In surely the pick of the second round action in Ohio, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams takes on eighth seed Petra Kvitova. Williams is still working her way back to the top of the game after her maternity leave, and though there have been setbacks, the signs have been largely promising. But she will receive a stern test at the hands of Kvitova, twice a Wimbledon champion, and one of the best players on Tour this year. Who will come out on top?
Williams and Kvitova have met six times so far in their careers in a head-to-head that the American has generally had the better of. She won the first five matches, beginning in 2010 in the second round at the Australian Open. It was a run that also included a 7-6 6-2 win in the Wimbledon semifinals and a 6-3 7-5 win in the quarterfinals two years later, which ended Kvitova’s title defence. But the Czech finally had her revenge in 2015 in Madrid in the semifinals, winning 6-2 6-3.
Path to the second round
Kvitova, as one of the top eight seeds, received a first-round bye and thus has not yet taken to the courts of the Lindner Family Tennis Center. She was most recently in action in Montreal, where she began with a 6-3 6-4 win over Anett Kontaveit, who had upset her at Roland Garros in May. But she had no answers for the in-form Kiki Bertens in the third round, who dispatched her 6-3 6-2 in a rematch of the Madrid final earlier in the season which Kvitova won.
Williams withdrew from Montreal after a difficult week in San Jose which saw her take the worst defeat of her career at the hands of Johanna Konta and struggle with off-court issues. But she returned in Cincinnati to take on world #23 Daria Gavrilova of Australia in the first round. Though it looked a difficult draw on paper, Williams demonstrated her quality in an imperious win. It took her barely over an hour to dismantle Gavrilova 6-1 6-2 and reach the second round.
How do they match up?
Both Williams and Pliskova come equipped with powerful games and are capable of dominating opponents from the back of the court with ease when they are at their best. Williams possesses unquestionably one of the greatest serves of all-time and it served her well against Gavrilova, as she hit 8 aces and won 90% of the points behind her first serve. But she will need to improve her first serve percentage after making just 50% against the Australian.
Kvitova’s serve is not quite the weapon that Williams possesses when stepping to the line, but it is powerful enough. In terms of raw power, there is little to separate them off the ground although Williams perhaps has a marginal edge on the backhand and Kvitova an equally small advantage on the forehand side. Where Williams may have the decisive advantage, however, is in her greater mobility with the American a better defender by some distance than Kvitova.
At this stage in her comeback it is hard to know which Williams will turn up on any given day. Though she has shown she can find her best tennis, or at least something close to it, finding it regularly remains a challenge for her. Kerber also exposed the gulf that still exists between Williams and those at the very top of the game and Kvitova has the tools to do the same. Williams comeback will continue to gather pace, but it is Kvitova who will get the win in Cincinnati.