August 21 - August 27, 2020
It’s trial-run time in the bubble. Before the women put it on the line at the US Open, they’ll get used to the conditions and the competition at the Western & Southern Open. The Grandstand will serve as center court—Arthur Ashe Stadium will be saved for the Open itself—but the fields in both tournaments will be largely the same.
Six of the WTA’s Top 10 are missing, but somehow the “Cincy” draw doesn’t feel depleted. Here’s a look ahead at it.
With the WTA’s top two, Ash Barty and Simona Halep, choosing to stay home, Karolina Pliskova will take over as the No. 1 seed at both New York events. Is the easygoing Czech ready for the expectations that will come with that status? Probably: She takes pretty much everything in stride. Whether or not she’s ready to win her first major is another story.
Pliskova has won in Cincy, and made the final at the US Open. She also started 2020 well, with a title in Brisbane, and she has spent this season working with another new coach in Dani Vallverdu, who typically gets results at the beginning of his partnerships. Pliskova will begin her tournament against Ajla Tomljanovic or Veronika Kudermetova; the other seeds in this section are Aryna Sabalenka, Elise Mertens and Alison Riske.
But it’s a non-seed who may be of greater interest this week: 37-year-old Kim Clijsters will make her return to Flushing Meadows for the first time since her most recent retirement, in 2012. She’s won the Open three times; if she plays as well as she did in World TeamTennis last month, she may have a chance at a fourth. Unfortunately for the Western & Southern Open, Clijsters will start this week against Jen Brady, an American who just won a title in Kentucky and looks primed to make her own deep runs in New York.
First-round matches to watch: Clijsters vs. Brady; Riske vs. Amanda Anisimova; Anastasija Sevastova vs. Kiki Mladenovic
Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova played a classic Australian Open final last year. This week they could meet in the quarterfinals. Osaka has saved some of her best tennis for the Big Apple; can she find more of it at the Western & Southern Open, when the stakes aren’t quite as high? We haven’t seen a lot of Osaka on court over the summer. She’ll try to shake the rust off against either Karolina Muchova or a qualifier.
Kvitova, who took part in some exhibitions in the Czech Republic, will open against either Marie Bouzkova or a qualifier. Kvitova would seem to be a player who is well-positioned to take advantage of the depleted field and win her first US Open this year.
First-round match to watch: Venus Williams vs. Dayana Yastremska. Venus is twice Yastremska’s age, but she looked as spry as ever in Lexington last week.
When we’ve talked about Serena Williams this summer, we’ve mostly talked abut her chances of winning her 24th major at the US Open. And that’s obviously what matters most to her. But she’s in the Western & Southern Open as well, and she could probably use a few wins after her loss to Shelby Rogers last week in Lexington. Serena, who has moved up to No. 3 in the seedings, will start against either Alison van Uytvanck or a qualifier. The other three seeds in this section are Jo Konta, Maria Sakkari and Marketa Vondrousova.
First-round match to watch: Sakkari vs. Coco Gauff
Semifinalist: S. Williams
If any player had reason to lament the lockdown, it’s Sofia Kenin. In January, she won her first major, at the Australian Open, and she won again in Lyon, in her last event, to move up to No. 4 in the world. But she played her share of matches this summer, in Charleston and in World TeamTennis, and you know she’s gunning to win her home Slam in a few weeks, where she’ll be the No. 2 seed.
As far as the Western & Southern goes, Kenin is in a potentially tricky quarter. She could face another talented young American, Caty McNally, in her opener, and could face Madison Keys in the quarters.
Player to watch: Elena Rybakina. Like Kenin, the young Kazakh was on a roll to start 2020.
First-round matches to watch: Sloane Stephens vs. Caroline Garcia; Donna Vekic vs. Victoria Azarenka; McNally vs. Alizé Cornet
Potential second-round match to watch: Keys vs. Ons Jabeur
Semifinals: Kvitova d. Brady; S. Williams d. Keys