One of two blockbuster clashes on Friday at the US Open, two grand slam winners will go head to head as Victoria Azarenka takes on defending champion Sloane Stephens. Azarenka had to take a wildcard into the tournament having just missed the entry cut-off but is now comfortably inside the top 100, especially after making the third round here.
Azarenka has not had it all go her way since her return but has looked very solid through two rounds in New York. She crushed 25th seed Daria Gavrilova, 6-1 6-2, never looking back after beginning the contest with two straight breaks of serve. The Belarussian has often failed to keep her level high for a whole match so that will be something to take from the win. “I was prepared to stay there as long as it needed to be. But it was good to see, like, the consistent level. There were no up-and-downs today. That’s what I’m more happy about.” she said.
While Azarenka had it easy in her second round match, it was very much not the case for Stephens. She was pushed all the way by unheralded Ukranian Anhelina Kalinina, eventually coming out on top 3-6 7-5 6-2. Things could have got nervy for her after failing to serve the second set out at *5-4 but an instant rebreak set the tone for the rest of the match, eventually closed out with a hold to 15. “Sometimes it’s not going to be the best, but you’ve just got to battle through,” she said afterwards.. “Obviously I wish I could have been playing a little bit better. That would have helped the situation. But I just found a way today.”
The American admitted added expectations did lead to a bit of nerves when taking to court and she may find it tough if that manifests in round three. Azarenka won the first three meetings at the Australian Open but the new and improved Stephens has already picked up two wins this year. Following on from Indian Wells and Miami, this would be their biggest match so far and one that could set the tone for the rest of the tournament in terms of contenders.
Prediction – Victoria Azarenka in three sets