The 2018 WTA season is a about heat up with key Premier events in Tokyo, Wuhan, and Beijing during this Asian stop on the calendar.
The Toray Pan Pacific Open field is stacked with five Grand Slam champions, including the reigning Australian and US Open champions, Caroline Wozniacki and (home favourite in Tokyo) Naomi Osaka, respectively.
With the field being as competitive as it is, next week in Tokyo will make for some exciting tennis as the season winds down for what has been yet another enthralling season on the WTA circuit.
World No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki will be looking to win the Tokyo title for an impressive the third year in a row. Wozniacki comfortably dispatched Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets in last year’s final. The Dane had a disappointing US Open campaign that has only seen her win two matches since Wimbledon.
Wozniacki could face the-ever dangerous Italian Camila Giorgi in the second round before a mouth-watering clash with former two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka potentially awaits in the quarters. Azarenka leads their head-to-head 7-4, but the two haven’t faced off against each other in three years.
Before Azarenka can think about an encounter with Wozniacki, she will have to overcome Japan’s very own Kurumi Nara, who received a wildcard to this year’s tournament. With the home crowd right behind her, anything is possible but you’d have to think the experience and know-how that Azarenka brings to the table will just be too much.
One of the more interesting first round clashes pits US Open doubles champions CoCo Vandeweghe and Ashleigh Barty against each other which could prove to be a barn burner of a match.
US Open champion Naomi Osaka will returning to a hero’s welcome when she walks out on centre court in Tokyo next week. Having secured her first Grand Slam title of her career by beating her childhood idol Serena Williams in Flushing Meadows a couple of weeks ago, it will be interesting to see if Osaka will suffer a drop in form moving forward as the level of expectation on her young shoulders reaches new heights.
Osaka will have to get of the blocks fast as lying in wait in the second round could be the experienced Slovak Dominika Cibulkova who knows all too well about causing an upset. The Slovak defeated Wimbledon champion, Angelique Kerber in the third round at US Open so Osaka will have to pick up from where she left off in New York if she doesn’t want to suffer an earlier exit in front of her own faithful.
Osaka will have no easy task in navigating her way through this draw – another enthralling first round match which will see the talented Kristina Mladenovic take on Anett Kontaveit who’s best showing this season came in Rome where she reached the semi-finals only to lose to eventual champion Elina Svitolina.
Czech Barbora Strýcová is the second highest seed in this second quarter and will face the winner of Mladenovic vs Kontaveit in the second round.
Since the French Open, where she reached the semifinals, Garbine Muguruza has only won three matches up until this point. The two-time Grand Slam champion has struggled for form and has seen her ranking take a massive tumble to No 14 where she currently sits.
In the first round she will face Belinda Bencic who incidentally beat Muguruza in the quarter-finals in Tokyo three years ago.
If Daria Gavrilova doesn’t upset the applecart here, we could set for a family affair in Tokyo when the Plíšková sisters do battle in the second round. Karolina had a decent run in New York a couple of weeks ago before eventually falling to Venus Williams in quarter-finals.
The most eye-catching section of the draw comes in this fourth quarter. Sloane Stephens was unable to defend her US Open title in Flushing Meadows as she couldn’t fight off the shot-making brilliance of Anastasija Sevastova as well as visibly struggling in the brutal New York heat in the quarter-finals.
Despite her failing to defend her title in New York, the World No. 9 has had a brilliant 2018. A runner-up at the French Open, Stephens’s biggest title of the year came at the Miami Open where she defeated Jelena Ostapenko.
In a repeat of their first round meeting at Wimbledon this year, Donna Vekic will be hoping history will repeat itself when takes on Stephens in the first round in Tokyo hoping to beat her for the second time this year.
By her high standards, Britain’s Johanna Konta has had a poor campaign this season that has seen her ranking drop to No. 45 following her career best ranking of 4 in July last year. She could prove though to be a tricky opponent for whoever comes out of the Stephens and Vekic match in the second round if she is able to beat a qualifier in her first round.
A potential quarter-final match between Caroline Garcia and Sloane Stephens could be on offering if Garcia is able to fight-off the challenge of last year’s Tokyo runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova potentially in the second round.
Although the world No 4 the Frenchwoman is yet to win a title this year. She has made two semi-final appearances this year in Stuttgart and Madrid.
If the seedings goes to plan next week in Tokyo, we could be set for a Wozniacki-Osaka and Karolina Plíšková-Garcia semi-finals at this the 34th edition of the Toray Pan Pacific Open.