The famed Sunshine Double is behind us, and while men get the week off with Davis Cup, the women start grinding away on the Charleston green clay. The 2018 Volvo Car Open will kick off Monday, April 2nd at 10 A.M. local time.
The 2018 Miami Open and 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens is among the favorites for the title. The world number eleven triumphed in the 2016 iteration of the Volvo Car Open and will be looking the channel that success. Other favorites include number one seed, Caroline Garcia, defending champion Daria Kasatkina, and two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova. One notable absence is the defending finalist Jelena Ostapenko, who decided to rest after her run to the final of the Miami Open.
Top Quarter: Can Garcia Leave Sunshine Disappointment Behind?
After a fantastic finish to 2017, Caroline Garcia has been struggling to recapture that level of performance. Garcia went 2-2 in the Sunshine Double (including a 3-6, 1-6 loss to Alison Riske) and will be hoping to find her form on clay. It is clear that the world number seven wants to transition to clay quickly since she is playing Charleston over Monterrey.
Garcia has won only one match in Charleston in three appearances since 2014 and made semifinals of Monterrey last year. The top seed has a bye in the first round, so Garcia will open her tournament against Varvara Lepchenko or former champion Andrea Petkovic.
Garcia has many tricky opponents en route to the semifinals, but lucky for her, most of them are in the bottom half of her quarter. That one is anchored by sixth seed Johanna Konta. However, the Briton should be prime for an upset as clay is her weakest surface by far. She might have to play Aleksandra Krunic or Veronica Cepede Royg, both of whom consider clay their best surface.
Either player will make Konta move a lot and try to get her out of position, and if she is off her game, that might mean an early exit for the British number one. Krunic will first have to face the American wildcard Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who will be playing for the first time since her horrific knee injury at Wimbledon.
Prediction: Krunic d. Garcia
Second Quarter: Sloane On Fire
After shocking the world and winning the 2017 U.S. Open title, Sloane Stephens seemed to struggle for the remainder of the year. That carried over into 2018, and coming into Miami Stephens was 3-4 on the year. The World number nine decided to shock everyone once again and take the title in Miami. This time, she will be hoping to continue her run of good form.
For Sloane, the Volvo Car Open is the ideal tournament to back up her result, as she won it in 2016. Last year, Stephens was out with a long-term injury, so she entered the world of broadcasting, working with Tennis Channel during this tournament. Sloane will be looking at the trophy again this year. Stephens, the four seed. will have a tough opening match against the rising star Bernarda Pera or Jana Cepelova, who upset Serena Williams here in 2014 en route to a final.
Seventh seed Madison Keys could possibly set up a replay of the 2017 U.S. Open final, but it seems somewhat improbable. The American had to retire from her first round match at the Miami Open against Victoria Azarenka with hamstring tightness and has gone out in the opening round of her last two Volvo Car Open campaigns. No. 11 seed Daria Gavrilova will be looking to take advantage. The Australian has had an inconsistent year thus far but has only lost to the eventual champion the last two years at the Volvo Car Open. An interesting first round has been drawn between Sara Errani and Eugenie Bouchard. Both players have been in top 5 in their careers, but have struggled and now are ranked 96 and 114 respectively.
Prediction: Stephens d. Gavrilova
Third Quarter: Defending Champion Kasatkina Slammed With Loaded Section
Daria Kasatkina's rise in the last 12 months was kickstarted by her triumph at the 2017 Volvo Car Open. Since then, the 20-year-old has made finals of Moscow, Dubai, and Indian Wells. She did not lose to anyone here last year, but someone that could challenge Kasatkina would surely be the Indian Wells winner-- Naomi Osaka. Osaka is the No. 10 seed in Charleston and will rival 5th seed Julia Goerges to be the favorite for that quarterfinal spot. After losing her 15-match win streak at Australian Open, Goerges has not regained that level of play, going 1-2 at the Sunshine Double.
The section also has Laura Siegemund, who is playing her first WTA tournament since her ACL tear in Nurnberg. Siegemund is defending a semifinal, and she will definitely be hungry for tennis after being out for over 10 months. The 2017 Junior Wimbledon champion Claire Liu successfully qualified and despite being only 17, she will be keen to make an impact. In her first qualifying round, Liu defeated the 39-year-old Patty Schnyder in a battle of not only generations but perhaps former and future Top 10 members.
Prediction: Kasatkina d. Osaka
Bottom Quarter: Kvitova's Volvo Car Open Debut
The No. 2 seed Petra Kvitova may be new to Charleston, but she definitely is no stranger to battling through tough draws, and that is something which she will have to do here. Kvitova will open her first Volvo Car Open against a Czech-- either Kristyna Pliskova or Katerina Siniakova. Before the quarterfinal, Kvitova may have to face 16th seed and 2016 finalist Elena Vesnina. The Russian's ranking has dropped after her Indian Wells points came off, and she is back to being a dangerous floater.
Kvitova could then face the eight seed Anastasija Sevastova or ninth-seeded Ashleigh Barty. Sevastova reached the quarterfinals last year while Barty did not play the event. The two have never met before, and their potential match should be quite entertaining. Kvitova has never lost to Barty and hasn't played Sevastova since 2011, so she should be through.
Prediction: Kvitova d. Barty
Semifinals: Stephens d. Krunic, Kasatkina d. Kvitova
Final: Stephens d. Kasatkina