After two weeks of brilliant tennis at the Australian Open, the WTA Tour transitions to the hard courts, kicking off with the third edition of the St. Petersburg Ladies' Trophy.
Melbourne champion Caroline Wozniacki, reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, Caroline Garcia and defending champion Kristina Mladenovic headline the stellar field competing in Russia.
Wozniacki is coming off of her first major championship in Melbourne, seeing off Simona Halep in a three-set thriller. There's always the possibility she will withdraw, but if she doesn't, her first match will be against either 16-year old Russian wild card Anastasia Potapova or Tatjana Maria.
The other matches in this quarter feature hard-hitting German Mona Barthel going up against Alize Cornet, under fire for missing three scheduled anti-doping tests. Eighth seed Daria Kasatkina will face a qualifier in her first match.
This quarter looks to be Wozniacki's for the taking, although if Kasatkina can get to the last eight, she could certainly trouble the Dane as she is in her home country.
Quarterfinal prediction: (1) Wozniacki def. (8) Kasatkina
Mladenovic is the defending champion, but is currently riding a 15-match losing streak having lost in the first round in Melbourne to Ana Bogdan to extend her poor form. Her section includes a ton of hard-hitters. She'll face either Sorana Cirstea or Dominika Cibulkova while Donna Vekic squares off with Katerina Siniakova. A pair of Russians meet to round out this quarter as Ekaterina Makarova faces off with sixth seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
It's hard to pick Mladenovic until she wins a match again, even if this is her biggest singles title of her career. In what should be a wide-open quarter of the draw, take Pavlyuchenkova at home over Cibulkova in what should be an exciting contest.
Prediction: (6) Pavlyuchenkova def. Cibulkova
This is the most obvious of all the quarters in terms of predicting the quarterfinal matchups. Fifth seed Julia Goerges had her 15-match winning streak snapped by Cornet in Melbourne and she faces scrappy Maria Sakkari in her opener. A pair of qualifiers will meet as well as Timea Bacsinszky facing a qualifier.
Caroline Garcia, seeded third, comes off of a round of 16 appearance at the Australian Open and will receive a bye before facing Bacsinszky or a qualifier to get her tournament started.
Goerges and Garcia will meet in what will be a very interesting and entertaining matchup featuring plenty of hard-hitting and powerful serving. It's hard to pick a winner as the match could go either way.
Prediction: (5) Goerges def. (3) Garcia
Seventh seed Elena Vesnina and Petra Kvitova both accepted wild cards into the event and as luck would have it, they will face off in the first round. Irina-Camelia Begu will meet a qualifier while Vera Zvonareva continues her comeback against Kiki Bertens.
Second seed Jelena Ostapenko lost in the third round of Melbourne, but the indoor conditions as well as the hard court surface suit her game perfectly. She will open up with Zvonareva or Bertens after getting a first-round bye.
I'm tempted to go with Kvitova as I think she's due for a good tournament, but i'll take Ostapenko over the Czech in what should be a very good match.
Prediction: (2) Ostapenko def. (WC) Kvitova
Semifinal predictions: (6) Pavlyuchenkova def. (1) Wozniacki, (2) Ostapenko def. (5) Goerges
Final prediction: (2) Ostapenko def. (6) Pavlyuchenkova