The third round of the US Open means it’s time for all-seeded battles, and that is exactly what will happen when the in-form 15th seed Elise Mertens meets 23rd seed Barbora Strycova. The 22-year-old Mertens has passed the first round of the tournament for the first time in her career, while Strycova, who has competed in every US Open since 2004 bar three, has never made it to the second week. But who will come out on top?
With Mertens still early in her professional career, this will be the first meeting between the pair. For the Belgian it is just her third US Open, having opened up her Grand Slam career at this event in 2016 and ben promptly sent packing in the first round. Strycova has been battling away on Tour since 2003, but despite making it as far as the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the Australian Open, she has enjoyed comparatively little success at the US Open.
Path to the third round
Mertens very nearly saw her US Open challenge finish in the first round for the third year in a row as world #99 Kurumi Nara took her deep into a final set. But Mertens' greater quality eventually told and she ran out a 6-2 6-7 7-5 winner. That win set up a clash with 19-year-old Vera Lapko of Belarus, who made her US Open debut in the first round and who Mertens disposed of comfortably 6-2 6-0 in exactly one hour to reach the third round.
The veteran Strycova began her tournament against the USA's Danielle Lao, who had come through the qualifying without dropping a set, in the first round. The 6-3 6-4 scoreline was perhaps flattering to Strycova, but the Czech was certainly a deserving winner, having played the better tennis in the vital moments. She then faced Spanish world #85 Lara Arruabarrena who she outclassed from start to finish, winning 6-1 6-0.
How do they match up?
Both of these players have solid all-round games, though Strycova is the more aggressive of the two. Expect her to look to dictate the tempo in longer rallies and to come forward when the opportunity presents itself. Strycova is more comfortable and effective in the forecourt than most and typically looks to use her excellent volleying to carve out an advantage. She would do well to continue that pattern as she cannot match Mertens from the baseline.
The Belgian is able to use her solid and consistent groundstrokes off both wings to grind opponents down. If she is able to turn this match into a physical battle from the baseline, the advantage will certainly be with her. She has also been serving well so far in New York which has helped her cause. She struck eight aces past Lapko in the second round and didn't serve a single double fault. If she can replicate those numbers against Strycova, she will be hard to beat.
This should be a relatively close match. Neither of these players has a significant advantage over the other on paper, and both head into the match in solid form. It would be a surprise to see either player get comfortably on top on the scoreboard, and as a result, expect to see the match go the distance. But the Belgian has that sprinkling of star quality and confidence that so often proves crucial in a tight contest. Mertens in three.