In a battle between one of the game’s most-established names and a fast-rising young star, world #5 Petra Kvitova takes on Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Kvitova has endured a torrid year at the Majors, winning just two matches and losing in the first round at Melbourne Park and Wimbledon. Sabalenka, meanwhile, is still waiting for her first taste of real success at the Slams, but it does not seem likely to be far away. Who will come out on top?
Kvitova and Sabalenka have met just once previously, but if that match is any indicator as to the outcome of this one, then the fans in New York will be treated to a thriller. That previous clash came in Miami earlier this year in the second round and Kvitova won it, but only just. A late break handed her the first set, but Sabalenka roared back in the second to force a decider. But there Kvitova’s experience came up trumps as she won through 7-5 3-6 6-3.
Path to the third round
Kvitova arrived in New York after reaching the semifinals in Cincinnati and the last eight in Connecticut where she retired when trailing 3-6 to Carla Suarez Navarro. But if that raised doubts about her fitness for the US Open, she did much to allay them by hammering Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer 6-4 6-1 in the first round at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. She impressed again in the second round where she beat China’s Wang Yafan in straight sets 7-5 6-3.
Sabalenka was also a Cincinnati semifinalist and she went all the way in Connecticut, beating Suarez Navarro 6-1 6-4 in the final. She looked to have carried that good form into the US Open when she began her first-round match by bagelling Danielle Collins. The American fought back, but Sabalenka managed to prevail in three, 6-0 4-6 6-4. That victory set up a clash with 2010 finalist Vera Zvonareva who Sabalenka bested 6-3 7-6.
How do they match up?
There are few on Tour who hit bigger than Kvitova and Sabalenka if any. Both are at their best when dictating from the baseline, using their powerful groundstrokes to hit through their opposition. So far, Kvitova’s opponents have not found an answer for her power. Against Wang, she hit 27 winners and four aces to add to the 28 winners and eight aces she hammered past Wickmayer in the first round. Those are formidable numbers.
But Sabalenka will have confidence in her ability to match them. She does not lack heavy artillery of her own off the ground as evidenced by the 26 winners she hit against Collins, 14 of which were delivered in the deciding set illustrating her ability to hit big even under pressure. She found an even more impressive 39 against Zvonareva. But the price paid by both women for such aggression is unforced errors and whoever is better able to keep that number low, may well advance.
This promises to be a great match to watch. Neither Kvitova nor Sabalenka have ever shown much interest in holding back and watching two big-hitters slug it out from the baseline rarely fails to entertain. There also looks to be little to separate them. But what may count decisively in Kvitova’s favour is her greater experience and her fresher legs. Sabalenka has played a lot of tennis over the past few weeks and it may well catch up to her here. Expect Kvitova to edge her out in three.