RC19 Preview: Four dark-horse candidates who could win Rogers Cup

Wednesday, Jul 31

With 37 of the Top 39 WTA players in the world confirmed to play at this year’s Rogers Cup presented by National Bank, there will no shortage of candidates vying for the Canadian title.

Of course there will be favourites given that the main draw features the likes of World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, Wimbledon champion Simona Halep and the ever-present Serena Williams.

But which players outside the Top 10 might surprise the field this week? Who can shock the field and be crowned Rogers Cup champion? Here are four dark horses you should be keeping an eye on.

1) Belinda Bencic (World No. 12)

Belinda Bencic kisses the championship trophy after defeating Simona Halep of Romania during the final of the Rogers Cup at the Aviva Centre on August 16, 2015 in Toronto.

Nearly four years removed from her magical title run at Rogers Cup in Toronto, Belinda Bencic finally returned to the winner circle in 2019.

In February, under the lights in Dubai, the 22 year old from Switzerland took down Petra Kvitova to score her first WTA title since 2015. En route to being crowned champion, Bencic defeated four straight top-10 players (Sabalenka, Halep, Svitolina & Kvitova) – besting the three straight Top-10 wins she scored at Rogers Cup in 2015.

Looking back at that performance in Dubai, it was a sign of things to come for the Swiss star. So far this season, she leads the tour with eight wins against Top-10 players. She’s also won 35 matches – fifth-most on tour. 17 of those wins came on hard courts, which also puts her in the Top 5 of that category.

Bencic has also played big when she’s had to. Twice, earlier in the year, she beat the former World No.1 Naomi Osaka at Indian Wells and in Madrid. I wouldn’t be shocked if she pulled another upset or two at Rogers Cup– given her notoriety for doing that very thing in Toronto.

2) Johanna Konta (World No. 14)

Johanna Konta during quarter-finals at the 2016 Rogers Cup in Montreal.

Although she doesn’t have a title to her name in 2019, Johanna Konta has been a force.

With 32 match wins this season, she currently ranks sixth on the WTA Tour. Out of the top-7 winningest players in 2019, she is the only one who has yet to claim a title. The 28 year old from Eastbourne has also notched six wins against Top-10 players. Four of them have come at the expense of American Sloane Stephens, including this quarter-final matchup at the French Open.

By reaching the semi-finals, Konta became the first British female player to reach the semis at Roland-Garros since Jo Durie in 1983. Prior to that Slam, Konta was also a finalist on the European clay in Italy and Morocco.

The “terre battue” appears to be her surface of choice in 2019, which might not bode well for her upcoming trip to Toronto. But it’s worth noting that she has a strong pedigree on hard courts. All three of her career WTA titles have been won on this surface, including her only WTA Premier Mandatory or Premier 5 crown (2017 Miami Open).

3) Amanda Anisimova (World No. 23)

Amanda Anisimova in action during his women’s singles round match against during Day Nine of the 2019 French Open at Roland Garros on June 3, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo: Mauricio Paiz)

2019 has been a breakout season for the young American.

Earlier in the year, at 17 years of age, Amanda Anisimova became the youngest winner on the WTA Tour in 2019 by winning the Copa Colsanitas in Columbia. And then, if anyone thought that was a fluke, she had a stunning run at the French Open. On her path to reaching the semi-finals, Anisimova put an end to Simona Halep’s title defence. She defeated the Romanian in impressive fashion by taking her down in straight sets.

Those performances have helped catapult Anisomova up the rankings. She started the year ranked No. 96, now she is a career-high No. 23. She is currently the highest-teenager in the WTA Tour’s Top 100. But much like Konta, she’ll have to find a way to translate her success on clay to the summer hardcourts.

At the beginning of 2019, Anisimova showed she was capable of doing that very thing. Despite having never won a singles Grand Slam match before, she managed to reach the Australian Open’s fourth round thanks three straight-set victories in a row. One of them was a surprising win against one of the favourites to win, Aryna Sabalenka. With her Rogers Cup debut just around the corner, don’t be surprised if Anisimova breaks out on another improbable run.

4) Victoria Azarenka (World No. 38)

Victoria Azarenka third-round matchup against Sara Errani during the 2015 Rogers Cup in Toronto (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE).

It hasn’t been the best of years for Victoria Azarenka.

The Belarusian only holds a 19-13 record this season. She got knocked out of the Australian Open in the opening round. Didn’t go past the second round at Roland-Garros. Before finding herself in Simona Halep’s path of destruction at Wimbledon.

But the former World No. 1 is always a threat. She is capable of playing with that same form that won her two Grand Slam trophies in Australia. Detractors will point out the fact that she remains titleless in three years.

However, just last April, Azarenka gave us a glimpse of her potential. On the hard courts of Monterrey, she managed to reach her first WTA final in three years. The 30 year old took down the top-seed Angelique Kerber in the semis. It was one of two wins she’s scored against the Top 5 this season. It’s also worth noting that 19 of her 20 career titles have been earned on hard courts.

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