Four of the world's top ten will compete in Tokyo this week, as they aim for a strong start in the Asian Swing leading up to the WTA Finals and the WTA Elite Trophy. French Open Champion, world number three Garbine Muguruza, and defending champion, world number four Agnieszka Radwanska are the two top seeds in this year's draw. US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova, Carla Suarez Navarro, Madison Keys, Dominika Cibulkova, Petra Kvitova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova are the rest of the names to keep an eye for, as all of them will be battling for a place in the elite eight that will make it to the WTA Finals during the next two months.
Garbine Muguruza's quarter: The Muguruza mystery
Garbine Muguruza is definitely having a season with high highs but deep lows. The Spaniard has not done much other than winning the Roland Garros this year and she is defending a huge amount of points in Asia. The draw gods were not actually kind to the world number three. After getting a bye in the first round, Muguruza is projected to meet the player that kicked her out in the Us Open and went on to make the quarterfinals, Anastasia Sevastova.
That will definitely be a tricky start, but if the top seed is fit, she should be able to beat a Sevastova that will probably be still hyped by her dream run in New York. However, Muguruza's form lately is not indicative of a trustable player and there are a lot of dangerous players in the quarter who may be a threat to her in the quarterfinals.
The other seed of the quarter is number eight seed, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The Russian is a really dangerous athlete and has been in a great form during summer, reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and beating Agnieszka Radwanska in Montreal. However, she has a tricky draw that sees her open up against Andrea Petkovic with a potential round two match with Elina Svitolina or Coco Vandeweghe. Svitolina is an interesting name here, a player that has always been winning the matches that she is supposed to win and that can make you pay if you are on a bad day. With Henin as her consultant, she has had a great summer that featured beating Serena Williams at the Olympics and reaching the Connecticut Open final.
Projected quarterfinal: Garbine Muguruza(1) vs Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova(8)
Prediction:Elina Svitolina d. Garbine Muguruza(1)
Karolina Pliskova's quarter: Post-Us Open Pliskova debut
US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova will play her first tournament after her Us Open dream run this week in Tokyo. Seeded three, she has a quite manageable draw that can lead her to a big run here. However, we all know how young players tend to act after a big run, but we can say that Pliskova is experienced enough to handle it at the moment. Also, it is not like she is the top seed so the spotlight will not be entirely on her. She is projected to meet Yanina Wickmayer or a qualifier in the second round which is pretty winnable, even if the Belgian pushed her a lot in Wimbledon this year.
The other seed of the quarter is number six seed, Dominika Cibulkova. The Slovak managed to get back to where she belongs in the rankings after great clay and grass court swings, but she has played a lot of tennis and that had its effect on her body during the Us summer. Also, not only does she not seem fit enough, but also she got handed a tough round one in Lucie Safarova.
The Czech is on her quest to return back to the top after struggling with illnesses and winning the US Open in doubles was the best way to boost her confidence and with a win over Cibulkova, she could even trouble Pliskova. Cibulkova or Safarova will face a home favorite in the second round, either Osaka or Doi, but both of them did not really perform their best at home last week in Tokyo International.
Projected quarterfinal: Karolina Pliskova(3) vs Dominika Cibulkova(6)
Prediction: Lucie Safarova d. Karolina Pliskova(3)
Carla Suarez Navarro's quarter: Cracker first round
The draw ceremony saw a pleasant or unpleasant for some surprise. There will be a rematch of last year's semifinal in the first round between Caroline Wozniacki and Belinda Bencic. Both Wozniacki and Bencic are big names of the draw despite coming unseeded due to their injuries the past months. Wozniacki is one of the three former champions in the draw, having won the title in 2010 and the former world number one will try to finish the season strong, after getting back on track with her semifinal run in New York. Bencic, though, may disagree. The 18-year-old Swiss has got the better of the Dane in their last four matches in straight sets, including last year's semifinal in Tokyo. So, if Bencic's recovery has gone well she is able to put Wozniacki's ranking comeback off till Wuhan.
The winner of that match will face number four seed Carla Suarez Navarro. The Spaniard is having a great season that has kept her in the top ten and Tokyo was the place where she snapped a losing streak that she was carrying during the summer last year. Nevertheless, Wozniacki or Bencic are capable of beating Navarro if they play well.
The other seed of the quarter is Madison Keys, who took a wildcard into the premier event as she chases a ticket to the WTA Finals. The American has impressed the tennis world with her consistency week in, week out this year and she has a pretty good draw till the quarterfinals, where the things will get tough. Depending on the opponent she gets there, she can win, but it will not be easy.
Projected quarterfinal: Carla Suarez Navarro(4) vs Madison Keys(5)
Prediction: Madison Keys(5) d. Belinda Bencic
Agnieszka Radwanska's quarter: Radwanska and the medalists
Agnieszka Radwanska returns to Tokyo as a defending champion this year. The Pole is probably the most successful athlete on Japanese ground having won the premier event two times, in 2011 and last year and having been the runner-up in 2012. The world number four is having a balanced season and a weird summer, which saw her failing to make the Us Open quarterfinals yet again and dropping out in the first round of the Olympics, but on the other side, winning the Us Open series with her title in the Connecticut Open. She will open up against Barbora Strycova, the Czech who is having an incredible season, or a qualifier, which will most probably be tricky.
The other seed of the quarter is number seven seed, Petra Kvitova, who took a late wildcard into the event. The Czech is one of the former champions of the event back in 2013 and she will be looking to turn around a rather disappointing season if we exclude her bronze medal in Rio. Kvitova not only has fallen out of top 15 but now she seems unlikely to reach the WTA Finals so she has to step up in Asia. The draw has not helped her, though. In the first round, she will face Madison Brengle, a player that has beat the two-time Wimbledon champion two times before and in the second round she is projected to meet the Olympic gold medalist that beat her in the Olympics semifinals, Monica Puig. However, a cloud is surrounding Puig, who seems to still be recovering from the hype that has been created after her incredible performance in the Olympics, so a loss even to Varvara Lepchenko in the first round is not out of the question.
A potential Kvitova-Radwanska quarterfinal will be a cracker as their head-to-head story has been rather interesting. Kvitova leads the series 6-5, but Radwanska has won the last three meetings, including the semifinals of the Connecticut Open this summer 6-1 6-1. Anyway, a determined Kvitova can get through this draw, if we consider that Radwanska has the pressure of the defending champion and has never defended a title in her career.
Projected quarterfinal: Agnieszka Radwanska(2) vs Petra Kvitova(7)
Prediction: Petra Kvitova(7) d. Agnieszka Radwanska(2)
Semi-final and final predictions
Semifinal One: Elina Svitolina d. Lucie Safarova
Even if Safarova is a player that relies a lot on her confidence and reaching the semifinals will boost it, a potential meeting with a player like Svitolina who gets many ball backs will not be ideal for her at the moment.
Semifinal 2: Petra Kvitova(7) d. Madison Keys(5)
In a rematch of the Olympics bronze medal match, a Kvitova that would have got herself through her tough draw till the quarterfinals will most probably take care of a Keys that was rather erratic in her Us Open campaign as well.
Final: Petra Kvitova(7) d. Elina Svitolina
Kvitova got the better of Svitolina two times during the summer rather comfortably so it will probably not be that of a problem, especially in a final.
Round One matches to watch: The draw gems
Elina Svitolina vs Coco Vandeweghe, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs Andrea Petkovic, Lucie Safarova vs Dominika Cibulkova, Caroline Wozniacki vs Belinda Bencic.