This posts previews three stand-out matches from day 1 of the 2018 US Open. Monday will see action from the top half of the women’s draw, which includes a brutal top quarter spearheaded by the number one seed, Simona Halep. There will be two more posts to come before Monday including a day 2 preview and a Set Points post to wrap up the last week of tennis happenings. Read on for my three to see on Monday.
1. Venus Williams vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova (2nd on Arthur Ashe)
Former US Open champions, Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova, will collide in a blockbuster first round opener on Monday. Kuznetsova needed a main draw wild card to confirm her place in the draw. This was deserved, even before she went and won Washington last month. The Russian player more than doubled her match wins for 2018 in the space of a week and saved four match points to beat Donna Vekic in a frenetic final. Kuznetsova’s six match winning streak was snapped by Elina Svitolina in a three setter in Cincy.
Williams hasn’t competed since Montreal after being forced to withdraw from Cincy with a knee injury. While it’s not been the most favourable of years for Williams on the tennis court, she continues to demonstrate her battling instincts out on court. Williams recorded back-to-back wins in Montreal for just the fourth time this season.
Williams and Kuznetsova have split their ten previous meetings on tour. Williams won their most recent encounter in the fourth round of Miami last year, 6-3 7-6(4). The head-to-head generally shows that these two are very closely matched and there doesn’t seem to be a mental edge to one player.
Based on recent form and health, I’d definitely go for Kuznetsova in this clash. The Russian player found her rhythm in Washington through playing consecutive matches. Williams looked hindered with the knee in Montreal and did seem to struggle on serve. It is impossible to know how Williams will be physically. I’ve learnt over the years though to never write off Venus so I fancy an engaging battle between the pair.
2. Anastasija Sevastova vs. Donna Vekic (3rd on Court 17)
Donna Vekic will be bidding for her first win over Anastasija Sevastova when the pair meet in the first round of the US Open. Vekic has felt on a general upward trend for the last two years. Vekic reached the last 16 of a Slam for the first time in her career at Wimbledon. Not only did she knock out a top five seed in Sloane Stephens, but, arguably more impressive, she managed to back up the upset. Vekic was one point away from a title in Washington where she couldn’t quite close out Kuznetsova in the final. Still, Vekic is moving in the right direction and generally reaping the benefits from her partnership with coach, Torben Beltz.
Away from the Slams, Sevastova has had a pretty solid year. Since Wimbledon, she won her third career title in Bucharest and reached the quarter-finals in Montreal. Sevastova can be rather infuriating at times because she has such deft touch and some dazzlingly brilliant drop shots. She tends to stray tactically and gets frustrated and despondent rather quickly. It’s easy to forget that Sevastova retired from the sport in 2013 before coming back in 2015. The Latvian player has had some super moments in her comeback.
Sevastova leads Vekic, 3-0 in their head-to-head. Sevastova has dropped just 12 games combined in their last two matches including a third round win at the US Open last year. Despite the H2H, I’d still tag this with a mild upset alert. Vekic has improved significantly over the past year or so and now has the experience from her run at Wimbledon. Sevastova has been notably vulnerable at the Slams this year with just one win in Melbs. The Latvian player has reached the quarter-finals at the US Open for the past two years. Whether this drives her forward with confidence or acts as a pressure point with ranking points on the chopping board remains to be seen…
3. Victoria Azarenka vs. Viktoria Kuzmova (4th on Louis Armstrong)
Victoria Azarenka opens her US Open campaign against the talented 20-year-old, Viktoria Kuzmova. Azarenka started her summer hard court season with promise in San Jose. A back injury halted her progress in the quarter-finals against Danielle Collins. The Belarusian player lost straight setters to Johanna Konta and Caroline Garcia in Montreal and Cincy respectively. Neither were bad losses. Both were players though that you would expect Azarenka to beat in her prime. After watching some of the match against Garcia, I thought that Azarenka was playing well but ultimately needed more matches.
Kuzmova has had an excellent year with her best results on the ITF tour and three titles to her name. There have been a few flutters of a breakthrough on the WTA tour. Kuzmova reached two International level quarter-finals in Budapest and ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Kuzmova has huge groundstrokes and a big serve too, currently ranking at number four on the list of 1st serve points on the tour this year (Via WTA Insider). The Slovakian player is missing that big win to her name.
Unsurprisingly, the pair have never played each other before on the WTA tour. Earlier in the summer hard court season I thought Azarenka was a dark horse for the US Open title. This is definitely the surface for her. My expectations have simmered though and I think she still needs time. The Belarusian clearly went through some tough times with the custody battle for her child, of which we know very little of the details. While she has flamed out in a few matches with top names, i’d still watch out for Kuzmova. Ultimately going for Azarenka in three sets.