Serena Williams is well worth the favourites tag in Cincinnati

Is there any room left in your trophy case?

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We’re now at the last big hard court event before an actual major. It’s Cincinnati baby! Or ‘Cincy’ as all the cool tennis journalists that won’t talk to me call it.

With Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka still off their best form, and Simona Halep potentially carrying an injury from Toronto, this week could be a great opportunity for someone to break through.

However, I actually fancy someone who’s won a title or two in the past.

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The Favourite – Serena Williams

If you caught a glimpse of Serena’s quarter-final match with Osaka in Toronto, you would have seen a very close resemblance to the champion of old. Williams delivered 12 aces, struck 31 winners and moved better than at any point since her pregnancy. In short, she looked great.

There could, of course, be a hangover from her run in Canada, but given her insatiable desire to win, watch out Cincinnati. The now 38-year-old finds herself in the bottom quarter here with Osaka, Elina Svitolina, Qiang Wang and Toronto semi-finalist Sofia Kenin.

If Williams shows anything like the form she has this week, it will be too much for any of them.

Also, with dangerous players like Barty, Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova in the other half of the draw, Williams has a fantastic shot at reaching Cincy final no.4.

Outsiders
Kiki Bertens

It feels strange to place the defending champion as an outsider, but the Dutchwoman has gone a little quiet of late. The 27-year-old actually had an excellent grass court campaign before Barbora Strycova sorted her out in the third round of Wimbledon. In the time since Bertens made the final of a clay ITF event in Palermo and lost out to Bianca Andreescu in Toronto. Along with the fact that she likes this venue, I’m going with Bertens because she has a good draw. The world no.5 shares the third quarter with seeds Halep (assuming she plays), Bencic and Madison Keys. While it’s certainly an open section with dangerous floaters like Amanda Anisimova, Donna Vekic and Daria Kasatkina, there’s a path there for the experienced Bertens if she can find form.

Elina Svitolina

A copy-and-paste here, but the Ukrainian is one of the most consistent forces on the WTA Tour. To go with her semi-final run at Wimbledon you can add a quarter-final run in Toronto. Another decent week for the 24-year-old saw her defeat Katerina Siniakova and Belinda Bencic before falling to an inspired Sofia Kenin. Svitolina is in Cincy’s bottom quarter and will like her chances of making the business stage so long as Serena isn’t Serena. The world no.7 will probably play Elise Mertens in the second round before a likely meeting with Williams. If the 23-time major winner has an off-week, I think that Svitolina has the best chance of escaping from this section.

Alison Riske

Now, this is a pretty outside pick but hear me out! Firstly, Riske is having her best season to date as she sits just below her career-high rank of 36 with close to $1 million in prize money already. That’s primarily thanks to a second career title at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, a final at Shenzhen, and a remarkable run to the last eight in Wimbledon. After losing a tight match to world Pliskova in Toronto, Riske is well placed to cause a kerfuffle in Cincy’s unpredictable top quarter. She takes on Maria Sharapova first with the Russian still in search of consistent form and fitness. From there, it could be a Wimbledon rematch with Barty in the second round. As an American from neighbouring state Pennsylvania, this tireless rallier could be inspired by the vocal support.

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