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Nursing a tender ankle, Ivanovic hopes to extend her Cincinnati momentum into her New York opener against inflammable lefty Makarova.  Although the Russian posted five consecutive top-20 wins en route to the Eastbourne title in June, she has dwindled into obscurity during the US Open Series.  Her slice serve into the ad court will target Ivanovic’s backhand effectively; this weapon explains why Makarova has proved so successful at saving break points when at her best, for the vast majority of break points are played in the ad court.  Once the rallies begin, however, Ana possesses a mightier weapon in her forehand than anything in Makarova’s arsenal.  If the Serb continues with the steady serving and aggressive court positioning that she displayed in Cincinnati, she should prevail rather routinely.  Yet Ivanovic also must conquer the memories of her last two appearances in New York, both of which concluded swiftly in painful three-set losses.  Last year, she led Kateryna Bondarenko by a set and a break before crumbling, so her supporters shouldn’t relax even if she seizes an apparently decisive lead.  Struggling recently with lefties, moreover, the Serb lost to Czink and Safarova on American hard courts a year ago.  Uncertainty surrounds both her physical and mental condition, but the confidence gained on the relatively fast surface of Cincinnati eventually should propel Ana through this potentially perilous encounter, assuming that the ankle is healthy.

We continue to preview more of Day 1’s admittedly slim menu…

Hantuchova vs. Safina:

In New Haven, Safina avenged a defeat that Schiavone had inflicted upon her a week before in Montreal; can Daniela turn the tables on Dinara this week by avenging her loss to the Russian in New Haven?  Probably the most scintillating match of Day 1, this contest features two women with extremely balanced groundstrokes, questionable movement, and frailty under pressure.  The luster from Hantuchova’s San Diego semifinal run has dimmed a bit after early exits in her three tournaments since that week, when she defeated Bartoli, Zheng, and Kleybanova in succession.  Meanwhile, Safina appears to be edging tentatively towards the end of what has been quite a long tunnel, scoring wins over Petrova and Petkovic at the Rogers Cup.  Just as it did in New Haven, her superior serve comprises a key advantage that will allow her to take control of rallies earlier and more often than Hantuchova. Neither the Slovak nor the Russian can afford to play defense throughout the match, especially on these fast courts. On the other hand, the pressure attendant to a Slam (in)famously has unhinged Safina’s ever-tenuous nerves with increasing regularity since her rise to near-glory.  Although Hantuchova is the higher-ranked and seeded competitor, she has much less to prove than the former #1 and surely will swing more freely.  In all events, her free-flowing, seemingly effortless style will contrast fascinatingly with the laborious, effort-filled exertions of Safina.

Stosur vs. Vesnina:

Enduring a shoulder injury shortly after the Roland Garros final, Stosur never has progressed past the second round at the US Open.  Her indifferent foot speed and vulnerable backhand hamper her on the Open’s slick surface, while her confidence looks at a low ebb this summer.  In New Haven, she barely escaped the unimposing Sara Errani before slumping to a lopsided loss against Petrova.  A finalist in Istanbul this July, Vesnina can hold serve with sufficient regularity to stay close with the fifth seed deep into sets.  Highly proficient in doubles, both players should venture frequently into the forecourt and display their artistry at the net.  Among the key factors in this match is Stosur’s second serve, which produced numerous free points for her on the high-bouncing clay but which can be more easily attacked on this surface.  If Vesnina can connect on deep, aggressive returns when she sees a second ball, anxiety might seep into the Australian’s already embattled shoulder.

Larcher de Brito vs. Mirza:

At most majors, an all-qualifier bout would trigger barely a flicker of attention from most onlookers, but the intersection of these two flamboyant personalities could spark some unexpected drama.  Struggling with her serve for much of this season, Larcher de Brito salvaged a host of break points in her final qualifying round, whereas Mirza progressed to the main draw with less ado.  Once a dangerous ball-striker with a percussive forehand, the Indian star has reduced her schedule in recent months and no longer maintains the consistency required to remain a threat on the grand stages.  Still at the outset of her career, by contrast, the Portuguese phenom seeks to transcend her reputation as the WTA’s champion shrieker and unlock the promise that she displayed in the juniors and at the Bolletieri Academy.  Despite her petite physique, Larcher de Brito can thump groundstrokes with as much savagery as her statuesque foes and currently possesses far more competitive savagery than Mirza.  We expect a streaky match with multiple momentum shifts, few free points, and perhaps occasional emotional outbursts if it stays as competitive as we think it should.

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Monfils vs. Kendrick / Nishikori vs. Korolev:

Among the few men’s matches of note are a pair of contests between an agile counterpuncher and a purely offensive juggernaut.  Whereas Korolev unleashes his weaponry from the baseline, though, Kendrick prefers hurtling to the net for adeptly angled volleys.  Opposite these aggressors stand Monfils and Nishikori, respectively; while the Frenchman relies on outrageous slides and scrambles to discomfit his victims, the Japanese phenom relies upon crisp footwork and intelligent shot selection.    Nishikori will be grateful to avoid Nadal in the first round as he continues his comeback from a protracted injury hiatus, but the swift surface at the US Open should allow his mighty Russian adversary to control most of the rallies.  Meanwhile, Monfils’ superior offensive potential should enable him to weather Kendrick’s forward-rushing tactics more comfortably than his counterpunching Japanese counterpart can outlast Korolev.  Consider these matches early indications of how much the Open’s court speed might influence the first week’s action, for both Monfils and Nishikori are distinctly superior to their challengers overall but much less superior on the fastest surfaces.

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We return tomorrow to preview Maria and more, but first we cross our fingers for the braid from Belgrade!

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