2021 Miami Open WTA Round 4 Matches
Some great matches on the WTA side with some very close finishes. Also, I fed a squirrel a pear and it seemed pretty happy about that.
Barty vs Azarenka :
Ostapenko played just about as expected against Barty, going for a bit too much a bit too soon and generally looking outclassed. It’s still good to see her winning matches again in earlier rounds, and while Barty looked very out of sorts in the previous round, she was way better here. Good enough to beat Azarenka? I’m not so sure. This is a match that will feature a lot of extended rallies and if either one of them can score cheap points on serve, it’ll be a huge boost. Azarenka is a bit fresher having only played two sets thus far compared to Barty’s 5, and while Barty is generally one of the fittest players on tour, the conditions in Miami have been challenging a lot of players this week. Azarenka will have to work specific strategies to beat Barty, as just trying to hit past her generally plays into her wheelhouse. Many players have had good success hitting right down the middle against excellent retrievers, and since Barty often struggles to create her own offense, this may gain some errors for Azarenka and driving returns and rally balls down the middle generally forces your opponent to look to generate height/depth on the returns and this over time can trap them a bit into a pusher-mode. There isn’t a lot to separate these two, and while Barty won the most recent contest, it was during an exhibition event to honor the late great Billie Jean-King who upon further googling is very much alive. Another win for Billie, well played. Anyway, the point is that very little can be taken away from exhibitions. Both of these two will find it very difficult to score, but I think Azarenka has a bit more power and her ability to execute every shot will give her a small edge against Barty. Azarenka in 3.
Voundrousova vs Sabalenka :
Marketa and Bencic played a great match. In the end, Voundrousova’s consistency paid dividends, and she’ll be relying on that in this matchup also. There is no way that Marketa can hit with Sabalenka, but that won’t be her goal. By isolating Sabalenka’s backhand and keeping her on the move, Voundrousova has outlasted Sabalenka in a few prior matches on hardcourt (or 2 of them). That was a very different Sabalenka though, and if her game is landing in the court she’s nearly unplayable. This is a player who would already have a major title if she did a bit of work on her temperament. Even though mini-freakouts and temper tantrums don’t always affect your game, they inspire your opponent. Players are always looking for a crack in the armor and you really can’t give them that. Another good example is Sinner doubling over in between points recently. It hasn’t kept him from competing and may be a bit of playing possum but it certainly keeps his opponents competing and hanging in long rallies hoping to outlast him.
With Sabalenka still making some unforced errors, this might be closer than most people think. Voundrousova is a very skillful and creative player, so while she represents the same defensive test as Kudermetova, it will require more problem solving and resolve from Sabalenka. If Sabalenka gets this, I expect it will be in 3, and I think she’ll be able to finish where Bencic struggled to do so. Sabalenka tentatively in 3.
Sevastova vs Konjuh :
Sevastova definitely will take her first career victory against Halep even if it was a forfeit. Her run looks better than it should her as a result, and I think that her opponent may have a bit of trouble with Sevastova’s style but will ultimately beat her out. Ana Konjuh has already bested 3 players who would be favored to beat Sevastova, and while I thought lack of matches would make fatigue an issue, she competed as hard or harder than Swiatek throughout that contest. She hit her forehand so well, and even though an upset is always seen as a slump by the favorite, Konjuh earned every point there. Sevastova will have fresher legs which evens it out a tiny bit, but Konjuh has improved her level in every match, and since she’s winning behind her baseline game, I don’t expect Sevastova to really have an easy day of it or be able to produce the easy angles she often can with time. Konjuh also hit some timely aces, and a player finding cheap points on their serve in the WTA is huge. Konjuh in 2.
Kvitova vs Svitolina :
Kvitova was very solid against Konta, and this is the match where she announces title contention if she wins. Konta is a bit rusty, but Svitolina is one of the hardest players on the entire tour to beat. Svitolina outlasted Alexandrova in a good 7-6, 6-4 win, but while she was able to negate Ekaterina’s offense, I don’t think she’ll do the same to Kvitova because she brings a great serve as well. These fast courts are lending success to servers in matches they generally wouldn’t be close in (Isner FAA/Popyrin Medvedev/Pegula Pliskova). Kvitova isn’t exactly a slouch in rallies either, and has played pretty great so far. If this goes deep, Svitolina may be able to take the edge off of Kvitova’s game, but if both players bring their previous levels, I think Kvitova will win. Kvitova in 2.
Sorribes Tormo vs Jabeur :
Sara Sorribes Tormo was formerly a pusher, who made a lot of noises that I suspected was mostly to irritate her opponent. The second part has quieted down as the wins have come, and the pushing has turned into some of the most accurate and beautiful defending that I have ever seen. Her loopy forehands are punishing her opponents and exposing their hesitation to get to net. Rybakina missed a number of volleys at the net in this one and a handful of smashes. Physical fatigue and mental fatigue played an issue, as Rybakina won a number of rallies but lost the point. There is a common mental problem in most racquetsports. You have your opponent on the defensive and control of the rally, you move them and attempt to maintain that control. They come up with a perfect defensive shot or something that makes the rally neutral again and you just can’t take it. You keep going for offense and forcing stuff until you make a mistake. It’s hard to reset a rally, and hard to change gears. Tormo was 15 feet behind the baseline at times here, but the amazing thing about her play is the length she’s been able to come up with from there. When she has opportunities to play offense, she actually does make a handful of errors, but these are largely the only ones you see from her in a match.
