An all-Belarusian battle pits fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka against two-time finalist Victoria Azarenka at the US Open for the second…
An all-Belarusian battle pits fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka against two-time finalist Victoria Azarenka at the US Open for the second year in a row.
Aryna Sabalenka vs Victoria Azarenka | US Open women's singles R2 | 1/9/2020Azarenka 2-1 18/5 Bet Now! New Customers only. 18+. T&C’s Apply. begambleaware.org.
Sabalenka vs Azarenka is live from New York on Thursday 3 September, time TBC
Azarenka, twice a runner-up at the US Open, turned back the clock to her glory days when she won the Western & Southern Open title last week to enter the Grand Slam in red-hot form, while Sabalenka, despite having long supplanted Azarenka as Belarus’s top player, hasn’t been able to string wins together. Who will make the last 32 on Thursday?
Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.
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Sabalenka vs Azarenka: Head-to-head
Last year’s US Open first-round match was the only time these two have played. Sabalenka won 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Sabalenka vs Azarenka: Preview
Aryna Sabalenka has only twice won back-to-back main-draw matches at Grand Slam level – in 2019, when she made the third round of the Australian Open, and the previous summer, when she knocked out Petra Kvitova to make the last 16 at the US Open, only to lose an extremely tight match to Naomi Osaka.
Sabalenka turned out to be the only player who would manage to take a set from the eventual champion at that year’s US Open, and expectations were high for the Belarusian after her brilliant breakthrough year. Backing it up, however, proved difficult, and while Sabalenka won titles in Shenzhen and Wuhan in 2019 she didn’t have any success at Grand Slam level – her win over Azarenka at the US Open was the best she would record, but she lost to Yulia Putintseva in the next round.
After reaching the semifinals in Adelaide in January, Sabalenka’s Australian Open campaign was over before it began when she lost to Carla Suarez Navarro in straight sets in the first round, but it seemed like she had just found her feet in 2020 with the Qatar Total Open title when lockdown hit. Since the resumption, Sabalenka hasn’t managed to string two wins together: She went 2-2 in Lexington and ‘Cincinnati’, losing to Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula in respective three-set battle. And she had to work hard to beat Oceane Dodin 7-6(1), 6-4 in the first round.
Azarenka, on the other hand, couldn’t come into the US Open on more unexpectedly good form. The former world no. 1 has endured a trying couple of seasons, battling injury, struggling for wins and continuing to be derailed by circumstances in her personal life; to the point that she admitted she had considered retiring in January. Before the Western & Southern Open, Azarenka had played just two matches in 2020 and lost both in straight sets. But something clicked for her in ‘Cincinnati’, where she beat Donna Vekic, Caroline Garcia, Alize Cornet, Ons Jabeur and Johanna Konta (losing just one set in the process) to reach the final, where she claimed her second Western & Southern Open title seven years after the first when she received a walkover from Naomi Osaka.
American hard courts have always been a really strong surface for both Sabalenka and Azarenka; the latter played two memorable US Open finals against Serena Williams in 2012-13. The courts are faster this year, which in theory plays into the more explosive Sabalenka’s hands, but actually faster courts means less time to set up for your shots and might play into Azarenka’s hands: The world no. 59 gave a masterclass in how to smother a first-strike power player in these conditions when she beat Konta in three sets in ‘Cincinnati’. When these two faced off last year, it was Sabalenka’s consistent flat power which eventually got her the win, but Azarenka wasn’t playing, or especially serving, nearly as well at the time as she is now. It should go the distance again, but this time Azarenka will be the one who comes out on top.