Defending Champ Kasatkina Leads Former-Champ Charge in Charleston

A Cinderella winner here twelve months ago for her first-ever WTA title, Daria Kasatkina returns to the scene of her climb with the one thing every player wants: Momentum.

The crafty Russian, still just 20 years old, recently made the Indian Wells final on the heel of four consecutive wins over Grand Slam champions. She headlines a loaded field this week at the Volvo Car Open that features four former champions and a bevy of up-and-coming must-see WTA young guns. Kasatkina happens to fall in both those categories.

MORE: See the Singles Draw | Get Your Tickets | Qualifying Draw

Other previous winners in the 2018 singles draw? 2010 champion Sam Stosur of Australia, 2014 winner Andrea Petkovic, the German and 2016 winner Sloane Stephens. All three are massive fan favorites.

While all eyes will be on Kasatkina, the No. 3 seed, as she tries to defend a title for the first time in her career, it’s Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia – the world No. 7 – who comes in as the top seed. The draw is anchored by two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who is making her Volvo Car Open debut as the No. 2 seed.

If the seeds hold, it’d be world No. 14 Johanna Konta in the quarterfinals for Garcia, while Sloane would have a US Open final re-match with Madison Keys, the No. 7 seed and 2015 finalist here.

On the bottom half of the draw, Kasatkina could play No. 5 seed Julia Goerges in the final eight, while Kvitova would meet a tricky all-courter in Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.

But as Charleston tennis fans know, there is always a surprise or two come tournament week at the Family Circle Tennis Center. Among those hopeful to spring such an upset? Thirteen Americans in total, including veteran Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a two-time doubles champion here who is making her comeback from a devastating knee injury at Wimbledon last summer.

Like Kasatkina last April, the Volvo Car Open has always served as a harbinger of who’s next in women’s tennis. Among those names to watch this week is the very player who defeated Kasatkina in the Indian Wells final: Naomi Osaka. The 20 year old from Japan is as powerful as they come on tour, and – like her Russian peer – won a big-time event for her maiden career trophy.

Australian Ashleigh Barty is the No. 9 seed and an all-court player with guile at the age of 21, while countrywoman Daria Gavrilova is the No. 11 seed at 24 years. Americans Jennifer Brady, Taylor TownsendSofia Kenin and Caroline Dolehide are all young stars that could make noise in the coming days, as well.

But it’s the top seeds that are the most dangerous out of the gates. Garcia, herself just 24, won 13 of her final 15 matches of the 2017 season to climb into the top 10 for the first time in her career.

Kvitova, a lefty with one of the most powerful games on tour, is here for the first time and – as she’s proven twice at Wimbledon – can go on a hot streak herself.

Keys has struggled with injuries recently, and will hope to kick start her 2018 season much like she did here in 2015, when she lost to Angelique Kerber in a dramatic final.

Other names you should know this week in Charleston? Former Grand Slam finalists Genie Bouchard and Sara Errani (who face off in round one); 2017 semifinalist Laura Siegemund (who’s coming back from an injury of her own); and 2016 finalist Elena Vesnina, a doubles stalwart and dangerous singles foe for anyone.

But should you also expect the unexpected? Well, imagine reading this very article a year ago. Eventual champion: Daria Kasatkina.