Simona Halep is a key player in the fight for the WTA's top ranking. She has been one of the most consistently strong players over the last 52 weeks. This upcoming week she will be a part of the 2017 Citi Open (WTA Washington), an event for which the draw was released on Friday. Halep has picked up a challenging early-round draw in the event, despite the fact that she is the tournament's top seed.

Stephens finally ready?

Halep will open the tournament against Sloane Stephens, one of America's most talented players. At present Stephens, who is 24 years old, has a very peripheral ranking of 926th on tour.

She has missed virtually all of the last year of play with the exception of Montreal 2016, the 2016 Olympics, and Wimbledon 2017. In those three events she did not tally a single win. In fact, one has to go back to Wimbledon's second round in 2016 to find a match-win for Stephens. However, the American is only low ranked due to having missed time from foot surgery. If she is, in fact, healthy and ready to compete, then the former Australian Open semifinalist is dangerous on the hard-court surface. Halep, however, is likely to survive the first round. Stephens, despite her talent, should be out of sorts when it comes to being match ready as it generally takes a little while for a player to rediscover her best tennis after a lengthy layoff.

Shelby Rogers a possible 2nd-round opponent

In the second round Halep would most likely face Shelby Rogers. Rogers is lacking a semifinalist appearance in any event this season. However, she did defeat Halep at the 2017 Australian Open, knocking the fourth seed out in the first round. Rogers also has a win over Caroline Wozniacki this season, one of the players that is in the running for the year-end event in Singapore.

Playing Americans in back-to-back rounds could be tough for Halep, noting that she lost to home-favorite Johanna Konta in the quarterfinals of Britain's Wimbledon earlier this month. Had Halep won that match, she would be the World No. 1 player right now.

Rogers appears to be the player that is the biggest threat to Halep in the early rounds.

When it comes to the quarterfinals, the Romanian also shares a draw to the semis with both Monica Puig and Ekaterina Makarova. Puig has done little since winning the gold medal last summer in Rio. Makarova is similar to Puig in the sense that she seemed much more dangerous at earlier points in her career. The other high seed in the tournament is Kristina Mladenovic of France. She is opposite the draw to Halep and the two players could meet in the final next weekend.

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