The match-up that I had my eyes on when the draw came out has become an eventuality… the number 11 seed, Angelique Kerber faces the number 20 seed, Victoria Azarenka in the third match on Ashe on Saturday. On the whole, the third round matches from the bottom half are a little underwhelming, but this one tops the bill. The first two round haven’t really told us a great deal about either players’s form with neither dropping a set so far. Azarenka has defeated Lucie Hradecka (6-1 6-2) and Yanina Wickmayer (7-5 6-4). Wickmayer served for the first set at *5-4 but Azarenka’s mental toughness prevailed in the end. Kerber has defeated Alexandra Dulgheru (6-3 6-1) and Karin Knapp (7-5 6-2) to reach the third round.
Azarenka has steadily risen up the rankings in 2014 (up 12 places since the start of the year), but perhaps not quite at the speed we expected. The Belarusian has still been plagued with a lot of niggly injuries; for example, two weeks ago in Cincy, Azarenka was forced to pull out of her third round match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova with a leg injury. I think it would have been beneficial for Vika to commit to more International events, partiuclarly earlier in the year, to try and get that winning feeling back. She lost a couple of tight three setters at the start of the year which were matches she would most likely have toughed out when she was in her peak form. It is worth noting that of her ten losses this year, five have come against Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. However, she’s yet to have that big win and that signal that states she is fully back to her best. This year we have seen just snippets of peak Vika, mainly in her matches against Serena. More and more, i’m starting to think it won’t be until 2016 we see this more often…
Kerber’s year has been a wild ride; in 2014 she lost all four finals she played in but this year, she’s won all four, triumphing in four Premier events on four different surfaces. Aside from those victories, it’s been a bit an undulating year. A first round loss in Melbourne to Irina-Camelia Begu sparked a dire run of form that saw her win two of her next seven matches on tour. The last two Slams have seen her run into a razor-sharp, Garbiñe Muguruza in the third round, losing out in two superb matches, particularly the one at Wimbledon.
So… Kerber v Azarenka. Originally when I saw the draw, I was quite confident for Azarenka’s chances (70-30 in favour of Vika). As time has gone on, i’ve swung back closer to 50-50. I was overly optimistic with my prediction of Vika to reach the final. The leg injury that forced her to pull out of Cincy is still a concern.
Azarenka leads the head-to-head with Kerber, 4-0. The only set that the Belarusian has dropped was at the WTA Championships in Istanbul back in 2012 in a truly sensational match. Their last encounter on tour was a dour affair with Azarenka comfortably winning, 6-0 6-3 in Doha with Kerber at her lowest ebb. The head-to-head is a concern for Kerber as is her recent record at the Slams too. Azarenka has a marginally better serve and is also more dynamic with her ability to close points out the net. Kerber’s chances will increase if she can turn this into a physical match as that’s one area where she will be stronger than Azarenka.
The winner of this match will play Varvara Lepchenko or Mona Barthel in the fourth round and be the favourite to make the quarter-finals. Personally, i’d love to see Kerber win this. She’s been dealt some rough luck with the draws at Slams and if she were to win this match, I think it would be huge. Kerber will have to play a super match… While Azarenka may seem vulnerable, i’m questioning whether Kerber will have the belief to take this one. While she has shown real toughness in the Premier tournaments, winning all four of her final in three tight sets, that form hasn’t translated to a Grand Slam this year. I’m sticking to my original prediction and siding, just, with Vika.
Prediction: Azarenka d. Kerber in 3 sets