With two weeks left until the final Grand Slam of the year, we have the last Premier warm-up tournament: the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. Most of the top names from last week will return with one major addition in Serena Williams.
Serena will try to bounce back from her embarrassing loss to Johanna Konta in San Jose the last time we saw her. I imagine this whole summer is just practice for New York, but there were zero positives to take away from that match, which marked the worst loss of her illustrious career.
Cincinnati has been a very formful tournament in recent years. Just take a look at the list of champions and runners-up.
Muguruza, Pliskova, Serena and Azarenka all represent the class of the WTA Tour. We may see another top-tier player win this year, but I see some other value on the board — especially since a number of top players have injury and conditioning questions. Let’s take a closer look at the draw.
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Simona Halep Quarter
The biggest question mark in this quarter is the health of No. 7 seed Garbine Muguruza (+1200), who has withdrawn from her past two tournaments. Even if she does play, it’s impossible to know what you’ll get from last year’s champion.
Halep (+600) — who has made two of the past three Cincinnati finals — is a deserved favorite, but I will avoid the Romanian after a grueling tournament win in Montreal. That final versus Sloane Stephens was a bloodbath, and she also dealt with foot blisters earlier in that tourney. Winning a second consecutive Premier will be a tall order after how much of a toll her body took. I suspect she may want to rest up until New York.
My play from this quarter is Jelena Ostapenko (+3300) — who I think is being undervalued after her first round loss in Montreal to an in-form Konta. Her draw this week is much easier and 33-1 is great value for a former major champion who made the Miami final on a hard court this spring.
The other seed in this quarter, Ashleigh Barty (+1800), has all the tools to succeed in Cincinnati, but +1800 is too short of a price for me. I would be intrigued if she was priced closer to Ostapenko’s range — especially since she could clash early with Halep, who crushed her in the Montreal semifinals.
Angelique Kerber Quarter
Kerber (+800) headlines a stacked quarter that could see her face Madison Keys (+2500) in the round of 16. Keys has had a disappointing 2018 campaign, especially on hard courts. She did make the French Open semifinals, but has dealt with injuries all year. Keys can always go deep if she finds her range, but she has never performed well in Cincinnati.
Caroline Garcia (+4000) is on the bottom half of this quarter, but she has a likely meeting with former Cincy champ Victoria Azarenka (+2800) in the second round. Azarenka looked woeful versus Konta last week and could still be dealing with back issues from San Jose.
This section also features an off-form 2016 Cincy champ Karolina Pliskova (+2000), Agnieszka Radwanska (+10000), Konta (+2800), Anastasija Sevastova (+3300) and youngster Aryna Sabalenka (+8000). It’s a very high quality quarter that could see a number of players find a way through, but nothing jumps out to me from a futures perspective.
Sloane Stephens Quarter
The two big-name seeds in this quarter are Sloan Stephens (+1000) and two-time champ Serena Williams (+700). Similar to Simona, I want no part of Stephens after her intense and grueling final in Montreal. Not only will she have to recover physically, but the American will also need to rebound mentally.
If locked in and ready to roll, Serena has every chance to win this title. Her biggest obstacle might be Petra Kvitova (+2200) in the second round. Serena will have to bring an above average game to get by the Czech, who has won their past two meetings.
Elise Mertens (+4000) and Julia Goerges (+3300) round out the other two seeds in this quarter. Both present solid value, but I don’t fancy them as tournament champions.
Ultimately, I have no strong feeling in this section, but I’m here for a potential quarterfinal between Stephens and either Serena or Kvitova.
Caroline Wozniacki Quarter
I have to avoid Caroline Wozniacki (+1600) due to her current form and lingering thigh issues. She will also have to face either Coco Vandeweghe (+6600) or Kiki Bertens (+500) in her first match. I’m sure the Dane’s primary focus is getting fit for New York in a few weeks.
There’s a lot of talent throughout this quarter. Elina Svitolina (+900) is fresh off her semifinal loss to Stephens in Montreal. I expect her to perform well here, as she normally does in Premier events. You can count on her making my final futures card this week.
Anett Kontaveit (+8000), Naomi Osaka (+4000), Maria Sakkari (+10000) and Amanda Anisimova (+10000) all represent intriguing young players that can certainly make noise in this section. Each of those players can beat top-10 talent on any given day, but it’s tough to isolate which one will find their way this week.
- Jelena Ostapenko (+3300)
Jelena has a great draw and can beat anyone on tour when she gets hot. While she could always lose in the first round, this is too much value to pass up on a major winner.
- Elina Svitolina (+900)
Back to the well with Elina. She’s in good form, and I don’t see her having to face a machine-like Stephens as she did in the Montreal semis. Talent and class usually win in Cincinnati; Svitolina can continue that trend. .