Despite this mercurial play, I think Jabeur will have just what is necessary to outduel Tormo. Her match with Kenin was played at a good level, and again Jabeur’s forehand proved to be a gamechanger. She loses the rhythm on her first serve often, but she can hit aces when it’s good and the 1-2 serve and forehand to the open court will give her a lot of chances at net. She has some excellent dropshots as well, and while Tormo covers these well, it means she can’t drop as deep in the court as she has been. Fernandez showed us the formula to beat Tormo a week ago; spread the forehand equally to both sides of the court and force Tormo to play only to your backhand wing. When a pusher is moving and aiming rather than just looking for depth, you will find yourself getting up into the court on a lot of shots, and Jabeur can certainly win from there. The worry here for Jabeur is that her bouts of errors can cost her a whole set here. There are ample opportunities to control rallies against Tormo, but it takes a lot of swings and a commitment to keeping her on the run. Still, Rybakina could have won her match had she kept the ball in play, and she even had some shots late in the third to break and made easy errors. Jabeur in 2.
Pegula vs Sakkari :
Pegula is probably having the best year of anyone on the WTA without winning a title. Her serving is much improved, her forehand is still a huge weapon, but now her retrieving and backhand are very solid. Pliskova played well and really crushes the ball on these courts, but Pegula has a little extra edge with her speed and Karolina wasn’t able to get past. Sakkari played a similar powerful player, but sheesh has she looked great in this event. She’s hitting the ball solid and winning rallies without really going for anything crazy. It reminds me a bit of the manner in which Djokovic spreads the court and shows his opponent they’re in for the long haul when they really haven’t done a lot yet. Sakkari has been having a quiet year as far as high-profile wins, but this is a good spot for her to get one. Pegula and Pliskova was high level offense at times, but Pliskova’s mobility was the key for Pegula’s win and most of those simple rally point wins can be removed from the equation against Sakkari.
On the other hand, Samsonova wasn’t able to push past Sakkari’s defense, but Pegula’s hitting is way more consistent and effective against top competition. I tend to expect great defense to beat strong offense most of the time, but the slight wrinkle here is that Pegula is not some senseless phenom trying to hit winners or giving up. She can rally as long as Sakkari and so this will really come down to who is able to earn forced errors from their opponent in the neutral rallies. I think Sakkari has slightly more consistency going in, but Pegula has better results and this would be a very good place to find her best tennis. Sakkari in 3.
Mertens vs Osaka :
Mertens and Kontaveit had a great match, but I didn’t see it. All the feeds I checked kept showing me a doubles match with Mattek-Sands and Swiatek against Zhang and Xu. It was a good doubles match, but unfortunately leaves me blind on what happened. Kontaveit dealt out a donut in the second, and I imagine it came with a lot of powerful forehands and winners. Since I did not see the match, I was able to go outside for a bit, and feed a pear to a squirrel. He enjoyed it, and also received some pecans. Oddly, I think Mertens is very poised to get a win against Osaka. Osaka played very below her standards against Ajla in the first round, and Mertens has just seen off a similar level of forehand in Kontaveit. The rallies may be tough since Osaka is a good bit faster than Kontaveit, but if Osaka serves poorly this could go to three sets. Osaka probably loses this match every time she plays how she did in her first match. Mertens probably wins it a small chunk of the time that Osaka plays her best. Mertens, despite not really having a major title to her name, is one of the best baseliners and has the ability to beat anyone on a bad day. I’m not sure though that Osaka isn’t a bit guilty of playing to her opponent’s level though, so this is definitely an uphill battle for Mertens. On the other hand, if Osaka is at her AO level, this could be over quickly. Her serving gives her an exceptional edge against anyone, so it’s more on her racquet in that sense than Mertens. It sounds obvious, but Osaka’s level is the experimental group her and Mertens is the control. I don’t think Osaka will start well, and I think Mertens will win. Mertens in 2.
Muguruza vs Andreescu :
This isn’t exactly the match I was wanted while watching these two matches but it’s probably the best one. Anisimova played great but wound up at duece on way too many service games. Andreescu held to 15 in most of her service games and never really started 0-15 either. She wasn’t able to break much, but she did return a ton of Amanda’s offensive offerings. Anisimova’s backhand is world-class, and the winners she hits look so simple but are unreal quality. It’s a testament to how good Andreescu is that she looked throughout like she “should” be winning much easier.
Another match I was silently hoping would produce an upset was Kalinskaya against Muguruza. Kalinskaya played so well and that was even with Muguruza playing at her normal high level. Muguruza was near-perfect at net and that was the small difference that gave her this match. Kalinskaya’s backhand is so consistent and she really will be hard to beat for anyone who can’t defend for a very long time. She earns her points through hard work but every shot is directed to the open court which gets her in a great rhythm. Muguruza, to her credit, served great as the match went late and Kalinskaya was very unlucky to not be up a break late in the third. Both of these matches felt like they shouldn’t end up having losers, but that’s the way it goes.
Muguruza’s level will be just as good, and Andreescu is not quite as consistent as Kalinskaya. On the other hand though, Bianca’s serving is much more effective and her weight of shot is the kinda that can lead to errors from Muguruza’s backhand. The harder you hit, the easier it is for your opponent to send it long with a slight error in timing. I think this is a high level duel, and I’d have expected Anisimova to lose it convincingly but I think stylistically Andreescu matches up well with Muguruza. Bianca won the previous meeting 2-0 but she’s returning from injury and not quite the same player. Her performance her wasn’t far off though at times, and the ease with which she held serve is going to be huge especially considering how troubling Kalinskaya was on Muguruza’s serve; she got to duece very often and faced 11 break points. Muguruza’s run has been impressive, but I think she has a little less power than Andreescu. Andreescu in 3.