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Sabalenka vs Ostapenko tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Slumping former top-10 players meet in Zhengzhou

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 12 Sep 2019
  • Aryna Sabalenka faces Jelena Ostapenko in the second round of the Zhengzhou Open
  • Sabalenka vs Ostapenko is live from Zhengzhou on Friday, 13 September from 12:00pm local time/ 5:00am BST
Aryna Sabalenka (PA Sports)

Aryna Sabalenka begins her Zhengzhou Open campaign against Jelena Ostapenko on Friday in what will be a hard-hitting battle rife with unforced errors as two powerful ballstrikers search for confidence.

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Two former top-10 players struggling for form meet at the Zhengzhou Open on Friday as Aryna Sabalenka faces Jelena Ostapenko. With the weather wrecking havoc in Zhengzhou, whoever wins this contest is scheduled to play two matches on Friday, with the victor going on to face Petra Martic in the quarter finals.

This time last year Sabalenka was in the midst of the finest run of her young career, having strung together a series of impressive results on American hard courts after making the final of Eastbourne: Semifinals in Cincinnati, her first WTA Tour title at the Premier-level New Haven event and a fourth-round finish at the US Open where she was the only player the whole tournament to take a set from eventual champion Naomi Osaka.

Sabalenka shows her frustration as she goes out of the US Open singles (PA Sports)
There were still better things to come: Sabalenka’s biggest title so far at the Premier-5 level Wuhan Open, a triumph which saw her end the year at world no. 13.

Sabalenka comes into Zhengzhou, the new Premier-level event which has replaced New Haven – so in a sense she’s the defending champion here – at world no. 13 again, but this time her ranking is trending definitely downwards after having broken into the top 10 earlier this season. Although 2019 started well for the Belarusian with a title in Shenzhen, it’s been something of a struggle ever since. After Shenzhen and St Petersburg in January and early February, she didn’t make another semifinal until Strasbourg, an International event on clay the week before the French Open. She made the final in San Jose, finishing runner-up to Zheng Saisai, but failed to defend most of her points in Cincinnati and at the US Open, where she lost in the second round to Yulia Putintseva – and where it was announced that she and coach Dimitry Tursunov, who had overseen her rise to the top last year, would be ‘taking a break’. (A murky situation not best clarified by a late-night, emotional Instagram post from Sabalenka.)

There is a bright spot for Sabalenka, though, and it’s doubles, in which discipline she has achieved some great results this year, teaming up with Elise Mertens to complete the ‘Sunshine Double’ in the spring and just recently win the US Open, becoming the second doubles pairing to qualify for the season-ending championships as a result. Currently at 22nd in the Porsche Road to Shenzhen rankings, Sabalenka looks unlikely to make the singles field at the season-ending championship, to say the least – and her ranking will take a big hit if she can’t make a decent attempt at defending her Wuhan Open title in a couple of weeks.

Sabalenka badly needs singles wins, in other words, at the tournament where she’s the fourth seed.

But then, so does Jelena Ostapenko. The Latvian knows all about meteoric surges upwards followed by a rankings decline that turns into a plummet as the former world no. 5 comes into Zhengzhou ranked world no. 75. 

Jelena Ostapenko (PA Sports)
Ostapenko blasted her way to an improbable but thrilling French Open victory in 2017 and kept her head above water, just about, in a 2018 season the highlights of which included a runner-up finish at the Miami Open and a semifinal run at Wimbledon. But 2019 has been something of a disaster so far for the 22-year-old who prefers to be known as ‘Alona’.

The Latvian comes into Zhengzhou with a 15-22 win-loss record on the season and only won back-to-back matches once in the first five months of the year. She went out in the first rounds of the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon (although she was unlucky to draw Maria Sakkari, Victoria Azarenka and Su-Wei Hsieh respectively). Things have been looking up a little since the French Open, with Ostapenko winning back-to-back matches in Birmingham, Eastbourne, Toronto and at the US Open where she beat Alekasandra Krunic and the in-form Alison Riske to reach the third round. But losing 3-6, 5-7 to the world no. 141 Kristie Ahn in that third round tells you exactly where Ostapenko’s game and confidence is right now – as does the fact that she struggled hard to get an opening win in Zhengzhou, having to battle for three sets and come back from a bagel to beat the world no. 246-ranked qualifier You Xiaodi 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.

A look at the statistics for that match will certainly identify the problem area for Ostapenko, even if they defy comprehension for those (like me) who did not watch the match. In the first set, she serves at 71%, double faulting once, and wins 75% of points behind her first serve. In the second, she serves at 71% and somehow wins just three of 12 points behind her first serve. In the decider, she serves at 46%, wins 54% of points behind her first serve and serves four double faults (not much in comparison to the seven double faults she served in one game against Ahn, but still less than ideal).  

Ostapenko’s erratic, vulnerable serve does leave her at a big disadvantage against, well, pretty much anyone and offers hope for Sabalenka to get off to a winning start in Zhengzhou. The two have never met, but Sabalenka is a huge returner and should be able to get her teeth into most if not all of Ostapenko’s service games. If she can just serve a little better herself – and isn’t too worn out from the US Open doubles win – then she should be able to oust the Latvian and make the quarterfinals in Zhengzhou, where Petra Martic will await.

Sabalenka vs Ostapenko Zhengzhou Open tennis is live from Zhengzhou on Thursday at 12:00pm local/ 5:00am BST

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Sabalenka vs Ostapenko tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Slumping former top-10 players meet in Zhengzhou

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