TORONTO, Canada - Kicking off at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, the US Open Series makes it's next big stop up north for the Rogers Cup. Traveling to Toronto every other year, the field has seen tremendous change since a then-teenaged Belinda Bencic stunned Serena Williams and Simona Halep to capture the biggest title of her career.
The Toronto draw was released on Friday evening at a ceremony deep within the Royal Ontario Museum, featuring Bencic's contemporary - and reigning Roland Garros champion - Jelena Ostapenko. Ostapenko is a Top 16 seed in Canada for the first time, but no debut will be bigger than that of top seed Karolina Pliskova, who is playing her first event since becoming WTA World No.1 during the Wimbledon fortnight.
Here's what you need to know:
Top eight seeds Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Garbiñe Muguruza, Elina Svitolina, Caroline Wozniacki, Johanna Konta, Svetlana Kuznetsova
Top half Pliskova, Wozniacki, Kerber, Konta
Bottom half Svitolina, Muguruza, Kuznetsova, Halep
Projected quarterfinals Pliskova vs. Wozniacki, Kerber vs. Konta, Svitolina vs. Muguruza, Kuznetsova vs. Halep
Last year's final Simona Halep def. Madison Keys, 7-6(2), 6-3
Pliskova to play first match as WTA World No.1, against either Pavlyuchenkova or Cornet.
The big-hitting Czech star came to Wimbledon as the de facto WTA World No.1 after winning her third title of the season at the Aegon International in Eastbourne, officially becoming the 23rd woman to lead the WTA rankings after Halep's three-set loss to Konta in the quarterfinals in London.
Pliskova will seek to shake off a surprise second-round exit to an on-fire Magdalena Rybarikova - who went on to reach the semifinals - as she returns to the US Open Series, where her meteoric rise began. Since barreling to her first Premier 5 title at the Western & Southern Open last summer, the 25-year-old has been one of the best players on hardcourts, winning titles at the Brisbane International and Qatar Total Open.
Kicking off her Rogers Cup campaign will be either Stanford quarterfinalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Alizé Cornet, with her first sign of trouble likely coming in the quarterfinals. Her projected opponent could be No.6 seed Wozniacki, who beat her in their most recent hardcourt encounter back in Miami, or No.10 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, against whom Pliskova has never won a set in seven total meetings.
Ailing Halep comes down with a major case of déjà vu.
Defending champion Simona Halep had a shot to narrow the rankings gap between her and Pliskova at the Citi Open, but bowed out in the quarterfinals after playing five straight sets in extreme heat over two matches against Mariana Duque-Mariño and Ekaterina Makarova on Friday.
Retiring early in the decider against the Russian on Friday, Halep will have to hit the ground running in her opening-round match, where she'll play either a resurgent Madison Keys or Australian Open semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
Keys has struggled with wrist injuries since finishing runner-up to the Romanian last summer in Montréal, but has looked stronger in Stanford, where she just reached the semifinals. Lucic-Baroni saw her strong start to 2017 stunted after a shoulder injury ahead of the French Open, but has nonetheless been a tough out for Halep, never dropping at set in either of their Grand Slam matches.
From there, it could be a rematch of the Mutua Madrid Open final, with No.13 seed Kristina Mladenovic, and following a second-straight Canadian quarterfinal against No.8 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, or a highly-anticipated sequel to the Roland Garros championship match, featuring No.12 seed Ostapenko.
Kerber returns to hardcourts with tough draw featuring Bouchard, Kvitova.
Though she lost her No.1 ranking at Wimbledon, Kerber played her best tournament of the year at the All England Club, battling past an in-form Shelby Rogers only to narrowly lose to eventual champion Muguruza in three sets.
The result seemed to give the German renewed inspriation heading into what was her most fruitful part of the season last year; it was, after all, where she made the Olympic and Cincinnati finals before usurping Serena Williams atop the WTA rankings on her way to the US Open crown.
