The blog is back for the exciting US hard court swing which will see the ladies compete in four weeks of US WTA tournaments before the tour heads to the last Grand Slam of the year at the US Open. The hard court swing will commence at the new tournament in San Jose, previously the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford. The tournament has surprisingly only attracted three top 20 players, but the main attraction of the tournament will likely be on three Grand Slam champions in the Williams sisters and Azarenka. Let’s get on with the preview…
Top seeds’ profiles
 Garbine Muguruza (No.7)
Player profile: Muguruza’s season has been typically Muguruza and she is currently at a big low with early exits in her two grass court tournaments in Birmingham and Wimbledon. Coming in as the defending champion at the All England Club, Muguruza’s inconsistency let her down in a hugely disappointing three-set loss to Alison Van Uytvanck. Though Muguruza is capable of producing deep runs after a slump, she has been unable to bring her level to WTA tournaments – she has produced a 12-9 record this year in WTA Premier events. Muguruza took a late wildcard to San Jose and perhaps she’ll be able to get some confidence boosting wins here.
Draw projections: The top four seeds all have a bye into the second round, so Muguruza will start her campaign in the second round against Victoria Azarenka or Kateryna Bondarenko. Azarenka hasn’t had the best of times on the natural surfaces but a return to her favourite surface will likely see her form and confidence increasing once again. Muguruza is seeded to face Zhang Shuai in the quarterfinals.
 Madison Keys (No.12)
Player profile: Wimbledon was a very disappointing fortnight for Keys as a Serena-Madison fourth round match-up could have been a very fascinating encounter, yet she blew her chances in an error-filled display against Evgeniya Rodina. Keys has shown multiple times that she has the talent to become a force on the WTA, yet inconsistency continues to prove to be a huge stumbling block for the American. The US hard court swing has always been Keys’ favourite part of the year though, so expect her to find some form once again if she’s able to maintain her fitness.
Draw projections: Keys will face either Alja Tomljanovic or a qualifier in the second round. If Tomljanovic wins, it will be a repeat of their Wimbledon encounter two weeks ago, where Keys won 6-4 6-2. If she gets there, her quarterfinal opponent will likely be Mihaela Buzarnescu.
 Venus Williams (No.14)
Player profile: Venus continues to disappoint as she has been unable to produced the results she had in last year. Williams excelled in the Grand Slams in 2017, reaching the second week of all four Grand Slams, however she has yet to make it pass the third round in any Slam this year, after a very disappointing Wimbledon campaign, ending with a three-set loss to Kiki Bertens. Williams hasn’t played too many WTA events so far and this will just be her sixth WTA tournament of the year – perhaps a return to home courts will rekindle a fire in Venus once again?
Draw projections: Venus’ draw is a very pleasant one to get some needed wins – her first match in San Jose will be against Wimbledon breakthrough player Claire Liu or Heather Watson, followed by Timea Babos or Kristina Mladenovic in the quarterfinals. These players in Williams’ section have been unable to get too many singles wins of late.
 Elise Mertens (No.15)
Player profile: On the contrary to Venus, Mertens had played a ton of matches during the grass-court swing and fatigue should have played a part in Wimbledon in a quick 2-6 2-6 defeat to Dominika Cibulkova in the third round. I’m glad Mertens finally took a break during the last two weeks as she had played 21 matches in singles and doubles within the four weeks of the grass court swing, and was sporting tape on many parts of her body. It will be interesting to see if Mertens can sustain her level from the first half of the year after an exhausting season so far.
Draw projections: Mertens will likely play Alison Riske in the second round – sounds like fun to me! Some alarm bells are ringing for the seeded Belgian for that one. The winner of that will play Serena Williams or Johanna Konta in the quarters.
 Mihaela Buzarnescu (No.24)
Player profile: Buzarnescu has been one of the revelations of 2018 – starting the year at No.56 in the rankings, Buzarnescu has successfully climbed the steep route to the world’s elite and is up in the world’s top 25 at the moment. The Romanian has proved that she can play her best tennis on any surface and has made six WTA quarterfinals in 2018 so far (one on hard, two on grass, three on clay). Just like Mertens, Buzarnescu has played a lot of matches (53 this year) and it’ll be interesting to see whether she can maintain the confidence and form for the next part of the season.
Draw projections: Buzarnescu will play another 2018 breakthrough Sachia Vickery in the first round, followed by Wang Qiang (who as of writing is in the Nanchang semifinals). As aforementioned above, she will likely meet Keys in the last eight.
 Serena Williams (No.26)
Player profile: Serena’s presence on the WTA brings a different dynamic to the tour and she has already proved that she can win many more Grand Slam titles with a run to the Wimbledon final two weeks ago. She threw in a couple of awesome performances, yet also some disappointing ones (especially in the final), but with Serena, she’ll definitely be able to find back her vintage form sooner or later. Serena has only played two WTA tournaments this year, which is why it’s surprising she has entered into San Jose, Montreal and Cincinnati, but I’ll probably expect her to drop out of Montreal if she goes deep here.
Draw projections: After a favourable draw at Wimbledon, Serena has drawn the short end of the stick this time round as she plays World No.48 Johanna Konta in her opener. Konta failed to defend her semifinalist points at the All England Club which forced her to dip down the rankings, but her form has been better of late so this could be a cracker. The winner of that match will play Sofia Kenin or a qualifier in round 2.
 Zhang Shuai (No.32)
Player profile: Zhang has had a mediocre year as she hasn’t been able to win back-to-back matches at the WTA Premier level. In her home event in Nanchang this week, where she was the only top 50 player, she was unable to capitalise on a weak draw and fell to Zhu Lin in a disappointing third set. Zhang’s losses haven’t been that bad but she tends to struggle against hard-hitters and those who can disturb her with variety.
Draw projections: Zhang starts off against rising talent Vera Lapko from Belarus, before Danielle Collins or a qualifier in round two. Zhang-Collins is definitely an upset alert.
 Timea Babos (No.38)
Player profile: Babos has lost five straight matches on the WTA tour, and has not won back-to-back matches since reaching the final in Monterrey, but confidence must be sky high for her as she claimed the doubles World No.1 ranking recently at Wimbledon. Playing doubles is always a useful way for singles players to regain confidence; perhaps this help her to get some wins in the singles game too?
Draw projections: Talking about doubles, Babos will play her doubles partner Kristina Mladenovic in the first round. Both players have barely been able to get any wins in the singles format so this will be a very interesting encounter. The winner of Babos-Mladenovic will play either Maria Sakkari or Christina McHale next.
Final Stanford Prediction: Victoria Azarenka d. Serena Williams
Thanks for reading! Predictions for the tournaments in San Jose and Washington will come out soon!