Toronto | Women’s Preview – Swiatek faces the toughest of draws

The first WTA 1000 tournament in the run-up to the US Open begins on Monday with the National Bank Open presented by Rogers in Toronto, Canada, held at York University’s Sobey’s Stadium, where 9 of the Top 10 will be back in action, the only absentee being Danielle Collins, who withdrew last week with a continuing neck injury.

I know there are many players who did even more, but I'm pretty proud of what I did in the first part of the season. I hope this gives me some freedom to play freely because I don't have to prove anything. On the other hand, it can also pressure me, so I'm just trying not to think about what happened, but prepare for what's coming. Iga Świątek

The field will be tough, with 41 of the Tour’s top 43 players competing, led by World No 1 Iga Swiatek, and including unseeded players such as Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu, who returns home after her hiatus from tennis due to mental health issues, all dangerous floaters in the draw.

Swiatek and 4 other Grand Slam champions have all landed in the top quarter, while, in the bottom half, 9th-seeded Emma Raducanu has a tough first-round test against the defending champion, Camila Giorgi.

World No 2 Anett Kontaveit, 3rd-ranked Maria Sakkari,  2021 Indian Wells champion Paula Badosa and Madrid Open champion Ons Jabeur round out the top 5.

The tournament was a breakout for Swiatek in her last appearance here in 2019, when she was an 18-year-old qualifier ranked 65 and went on to beat Caroline Wozniacki in the Round of 32, and leaving a lasting impression against Osaka in her next match, despite falling in straight sets.

“Remembering that, I can see how much work I put in, and how different I feel right now,” Swiatek told reporters on Saturday at the Media Day in Toronto. “Every practice back then, I was studying, and seeing how I’m going to feel, seeing who I can play, who is too strong for me.

“These two matches that I played, against Caroline Wozniacki and Naomi, are the two matches that made me feel like I can do something.”

Swiatek is relieved to be back on stable ground, after competing on the grass at Wimbledon, and she hit the hard courts to train before shifting back to clay to compete at her home event in Warsaw, where she found the transition tricky, and narrowly lost to eventual champion Caroline Garcia in the quarter-finals.

The Polish top seed set a new record for the longest match win streak in the 21st century, winning 37 matches in a row earlier this year, and she won the French Open and 4 WTA 1000 titles over that span to boot.

Swiatek says all the stats and statistics around ‘The Streak’ are now behind her.

“I know there are many players who did even more, but I’m pretty proud of what I did in the first part of the season,” Swiatek said. “I hope this gives me some freedom to play freely because I don’t have to prove anything.

“On the other hand, it can also pressure me, so I’m just trying not to think about what happened, but prepare for what’s coming.”


Serena Williams is unseeded and a dangerous floater in the WTA 1000 Toronto draw

nbotoronto/Instagram

With a 1st-round bye, Swiatek has a tough task ahead of her, awaiting the winner of the opening match between Veronika Kudermetova, a semi-finalist in San Jose, and Shelby Rogers, who has reached the Washington final without loss of a set.

Also present in her section is 13th seed and home favourite Leylah Fernandez, who proclaimed herself fully fit at Friday’s draw ceremony after a right foot injury sustained at Roland Garros took her out of Wimbledon.

The Canadian opens against a qualifier and could be Swiatek’s 3rd-round challenger, while the top seed’s projected quarter-final opponent in her first hard-court tournament of the summer is No 8 seed Garbiñe Muguruza, who first must contend with the winner between Washington finalist Kaia Kanepi and Osaka, a former World No 1.

The Spaniard, however, withdrew from this week’s event in San Jose with injury.

This loaded quarter also features unseeded Serena Williams, playing her first hard-court event in 18 months and opens against a qualifier, while the American could then face the winner of the 1st-round match between Azarenka and 12th-seeded Belinda Bencic.


Making the draw in Toronto on Friday

nbotoronto/Instgram

There are actually 9 major-winners in the top half overall and, in the second quarter, Czechs Karolina Pliskova, seeded 14, and 2021 Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova will clash for starters, while Andreescu is the first challenge for No 11 seed Daria Kasatkina, the finalist in San Jose.

Andreescu has fond memories of the Toronto courts, training here as a kid, then rollicking to 6 wins on her remarkable run to the 2019 title.

The World No 54 arrives as the published author of a children’s picture book, Bibi’s Got Game, and the ambassador of Tennis Canada’s new wellness project, called Mental Timeout.

The initiative includes new mental health resources for players on site at this year’s WTA event in Toronto, and the ATP tournament in Montreal, including one-on-one access to meditation and yoga experts, plus relaxation spaces.

