After a brief return to the clay following the conclusion of Wimbledon just over a fortnight ago, the hardcourt summer begins, and several big names on the WTA Tour are aiming for the title at the 2018 Silicon Valley Classic, being held for the first time in San Jose after previously being based in Stanford.
The big draw to the tournament is the presence of Serena Williams, who continues her return to the WTA after giving birth last September. The American will be in action for the first time since reaching the final at the All England Club, and will be joined by her sister, Venus Williams, with both women seeded for the tournament (Venus as third seed, Serena as sixth). The other American seeded is current US number two Madison Keys, who is the tournament’s defending champion.
The top seed is two-time Major champion Garbine Muguruza, who recently took a wildcard into the tournament following her early loss at Wimbledon, whilst Elise Mertens, the winner of three tour titles this year, is seeded fourth. Mihaela Buzarnescu, Zhang Shuai, and Timea Babos round off the final seeded players, whilst two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka is amongst several dangerous unseeded players in the draw.
The top four seeds all receive an opening round bye.
Projected Q/F: (1st) Garbine Muguruza vs (7th) Zhang Shuai
Once again, it has been a year full of ups and downs for the Spaniard, who struggled with injuries early on in the season and followed a last four run at the French Open with an early loss at SW19, where she was the defending champion. Muguruza does not have an easy start, with Victoria Azarenka potentially her opening opponent; the Belarusian has always thrived on hard courts, though has struggled to build-up momentum during her comeback.
Meanwhile, Shuai has put together another consistent season and has always proven to be a danger to whoever she faces, though has a tricky start against promising young talent Vera Lapko, who is just 19 years of old and is already making a name for herself on tour. Also present here is former collegiate player Danielle Collins, who rose to prominence following strong runs in both Indian Wells and Miami this year; she opens against a qualifier.
Prediction: Muguruza def Collins
Projected Q/F: (3rd) Venus Williams vs (8th) Timea Babos
After a stellar 2017, Venus has not quite hit the same heights this season, and will be looking for a strong result as she builds up to defending semifinal points in Flushing Meadows in just a month’s time. The American will be the favorite for her second round match against Heather Watson or Claire Liu, though is she is not at her best either Watson or Liu will fancy their chances.
However, though Venus has not been at her best, none of the women in this section have been at their best this year. Eighth seed Babos is up against doubles partner Kristina Mladenovic, who has slipped dramatically down the rankings following a poor 12 months, though one women who may fancy her chances is Maria Sakkari; the Greek starts against Christina McHale, and has proven to be a solid performer in larger events.
Prediction: V. Williams def Sakkari
Projected Q/F: (6th) Serena Williams vs (4th) Elise Mertens
This section will undoubtedly attract the most attention, due to the presence of Serena Williams, who is a former champion at this event. Serena impressed greatly at Wimbledon, though could have a tricky opener against Johanna Konta; the Brit has slipped down the rankings, though no longer has the pressure of her run to Wimbledon last year on her back, and won this tournament in 2016.
Mertens’ form has cooled slightly following her start to the season, though her run to the last four of the Australian Open back in January proves she is comfortable on hard courts. The Belgian has the advantage of a first round bye ahead of a potential last eight meeting against Serena, though could face Alison Riske in the second round. Riske is having another solid year on tour, and always seems to do well in Stanford.
Prediction: S. Williams def Riske
Projected Q/F: (5th) Mihaela Buzarnescu vs (2nd) Madison Keys
Despite not breaking onto tour until the end of last season, Buzarnescu has proven to be one of the biggest stories this season, with the 30-year old Romanian cracking the top 30 for the first time and reaching the fourth round at the French Open. However, the fifth seed does not necessarily have the easiest opening here against American Sachia Vickery, who beat Garbine Muguruza in Indian Wells; Wang Qiang could await the winner.
Meanwhile, after a surprising third round exit at Wimbledon, Keys will be hoping not only to defend her title in Santa Monica, but also to start her summer well ahead her return to the US Open, where she reached the final last year. A potential opening round match against Ajla Tomljanovic would be a rematch of their clash at this tournament in 2015 which the Australian won, though the American should reach the last eight at least this time.
Prediction: Keys def Buzarnescu
Muguruza def V. Williams
S. Williams def Keys
S. Williams def Muguruza