1. Kristina Mladenovic v Victoria Azarenka (Wimbledon, R3)
Another enticing match-up on the women’s side on Friday will see the number 23 seed, Victoria Azarenka go up against Kristina Mladenovic. The Frenchwoman has been in excellent form during the grass court season; she reached the quarter-finals of ‘s-Hertogenbosch and the semi-finals of Birmingham with four top 50 wins in the latter including a third set tiebreak victory over Simona Halep. Mladenovic has begun her Wimbledon campaign with two straight set victories against Alexandra Dulgheru and Jelena Ostapenko. The match against last year’s juniors champion and conqueror of Carla Suarez Navarro in the first round looked to be a potential banana skin but Mladenovic held her nerve to come through, 6-4 7-5. Mladenovic was a break down in both sets and even had to fend off three set points in the second set. I don’t think Kiki was too impressed by the handshake after what she posted on Twitter!
Azarenka’s grass court preparation didn’t exactly go to plan as she was forced to pull out of Birmingham after one match with a foot injury. It wasn’t confirmed but there were some suggestions that it could have been the same injury that derailed her 2014 season. There’s been no sign of any problems though in her first two matches with Azarenka storming through her opening two rounds, losing no more than three games in the four sets she has played against Anett Kontaveit and Kirsten Flipkens. Often forgotten, Azarenka is a two-time Wimbledon semi-finalist and has grass court pedigree.
Azarenka and Mladenovic will be playing each other for the first time. I’m really on the fence with this one. I’m all in for Kiki at the moment and I think she has a real shot at winning this match. She’s played a lot of matches, many more than Vika on grass, and she has weapons that can hurt the Belarusian, notably the serve. The one worry for Mladenovic is that she does seem to lose concentration and her tactics can waver. It’s something that is improving but she will need to be on her A-game from start to finish against Vika. When I originally wrote this on Wednesday night I had Mladenovic as my winner. I’ve wavered because I think it will require an incredible performance from Mladenovic. I have a nagging doubt that she won’t be able to maintain her form for long enough to take out Vika.
Prediction: Azarenka d. Mladenovic in 3 sets
2. Sloane Stephens v Lucie Safarova (Wimbledon, R3)
Ohhhhhh i’m sad this didn’t make No.1 Court where I am tomorrow. This is a superb match for the third round and the one thing that keeps ringing in my head is how Sloane Stephens is not a seed? Stephens has had a superb couple of months but it’s not been enough to counteract what was a miserable second half to 2014 where she is defending barely any points (Cincy R3 points best result) for the rest of the year. The American player has been winning matches you would expect her to win and pushing top ten players all the way. Stephens took out the number 27 seed, Barbora Strycova in the first round and backed it up with a straight sets win over Lauren Davis, 6-4 6-4. All of Sloane’s previous matches against Davis had gone the distance and she was 1-2 in the head-to-head. This was a good indicator of Sloane’s recent improvements.
Safarova was on the brink of an early exit in the first round but she showed some grit to hang on, with a bit help from her opponent, defeating Alison Riske in three sets, 3-6 7-5 6-3. After that early scare Safarova breezed through her second round match, not facing any break points and securing a 6-2 6-3 victory over Su-Wei Hsieh. It was a pretty boring match but oh myyy, i’ll take boring for Lucie particularly with the prospect of this third round match.
Sloane v Lucie should be a really engaging match. In their only previous encounter, Safarova defeated Stephens in Dubai last year, 6-3 7-5. I think the winner of this match comes through in straight sets and also will make at least the quarters. Honestly, it’s very difficult to make a pick in this one. After watching Lucie win her match on Wednesday and with her being so close to an early exit, I think she will be more relaxed. Sloane looks so comfortable on the grass though. My head is a mess with this one…
Predicton: Safarova d. Stephens in 2 tight sets