“I know I’m not alone. I’ve had a chance to speak to legends like Billie Jean King and Kim Clijsters who have given me such amazing advice,” Andreescu said. “I’m trying not to take life too seriously.

“You just have to take a deep breath. I don’t want to feel so stressed out. I obviously want to win and do well, but the same time I want to have fun. It’s a game of tennis, you know?”

Maria Sakkari, the 3rd seed who has a potential semi-final meeting Swiatek along with No 5 seed Ons Jabeur, opens against the winner of the all-American opening-round match between 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens and 2020 Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin.

In the bottom half of the draw, 2nd-seeded Kontaveit opens against the winner of the match between Jil Teichmann and wild-card Venus Williams, who played her first match of the summer this week at the Citi Open in Washington, DC, where she was beaten in the 1st-round by Canada’s Rebecca Marino.

Other bottom-half highlights include a potential 2nd-round meeting between 10th-seeded Coco Gauff and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, both of whom face qualifiers in their openers.

Both the tournaments in Montreal and Toronto were cancelled in 2020, and held with only limited crowds in 2021.


Marie Bouzkova beat Valentini Grammatikopoulou in the 1st-round of Toronto qualifying on Saturday

Gyles Diaz/Tennis Canada

Meanwhile, qualifying for the main draw got under way on Saturday and, 3 years after reaching the semi-finals here, Marie Bouzkova, the No 1 seed, began her campaign for another deep run in Toronto, cruising past Valentini Grammatikopoulou from Greece, 6-2 6-0, in the first match on Centre Court at Sobeys Stadium.

The Czech No 4, who equalled her career-high ranking of No 46 in the world after winning her first WTA title in Prague, will face No 15 seed Tatjana Maria from Germany on Sunday for a place in the coveted main draw.

Maria, who is still fresh off of an inspired run to the semi-finals of Wimbledon earlier this summer, won the first set, 6-1, against Heather Watson before the Brit was forced to retire.

After winning the qualifying wild-card tournament to secure her place in the draw, Marina Stakusic advanced to the final round of qualifying after her opponent, China’s Wang Xinyu, also was forced to retire after the first set.

The 17-year-old has an opportunity to join Andreescu, Fernandez and Marino as the only Canadians in the main draw, but she will have her work cut out for her against 8th-seed Czech Tereza Martincova, who defeated American Emina Bektas, 6-3 7-5.

No 2 seed Nuria Parrizas Diaz overcame an early deficit to knock out 17-year-old Canadian wild-card Kayla Cross, 7-6(2) 6-0, a junior girls’ doubles finals at the Australian Open and Wimbledon earlier this year.

For a place in the main draw, Parrizas Diaz will now face her countrywoman Cristina Bucsa, who upset No 14 seed Rebecca Peterson from Sweden, 6-3 6-3.

Stakusic will be the lone Canadian competing in the 2nd-round of qualifying after 15-year-old Victoria Mboko lost to American 10th seed Claire Liu in a tight 3-setter, 3-6 6-3 6-4.


The Centre Court at York University’s Sobeys Stadium in Toronto

@nbotoronto/Facebook

In the first upset of the day, American Asia Muhammad knocked out No 6 seed and former quarter-finalist Andrea Petkovic, 6-3, 6-2, despite being broken 3 times and breaking 7 times herself as while the German came undone by her own unforced errors.

Muhammad will face 12th-seeded Donna Vekic from Croatia, who has been attempting to rebuild her ranking since a knee injury left her outside the top 100, and defeated Israel’s Lina Glushko, 6-4 6-2.

No. 4 seed Madison Brengle kicked off her North American hard-court swing with a 6-2 6-4 win over French wild-card Elsa Jacquemot, snapping a fiv5e-match losing streak in the process.

The crafty American will face compatriot Christina McHale, who defeated Grace Min, 6-3 6-4, for a place in her 3rd main draw north of the border.

No 7 seed Ajla Tomljanovic from Australia overcame a stern challenge from countrywoman Kimberly Birrell, 7-5 7-6(5), to set up a meeting with Britain’s 11th-seeded Harriet Dart, who defeated Dutchwoman Arianne Hartono, 6-3 6-3.

Other winners on the opening day of action included 16th seed Lauren Davis, after the American defeated Germany’s Laura Siegemund, 6-3 6-3; Australia’s Storm Sanders, who defeated American Catherine Harrison, 6-0 7-5; and Australia’s Ellen Perez, who took out compatriot Priscilla Hon, 6-4 7-6(2).

The second and final round of qualifying takes place on Sunday, after which 8 players will reach the main draw of the 2022 National Bank Open presented by Rogers.


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