Eager to build on that momentum, Kerber is unlikely to have things all her own way, not even in the opening round, where she'll play a qualifier or former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard. The Canadian was on her way to scoring the upset over Kerber before the top seed retired at the Mutua Madrid Open, and scored two big wins in front of her home crowd last year against Dominika Cibulkova and Lucie Safarova. Up and down as her results have been, one thing is clear: she gets up for big matches, and few will draw more attention in Toronto than a potential second round match against the former World No.1.
Kerber could then face No.14 seed Petra Kvitova, who made a strong start in Stanford with a decisive win over Kateryna Bondarenko on Thursday, and later No.7 seed Johanna Konta. The British No.1 made her second Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon, but is most comfortable on concrete, winning the Miami Open back in March.
How will major champions Ostapenko and Muguruza fare up north?
Two of 2017's three Grand Slam champions made it to Toronto - as 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams awaits the birth of her first child - and both Jelena/Aljona Ostapenko and Garbiñe Muguruza are in the bottom half of the draw.
Wimbledon champ Muguruza admitted to feeling more confident approaching her second year as a major champion, citing the invaluable experience of already having played a season with Grand Slam pressure following her Roland Garros triumph.
"This time I'm not worried because I'm going to be less frustrated," she said. "Hopefully, I'm going to work, just be humble and try to not expect myself to play the way I played those two weeks for the rest of the year because it's difficult."
Those modified expectations appeared to have helped loosen her up in Stanford, where she's yet to drop a set en route to the semifinals. She could face Ana Konjuh for a second straight week, with BNP Paribas Open champion Elena Vesnina her first seeded opponent (provided she makes it to Canada).
Ostapenko will make her summer hardcourt debut in Toronto, but already proved capable of playing under pressure at The Championships, where she became the first maiden major champion to reach the quarterfinals of her next major since Kim Clijsters in 2006.
"I have more confidence, but I also have more pressure because people expect more from me as a French Open champion," the Latvian told WTA Insider after the draw ceremony. "Other players prepare even better against me, and everyone wants to beat me.
"I had a good couple of weeks at Wimbledon, and a tough match against Venus, but I'm happy I made the quarterfinals there, because it's difficult to keep that level up after a big win. That was a good preparation for the hardcourt season, and I'm looking forward to my first match here."
Ostapenko lands in a section full of dangerous floaters like Caroline Garcia, Julia Goerges, and CiCi Bellis, with Kuznetsova her projected third round opposition.
Hopes high for big wins from rising Canadian stars.
Sitting alongside Ostapenko at the draw ceremony was fellow 20-year-old Francoise Abanda. The two played at Wimbledon and the Canadian youngster got within inches of victory before falling in three sets.
Abanda has tended to play her best tennis at home, taking a set from Dominika Cibulkova in Montréal back in 2014 and winning both of her Fed Cup rubbers earlier this year against Kazakhstan.
"We don't have too many tournaments at home so I'm happy to be here," Abanda said during the draw ceremony. "I've had a good year so far and I'm looking forward to doing even better in Canada."
Abanda opens against Lucie Safarova - who has a chance to become World No.1 in doubles later this summer - with a struggling No.11 seed Cibulkova or Lesia Tsurenko in the second round.
Bianca Andreescu made a thunderous WTA debut at the Citi Open, reaching the quarterfinals with a win over Mladenovic and is currently on court against former World No.9 Andrea Petkovic.
Andreescu has a winnable first round match against Timea Babos, who is on a nine-match losing streak since the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup, and then could play either Radwanska or CoCo Vandeweghe, who rolled into the Stanford semifinals earlier today.
Notable first-round matches: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Alizé Cornet, Lauren Davis vs. Anastasija Sevastova, Agnieszka Radwanska vs. CoCo Vandeweghe, Yulia Putintseva vs. Sloane Stephens, Carla Suárez Navarro vs. Petra Kvitova, Peng Shuai vs. Ekaterina Makarova, Daria Kasatkina vs. Roberta Vinci, Julia Goerges vs. CiCi Bellis, Kristina Mladenovic vs. Barbora Strycova, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni vs. Madison Keys
Potential second-round matches: Karolina Pliskova vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Angelique Kerber vs. Eugenie Bouchard, Ekaterina Makarova vs. Johanna Konta, Madison Keys or Mirjana Lucic-Baroni vs. Simona Halep