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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pre-Stanford: Tournament Preview

Tennis fans everywhere will wish they were in California tomorrow as the 2011 Bank of the West classic kicks off first thing in the morning. Despite the absence of the WTA's top three players, the tournament should provide top-notch action as Victoria Azarenka looks to defend her title and Serena Williams looks to claim it for herself.

Azarenka dominated the tournament in 2010, defeating Maria Sharapova in a high-volume finale that could be repeated this year. At the top of the draw and seeded first, Azarenka should have a fairly easy time advancing into the later rounds, but will have to stay focused if she wants a repeat title. She's likely to face either Cibulkova or Date-Krumm in the quarters and either Bartoli or Ivanovic in the semifinal. She is strong and she is talented, so a finals appearance isn't unlikely—and let's be honest, Kvitova isn't in her path this time.

The second quarter features French two-hander Marion Bartoli and former world no. 1, Ana Ivanovic. Based on Bartoli's previous results this season, she is the better pick for a run to the semifinal, but you can't quite count out Ana. The Serbian used to have a dictating forehand and unstoppable confidence, but she needs a few more wins under her belt before she will truly be a threat again. The second quarter also features a first round dog-fight between young-guns Marino and Vandeweghe, both of whom will step onto court with expectations of a victory. Expect an interesting match there.

Fourth seed Sam Stosur and fifth seed Aggie Radwanska lead the pack in the third quarter of the draw. Stosur made the semifinal in Stanford last year but could be cut short in the second round with a likely match against Sabine Lisicki. After a stunning performance at Wimbledon, Lisicki could very well taper-off and forget her A-game back in London, but if she comes to California with all gears in motion, she could find herself in the championship.

The lowest quarter of the draw is by far the most interesting of the tournament. Six-seed Julia Goerges will have her hands full in the first round as she dukes it out against Russia's "other Maria", Maria Kirilenko. If she is capable of passing that test, she will then likely face Serena Williams, the 13-time grand slam champion who needs good results to wipe away an abysmal 100+ world ranking. No match is more anticipated, however, than the possible Williams-Sharapova collision in the quarterfinal. Though Sharapova has failed to defeat Serena since 2004, their matches are always headlining spectacles full of big egos and even bigger hitting.

Sharapova will be hungry for the Stanford title having lost to Kvitova in the Wimbledon finals, and although a BOTW trophy is nothing compared to the Venus Rosewater Dish, a championship will do wonders for her confidence into the latter stages of the season. The question is, can she rise to such a demanding draw? Despite her first-round bye, Sharapova is likely to face Hantuchova, Serena, and either Radwanska or Lisicki on her way to the championship. If the answer is yes, it is unlikely anyone will be able to out-play her in the final match.

But something tells me Serena has plans of her own.

For a full schedule of the tournament, click HERE.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor


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