There will be a Belarusian in the second round of the US Open as Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka face off for a spot there. Azarenka is a two time losing finalist here, making the final in both 2012 and 2013 while Sabalenka’s best slam result so far came at this event last year – losing to eventual champion Naomi Osaka in a tight three setter in the fourth round.
Sabalenka’s wields undoubted power but her flaws are there for all to see and her recent loss in the San Jose final was a good showcase for her struggles when facing unorthodox playing styles. She was bamboozled by Saisai Zheng in a straight sets loss. It was her second final of the year, having won Shenzhen to begin the season to nudge her closer to the top 10.
Currently floating around the top 40, Azarenka is still having major issues in her attempts to break through as a contender at slams following her return from pregnancy. She lost twice to Donna Vekic on the US hard court swing and was outhit by Dayana Yastremska for her other loss. Defeats to Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova and Naomi Osaka in earlier big tournaments this year show she is still struggling to get over the line when it comes to playing the biggest opponents at top events. The loss to Halep in particular will have hurt, with the Romanian dominating the match from start to finish at Wimbledon.
The hope that Azarenka can return to her best will fade with each passing tournament and another early slam exit will dampen enthusiasm further. She is yet to make a slam quarter final since her return and it would be a tough ask to break that streak here. She will have to hope that Sabalenka is off her game, a distinct possibility with the consistency issues her younger countrywoman has.
Prediction – Victoria Azarenka in three sets