CINCINNATI, OH, USA - An absolutely packed field - the entire Top 20, to be exact - is descending on Cincinnati this week for the Western & Southern Open, a $2,369,000, Premier-level tournament.
Leading the seeds is Serena Williams, who comes in fresh off a very strong week in Toronto. But this hasn't been the best venue for the World No.1 - in her three appearances at the event since its upgrade to Premier-level in 2009, not only has she come away without the title, she hasn't even been past the quarterfinals (one third round finish, one second round finish and a quarterfinal finish).
Victoria Azarenka is the No.2 seed and, after returning from a knee injury to make the finals in Carlsbad two weeks ago, she had to withdraw from Toronto with a back injury - but now she's back and ready to go in Cincinnati. But, like Williams, this hasn't been the World No.2's best venue - she has fallen early in both previous appearances here (one third round finish and one first round finish).
World No.3 Maria Sharapova is in a little bit of a different situation than the Top 2, in two ways: first, she is playing her first tournament since Wimbledon, having missed the first few legs of the summer hardcourt season due to a hip injury; but second, she has had big success at this tournament before, reaching the final in both previous appearances, finishing runner-up to Kim Clijsters in 2010 (though she held three match points) then winning the title in 2011 (beating Jelena Jankovic in that final).
World No.4 Agnieszka Radwanska, the only member of the Top 10 who has played every leg of the summer hardcourt season so far, is more like the Top 2 in terms of previous results here, never getting past the quarterfinals (one second round finish, one third round finish and a quarterfinal finish).
Sloane Stephens, Sabine Lisicki, Carla Suárez Navarro and Dominika Cibulkova, who round out the Top 20, are also in the draw - Lisicki is playing her first tournament since making the Wimbledon final.