2021 US Open Previews

Day 7 – Sunday

(8) Barbora Krejcikova vs. (9) Garbiñe Muguruza: Oof. What a match. Muguruza has had a challenging draw up till now and going forward too. Looking positively, it’s probably helped Muguruza to play her way into form. The Spaniard looked superb against Azarenka, overcoming a second set loss of rhythm on serve to win in three sets. In contrast to Muguruza, Krejcikova has danced into the last 16. She’s yet to drop a set and has had a favourable draw as she is yet to play a top 100 player.

The pair are tied at 1-1 this year. Muguruza won the Dubai final, 7-6(6) 6-3 and Krejcikova won recently in Cincy, 6-1 6-7(5) 6-2. When I filled out my draw and had this match-up, I was 60-40 in favour of Barbora and it was a reasonably confident pick. Naturally, i’m now 50-50. I think it’s because Muguruza is battle tested and clearly playing at a high level. Krejcikova isn’t battle tested but not sure how important that is because she has been an absolute winning machine.

I’m torn because I like Muguruza, I pick her for everything (😂), and I’m getting vibes for a deep run. Krejcikova though has become so reliable, so mentally tough and dominated their match in Cincy and should have won in straights. Yep torn.

(5) Elina Svitolina vs. (12) Simona Halep: I gasped when I realised Svitolina and Halep were playing each other in the fourth round. This is the earliest they’ve ever met in a tournament with all their previous meetings take place at the quarters, semis, final or round robin stage at the WTA Finals.

Svitolina is riding an eight match winning streak after winning Chicago and has gone very much under-the-radar so far at the US Open. Halep has felt much more prominent because it was a bit of a surprise that she won her first round match! Halep has impressed in beating two big hitters in Giorgi and Rybakina. Svitolina will be a completely different type of opposition.

The pair have split their ten meetings with Svitolina winning their most recent meeting at the 2019 WTA finals. This is another coin toss, 50-50, a very close call. I’ll go on instinct which for me is Svitolina who I’ve always felt has had the slight edge in this head-to-head.

(2) Aryna Sabalenka vs. (15) Elise Mertens: A clash between doubles partners. Mertens beat Jabeur in the third round which was her best win since Madrid. That come-from-behind-with-six-match-points saved win over Peterson feels like a huge deal. Sabalenka eased past Collins in the third round which was a great win against an in-form opponent.

Sabalenka leads Mertens, 5-2, in their head-to-head and has won their last four meetings. Hard to look past Sabalenka winning here as her power has dominated Mertens in their recent meetings. Sabalenka has looked superb in her last two matches and if she plays to a decent level, I can’t see Mertens being able to make any inroads.

(16) Angelique Kerber vs. Leylah Fernandez: Hands up and apologies to Leylah for being dismissive in my thoughts on the last round! I’ve always liked Fernandez but she fell off my radar to be honest after the title run in Monterrey. Fernandez’s win over Osaka very much put her back on the radar.

Kerber’s had quite the eventful week with a third set tiebreak win over Yastremska, a delayed second round match that saw her have to sleep at Flushing Meadows due to the storm and then a come-from-behind and first victory over Sloane Stephens since 2012. Unsurprisingly the pair haven’t played before. Also unsurprisingly, I’m going for Kerber. I’m feeling the vibe with Angie at this tournament. I think she’s playing some of her best tennis in a very long time.

Day 6 – Saturday

Sara Sorribes Tormo vs. Emma Raducanu: Low key match of the day. I’m fascinated to see how it plays out! SST has developed into one of the toughest competitors on the WTA tour this year. Raducanu has already proven that Wimbledon wasn’t a flash in a pan and she’s got something special. The Brit has been in superb form and has yet to drop a set in five matches after coming through qualifying. My overwhelming feeling for this match is… write off SST at your own peril. Raducanu could certainly win this but I guess it could be a match (thinking of the British media 😂) where SST is underestimated. Gosh I’m so on the fence with this one! If it becomes a battle and goes three set then I would favour SST.

