Sabalenka, Andreescu aim for comebacks in Canada

Montreal (AFP) –


The top-five pair of Aryna Sabalenka and Canadian Bianca Andreescu will hold down the anchor positions when the WTA Montreal Masters begins on Monday.

With world number one Ashleigh Barty taking the week off and second-ranked Naomi Osaka still dealing with personal issues, the spotlight will fall on the modest recent efforts of the leading seeds.

Wimbledon semi-finalist Sabalenka, a winner at Abu Dhabi and Madrid this season, takes the top seeding as she tries to recover following a Tokyo Olympic second-round loss to Donna Vekic.

Andreescu, who won the US Open two years ago at the expense of Serena Williams before skipping the entire 2020 season with injury, plays for local pride as second seed.

The Canada WTA return from a Covid-19 pandemic shutdown in 2020 will lack four members of the world top 10.

The top eight seeds have byes at the hardcourt tuneup event for the US Open, which starts on August 30.

Andreescu has tasted major success as well as a serious slump over the past few seasons, with the 21-year-old determined to try and defend the 2019 title she won at Toronto. The event alternates between the two major Canadian cities.

Andreescu said, "2019 feels like such a long time ago. Two years have gone by really quickly.

"I'm super-excited -- I want to win this again."

The Canadian, who is testing a coaching arrangement with Dutchman Sven Groeneweld, former mentor to Maria Sharapova among others, added:

"It feels great to play in Montreal. I started with a smile on my face and I can't get it off.

"Having fans during matches will be amazing. During the pandemic it has not been easy to get that experience.

"And playing at home makes it all so much better."

Tokyo bronze medallist Elina Svitolina, recent Wimbledon finalist Karolina Pliskova and two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza round out the top five.

The tournament will mark the return of Simona Halep after an injury pause dating to mid-May in Rome.

The 29-year-old former number one takes the sixth seeding and should be eager to get back onto the tour after three months away.

But the Romanian will be understandably cautious in her comeback effort.

"It (injury time) was the hardest time of my career because it was a pretty serious injury, something that I've never seen before," she said.

"But I took the positives with me and was glad I stayed home."

The Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion remains unsure of her outcome on court.

"With an injury like this, anything is possible. The doctors have told me that I have recovered, I feel better, but in a match it is different."