#USOpen women’s fourth round preview, Sharapova vs Sevastova

Maria Sharapova continues her quest for her sixth Grand Slam title against Anastasija Sevastova in the 2017 US Open round of 16. The anticipated match is set to be played second inside Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday. The Russian was the champion in 2006, whereas the Latvian made the quarterfinal in NYC last year.

Sharapova, of course, has wins over Halep, Babos, and Kenin this week. She hasn’t played her best at the start in her past two matches, but she was able to find her tennis to finish in style. Her only straight sets win came on Friday in the third round, 7-5, 6-2 over fellow Russian-speaking opponent.

Sevastova has won seven of her last eight matches in Flushing. She is yet to drop a set in three matches so far. A 7-5, 6-1 win over Witthoeft, a 6-4, 6-4 win over Kozlova, and a 6-2, 6-3 win over Vekic put the Baltic slice machine into the second week.

Their lifetime record is 0-0, and Sunday marks their first career matchup. Sharapova struggled, especially in her second round, to create consistent power off of a low slice as she often blasted the ball into the bottom of the net. Sevastova has the game to put the former champion out of her comfort zone, but Sharapova has the groundstrokes to out-rally anyone not named Serena Williams. If the serve cooperates for the wildcard, she should routine the Latvian. However, I can see things getting a little tricky if Sharapova lets Sevastova dictate with her odd spins and touch.

Prediction: Sharapova in two


#USOpen women’s third round preview, Sharapova vs Kenin

Maria Sharapova and Sofia Kenin headline Arthur Ashe’s night session on Friday. The all-Russian born third round is a battle of experience vs fresh blood. We have seen it all so far at the 2017 US Open, one of the most unpredictable Slams in a while.

Sharapova started her week with an iconic 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win over Halep who was gunning for the world number one ranking. She followed the impressive victory with a cleanly-finished win over Babos after starting the match on the uncomfortable side. The Russian won back-to-back three setters for the first time since 2015 in Madrid.

Here’s what Maria thought about her Raonic-like sleeves:

Kenin has had a similar route to the third round in terms of tough score lines. She began her run in New York City by upsetting Davis in two tight sets. She overcame adversity and set points in that match. Next came another win over a fellow American. Vickery failed to serve out the match, and Kenin took advantage, winning 7-6(0) in the third.

As figured, Friday’s match will be the first meeting between the two. Sharapova is the overwhelming favorite, and Kenin will need her absolute best tennis to challenge the 2006 champion. The American found herself losing most of the points in her opening round when she was passive and staying feet behind the baseline. Her lack of severe weapons will cost her, and her best chance of finding rhythm is to bring Sharapova into the net. The Russian served 12 aces in her second round match and is feeling more confident on serve as matches progress. This match could be as difficult as Sharapova makes it, but I don’t see her losing a set in this one.

Prediction: Sharapova in two

#USOpen women’s second round preview, Sharapova vs Babos

Maria Sharapova stole Arthur Ashe Stadium’s heart on Monday night. She is ready to do it again on Wednesday as she faces Hungary’s Timea Babos as the third match on Ashe. The weather is set to be beautiful in the Big Apple, however if it happens to rain, the match is guaranteed for completion due to the much-appreciated roof. Not only is the tennis anticipated, but fans are foreseeing the debut of Sharapova’s designer day dress.

Sharapova won a blockbuster first round in dramatic fashion after going up 6-4, 4-1 on the world number two. She ended up needing a third set to oust Halep, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in two hours and 44 minutes. In press, Maria told the media that she isn’t winning for herself, but that she is winning for the people who stood behind her. Her win under the lights was her first Slam appearance since the 2016 Australian Open before the suspension debacle.

Babos won her round one in Flushing over Golubic, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5. It was her first Slam win of the year, a year that includes just 14 wins and 21 losses. Her best result to date was a title in Budapest, but since then, she has suffered losses to Buyukakcay, Schiavone, Rodina, and Rus.

Wednesday will mark Sharapova and Babos’ first career meeting. The second round match shouldn’t phase the Russian wildcard considering the level she played on Monday and the Hungarian’s lack of form. The Sharapova return will make for several break opportunities, but the question is if she can take them. Babos’ power off of both wings may get the former champion out of her comfort zone, but the consistent pace of ball will give Sharapova the rhythm she needs. I don’t see the Hungarian getting more than eight games in this one.

Prediction: Sharapova in two

#USOpen men’s second round preview, Zverev vs Coric

Alexander Zverev and Borna Coric are scheduled as the fifth match on Grandstand on Wednesday. Their second round match definitely will see the stars with the backed up schedule. The rain on Tuesday postponed 55 matches, resulting in 87 matches on Wednesday’s order of play. Crazy, right?

Zverev is tied with Federer for the most ATP titles in 2017. He grabbed his first title of the season in Montpellier, including a doubles win with brother Mischa as well. From there, it was all business this season if you subtract his unsuccessful Slams. So far in New York City, the German beat Barbados’ King in three tight sets on Ashe.