(7) Iga Swiatek vs. (28) Anett Kontaveit: This will be a rematch of the French Open third round from earlier this year. Kontaveit played a pretty impeccable first set and Swiatek still won it, then easing through the second set to win 7-6(4) 6-0. Kontaveit has been playing the much more convincing tennis and is riding a seven match winning streak after winning Cleveland. Swiatek struggled in her last match and could barely hit forehands for a time. I think coming back to beat Ferro was a big deal. Swiatek compared that match in press to the Krejcikova one in Rome. You know what happened after that. Kontaveit has had some horrible draws of late and she’s due a deeep run at the Slams. I am fond of both players to be honest. It’s a heart says Anett, head says Iga situation and head is probably ruling. I tend to think Iga is going to bring a much higher level to this match than her previous round.

(11) Belinda Bencic vs. (23) Jessica Pegula: Of all the third round matches when filling out my draw, this is the one that I deliberated over and over again. Bencic beat Pegula last month at the Olympics in a brutal opener, 6-3 6-3. Just can’t call this and it’s a 50-50 match IMO. I went for Bencic in my draw which was mainly based on the win in Tokyo. I’ll stick with BB.

(10) Petra Kvitova vs. (17) Maria Sakkari: The last time that Kvitova and Sakkari played each other was in Stuttgart where Kvitova edged through in three sets in one of the better matches of the year. Their last three matches have all gone the distance. This is another 50-50 match. I don’t have anything further to add. Can’t call it!

(1) Ash Barty vs. Shelby Rogers: Reprising one of the most familiar match-ups of the season, Barty and Rogers will play each other for the fifth time in 2021. Barty has won all those matches although Rogers did win sets at the Yarra Valley Classic and in Charleston. Since the latter, Rogers has won back-to-back matches just twice and that’s been at the last two Slams so this has been a nice run. Barty has looked vulnerable in second sets but I don’t think it’s too much of a concern. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rogers push Barty, perhaps win a set. I would be surprised if Rogers won.

(4) Karolina Pliskova vs. Ajla Tomljanovic: Like London buses… Tomljanovic went 22 Slams without getting past the second round and now she’s made it two for two! This one will come down to whether Tomljanovic believes IMO. Pliskova owns the head-to-head and must be feeling confident after saving a match point in a second round thriller against Amanda Anisimova. Pliskova for the win.

(14) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Varvara Gracheva: The winner of this match will be carrying the flag for Russia solo in the last 16 of the US Open. Gracheva beat Badosa in the last round to reach the third round of the US Open for the second straight year. Also hadn’t realised Gracheva beat Badosa at last year’s US Open too! Gracheva is on a decent run having made the semis of Chicago last week. I’m going with the experience of Pavs.

(6) Bianca Andreescu vs. Greet Minnen: Intrigued to see how Andreescu handles a rare day session match. Nice to see Minnen break new ground and reach the third round having successfully qualified for the last three Slams and having been a point away from a big win over Kvitova at Rolly G. Andreescu seems to be rounding into some form and if she’s not overly bothered by any ailments, I think she wins this.

Day 5 – Friday

(9) Garbiñe Muguruza vs. (18) Victoria Azarenka: Boom. One of those match-ups that you spy in the draw and silently hope will become a reality. And it has 😀😀😀. Muguruza began under-the-radar but I think she might now be on a few radars with two impressive straight set displays to beat Donna Vekic and Andrea Petkovic. The Vekic match felt like a potential upset alert and Muguruza’s reaction at the end said it all. Azarenka hasn’t dropped a set either and was pushed hard by an inspired Paolini in the second set of their second round match. I think Azarenka has been playing better than most make out. She scored solid wins in both Montreal and Cincy before coming up against top two players in the world.

The pair have split their four previous meetings. The last two were in Rome with Muguruza winning their only ever three setter last year, 3-6 6-3 6-4. Their first meeting is one I remember well, a 7-6(6) 7-6(4) win for Azarenka on the hard courts of Miami. A match of sensational quality that featured in my countdown of best matches for 2016.

