The International Level event in Monterrey, Mexico kicks off this week boasting a field headlined by world #10 Agnieszka Radwanska and former Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli. With many players resting up for the four week run through Indian Wells and Miami, this event could be a golden opportunity for an unheralded player to take home a trophy, 280 ranking points, and $37,000.
For most of the top seeds, it’s easy to find a reason why they won’t win the title. Radwanska, Szavay and Kirilenko have been monumentally struggling with form, and a consistent and confident challenger could send any of them out of the event early. Bartoli pulled out of Dubai with injury, but knowing Bartoli, that could mean absolutely nothing coming into this week. Pennetta seemed to break out of her slump last week, reaching the final in Acapulco, but she looked completely lost against Venus Williams in the final, and the transition back to hardcourt may be difficult for her. All of these question marks will make for a very interesting appetizer to the spring season.
The draw gods made sure that this event would be compelling from the first day, as the top seed Radwanska goes up against the supremely dangerous Li Na of China. Li came back from injury last month and challenged Jelena Jankovic in Paris. Combine that with Radwanska’s struggles, and we could very well see a first round exit for the top seed. The other seed in this quarter, Maria Kirilenko, has yet to win a set in 2009 and should be a non-factor in this event. The other big challenge in this section may be Czech Lucie Safarova, who can play brilliantly one day and horrendously the next. If she is having a good day, she will be a threat.
Prediction: Li Na
The #3 seed Flavia Pennetta heads up this quarter and may see a challenge from Anna-Lena Groenefeld in the second round, but Pennetta should still be the favorite in that match. The #6 seed Iveta Benesova, she of ‘looking kind of like Daniela Hantuchova’ fame, has a nice draw up to a quarterfinal meeting with Pennetta. These two played just last week with Pennetta prevailing in straight sets. It should be the same result this week.
The seeds Dulko and Zheng should face little opposition in this quarter unless the veteran Nathalie Dechy is able to find her excellent form of years past, in which case Dulko might find herself in trouble in the first round. Zheng should sail through to the quarterfinals for an encounter with Dulko. On clay, this could be a real match, but Zheng will be too strong on a hardcourt and will prevail rather easily.
The severity of Bartoli’s Dubai injury is unknown, but nonetheless she should be thankful for her easy draw. She is seeded to meet the lost-in-the-wilderness Agnes Szavay in the quarterfinals, but more likely she should sail through to the semifinals without meeting a top-50 opponent.
Li still seemed to be a bit rusty in her return matches, so she may lament her lack of match play in the later rounds. Pennetta may have struggled against Williams, but she will not meet that level of competition in this event, which should help her make a deep run. Bartoli will struggle when she finally meets an opponent of her level, which should benefit Zheng in that semifinal.
Prediction: Pennetta and Zheng into final
I expect Zheng to be playing too consistently for Pennetta in this match, who will fall short in a tournament final for the second consecutive week. Zheng looked in very solid form in her Dubai loss to Serena Williams, and that should carry her through to a tournament victory here.