The WTA Tour returns to a manageable time zone this week and top names are in town for the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford and the Citi Open in Washington.
This Premier level event in Stanford is played on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California and conditions here are usually quick, with Plexipave hard courts and numerous players commented last year that it’s very fast here.
Half a dozen players ranked in the top-12 in the world rankings are here, with Serena Williams, Aga Radwanska, Angelique Kerber, Vika Azarenka, Ana Ivanovic and Domi Cibulkova all in action over the coming days.
There also top class action on the east coast of the United States as the International level Citi Open in Washington DC is a joint event alongside the ATP 500 tournament for the men.
It’s normally brutally hot here and almost as quick as Stanford, with a Decoturf outdoor hard court in use and the two-time defending champion here is Magdalena Rybarikova.
Stanford has half a dozen matches on its schedule for Monday and I particularly like one that begins at around 22:00 UK time tonight.
Sachia Vickery vs Shuai Zhang
There’s a lot to like about the chances of a possible upset here, with the 19-year-old Floridian already having dumped Aleksandra Wozniack out of the tournament in qualies.
That match, although Wozniack wasn’t at her best, and the one before where Vickery defeated Michaela Gordon comfortably will have given her a good feel for the fast conditions here in Stanford and playing at home she’ll be very much motivated for this.
Zhang on the other hand has not played since Wimbledon and withdrew from Baku last week with a right shoulder injury, which is never a great sign for a right hander.
The Chinese world number 30 hasn’t won a match on tour since week 24 and has a poor record in the USA too, with four wins from 17 matches and a 3-11 record in the States on hard courts.
There are plenty of doubts about Zhang here and the set one to Vickery and +1.5 sets both appeal here against an opponent who is lacking matches, potentially injured and with a poor record in the USA.
Karumi Nara vs Madison Keys
Reports say that the courts are playing quick in Washington too, so it should pay to side with a comfortable win for Keys here against an opponent who is likely to be overpowered.
Keys hasn’t played since limping out of Wimbledon with a torn adductor, but she’s been back hitting balls for over a fortnight and reports from the venue in Washington say that she’s been serving very big in practice again.
The quick conditions should suit her game and as ever with Keys it’s all about how she plays and I’m gong to side with the handicap here rather than the 2-0, as it might take a few games for her to get into the zone again.
Nara was awful last time out against Fran Schiavone in a 2-6, 2-6 loss to the veteran Italian and if she plays like that she’ll be blown away here very quickly.
The Japanese player has had a lean time since winning Rio on the clay back in week eight and only once has she won consecutive matches since then.
Prior to that heavy defeat by Schiavone in Baku Nara was also thrashed by Roberta Vinci and confidence will surely be low.
Nara’s poor record against Britain’s own big-hitting Johanna Konta gives some kind of indication of how easily she can be outhit by power and with Keys raring to go this could be a heavy defeat for Karumi.
The minus 4.5 games on Keys will be around the 1.8 mark and I like that as my second wager today.
Other potential underdogs who could be in with a shot today include Taylor Townsend (although she might be favourite by the start of play) who, along with Julia Goerges should provide some great examples of very heavily hit winners in a match that should not be missed.
Kimiko Date-Krumm is never one to write off as underdog either and if she can get that soon to be 44-year-old body moving she has a shot against Karolina Pliskova at around 2.70.
Ajla Tomljanovic can also worry Andrea Petkovic too as an underdog, having beaten the German once before and having taken a few weeks off after getting sick in Bad Gastein – a tournament won by Petkovic – she could easily cause problems for Petko.
For me Petko is much better in slower conditions and she hasn’t been past the third round of any hard court event since 2011. The various handicaps on Tomljanovic are worth considering in that one.
Back Vickery +1.5 sets to beat Zhang at 1.73
Back Keys –4.5 games to beat Nara at 1.80