So who’s going to win… don’t look at me?! The interesting dynamic with this match is their records at the US. Azarenka has reached three finals in New York including last year. Muguruza, however, has always struggled to find her best form in New York. Reaching the third round is her best result here since 2017. It goes without saying really… but i’m going to say it. This is a close call and a 50-50 match-up. I’m going with Muguruza.

(16) Angelique Kerber vs. Sloane Stephens: The matches on Friday 😍😍😍. I’m kind of gutted these two have to meet now because I feel they are both in superb form and could actually go all the way. Stephens has defeated Keys and Gauff, while Kerber survived a rollercoaster opener against Yastremska before cruising past Kalinina. 

The head-to-head is telling. Stephens has won five of their six clashes and their last three in straights. And those last three matches have all been VERY one-sided. You can’t ignore that head-to-head. I guess positives for Angie is she faced a similar conundrum against Svitolina and finally snapped a seven match losing streak in Cincy. That was a big deal. I don’t know why, I am feeling a vibe about Angie at this tournament. She was so aggressive in closing out Kalinina. My instinct is Kerber but it’s hard to shake off that H2H. Could be a cracker.

(2) Aryna Sabalenka vs. (26) Danielle Collins: This *could* be a peakkkkk match. I also think it could be a dud. I’m wary to hype this one up too much. There are some question marks around Sabalenka who injured her hand/wrist in a fall in her second round match although it didn’t affect her tennis. Collins has been supremely solid, yet to drop a set and continuing her excellent recent form.

Sabalenka won their two previous meetings including a 6-1 6-0 thumping in Wuhan in 2019. That really surprises me and I can’t remember whether there was more to that scoreline. I’d definitely tag this one with a mild upset alert. I’ve always liked Collins and bought into her character as the giant-killer. Sabalenka’s second round display kind of won me over though and I think her power may be the difference.

(12) Simona Halep vs. (19) Elena Rybakina: This will be a reprisal of one of the best matches of 2020. Halep beat Rybakina in the final of Dubai, 3-6 6-3 7-6(5). I expected Halep to fall in the first round so this run has taken me by surprise. Rybakina has dropped just ten games so far in dominant wins over Sasnovich and Garcia. I have my doubts over Rybakina to be honest. She’s looking awesome right now on these fast courts. It’s when she is challenged that things have gone awry of late. Halep has been serving well and will obviously get lots of returns and balls back in play. I’m surprised to say I quite like Halep in this one as Rybakina seems the more obvious pick.

(15) Elise Mertens vs. (20) Ons Jabeur: Ding ding ding, it’s a first time meeting! I’m wondering whether Mertens’s come-from-behind-saving-six-match-points opening round win over Rebecca Peterson may be a turning point after a disappointing run of tournaments over the past few months. This is an interesting one as Jabeur has the weapons and trickery and craft, but if it’s one of those days where things don’t work then Mertens will sweep up. Sticking, but feeling slightly wary, with my initial instinct of Jabeur. 

(5) Elina Svitolina vs. (25) Daria Kasatkina: The pair haven’t played for so long that I forgot Svitolina owns the head-to-head. Svitolina is a perfect five for five. I’ve gone against Dasha every match so far so perhaps i’ll keep that trend going?! I haven’t seen any of their matches this week so i’m in the dark. It’s hard to look past that head-to-head.

(3) Naomi Osaka vs. Leylah Fernandez: Really pleased to see Fernandez have a good run having not done much of note since winning Monterrey. I don’t think getting a walkover in the second round will have favoured Osaka who I tend to think needs matches right now. Excited to see what Fernandez can do on the big stage. Not feeling any upset alerts to be honest.

