The last two remaining spots at the 2019 WTA Finals will be decided this week at the Premier-level Kremlin Cup in Moscow as the likes of Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens and Belinda Bencic look to emerge triumphant with the title and a prestigious ticket to the season-ending championships in Shenzhen.
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Svitolina, the top seed and in seventh spot in the WTA Race to Shenzhen, has virtually qualified for the elite-eight player field, leaving Bertens and Bencic trying to overtake Serena Williams in eighth place this week in Moscow.
There’s a decent chance that Serena will withdraw even if she does hold onto eighth place, meaning Bertens and Bencic are essentially trying to one up each other in Moscow in other to secure a spot in Shenzhen. Bertens currently holds a 165-point lead over Bencic, but only one will be able to make the final after being drawn into the same half. A final would be enough for either player to overtake Serena, but after both players failed to cross the quarter-final stage in Linz this past week, are they in good enough form to reach the title match?
Read on below as we break down the Kremlin Cup draw and predict who will emerge from each quarter.
Projected quarter-final: Elina Svitolina (1) vs Maria Sakkari (7) – H2H: Level at 1-1
Svitolina, the defending WTA Finals champion who is still searching for her first title of 2019, has virtually qualified for Shenzhen as Bencic and Bertens were drawn into the same half of the Moscow draw, so it will be interesting to see how the Ukrainian performs at the Kremlin Cup with that knowledge. Svitolina has a bye in the opening round, but has a potentially tough second round against last year’s runner-up Ons Jabeur, if the flashy Tunisian can beat Veronika Kudermetova in her first match.
Sakkari, the seventh seed, has been battling injury over the last couple of weeks and runs into 2014 Kremlin Cup champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in a challenging first round, with the winner likely to face the solid Ajla Tomljanovic for a place in the quarter-finals. It’s an open quarter and if Pavlyuchenkova can find her best tennis, she is as good a chance as anyone in my eyes to survive it.
Predicted semi-finalist: Pavlyuchenkova
Projected quarter-final: Donna Vekic (4) vs Ekaterina Alexandrova (8) – H2H: Vekic leads 1-0
Another wide open and intriguing quarter. Vekic is the highest-ranked player, but the big-serving Croatian has an extremely tough opening match after a first round bye against either Svetlana Kuznetsova or the rising Karolina Muchova, who square off in a tasty first round showdown. Three more Russians lurk in this section, with young guns Anastasia Potapova and Anna Kalinskaya facing off as unseeded players in the opening round, with the winner to meet eighth seed Alexandrova for a quarter-final ticket.
Considering this is the last event of the season for all of those players, it might be a case of who has enough gas left in the tank at the end of a very long year. The winner of Kuznetsova vs Muchova might be the one to emerges from this quarter…
Predicted semi-finalist: Muchova
Projected quarter-final: Belinda Bencic (3) vs Dayana Yastremska (5) – H2H: Bencic leads 3-1
It’s been an excellent season for Bencic, but can the Swiss muster up one last big run in order to cap it off by qualifying for the season-ending WTA Finals in Shenzhen? The Swiss suffered a disappointing opening round loss in Linz last week as she had the chance to secure her spot in the elite eight-player field, meaning she has to make the final in Moscow this week in order to do so.
Bencic has a bye in the first round and awaits the winner of Polona Hercog and Katerina Siniakova in the second round, while the top half of this section is littered with talent as fifth seed Yastremska comes up against defending champion Daria Kasatkina in the first round, with the winner of that match to face the dangerous Natalia Vikhlyantseva – provided the Russian survives a qualifier in her first round. Bencic will do well to survive this section – but with so much on the line, she should be able to fight off fatigue and battle her way into the semi-finals.
Predicted semi-finalist: Bencic
Projected quarter-final: Kiki Bertens (2) vs Anastasija Sevastova (6) – H2H: Bertens leads 2-1
Bertens is also tasked with a difficult section in order to make the semi-finals and set up a potentially mouth-watering clash with Bencic in the semi-finals.
While I think Bencic can survive her draw, I’m not so sure about Bertens, who lost in the Linz quarter-finals last week to 15-year-old sensation CoCo Gauff. The Dutchwoman has a bye in the opening round and could face the hard-hitting Timea Babos in the second round, while the likes of Anastasija Sevastova, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Kristina Mladenovic and Yulia Putintseva are all potential opponents in the last eight.
Predicted semi-finalist: Putintseva
Pavlyuchenkova vs Muchova
Bencic vs Putintseva
Pavlyuchenkova vs Bencic
The 2019 Kremlin Cup is live from Moscow between October 14-20.