TENNIS analyst Gavin Mair (@gavinnightmair) returns to highlight his favourite fancies from the women's side of the WTA Cincinnati tournament.
WTA Cincinnati | 23rd-28th August 2020 | Amazon Prime
Usually this week’s Premier 5 level event would take place in Cincinnati a full two weeks before the US Open begins at Flushing Meadows, New York. In an effort to keep travel to a minimum this week’s “Cincinnati” event will be hosted at the same venue as the US Open in what is essentially a dress rehearsal for the second major of the season, due to start on August 31.
In order to neutralise any potential outbreak of the coronavirus the participants are required to follow strict rules. Players that are in New York for the next month must live in a bubble, and if they are caught breaking the rules they will be excluded from the tournament and face further punishment.
Understandably a lot of the top level players have chosen not to travel – five of the top 10 ranked players are not in New York, whilst reigning US Open champion Bianca Andreescu is not fit to play.
With a limited form guide I believe this week the bookies look to have a pretty sharp reading of how the tournament will play out. Serena Williams is the incumbent favourite, closely followed by the other highest seeds Sofia Kenin, Karolina Pliskova and Naomi Osaka.
I believe the successful outright strategy this week is to side with one of the proven players, especially as the alternative value looks very skinny.
Karolina Pliskova leads the draw, and I think she is a strong contender to win the Premier 5 iteration of this event.
The Czech has had plenty of match play over recent months at exhibition events in her homeland and did pretty well, only losing her final match to wonderkid Iga Swiatek. Pliskova’s record on hard courts over recent seasons is very strong, and she tends to be there or thereabouts at the business end of top level events.
Her serve-based game is slightly one dimensional but in a diminished field – and against undercooked players – Pliskova is somebody that can be relied on to do the business. It usually takes a top level player or talented form player to beat her, and she tends to start seasons strongly with her easy to rinse-and-repeat game earning her titles in the first month of 3 of the past 4 seasons.
The early rounds look comfortable for Pliskova, although there are a couple of dangerous names potentially lurking in the quarterfinal.
Jennifer Brady won a title last week in Lexington, with a very impressive showing. However, I feel that conditions in Kentucky were tailor made for her style of play as her topspin forehand was a phenomenal weapon in the altitude. It is not clear how the US Open courts will play this year, but it should be more conventional than those in Lexington, thus negating some of the advantage she held there over more orthodox hitters.
The other seed in Quarter 1 is Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka. The Minsk based powerhouse posted on Instagram that she didn’t sleep for four nights because of the civil unrest back home, and it is fair to assume that her mind not be solely focussed on tennis at this time.
The second quarter looks a tricky one to call. Top seed Naomi Osaka was in shaky form prior to the virus pause, and she didn’t play any competitive matchplay prior to the restart. It is impossible to know what her level is.
I watched Petra Kvitova play frequently during the down period but she didn’t look particularly energised by playing exhibition events. Again it is hard to know her level, but she rarely performs at her best in New York usually citing the humidity of the city as a problem.
There is potential for an unseeded player to make a run from quarter 2, but no name immediately jumps off the page as a potential champion
Serena Williams is the highest rated player in this section. I find her a difficult proposition to back outside of the Grand Slams as her sole focus is on toppling the decades long Grand Slam record of Margaret Court.
Williams rarely looks fit these days for any prolonged stretch of time and whilst she might welcome developing some match sharpness this week, I don’t anticipate her expending any unnecessary energy or effort into fighting for the win.
Johanna Konta is the second seed in this quarter and she is usually a volatile commodity. When she is serving her best and has good timing on her backhand she is a top 10 level player, and has proven she can run deep in big events. However, I was unimpressed with her level last week in Lexington when she fell in the first round to the steady Marie Bouzkova.
This could be a week for 16 year old Cori Gauff to make a run. I watched her matches in Lexington and whilst her tennis level is very inconsistent, she is undeniably a brilliant player in the making with her backhand already looking like an elite level stroke, as well as the mental aspect of her game looking strong. She will have good weeks and bad weeks in her development phase, but I wouldn’t put anyone off playing her to win the quarter if a reasonable price became available.
Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin returns to action this week, and much like Pliskova it is easy to see the model professional negotiate the early rounds.
The big issue for Kenin is, and may prove to be throughout her career, how she fares against the power hitters on tour and it looks probable that she would have to run through a gauntlet of that player type in the latter rounds.
One such aggressive player is 7th seed Madison Keys, who happens to be the defending champion this week. Given Cincinnati lies 900km away from New York on the map it doesn’t hold any relevance.
However, New York does prove happy hunting ground for Keys as she made the semifinal in 2018 and final in 2017. I look forward to seeing where her level is this week.
The one player in this quarter I am looking forward to seeing back in action is Elena Rybakina, who was in the midst of a breakout 2020 season prior to the shutdown of the tennis season. Unfortunately, the bookmakers also anticipate big things from the powerful Kazakh and her outright price is relatively skinny this week.
WTA Cincinnati – Karolina Pliskova to win outright (7/1 Unibet)