(8) Barbora Krejcikova vs. Kamilla Rakhimova: From this bottom half, Rakhimova is the only player who had never previously reached this stage of a Slam. It’s been quite a run as a lucky loser with wins over established players in Mladenovic and Alexandrova. Krejcikova has cruised through the draw and continues to impress. This is her first ever US Open main draw appearance! Can’t look past the in-form Krejcikova right now.

Day 3 – Wednesday

(21) Coco Gauff vs. Sloane Stephens: By quite some margin, the match of the day. This is an exciting prospect because the pair have never played each other before so there are no data points to go on. We really don’t know how their games will stack up  Both came through testing openers – Gauff came from a set and a break down to beat Magda Linette, 5-7 6-3 6-4, while Stephens edged out Keys in a third set tiebreak, 6-3 1-6 7-6(7). 

I’d say I am buying stocks in both Coco and Sloane right now. Coco was my outside tip for the title but I got put off by the draw. Sloane has been steadily improving for months which I feel has gone somewhat under-the-radar. I think i’d probably go for Coco but the only reason I can really draw on is that I feel her application is a bit more consistent. Sloane has been steadier this year but has still thrown in some shockers from time-to-time.

(25) Daria Kasatkina vs. Marketa Vondrousova: This is one of the very few matches on Wednesday where it’s hard to pick a favourite. Kasatkina danced past Pironkova in the first round – I had weird vibes about this one but they were misguided! Vondrousova saw off the in-form, Ruse in straights. Vondrousova leads the H2H, 2-1 although the pair haven’t played since 2019. I think it’s a case of head says Vondrousova, heart says Kasatkina. Kasatkina is generally on an upward trend and I think Vondrousova too who seems to be playing with more freedom after the RG final points came off.  

Day 2 – Tuesday

(6) Bianca Andreescu vs. Viktorija Golubic: I guess this is kind of an unofficial title defence for Andreescu having not competed in 2019. It’s tough to figure out Andreescu and where she’s at. I wouldn’t be surprised at either a first round exit here or a deep run. I was kind of convinced by Andreescu’s pre-tournament press conference where she seemed in a good head space and talked about the new partnership with Sven Groeneveld. This isn’t an easy opener against Wimbledon quarter-finalist and Tokyo doubles semi-finalist, Golubic. The Swiss player has lost three of her last four matches but has generally had a fantastic year. I’m going to side with Andreescu and a return to Flushing and a night crowd bringing out the best in her.

(22) Karolina Muchova vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo: There’s always one… this is the one. I can’t decide on this and it’s mainly due to Muchova’s injury. She pulled out of Cincy with an abdominal injury (the same one as Oz?) so I’m surprised that she’s even lining up for NYC. I’d normally take Muchova in this match-up and on what seems like fast hard courts as I think she has weapons to take the game away from SST. But if she’s not 100% and in toasty conditions, I think SST will be more than a handful. I’m just not convinced about Muchova’s health so i’m going for SST.

(17) Maria Sakkari vs. Marta Kostyuk: Kostyuk has beaten a seed in the last two Slams so beware Maria. Kostyuk played her first tournament since Wimbledon in Chicago where she reached the quarters and beat Kaia Kanepi which is always a feat. Sakkari hasn’t done much of note since that crushing semi-final loss at Roland Garros from match point up against Krejcikova. I can’t quite gauge where Sakkari’s at right now. I think this is a low-key tricky draw. I’d fancy Sakkari to get through this one but I’ll be pleasantly surprised if she is able to match last year’s performance of reaching the second week.

Amanda Anisimova vs. Zarina Diyas: It’s been sad to watch Anisimova this year who has taken a pretty heavy drop in the rankings after the French Open semi-final points came off. I’ve hyped up AA a lot in the past and she was my finalist pick here last year (eek). I haven’t given up hope yet but it’s been a tough year with some injuries and a lot of tight losses with four of her last five defeats coming from a set up. I feel Anisimova has been ultra-aggressive and almost reckless at times. I’d like to see her try and play with a little more margin and clarity. Diyas is a tricky match and she shouldn’t underestimate the Kazakh player who won their only previous meeting at the 2020 Australian Open in three sets. I’m going for Anisimova in three.

