Can Simona Halep, champion in Canada, go back-to-back in Cincinnati?

Simona Halep has held serve. The WTA’s No. 1 player did what she was supposed to do last week: She made it, battered and bruised, through the draw in Montreal to win the first of the tour’s major tune-up events before the US Open.

Now the rest of the WTA has a chance to throw their own hats into the Open-contender ring in Cincinnati. It’s a full draw, with one intriguing switch from the Rogers Cup: Venus Williams is out, and her sister Serena is in.

Full Cincinnati WTA draw

*****

First Quarter

Halep walked away from Montreal a winner, but she also walked away with a toe blister and a possible ab strain. Will she be healthy enough to go far in Cincy? Will she even want to go far in Cincy, with a Grand Slam event coming up? She reached the final here last year, as she did in 2015, so she’ll want to defend whatever points she can, and her draw may give her a chance. Halep is surrounded by qualifiers in the early rounds, and the women she is slated to face in the quarterfinals, defending champion Garbiñe Muguruza, has pulled out of her last two events with a left-arm injury. But reaching the semifinals may not be a cakewalk: Ashleigh Barty and Jelena Ostapenko are both in this quarter.

First-round match to watch: Danielle Collins vs. Ekaterina Makarova

Semifinalist: Halep

*****

Second Quarter

This is a key week for Angelique Kerber, and for her US Open chances. The German tends to thrive when she plays lots of matches, but struggles when she doesn’t get enough of them to build a rhythm from the baseline. At the moment, after losing her opener in Montreal and essentially not playing since Wimbledon, she needs matches. Kerber has been able to get them in Cincy before; she’s a two-time finalist at this event. This time she’ll start against either Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Aleksandra Krunic, could face Madison Keys after that, and is scheduled to play either Karolina Pliskova, Victoria Azarenka or Caroline Garcia in the quarterfinals.

Player of interest: Keys. Like Kerber, last year’s US Open finalist could use some momentum before heading back to New York. She hasn’t played since losing in the third round at Wimbledon.

First-round matches to watch: Pliskova vs. Agnieszka Radwanska; Johanna Konta vs. Aryna Sabalenka; Azarenka vs. Carla Suarez Navarro

Semifinalist: Kerber

*****

Third Quarter

Like Halep, Sloane Stephens will be in recovery mode for the next couple of days; if anything, it will be even harder to bounce back from their Sunday marathon in Montreal after losing it. But also like Halep, there are a bevy of qualifiers near her in the draw, which might help. The first seed she could face is the gradually but definitely improving Elise Mertens; the second, in the quarterfinals, is Petra Kvitova. Where is Kvitova with her game right now? She has had a great year, but she hasn’t been great lately. Cincinnati, where she has never reached a final, is traditionally not where she turns things around.

Making that turnaround even tougher this time could be Kvitova’s second-round opponent, Serena Williams. As with Kerber and Keys, Serena, who has played just one match and won just one game since Wimbledon, could use the match play. She’ll start getting it against Daria Gavrilova.

First-round matches to watch: Mertens vs. Magdalena Rybarikova; Julia Goerges vs. Kiki Mladenovic

Semifinalist: Kvitova

*****

Fourth Quarter

Caroline Wozniacki has been hanging on to her No. 2 seeding this season, but she hasn’t been doing much with it. After early-round losses at Wimbledon and in Montreal, she’ll try to turn things around at a tournament where she has never reached the final. The second seed in this section, Elina Svitolina, is one step ahead of Wozniacki. After disappointing performances in Paris and at Wimbledon, Svitolina reached the semis in Montreal last week; that seems like a performance to build on.

First-round matches to watch: Kiki Bertens vs. Coco Vandeweghe; Daria Kasatkina vs. Naomi Osaka—they played in the Indian Wells final in March; Anett Kontaveit vs. Maria Sakkari

Semifinalist: Svitolina

*****

Semifinals: Kerber d. Halep; Svitolina d. Kvitova

Final: Kerber d. Svitolina


This Week on Tennis Channel PLUS: ATP/WTA Cincinnati

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