serena leads the head-to-head with Venus 17-12 and has won four of their last five matches.
Stephens has played World Team Tennis during the shutdown and should therefore be less rusty than most, but was 1-5 in WTA matches in 2020. Powerful Shelby Rogers, who is currently ranked outside the top 100 but climbing fast after returning from a lengthy injury break in April 2019, could be the biggest threat to the seventh seed.
Another first-round clash to watch is the meeting of fourth seed Amanda Anisimova and Catherine Bellis. Anisimova, 18, won her first WTA title and made the French Open semifinals last year, and should be able to handle Bellis, a former teenage phenom just coming back from severe wrist and elbow injuries. Watch out though for the steady Jessica Pegula, Washington champion last year and Anisimova’s probable second-round opponent; and for Jil Teichmann, who won two WTA Tour titles in 2019 although is more of a clay-courter. It might be fifth seed Yulia Putintseva, a steely competitor who performs well on US hard courts, who comes through.
Predicted semifinal: Serena Williams vs Yulia Putintseva
Definitely lacking the star power of the top half, the lower half of the Top Seed Open draw nevertheless contains some top players and key names to watch ahead of the US Open.
World no. 11 Aryna Sabalenka comes in on a five-match winning streak, having claimed the Doha title in February, but the Belarusian powerhouse hasn’t been seen much during the shutdown – and she has a deceptively tricky first-round opponent in Madison Brengle. The American counterpuncher has a history of shock wins over error-prone power hitters like Sabalenka. The winner of that one faces Coco Gauff in the second round, playing for the first time since the Australian Open, so it might be too hard a road for Sabalenka.
Gauff in fact has a decent route to the semifinals, with the unpredictable eighth seed Ons Jabeur the other seed in that quarter. In the third quarter, both seeds – Magda Linette (6) and Johanna Konta (3) – look at risk of first-round upsets at the hands of Lauren Davis and Marie Bouzkova respectively, while powerful Jennifer Brady and Anna Blinkova lurk.
Predicted semifinal: Coco Gauff vs Jennifer Brady
WTA Lexington Prediction
Semifinals: Serena Williams d. Amanda Anisimvoa
Coco Gauff d. Jennifer Brady
Final: Serena Williams d. Coco Gauff