WTA Cincinnati: Quarterfinal Preview


Aug 20, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Serena Williams (USA) returns a shot against Karin Knapp (not pictured) on day six during the Western and Southern Open tennis tournament at Linder Family Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

WTA Cincinnati Quarterfinal Preview: Serena Williams, Simona Halep and More

It seemed not so long ago that the US Open Series commenced. And yet here we are – about to enter the quarterfinals of in Cincinnati. As was the case last week in Toronto, the inconsistency of the WTA’s top stars and the depth of the second tier players have led to a massacred draw. For the survivors, today will present an opportunity to venture into the Cinci semifinals. Here’s a look at today’s top matches:

Serena Williams [1] vs. Ana Ivanovic [6]

Defending champion Serena will take on Ivanovic in a rematch of last year’s final. Ever since she fell to Bencic in the Toronto semifinals, Serena has seemed determined to enter the US Open with a big title (and a claim to the US Open Series bonus prize). She was incredibly loquacious throughout her tough first match against Tsvetana Pironkova, before taking out Karin Knapp out with ease in the third round.

Ivanovic has come through her draw with relative ease, as she’s only had to play one match. After Venus Williams withdrew in the second round, Ivanovic was given free passage to a clash with Sloane Stephens. Stephens was phenomenal in the first set, with the lazy, uninspired Sloane of old a seemingly distant memory. Unfortunately, ‘old Sloane’ made a reappearance in the next two sets and essentially gifted the match to Ivanovic with a barrage of errors.

Ivanovic has only claimed one victory against Serena throughout their 9 meetings, at the Australian Open last year. The Serb was outstanding in their fourth-round meeting in Melbourne last year. This year, her form has been wanting at the best of times. Currently ranked 17th on the Road to Singapore, Ivanovic will need to rediscover her 2014 game if she has any hope of defeating Williams.

She’s been lucky to make it this far in the tournament, so don’t expect Ivanovic to put up much of a fight against a determined Williams.

Prediction: Williams in 2.

Who Will Win: Serena or Ana?

Elina Svitolina [14] vs. Lucie Safarova [7]

The second quarterfinal match will see two of this year’s best performers face off for a spot in the semifinal. Safarova comes into the quarterfinal having defeated her big-serving Wimbledon conqueror Coco Vandeweghe before running Toronto champ Belinda Bencic into retiring with injury. Safarova hasn’t been able to produce the lights-out tennis that took her to the French Open final, in the past few months. But she has been playing capable, standard top-15 tennis.

Svitolina, fresh off reaching a career-high ranking of 15, waltzed into the quarterfinals with a 6-0, 6-3 takedown of Caroline Garcia in the third round. She also defeated Eugenie Bouchard and home favourite Alison Riske. She has a tendency to play passive tennis from behind the baseline on too many occasions. But like Safarova, she’s a solid top-15 presence on the court.

Svitolina claimed their only previous meeting, winning a tight match in Indian Wells this year. The Ukrainian’s strong retrieving skills will always prove fatal to an off-Safarova. But if Safarova is on her game, she simply has too much weight on her shots for Svitolina. The amalgam of acute angles and pace can easily penetrate Svitolina’s defence. Ultimately, Safarova has been playing well this week, but not as well as she has this year, and indeed not well enough to get through a player as consistent as Svitolina. If the Czech is striking the ball cleanly, she has the ability to win in straight sets. But I can see her spraying errors to fall in three tight sets.

Prediction: Svitolina in 3.

More from Serena Williams

Simona Halep [3] vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 

Having survived the emaciated bottom half of the draw, Halep will now be the favourite to reach the championship match. Her performance in the third round against Andrea Petkovic was particularly impressive and should give her the confidence to venture deeper into the draw. The match was arguably the match of the tournament thus far and possibly one of the matches of the year. Petkovic delivered easily her best performance of 2015, but Halep’s tenacity, and cleaner game, ensured that the German would be heading to New York early.

The Romanian’s next opponent will be Pavlyuchenkova, who benefitted from an injured Victoria Azarenka retiring in their third round match. Pavlyuchenkova was not playing well throughout her third round match and the Belarusian’s retirement was an unequivocal blessing. Her form throughout this tournament has been solid enough to take out C-grade players in Yaroslava Shvedova and Roberta Vinci, but she’ll need to improve if she wants to take out the no. 3 seed. Having said that, Nastia has been steadily improving throughout the hard court season, with a highlight being her finals appearance in Washington. It’s an exercise in futility to count her out in this match.

Halep leads the head-to-head 4-0, taking their most recent encounters in Moscow and Sofia in straight sets at the end of 2013. Halep’s far superior foot-speed and aggressive groundstrokes should be able to compensate for Nastia’s power and variety.

The Romanian has been phenomenal lately, defeating a bunch of top-20 players in Toronto and Cincinnati. Nastia won’t present as much of a challenge as Halep’s recent conquests, especially given her tendency to lose focus and spontaneously spray errors during matches. If Halep is injured or fatigued from her match against Petkovic, Nastia has a shot at taking this. Otherwise, the Romanian will be too solid for the Russian, and will see her off in two sets.

Prediction: Halep in 2.

Who Will Win: Simona Halep or Nastia?

Jelena Jankovic vs. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova

Previous champ Jankovic will take on surprise package Schmiedlova in the last of Friday’s quarterfinal matches. Jankovic has been playing very stable, consistent tennis this week to take out some erratic opponents in Madison Brengle, Madison Keys and Karolina Pliskova. In her match against Pliskova, Jankovic found herself down 5-2 in the third set, but was able to hang in the match and benefit from some sloppy play from the Czech. After saving a match point, Jankovic took the match 7-5 in the third.

Schmiedlova also claimed a major scalp this week in the form of Agnieszka Radwanska. Radwanska has been playing well lately, but wasn’t able to hold her own against Schmiedlova’s improved game. The Slovak is having a breakout year, winning her first two titles in Katowice and Bucharest. Her run to the quarterfinals here will likely snag her (at the very least) the no. 32 seed at the US Open, giving her a good chance to go deep into the draw and supplement her ranking.

Both players will appreciate how well they’ve played to reach this point in the tournament and will see how great an opportunity they have to reach such a major semifinal. When Jankovic has gone deep into draws this year she’s done it in style (see: Indian Wells, Nanchang, Wimbledon). Meanwhile, this is new territory for Schmiedlova. Ultimately, Jankovic has the experience to maintain a substantial standard of play and, as she’s done all year, should advantage if Schmiedlova isn’t at her best.

Prediction: Jankovic in 3.

Who do you think will reach the Cincinnati semifinals? Will Ivanovic shock Serena? Will Halep bow out from fatigue? Let us know in the comments below!

Next: Can Eugenie Bouchard Revive Her Season?

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