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Viking Classic Birmingham 2021: Women's singles draw analysis, preview & prediction

Elise Mertens is the top seed at Birmingham
Elise Mertens is the top seed at Birmingham
FEATURED COLUMNIST

One of the most popular grasscourt events on the WTA Tour returns next week with the Viking Classic Birmingham scheduled to be held from June 14-20.

Founded in 1982, the WTA 250 tournament has attracted a bevy of stars over the years, with legends such as Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Maria Sharapova lifting the trophy in the past.

This year's 32-player draw is headlined by World No. 15 Elise Mertens with Tunisian star Ons Jabeur the second seed. Croatia's World No. 36 Donna Vekic and St. Petersburg champion Daria Kasatkina round out the top four seeds.

The main draw action kicks off on 14 June, with the final scheduled for 20 June. On that note, here's an in-depth look at how the draw might unfold:

Top half: Marta Kostyuk, Jelena Ostapenko, Daria Kasatkina look to upset Elise Mertens

Marta Kostyuk
Marta Kostyuk

Top seeded players: [1] Elise Mertens, [4] Daria Kasatkina, [5] Jelena Ostapenko, [8] Marie Bouzkova

Expected quarterfinal: Elise Mertens vs Daria Kasatkina

Dark horse: Marta Kostyuk

Having suffered a tough three-set defeat to Maria Sakkari in the third round of the French Open, Elise Mertens will look to get back to winning ways. A thigh injury interrupted what was a spectacular campaign for the Belgian at the Madrid Open and she has since struggled to hit those same levels.

Mertens, who made the fourth round of the Wimbledon Championships in 2019, will hope that a change in surface will bring with it a change in fortunes.

The World No. 15 will kick off her campaign in Birmingham against the talented Ajla Tomljanovic. If she can overcome the Australian, she could face former Wimbledon junior champion Kristyna Pliskova.

Mertens' path gets trickier from the quarterfinals. Caroline Garcia, who has won titles on grass at Mallorca and Nottingham, could make things tough for the Belgian should the two meet. Garcia, however, will first have to find a way past the wily Hsieh Su-wei, who possesses a lot of variety.

If Mertens can make it to the semifinals, she will have some more tricky names to deal with. The second quarter of the draw is packed with talented youngsters such as Daria Kasatkina, Jelena Ostapenko and Marta Kostyuk. Lauren Davis, who made the semifinals in Nottingham this week, is also a potential threat.

With a game suited for clay, it will be interesting to see how Daria Kasatkina fares on grass
With a game suited for clay, it will be interesting to see how Daria Kasatkina fares on grass

Kasatkina, the fourth seed, has two titles to her name this season. Although the Russian is a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist, her game isn't tailor-made for grass. She could find it tough to keep up with aggressive baseliners like Marta Kostyuk, who is coming off a fourth-round appearance at Roland Garros.

If, however, Kasatkina does manage the clay-to-grass transition successfully, she is likely to come up against fifth seed Jelena Ostapenko or Lauren Davis in the quarterfinals.

Ostapenko's hard-hitting game could be effective on grass if she cuts down on her unforced errors. Lauren Davis, meanwhile, comes into the tournament with a lot of momentum and could subject the Latvian to a stern test in their first-round encounter.

Semifinal prediction: Elise Mertens vs Marta Kostyuk

Bottom half: Camila Giorgi, Donna Vekic, Shuai Zhang stand in Ons Jabeur's way

Ons Jabeur
Ons Jabeur

Top seeded players: [2] Ons Jabeur, [3] Donna Vekic, [6] Shuai Zhang, [7] Fiona Ferro

Expected quarterfinal: Ons Jabeur vs Donna Vekic

Dark horse: Nina Stojanovic

Ons Jabeur has never made it past the second round at the Wimbledon Championships. Being the second seed at Birmingham, she will hope to get some wins under her belt ahead of the grasscourt Major.

The Tunisian has an easy path to the last eight on paper, with Canada's rising star Leylah Fernandez the only potential threat in the second round.

Jabeur could also come up against Kristina Mladenovic, who has been a runner-up at Rosmalen in the past and has the game to trouble the Tunisian. But it is World No. 87 Nina Stojanovic who could pose the biggest challenge.

Nina Stojanovic
Nina Stojanovic

The Serbian's flat groundstrokes provided rich rewards on the courts of Nottingham this week. She upset third seed Donna Vekic and even pushed top seed Johanna Konta to the limit before bowing out 2-6, 7-6(2), 7-5 in a grueling semifinal. The 24-year-old will thus arrive in Birmingham with a lot of confidence.

The other quarter of the draw also has accomplished grasscourters. Former Wimbledon quarterfinalist Camila Giorgi's flat-hitting style will work well on grass and she could pose a challenge to 2017 Nottingham winner Donna Vekic should they meet in a blockbuster Round of 16 clash.

Whoever progresses into the last eight from this section will most probably come up against sixth seed Shuai Zhang. After a difficult start to the season, Zhang has found some form and finished runner-up in Nottingham.

The Chinese will desperately hope to build on this run and make a statement ahead of Wimbledon, where she made the quarterfinals in 2019.

Semifinal prediction: Camila Giorgi vs Nina Stojanovic

Prediction for the final

Elise Mertens vs Camila Giorgi

Predicted champion

Elise Mertens

Edited by Arvind Sriram
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