We will head south to cover the Mercury Insurance Open in Carlsbad, California from Friday evening through Sunday next weekend. Before then, we offer a glimpse of what to expect from the draw at this destination on the US Open Series.
First quarter: The top-seeded Marion Bartoli eyes a comfortable opener against one of two small opponents whom she should overpower comfortably, Kai-chen Chang or Vania King. But Bartoli has not looked especially sharp of late, losing in the first week of both Roland Garros and Wimbledon, events where she has excelled before. Falling to Christina McHale at the US Open last fall, she might need to reverse that result in a quarterfinal here. The home hope opens against Slovak-turned-Australian Gajdosova in a match that should feature an entertaining contrast of styles between McHale’s counterpunching and Gajdosova’s serve-centered, relatively straightforward offense.
Second quarter: Although she reached the Birmingham final last month, the third-seeded Jankovic has dropped her last four matches and often has struggled simply to survive the first round in a year when her ranking has fallen outside the top 20. Her loss to Coco Vandeweghe at Stanford last year looks better in retrospect after Vandeweghe reached the final, however, and the veteran lefty Melinda Czink should pose a less stern test. A semifinalist at Stanford, the seventh-seeded Wickmayer will rue her missed opportunities against Vandeweghe on Saturday while celebrating her comprehensive victory over Bartoli on Friday. Alternately benefited and burdened by her searing temper, the Belgian may come unglued against promising teenager Heather Watson, a product of Florida’s renowned Nick Bolletieri Academy. Watson lately has threatened to overshadow her compatriot Laura Robson, and two victories at Wimbledon—followed by a strong effort at Stanford—will have boosted her confidence.
Third quarter: The weakest quarter at first glance features the fourth-seeded Nadia Petrova and a host of Americans that includes three wildcards. Likely weary from her Stanford heroics, Vandeweghe may lack the energy to shine at her home tournament, where she has reached the quarterfinals before. The reigning NCAA women’s champion, Stanford star Nicole Gibbs faces an opening-round clash with recent sensation Varvara Lepchenko. Reaching the second week at Roland Garros and the quarterfinals at the Premier Mandatory tournament in Madrid, Lepchenko has surged from anonymity into the top 50 behind victories over more notable foes such as Schiavone and Jankovic. The least notable of the seeds in the draw, Chanelle Scheepers may find the parade of Americans a daunting challenge for her nerves. A champion at the Dutch Open in the week before Wimbledon, Petrova must fancy her chances to extend her momentum in Carlsbad.
Fourth quarter: Probably the most intriguing quarter of the draw, it features a pair of fascinating first-round meetings, one involving the sixth-seeded Hantuchova and Agnieszka Radwanska’s younger sister, Urszula. A former finalist at the US Open junior tournament, Urszula has developed a game far more aggressive and far less crafty than her sister’s style, and she rode her weapons to the Dutch Open final as well as a Stanford quarterfinal. The leggy Slovak opposite her has garnered few headlines on court while earning plenty of notoriety off court by posing for ESPN’s Body Magazine, so her younger opponent could cause a minor surprise. Aligned to face the winner is either Stanford semifinalist Sorana Cirstea or 2011 Carlsbad quarterfinalist Sloane Stephens. Despite disappointing defeats at Wimbledon and Stanford, Stephens continues to display the natural athleticism and smooth technique that may carry her further than some of her more powerful countrywomen. Reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros, she will need her most elastic movement to overcome a volatile Romanian who has upset Stosur and Li Na at majors this season. The second-seeded Cibulkova anchors the draw as she attempts to continue a reversal of a 2012 campaign that started disastrously and caused her to separate from a coach who had brought her significant success. Toppled by Cirstea a few days ago, she may need to find greater stability before she can collect herself.