The inaugural WTA Tour edition of the Top Seed Open begins this week, with several WTA stars making their return to the tour after being out of action since the five month suspension due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Following what has been widely seen as a successful return for the sport on clay at the Palermo Ladies Open, hard court tennis will return at Lexington ahead of the US Open at the end of August. The Top Seed Open is traditionally a Challenger event, though will be hosting a full WTA Tour level event behind closed doors this week.
The huge star attraction is Serena Williams, who will be top seed at the tournament as she starts her preparation for another tilt at a 24th Grand Slam singles at Flushing Meadows. Alongside Serena, fellow Grand Slam champions Venus Williams, Victoria Azarenka, and Sloane Stephens will be in action, with the latter seeded seventh.
Grand Slam semifinalists Johanna Konta and Amanda Anisimova will be the third and fourth seeds respectively, with hard-hitting Aryna Sabalenka is the second seed in Kentucky. Yulia Putintseva, Magda Linette, and Ons Jabeur are the other seeds in the 32-player draw.
Projected Q/F: (1st) Serena Williams vs (7th) Sloane Stephens
The first quarter of the draw is by far the most brutal of the draw. There is set to be an unseeded clash between Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka, with the winner facing first seed Williams in the second round. Williams herself does not have the easiest first round clash against Bernarda Pera, but any potential second round clash against her sister or Azarenka could well be the highlight of the tournament.
Also projected to make the last eight is Stephens, who will be looking to reset after a disappointing start to the 2020 season. The former US Open champion should get off to a good start against a qualifier, though a potential second round clash against compatriot and wildcard Shelby Rogers could well be challenging.
Prediction: S. Williams def Rogers
Projected Q/F: (4th) Amanda Anisimova vs (5th) Yulia Putintseva
One of the most intriguing first round clashes sees two of America's brightest prospects face off in the opening round, with Anisimova opening up against CiCi Bellis. Anisimova will go in as the favourite though Bellis, making her way back from injury, will be a strong opening round challenge. The winner could face fellow American Jessica Pegula in the second round; she starts against former US Open and Wimbledon runner-up Vera Zvonareva.
Awaiting for the winner of that section in the last eight could be fifth seed Putintseva, who is always a difficult player to face. The Kazakh, however, faces an incredibly tough opener against Aija Tomljanovic. Two-time WTA titleist Jill Teichmann may also prove tough for the winner of that in the second round.
Prediction: Anisimova def Tomljanovic
Projected Q/F: (6th) Magda Linette vs (3rd) Johanna Konta
Linette had been in some of the best form of her career in the months leading up to suspension, though is in a tough part of the draw here. The Pole starts against the ever-tricky Lauren Davis and the winner of that will face another tricky test in the second round against Jennifer Brady or Heather Watson.
Konta is a solid hard court player though has been struggling on and off with a foot injury since the US Open last summer, and faces a tough opener against Marie Bouzkova; the Czech prevailed when the two met in Monterrey earlier this season. Russian rising star Anna Blinkova could await in the second round for the winner of that.
Prediction: Bouzkova def Davis
Projected Q/F: (8th) Ons Jabeur vs (2nd) Aryna Sabalenka
Not many players were halted quite in their tracks as much as Jabeur when the season was suspended. The Tunisian was in the form of her life and is now just inside the top 40 after making her top 50 debut earlier in the season. She has a tricky opener against Caty McNally, but will face a qualifier if she comes through that.
Sabalenka had also shown some encouraging form pre-suspension with a run to the title in Doha, and generally seems very comfortable on hard courts. The Belorussian starts against a qualifier and could face a blockbuster second round clash against Coco Gauff following that; if that happens, it will certainly be a match to watch.
Prediction: Sabalenka def Jabeur
S. Williams def Anisimova
Sabalenka def Bouzkova
Sabalenka def S. Williams