Maria Sharapova's title charge is gathering momentum. Three matches into the 2018 US Open, the five-time Grand Slam champion hasn’t dropped a set and she will be looking to keep that run going when she faces 30th seed Carla Suarez Navarro on Monday. Suarez Navarro is in the fourth round in New York for the third year in succession, but will be eager to go one step further and equal her career-best Grand Slam performance with a quarterfinal appearance.
Sharapova has generally had the measure of Suarez Navarro in the past, winning four of their five matches. The first four all came on a hard court, with Sharapova winning three of them in straight sets and Suarez Navarro taking the other, in Montreal in 2014, in three. Their most recent meeting came on clay, however, in the final of the Italian Open, and despite losing the first set Sharapova managed to come back to win the match and the title 4-6 7-5 6-1.
Path to the third round
Sharapova is yet to drop a set, as mentioned above, though her performances in the first two rounds left much to be desired. Her first two matches followed a very similar theme as she started well before her level dipped in the second set. But she still escaped Patty Schnyder, 6-2 7-6, and Sorana Cirstea, 6-2 7-5, without dropping a set. Sharapova was much improved in the third round where she blitzed 10th seed Jelena Ostapenko 6-3 6-2.
Suarez Navarro's passage into the second week has not been quite as serene. The Spaniard has been taken the distance in her three matches. In the first round she rallied from a set down to beat Nicole Gibbs 5-7 6-3 6-4, before recording a 6-1 4-6 6-4 win over Kristina Mladenovic in the second. In the third round she faced sixth seed Caroline Garcia and in a gruelling encounter she outlasted the Frenchwoman 5-7 6-4 7-6 to return to the second week.
How do they match up?
There is a 24cm discrepancy in height between these two women, and their games reflect that difference. Sharapova boasts significantly more power and expect her to be the aggressor from the baseline for the most part in this match. Though after numerous shoulder injuries she is not the big server that most players of her height are, Sharapova has real power off the ground. She has hit 60 winners so far although she has also given up 97 unforced errors, including 46 in the first round.
She will not be able to afford that kind of profligacy against Suarez Navarro. Though the Spaniard lacks the weight of shot boasted by her opponent, she possesses considerable variety, with her excellent backhand a particularly versatile shot. She also covers the court extremely well and will give little away to Sharapova. But, she will need to avoid being too passive in this contest or Sharapova will simply hit her off the court.
The respective form of these two women heading into this match, and their history, suggests that Sharapova has the edge and she should be able to get through to the quarterfinals. She will be too strong for Suarez Navarro from the back of the court, and though the Spaniard will, as ever, compete to the final ball, Sharapova’s greater power should give her an unassailable advantage. Expect the Russian to reach the last eight in straight sets.