This post previews two first round matches at the 2016 US Open including Serena Williams v Ekaterina Makarova and Lucie Safarova v Daria Gavrilova. Just before take-off, I managed to catch a few snippets of the draw via Twitter so it gave me something to do (aside from rewatch Bake Off again!) to write a couple of previews on the plane. We finally arrived at our hotel in New York at 10pm local time last night after a longggg queue at customs. I’m not feeling so fondly of JFK airport right now. First thoughts as we stepped out of the airport… OMG the heat!
1. Serena Williams v Ekaterina Makarova (US Open, R1)
The first match-up to be revealed from the draw was the clear stand-out of the first rounders as the world number one, Serena Williams faces a tricky opening test against the world number 36, Ekaterina Makarova. In the never-ending list of dangerous floaters, it was a surprise to see Makarova’s name without a seeding next to it. The Russian player arrives in New York having reached the quarter-finals in New Haven but still obviously buoyed by the gold medal she won in doubles with Elena Vesnina at the Rio Olympics.
Makarova dropped outside of the world’s top 20 after she was forced to end her 2015 season after the US Open due to injury. 2016 has been a fair year, spearheaded by the Olympic triumph as well as last 16 showings at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and quarter-finals in Sydney, Miami and Eastbourne.
Serena will be making her first appearance since a third round loss in Rio to Elina Svitolina. It was a surprising result, seemingly affected by the shoulder injury that forced her to pull out of both Montreal and Cincy (more about that in the tweet link below). Before Rio, Serena won Slam title #22 at Wimbledon with her best all-round tournament display of the year, looking both calm and focused as she eventually edged Angelique Kerber in a terrific two setter finale.
Head-to-head record: Makarova has a Slam win over Serena, winning a last 16 encounter at the Australian Open back in 2012. Since then, the pair have played three times and Serena has won all their encounters in straight sets. Their last match was in the semi-finals of the US Open. Serena won on that occasion, 6-1 6-3.
Interesting stat: This will be just Serena’s 8th tournament of 2016. She’s been super consistent though, reaching the final at 5 out of her 7 tournaments. On the other hand, Makarova hasn’t made it past the quarter-finals at any of her 16 tournaments in 2016.
Final thoughts: Serena had a tough opener in Melbourne when she played the highest ranked player outside of the seeds in Camila Giorgi. I think this draw will actually be favourable for Serena because it will force her to raise her game from the get-go against a quality opponent. Makarova has a win under her belt against Serena so will have the danger element. I think though that Serena will rise to the challenge, prevailing in a tight two setter.
2. Lucie Safarova v Daria Gavrilova (US Open, R1)
For the first time since the 2013 US Open, Lucie Safarova heads into a Slam without a seeding. I was fearful of Lucie’s draw pre-ceremony… I’d rank it as so-so as she plays the tenacious Aussie, Daria Gavrilova in the first round. Could be better but could be worse!
Safarova has had a tough year but is fighting through it with her head held high and with an Olympic bronze medal to boot. Safarova teamed up with Barbora Strycova in Rio and came away with a medal after a challenging week in which she was forced to pull out of singles due to a stomach issue. Safarova’s recent results have been respectable; she reached the third round of the French Open and the last 16 at Wimbledon, but has won just one singles match since the latter. Back with her coach, Rob Steckley who has also spent an extended time off the tour (a rough year for Lucie and Rob!), she should be well rested for Flushing Meadows following some family time.
Gavrilova’s year has had its ups and downs but she seems to be playing some of her most convincing tennis of the year right now. After a clearly meaningful experience of playing her first ever Olympic Games, Gavrilova had an excellent week in Cincy where she advanced through qualifying and won a total of four matches, the first time she had done so at one tournament in 2016, to reach the third round.
Head-to-head record: Gavrilova opened their head-to-head with a battling win in Toronto last year, coming back from a set and a break down to win, 4-6 7-5 7-5. A vastly improved Safarova exacted revenge in New Haven just a few weeks later with a 6-3 6-4 victory.
Final thoughts: Lucie has the bigger weapons but Daria has plenty of variety and guile to make this close. I’m nervous for Lucie in this match but i’m hoping to watch this match and cheer Lucie on! 🙂