Five players to watch at Rogers Cup in Toronto

Venus Williams.

The top female players in the world are set to descend on Toronto for the Rogers Cup, with the first round officially underway Monday morning. World No. 1 Karolina Pliskova headlines an impressive and deep field that includes four former tournament champs.

Here are five more players to keep an eye on at the Rogers Cup:

SIMONA HALEP

2017 match record: 33-9
Rogers Cup match record: 15-4
WTA ranking: 2

Halep’s status as the defending Rogers Cup champion and 2015 runner-up will put a bull’s-eye on her back in Toronto. In 2016 in Montreal, Halep defeated two top-10 players— Svetlana Kuznetsova (9) and Angelique Kerber (2) before taking down American Madison Keys in straight sets in the final. Her success didn’t altogether translate, as Kerber got revenege in the semifinals at the next tournament in Cincinnati, followed by a quarter-final loss to Serena Williams at the U.S. Open.

Halep reached three clay-court tournament finals this year and won one, in Madrid, bringing the 25 year-old’s career total to 15 singles titles. She’s been playing consistently this year and since the Australian Open, where she was upset in the first round by 52nd-ranked Shelby Rogers, Halep has made at least the quarter-finals in all but one tournament, making her a serious contender in Toronto.

JOHANNA KONTA

2017 match record: 35-11
Rogers Cup match record: 3-1
WTA ranking: 7

At Wimbledon earlier this summer, Konta became the first British woman to reach the semifinal at the All England Club in 40 years. The result capped off a steady rise for the world’s seventh-ranked player over the last few seasons, with her ranking rising from 150 to 47 all the way to No. 10 over the past three years.

This year the 26 year-old has already reached the semifinals in five tournaments and has taken home two titles, one in Sydney, Australia where she beat former Rogers Cup champion Agnieszka Radwanska in the finals, and another in Miami over yet another Rogers Cup champ, former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.

With a booming serve, Konta stands to be a threat on the hard court in Toronto and is a good bet to improve on her quarter-final finish in her Rogers Cup debut one year ago.

VENUS WILLIAMS

2017 match record: 26-8
Rogers Cup match record: 6-7
WTA ranking: 9

In 2013, Williams lost a first-round match at the Rogers Cup, capping off a frustrating year that saw her WTA ranking drop to 49. Save for 2011, when she was recovering from a back injury and was outside of the top 100, it was her lowest ranking since 1996, her second full year on the pro tour.

Since then the elder Williams sister has been enjoying a career resurgence. She’s never had much success at the Rogers Cup, save for a finals appearance in 2014, but this year Williams has won 26 matches to date and reached the finals of two Slam events.

At the Australian Open in January she fell to Serena, and last month at Wimbledon, amid an off-court controversy when she was involved in a fatal automobile accident, she dropped the final in straight sets to Spain’s Garbine Muguruza. Speaking of…

GARBINE MUGURUZA

2017 match record: 30-13
Rogers Cup match record: 1-3
WTA ranking: 4

Although she cracked the top-10 in doubles more than two years ago, the 23-year-old broke onto the scene as a singles player last year when she beat Serena Williams in straight sets to win the 2016 French Open in what was just her second year appearing in a Slam tournament. It saw her ranking vault to No. 2 in the world. Currently ranked fourth, Muguruza is proving her instant success is far from a fluke after capturing her second Slam event win in as many years at Wimbledon in July.

But this stretch of the season will be a big test for her, and the Rogers Cup hasn’t exactly been kind to the Spaniard; she lost in the first round in 2015.

Muguruza has never won a tournament on hard court, though she’s reached two semifinals on the surface, in Cincinnati in 2016 and Brisbane earlier in 2017. But expect her to be especially motivated to show further progress after being upset in the second round of the U.S. Open last year, falling to a 64th-ranked player in straight sets.

KATERINA SINIAKOVA

2017 match record: 20-15
Rogers Cup match record: 0-0
WTA ranking: 39

While the names above will likely be familiar for even the most casual tennis fan, and all have a good chance at making a run, Siniakova, making her Rogers Cup debut, may be a longer shot but is peaking at the right time.

Just 21 years old, the Czech rising star got off to an eye-opening start to the 2017 season, winning a title at the Shenzhen Open in China in the first week of January, beating Halep in the second round in the process.

But what came next was nearly seven months of disappointing finishes, making it out of the second round just twice since.

Until last weekend that is, when she followed up a poor outing at Wimbledon by capturing her second title of the year at the Ericsson Open in Bastad, Sweden, beating Wozniacki, the tourney’s top seed, in straight sets. If she can carry that momentum with her to Toronto, don’t be surprised to see her disrupt the field.