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Friday, August 26, 2011

Pre-US Open: Early Round Collisions

It's that time of year again. The fourth and final grand slam is upon us and quality tennis looks to be as imminent as Hurricane Irene. The top half of the draw hosts a variety of the WTA's best in what could be the most hectic and vicious fight for a championship birth all season. Should the draw fall accordingly, these are some of the matches to watch in the first three rounds.

Round 1:
Serena v Jovanovski
There's a lot of chatter about Serena Williams this year and she earned a clean sweep of's editors picks for the title. She will be tested, however, right from the gates as she takes on Serbia's rising star, Jovanovski. The young gun is armed with heavy ground strokes that may push Serena back, but regardless of her fight, Serena will almost definitely advance. A lack of focus from the 13-time grand slam champion, however, could make this match a dogfight.
Prediction: Serena in straights.

Kuznetsova v Errani
Not a match to watch for quality, but one that could see our first seed sent home. Errani is no dumby on court and with Kuznetsova's unpredictable game, all bets are off. I imagine the Russian will be steady enough to advance, but she might fall behind at some point in the match.
Prediciton: Kuznetsova in 3.

Jankovic v Riske 
We watched Riske slowly pick apart Zvonareva in Wimbledon, so a first round match against Jankovic has to be on your radar for a possible early exit. The rookie failed to convert, though, and might have missed her chance to knock out a seed. Jankovic is coming in to the US Open with the confidence of her best result in a long time, so expect her to be on her game.
Prediction: Jankovic in straights.

Round 2:
Lisicki v Venus
Things really heat up as Venus Williams takes to the court against the returned and much improved Sabine Lisicki. After Venus's struggles to shutdown Date-Krumm during Wimbledon and her fight with injury and illness afterward, no one really knows how she will do in New York. Lisicki, however, has no where to go but up, having reached her first slam semifinal and competing at a high level since. Should be a good match between the two biggest servers in women's tennis.
Prediction: Lisicki in 3.

Petkovic v Zheng
Remember our article on German tennis? Well things could get tricky for the German front-runner, Andrea Petkovic. She has to deal with Zheng Jie, a feisty Chinese player who has made the semis in both Wimbledon and the Australian Open. This match should go 3, but the victor is a tricky pick. Petkovic is good, but not consistent. Zheng is talented, but not overly powerful. Flip a coin.
Prediction: Petkovic in 3.

Wozniacki v Vesnina
Wozniacki has been playing awful lately and could lose to just about anyone who knows how to keep the ball in the court. Vesnina could easily do that and send the world no.1 packing in the second round. It won't be the match of the ages by any means, but you won't want to miss an early exit by the first seed if it's going to happen.
Prediction: Reluctantly, Wozniacki in 3.

Round 3:
Wozniacki v Gajdosova 
Like we said, Wozniacki's fate is up in the air. Gajdosova hits the ball hard and, like we saw with Cibulkova in Wimbledon, Wozniacki isn't always capable of keeping hard-hitters at bay. Gajdosova isn't the kind of player you usually see with a low number of unforced errors, though, so she'll really need to be on her game to out-wit Wozniacki. If she's smart, she'll play to the Dane's forehand.
Prediction: Reluctantly, Wozniacki in 3.

Li v Kanepi
Li suffered a surprising loss to Cetkovska in New Haven and hasn't been on point since winning the French Open. Some people are saying Kanepi is a dark horse for the title in NY and, although I won't jump on that bandwagon, I could see her knocking out China's no.1. Watch out for what will surely be a slug-fest. My prediction will likely be incorrect, but no one can really say much against it.
Prediction: Kanepi in straights.

Serena v Azarenka
Here it is, folks, the blockbuster match of the year. Many believe the winner of this match could win the championship and, to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised. Victoria Azarenka is the no.4 seed and one of the best players on tour in every category. Serena Williams is Serena Williams, enough said. Despite a one-sided victory for Serena in Toronto, this third round match has the makings of a grand slam classic. All you need to do is watch highlights from Miami 2009 championship and the 2010 AO quarterfinals to understand how brutal the face-off could be.
Prediction: Serena in 3. But I won't be surprised if Azarenka takes the bull by the horns.

Jankovic v Pavlyuchenkova
Out of the top 10 for the first time in years, Jankovic has to face some challenging players a little earlier at this year's US Open. A real under-the-radar match is Jankovic v. Pavlyuchenkova—a collision that should host huge hitting from the Russian and magnificent defense from the Serb. If JJ really is making a comeback, she should have no problem redirecting Anastasia's power, but if not, she will definitely crumble.
Prediction: Jankovic in straights.

Kvitova v Safarova
A battle of the lefties, Kvitova has a lot to live up to now that she's a grand slam champion. She hasn't done much to impress her supporters lately and she could very well be in trouble with Safarova's huge serve. If you picked Kvitova for a deep run in NYC, I'm going to have to say otherwise.
Prediction: Safarova in 3.

* * *

Welcome to New York City, tennis fans—where dreams are born and anything can happen.

Stay tuned for a full draw analysis this weekend.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor


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