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California Girls (A Preview of the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford)

This week sees the beginning of the women's U.S. Open Series and it is in no other city than Stanford, California, home to the prestigious Stanford University and this week, home to the Bank of the West Classic. The top four seeds headlining in California this week are Sam Stosur, French Open finalist, Elena Dementieva, who is coming back to the tour after a calf injury that forced her to retire in the French Open semifinals, Vera Zvonareva, who reached her maiden Grand Slam final at Wimbledon last month, and Agnieszka Radwanska, who is a threat no matter where she plays. Other women of note in the field would be Marion Bartoli, last year's winner and this year's 5th seed, Maria Sharapova, the 6th seed this year, and the three women who received wild cards into the event: Ana Ivanovic, Dinara Safina, and Victoria Azarenka. These three women add more star power and intrigue into the tournament and will make it one of the best along the road to the U.S. Open.

This preview will include 10 player profiles highlighting each individual's chances at this event and my thoughts on who could make it all the way to the final weekend and who might be vulnerable in the early rounds. Lastly, once the draw for the tournament has been released, I will post a draw analysis to the blog, most likely Saturday afternoon or evening.

(1) Sam Stosur

Sam Stosur has had a great season so far. Can she play with the form that got her to the French Open final earlier this year once again?

Sam Stosur has had a great year coming into the U.S. Open Series; she won the clay court event in Charleston, reached the Stuttgart final, and of course she reached the final at Roland Garros. Her game is just as suited to hard courts as it is to clay, as evidenced by her semifinal run her in Stanford last year in addition to her great showing in L.A. (she made the finals). With a huge serve and booming forehand, Stosur will be one to contend with if she can keep herself positive.

2) Elena Dementieva

Elena Dementieva made the semis here in Stanford last year and went on to win the U.S. Open Series. How will she fair this year?

The last time we saw Dementieva was in a moment of agony, at least for Elena, as she was forced to retire in the French Open semifinals against the eventual champion Francesca Schiavone. Her calf tear has now healed and she is ready to make some noise on the North American hard courts once again. Last year, she had the best summer hard court season by winning the Rogers Cup and subsequently winning the U.S. Open Series. Her history in Stanford is limited, but she reached the semifinals in 2009 and will look to make it a better result this week. And if she is healthy, then there's no limit as to how far she can go this year.

(3) Vera Zvonareva (She has since withdrawn from the event, but you can still read the profile I wrote on her.)

Vera Zvonareva made the Wimbledon final just a few weeks ago. Will that help or hurt her this week in Stanford?

Coming off a career fortnight at Wimbledon, Vera Zvonareva will look to prepare for the U.S. Open by getting some good practice in at Stanford this week. This tournament will be a good indication in determining what her current mental status is; she had a tough last day at Wimbledon, by losing both the singles and doubles finals. But, if she is mentally ready to go, then her game will follow, and that is never a good thing for her opponents.

(6) Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova looks to make an impact at the Stanford event.

Maria Sharapova has been playing progressively better this year after losing to the other Maria, Maria Kirilenko in the first round of the Australian Open. She has won two small events this year, in Memphis (hard courts) and Strasbourg (red clay) and after her encouraging performance in the French Open 3rd round, l. to Henin, and at Wimbledon, l. to S. Williams, we are due to see some stellar results from Maria once again. She played a highly anticipated match against Venus Williams in the quarterfinals last year and with no Williams sisters in the draw this week, she has just as much of a chance for the title as anyone.

(8) Yanina Wickmayer

Yanina Wickmayer, the newcomer of 2009, was a major force at the U.S. Open last year. Can she be a force here?
Yanina Wickmayer, the first-time semifinalist at last year's U.S. Open, is the 8th seed this week and although she hasn't had the results to back up her suprising run in Flushing Meadows last year, she is always a threat on hard courts and can certainly make an impact at this tournament if she is able to get some momentum and play through a heavily stacked draw here in Stanford.

(WC) Ana Ivanovic

Ana Ivanovic, who has struggled since winning her maiden Grand Slam, looks to find her form in California.

Playing in her first event since losing first round to Shahar Peer at Wimbledon, Ana Ivanovic begins her summer for the first time in Stanford. Since she is unseeded, there is a possiblity that upon the release of the draw, she could face anyone from Maria Sharapova, Dinara Safina, or if she is lucky, a qualifier. With that being said, since winning the French Open in 2008, her main problem hasn't been being outplayed by her opponents, it has been her inability to play up to her potential due to various problems (pressure, injuries, lack of confidence). So, if Ana is able to play her way into the event anything could be possible and at this moment the more matches she wins, the better off she is for the rest of the summer.

(WC) Dinara Safina

Dinara Safina is coming back from a back injury and hopes to get a few matches under her belt this week.

Ever since losing in the French Open final to Kuznetsova back in 2009, I feel that Dinara Safina hasn't been the same player that she was during the 2008 summer and the first half of 2009. After being forced to retire in the Australian Open earlier this year, she was subsequently out of the game until the clay court season, where her results were dismal, with the epitome of her decline coming at Roland Garros in the first round to the 39 year-old Kimiko Date Krumm. Following this match, she withdrew from Wimbledon, again citing the back injury, and is once again coming back to the game, but this time on hard courts. Depending on her physical condition, in addition to her mental condition, Stanford will be an important event for her on the road back to the WTA Tour.

(WC)Victoria Azarenka

Victoria Azarenka can always be a threat on hard courts.

Victoria Azarenka has also had her fair share of injuries. She battled bilateral thigh injuries during the clay court season, losing first round at Roland Garros and sufferred through knee tendinitis in during the grass court season, losing in the third round of Wimbledon to Petra Kvitova. Hard courts are by far the best surface for the young Belarusian and with a favorable draw, Azarenka could make some real noise in Stanford this year.

Alisa Kleybanova

Best known for her upsets over top players, Alisa Kleybanova has the game to get her far in the WTA Tour.

Better known for her upsets over major players, Alisa Kleybanova has the game to be recognized for her own merits, but lacks the mental fortitude to get it done week after week. But there are signs of promise for the young Russian after beating Clijsters in Indian Wells and Ana Ivanovic at Roland Garros. Will this be the week she goes from being the hunter to the hunted?
Melanie Oudin

Last year Melanie Oudin made her impact on the world at this time of the year. What will she come up with this year?

One of the only players entered in all five of the U.S. Series events, Melanie Oudin will look to make a quick start to her summer campaign this week in Stanford. Oudin, who reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals last year, has had a mediocre year so far and based on her prior results in 2010, one would think that she wouldn't have a chance to go very far at this event, but with the crowd on her side whenever she plays in America, she always has a fighting chance to do well in Stanford this week.

There will indeed be many things to look foward to this week in Stanford and the fans who attend the event will be very lucky to see so many marquee players taking part in this event on the campus of Stanford University. Check back for a draw analysis on the Stanford tournament later tonight or tomorrow and a LA preview/draw analysis on Sunday. Once again, thanks for reading my blog and comment if you anything to say. Enjoy!

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