Jelena Ostapenko and Maria Sharapova may be at vastly different stages of their careers, but both have title ambitions at the US Open. Ostapenko, the 10th seed, is a rising star hoping to add to the Grand Slam title she won at Roland Garros last year. Sharapova, the 22nd seed, in contrast, is a former US Open winner and five-time Grand Slam champion, still fighting her way back from the WADA ban which saw her miss large parts of 2016 and 2017. Who will come out on top?
Given that Sharapova has been absent for a large portion of Ostapenko’s career, it is no surprise that these two have met just once. That match came earlier this year in the Italian Open quarterfinals where Sharapova managed to get over the line - just. After dropping the first set in a lengthy tiebreaker, the Russian fought back to win 6-7 6-4 7-5. That match, however, occurred on clay, Sharapova’s favoured surface in recent years.
Path to the third round
Sharapova’s two wins at this event so far have been quite similar. In the first round, she faced Swiss veteran Patty Schnyder, the oldest qualifier in Grand Slam history. Sharapova took the first set easily before being pushed in the second, eventually winning 6-2 7-6 in just under two hours. Her second match, against Romania's Sorana Cirstea, finished with almost the exact same scoreline in the exact same amount of time as she won 6-2 7-5 in an hour and 51 minutes.
Ostapenko has been stretched a little more by her two opponents and has been taken the distance by both. In the first round, she faced the experienced German Andrea Petkovic, once ranked as high as 9th in the world, who, in a match that lasted almost two-and-a-half hours, she managed to beat 6-4 4-6 7-5. Her next match lasted one minute longer as she rallied from a set down to best Taylor Townsend of the United States 4-6 6-3 6-4.
How do they match up?
Both of these players are powerful hitters and as a result the fans should be treated to some entertaining tennis. Sharapova stands 11cm taller than Ostapenko, but it is the Latvian that is the more powerful. She smashed 38 winners through the defences of Petkovic before hitting an even more impressive 52 against Townsend. But her aggression has cost her a lot of unforced errors. She made 60 against Petkovic and 47 against Townsend.
Sharapova’s serve may have a large say on the outcome of this match. She has hit 19 double faults in her two US Open matches so far, and a similar performance from the line in this match will make it difficult for her to beat a player of Ostapenko's quality. But the Russian has been less error-prone, with 28 fewer unforced errors to her name. If she can keep her game tight against Ostapenko, she will have a good chance of claiming the win.
This match should provide a very engaging watch for the fans in New York. Both players will go for their shots and a high number of winners and unforced errors seems almost certain based on how they have played so far. But Sharapova’s serve has been a cause for concern, and that should give Ostapenko a decisive advantage. This one will go to three sets, but expect Ostapenko to get it done in a tight deciding set.