Coric started his US Open campaign with a comprehensive win over Vesely, a player he had lost to the last time they played this year. It was just his second win at a major in his last six appearances. In spite of reaching ‘seeded at a Slam’ territory in 2015, the Croat hasn’t had the year he had hoped for. Although he holds one title, he lacks the confidence he had in previous seasons.

Zverev and Coric have played once before, and it came in the underdog’s prime. The Croatian advanced past Zverev in the second round of Cincinatti in three sets. However, they haven’t met in two years.

Zverev is the heavy favorite in this matchup. The fourth seed has never advanced into the quarterfinals of a major but has showed his ability at the Masters events. His first and second serves are virtually nonattackable when on which won’t give Coric many opportunities to break. Coric’s best bet will be too extend the rallies and get the German misfiring as he attempts to break down the forehand. Zverev will be challenged, but his smooth, perfect groundstrokes combined with aggressive serving tactics are ultimately too much for Coric to get himself in any type of winning position. However, I see the Croat taking, at maximum, a set.

Prediction: Zverev in four

#USOpen women’s first round preview, Mladenovic vs Niculescu

Kristina Mladenovic looks to end her recent dip in form with a first round victory in New York City. It’s not an ideal round one as she plays the always-interesting Monica Niculescu. They’ll kick off Court 11 action on Tuesday with their match of contrasting styles.

Mladenovic’s season has gone downhill since her notorious win over Muguruza in Paris. She hasn’t won back-to-back matches since June and has suffered losses in her last four matches. The Frenchwoman sits at number nine on the Race to Singapore and a win on Tuesday would save her, for now, from another slip in the standings.

Niculescu has seen her success in 2017 mostly on the doubles court, ignoring the 6-0, 6-0 loss in the Wimbledon final (what a heartbreaking debut on Centre Court). Since making the final in Hobart, her singles results have been disappointing, winning only four matches since then. Not to mention, it won’t help facing the world number 14 in the opening round of a Slam.

Surprisingly enough, Niculescu leads the series against Mladenovic 2-0. Their first meeting dates back to 2013 where the Romanian won 6-0, 6-2. Their next meeting came two years later in Katowice. It resulted in a more competitive 6-4, 6-4 win for Niculescu.

The unorthodox forehand of Niculescu is nothing short of awkward and uncomfortable. Mladenovic, of course, likes rhythm in order for her to whip the forehand to all corners of the court. Against an accomplished returner, the Frenchwoman has her hands full, but the lack of weapons from the Romanian ultimately holds her back. However, considering that she made the quarterfinals in 2015, Mladenovic should dictate this match. I’m expecting a tight first set with a more routine second set in favor of the 14th seed.

Prediction: Mladenovic in two

#USOpen men’s first round preview, Nadal vs Lajovic

Rafael Nadal starts his 2017 US Open campaign against Dusan Lajovic of Serbia. The Spaniard won this event back in 2010 and 2013, whereas the Serb has yet to get out the first round. It’ll be interesting to see how Nadal dictates the match, and we’ll most likely see some bakery products.

Nadal has racked up 49 wins this year, including four title which all came on the dirt. AnĀ historic tenth French Open title was added to his resume in early June, but I’m not sure he is gleaming with pure confidence now after losses to Shapovalov and Kyrgios this month. However, that won’t be an issue against the world number 84.

Lajovic’s best result to date was surprisingly enough not at a Challenger on the red clay. Instead, he won six matches in a row to reach the fourth round in Indian Wells from the qualifying. The Serb is 14-15 on the year with his best win coming over the world number 34.

They’ve met once in their careers back in 2014. Nadal only dropped four games in three sets in the second week of the French Open.

Nadal’s normal game plan will be just enough to overwhelm his Serbian counterpart. His heavy forehand puts his opponent’s in extreme uncomfortable positions during baseline exchanges. With his serve and forehand, Nadal will utterly dominate Lajovic, who has never found success in the Big Apple. A loss of a set would be extremely concerning for the world number one.

Prediction: Nadal in three

#USOpen women’s first round preview, Kerber vs Osaka

Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka are scheduled as the second match on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday. The former world number one has her hands full against the promising teenager. With Konta already out, another top seed may crash out in round one as well.

Kerber’s season has been a disappointment compared to her stellar 2016. The German has yet to win a single title this year and has made, surprisingly, just two semifinals. While defending her title from a year ago, it’ll be a tough, tricky ask for the sixth seed, who started the year unable to beat any player in form.

Osaka, besides a mid-season slump, has had a pretty solid year on tour. She sits at number 45 in the world with just 18 wins this year. I had expected her to be in the top 20 by now, but she is well on her way (no later than 2019).

Tuesday will mark the pair’s first career encounter. The flat, risky ball of Osaka will matchup with Kerber’s counterpunching in an enticing way which will hopefully produce beautiful baseline exchanges. Although the German has struggled in 2017, her ability to keep the ball out of another’s comfort zone gives her an extreme advantage over Osaka. The Japanese talent needs to especially control her footwork, ball placement, and sporadic tendencies off the ground if she sees herself pushing past the former champion. In spite of Kerber ‘s drop in level, especially on return, this season, I see her inching past Osaka in a straightforward, yet challenging, round one.

Prediction: Kerber in two