The 2022 clay swing will officially kick off this week. The stars of the WTA Tour will swap the hard courts of Miami for the green clay of the WTA Charleston Open in South Carolina. The event in Daniel Island will commemorate its 50th anniversary this year and there are significant changes from last year’s edition both on the court and off it. Fans will be allowed in for the first time in three years inside the newly-renovated main court which has upgraded seats and elevated hospitality conditions. Credit One will be the new sponsor of the WTA 500 event instead of the Volvo Car.
Last year, Veronika Kudermetova won her first WTA title in these parts without dropping a set. And the Russian will be in the thick of the action this time as she looks to join a gaudy list of legends in her quest to win back-to-back titles at the tournament. World #1 Iga Swiatek has landed the tournament a major blow with her withdrawal, but following her exploits in Miami, she was unlikely to make the trip. The top seed tag will now be vested on Aryna Sabalenka who is still seeking her first title of the season. On that note, let us take a look at how the draw is expected to pan out.
WTA Charleston Open: Preview and Draw Analysis
First quarter: Sabalenka chases first title of the season
Aryna Sabalenka is the top seed, but her form is dire as she starts the clay-court swing. She is 6-7 for the year and has lost her last three matches. Sabalenka has been handed a first-round bye and will open her tournament against the winner of the all-American clash between Caty McNally and Alison Riske. But it is the round of 16 where things will really get interesting, assuming the Belarusian star gets there.
One of Yulia Putintseva or Amanda Anisimova could be standing in her path. Putintseva has not had the best of starts in 2022, but she is a feisty competitor on clay. Her counterpunching skills could prove really hurt Sabalenka, particularly if she is having one of her more wayward days on the court. Anisimova, meanwhile, has enjoyed a major renaissance in 2022, winning her first title in three years at the Melbourne Summer Set 2.
In the second section, Jessica Pegula might fancy her chances of another deep run on home soil. However, the Miami semifinalist could potentially need to clear Jasmine Paolini and former champion Madison Keys along the way to get to the quarterfinals.
Quarterfinal prediction: (15) Anisimova vs (6) Pegula
Second quarter: Fourth seed Jabeur could lock horns with power-hitting Rybakina
World #10 Ons Jabeur leads the second quarter and will be pleased with her draw up until the quarterfinals. The highest-ranked player she could face before then is Ajla Tomljanovic. The Australian has suffered eight defeats this year and is yet to advance beyond the second round at any tournament.
Elsewhere, fifth seed Elena Rybakina is Jabeur’s projected quarterfinal opponent. But the big-serving Kazakh has landed in a much more difficult section. Rybakina has a bye in the first round and will play one of Anhelina Kalinina or Aliaksandra Sasnovich in her Charleston bout. If she gets through that, she will likely have to contend against Romanian clay-court specialist Elena-Gabriela Ruse or the nightmarishly Alize Cornet. Nonetheless, Rybakina should be the favorite to advance.
Quarterfinal prediction: (4) Jabeur vs (5) Rybakina
Third quarter: Third seed Pliskova faces stiff competition as she seeks her first win of 2022
Karolina Pliskova, who was forced to sit out the first two months of the season because of a right-hand injury, faces a major battle to get her first win of the season in Charleston. The former world #1 started her season during the Sunshine Double, falling at the first hurdle in both Indian Wells and Miami. The Czech has been woefully short of match practice and has looked rusty as a result.
The third seed will have to run the gauntlet to get any sort of momentum going. She is loaded in the same quarter as Ekaterina Alexandrova, former champion Sloane Stephens, fellow Czech Petra Kvitova, and seventh seed Leylah Fernandez. 13th-seeded Stephens will play China’s newest star Zheng Qinwen in a mouth-watering first-round match. The American has a fine record in Charleston. She is one of three former champions and has reached the quarterfinals in her last two visits.
Canada’s Fernandez and Kvitova would meet in a lefties battle in the round of 16. The experienced Czech has played herself into form in the last two weeks, reaching her second quarterfinal of the season in Miami. She also owns a 1-0 head-to-head record over the 19-year-old whom she beat at the 2020 French Open.
Quarterfinal prediction: (11) Kvitova vs Stephens (13)
Fourth quarter: Badosa makes Charleston appearance amid a cloud of uncertainty
Paula Badosa was forced to retire from her quarterfinal match at the Miami Open due to a viral infection. She would later explain that the whole fortnight was indeed a battle of endurance until her body completely malfunctioned. So, clearly, there are doubts regarding her physical condition this week in Charleston. And an upset could very much be on the table with the kind of draw she has received this week.
The winner between Anna Bondar and Arianne Hartono will be Badosa’s second-round opponent. Health permitting, the Spaniard should have little trouble beating either of the unseeded duo. The second seed has a potentially daunting round of 16 meeting against a resurgent Shuai Zhang. The 33-year-old Chinese woman has the tools to make life difficult for Badosa. She won her second career title on the indoor hard courts of Lyon this year. Zhang also recorded a major upset on day one at the Miami Open when she knocked off Clara Tauson.
At the other end of this quarter lies defending champion Veronika Kudermetova. Seeded eighth this year, the Russian famously won her first title on these shores without dropping a set last season – a feat last achieved by Serena Williams in 2012. Kudermetova has a bye in the first round and will open up against a qualifier in the second. From a physical standpoint, the Russian could have fresher legs in a projected round of 16 matchup against Belinda Bencic.
Quarterfinal prediction: (8) Kudermetova vs (16) Zhang
Embed from Getty Images