Day 1 – Monday

(12) Simona Halep vs. Camila Giorgi: What is it with Halep and first round draws at the US Open?! Maria Sharapova in 2017, Kaia Kanepi in 2018 and now the Montreal champ, Camila Giorgi in 2021. Halep has played so little tennis of late because of the calf injury that ruled her out of the French Open and Wimbledon. Now it’s an adductor tear that is of concern which forced Halep out of Cincy. I’m going to take the risk (it always feels like a risk!) and go for Giorgi. I was really taken with her form in Montreal and the fact it didn’t come out of the blue as she played well in Eastbourne and Tokyo too. I’ve always felt like Halep is a player who needs matches and court time, and Giorgi out of the blocks is a brutal draw.

Madison Keys vs. Sloane Stephens: A rematch of the 2017 US Open final in the first round. Oof. I was keeping an eye on both players with the draw so this is rough. Whoever wins has a brutal draw going forward. It’s the first time since the 2015 Australian Open that Keys is unseeded at a Slam! Keys did win their last meeting in Rome earlier this year but Stephens leads the H2H, 4-2 and i’ve always felt Sloane has the edge in this match-up with her ability to neutralise Keys’s pace. I think that Sloane has been on a steady upward trajectory over the last few months so Sloane would be my pick in this one.

(21) Coco Gauff vs. Magda Linette: I think this is perhaps a deceptively tricky match for Gauff. Linette is a very solid player and took out Svitolina at Wimbledon. Linette has been in good form with a semi-final showing in Cleveland that included a 2 and 1 thrashing of the number one seed, Kasatkina. I was high on Gauff for this tournament (before I saw the draw!) so while I am wary of the threat Linette poses, I tend to think Gauff will prevail.

(5) Elina Svitolina vs. Rebecca Marino: A bit gutted with this draw for Marino who definitely got one of the toughest placements. There were some plum draws in there! It’s not out of the question that Marino can make a good match of this but tend to think Svitolina will be too consistent in the end.

(9) Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Donna Vekic: This is a tough opener for Muguruza who has had two challenging matches with Vekic previously. Vekic hasn’t really hit her stride since spending a spell on the sidelines for a knee injury but she’s a dangerous player on her day with giant-killing potential. I was encouraged by Muguruza’s level in the second set of a third round loss to Krejcikova in Cincy. I’ll stick with Garbi.

(3) Naomi Osaka vs. Marie Bouzkova: I was really high on Bouzkova at the start of the season. It’s not really been Marie’s year. Since retiring with a hand injury against Kvitova in Madrid, Bouzkova has won just three of 11 matches. I love Bouzkova’s spirit so I do think Osaka will have to work hard to keep Bouzkova at bay. Osaka beat Bouzkova, 6-2 6-4 at the 2020 Australian Open. If I remember correctly, Bouzkova had a break in that second set. I think it will be a similar kind of match.

(26) Danielle Collins vs. Carla Suárez Navarro: Sob this could be Suárez Navarro’s last match. It’s another tough draw against the in-form, Danielle Collins. Carla has played a surprisingly high level in each of her matches and bagged a win over Jabeur in Tokyo which was a fantastic result. Excited to see what Carla can do here. Collins has to be the favourite on recent form.

(25) Daria Kasatkina vs. Tsvetana Pironkova: This match-up is giving me anxiety for Dasha 😂. This was Pironkova’s comeback tournament last year where she went on a glorious run to the quarters, beating Muguruza, Vekic and Cornet. Pironkova hasn’t played any matches since Wimbledon but damn I could see her winning this one. I’m getting the vibes.

(20) Ons Jabeur vs. Alizé Cornet: This should be a fun one. Cornet has had a good run in Chicago where she reached her first final in over two years so should come into this clash fresh with confidence. I’m still going to stick with Jabeur who has had a brilliant season and definitely on my list of ones to watch at this tournament.

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