Attention on the women’s tour focuses on the return of World No 1 Iga Swiatek, who leads a packed field at the AGEL Open, the WTA 500 event being held indoors on hard courts in Ostrava, Czech Republic this week.
The conditions [in Warsaw] are similar to what we have here. This tournament could be tough because I haven't played any matches in three weeks. And coming back after winning a Grand Slam is always tricky. But tennis-wise I feel that I'm ready. Iga Świątek
The field includes 7 major winners, including Emma Raducanu, Petra Kvitova, and Victoria Azarenka.
Along with the reigning US Open and Roland Garros champion, Ostrava also features 4 of the Hologic WTA Tour Top 10, including Elena Rybakina, Emma Raducanu and Jelena Ostapenko.
Raducanu, the British No 1, made a semi-final run in Seoul but retired mid-match with a left glute injury, and has a tough 1st-round encounter with No 5-seeded Daria Kasatkina, who is playing for the first time since the US Open.
The winner will face either Seoul champion Ekaterina Alexandrova or Victoria Azarenka in the 2nd-round.
Swiatek from Poland tops the draw, with Spain’s Paula Badosa, seeded 2nd, defending champion and Estonian World No 4 Anett Kontaveit at 3 and No 7 Maria Sakkari from Greece rounding out the Top 4 seeds, with all receiving byes into the round 2.
The World No 1 admits she is feeling a different kind of pressure as she prepares for this week, her first tournament back since winning the US Open.
The WTA 500-level event is being held at the Ostravar Arena, which is just 10 miles south of the Polish border, giving the tournament a familiar feel for Swiatek, who made the semi-finals here last year.
“It was pretty fun because, basically, most of the people in the stands were Polish, so I feel like I’m at home,” Swiatek said at Media Day in Ostrava. “I really like that, it’s so calm here, because after cities like New York it’s good to come to a place you can really rest here.
“Maybe my friends going to come, but only if I make it to the semi-finals. So I’m under pressure.”
Swiatek is in Ostrava without coach Tomasz Wiktorowski, opting to give her team a longer break before her final season-ending push in the US, where she will finish her season at San Diego, California, and the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas.
“We did something like that in Dubai and Stuttgart,” Swiatek said. “We already have our routines.
“He is always available. We’re going to still do some work in terms of preparation for the match and tactic-wise.
“I feel it’s good for them to stay at home a little bit longer, and be more fresh for our trip to the US”
Swiatek took a full week of rest after New York, and then was back on the practice courts in Warsaw to prepare for the last 6 weeks of her season.
“The conditions [in Warsaw] are similar to what we have here,” she said. “This tournament could be tough because I haven’t played any matches in three weeks.
“And coming back after winning a Grand Slam is always tricky. But tennis-wise I feel that I’m ready.”
In her opening match, Swiatek will face either Tokyo semi-finalist Zhang Shuai from China or Australian qualifier Ajla Tomljanovic, while Badosa will face either Czech Petra Kvitova or Bernarda Pera, an American qualifier.
Kontaveit and Sakkari head into Ostrava off confidence-boosting weeks in Tallinn and Parma,, both finishing as runners-up to Czech Barbora Krejcikova and Mayar Sherif from Egypt respectively.
Sakkari will face either Czech Karolina Pliskova or Alycia Parks, another American qualifier, in her opener, while Kontaveit meets Swiss Jil Teichmann or Tereza Martincova, another Czech.
More notable first-round matches include Rybakina against Madison Keys, who square off for a 3rd time this season, with the American holding a 2-0 edge; Krejikova and Shelby Rogers from the USA, the Czech resurgent after a frustrating singles season that has seen her ranking drop to No 27; and Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia against Czech Karolina Muchova.
More than any other segment of the season, points are at a premium over the next 3 weeks, where one match could decide a player’s post-season fate as they race to the WTA Finals.