Vera Zvonareva - 2011 China Open - Day 4

Kvitova vs. Zvonareva:  In her first career match at the year-end championships, the Wimbledon champion confronts a player who conquered her twice on hard courts this year.  If this pair of combatants continue their rivalry’s pattern of alternating wins, Kvitova will emerge the victor from this meeting.  More intriguing is the pattern of lopsided scorelines that their rivalry has followed, for all five of their encounters have included at least one set in which the losing player won two or fewer games.  Now that both have entrenched themselves inside the top 5, one hopes for a more suspenseful battle worthy of the occasion.  Even when they did play a tiebreak set in the first set of their Tokyo semifinal, the two women failed to distinguish themselves at the same time.  Instead, Kvitova reeled off five of the first six games against an inept Zvonareva before abruptly disintegrating beyond repair as the Russian cruised to an unexpected triumph.  As the narrative of that match suggests, the Czech’s superior first-strike power and greater shot-making audacity should allow her to dictate the outcome of this meeting, played on a fast indoor court similar to the Linz event where Kvitova just won a title.  Yet here again their past history surprises, for the reigning Wimbledon champion has captured both of their clay meetings while losing all three of their hard-court collisions.  Not overwhelmed by the prestigious occasion, Zvonareva has advanced from her group in two of her last three appearances at the year-end championships.  Highlighting her 7-3 record during that span are victories over three different top-5 opponents.  This match thus may prove the most challenging for Kvitova in the round-robin stage, but a baptism by fire will strengthen a player who often plays to the level of her competition.

Wozniacki vs. Radwanska:  Since her best friend won their first meeting in 2007, the world #1 has treated Radwanska with anything but friendliness as she has swept to comfortable victories on four straight occasions.  Wozniacki’s counterpunching style so far has adapted neatly to frustrate her quasi-compatriot, who has lacked the explosive firepower to hit through her defenses and has struggled to outlast her from the baseline—a task in which very few have succeeded over the past two years.  During her recent title runs in Tokyo and Beijing, though, Radwanska showed flashes of greater willingness to carpe the diem on important points, courage that would serve her well on the fast surface this week.  Far from discouraging, her opening-round loss in Moscow probably will have provided her with valuable time to regroup from those potentially career-changing achievements.  At this tournament, we will receive our first answer concerning just how far those achievements actually did change her career.  Despite her futility against Wozniacki, Radwanska should approach this match with greater confidence springing not only from her rise but from her friend’s concurrent embarrassments.  Although she reached the semifinals at the US Open, the world #1 hasn’t reached a final anywhere but New Haven since Roland Garros.  She looked unsteady at best and confused at worst in early exits at the two key Asian tournaments to opponents well outside her class.  But the motivation of assuring the year-end #1 ranking may spur Wozniacki onwards, and Radwanska may have quenched her competitive hunger for the year.

Sharapova vs. Stosur:  Commanding an immaculate record against the Australian, Sharapova has won all nine of their meetings and eleven consecutive sets during a span that extends back to 2005.  None of their twenty sets has reached 5-5, in fact, a curious statistic for two of the WTA’s premier servers over the last several seasons.  Visibly intimidated by the Russian’s return, Stosur never has delivered one of her signature serving performances against her and has not found a way to shield her modest backhand from her opponent’s savage two-hander.  Both women have relied on first-strike tennis throughout their careers, a style that demands supreme will and conviction for effective execution.  Now that she has joined Sharapova among the ranks of Slam champions, perhaps the US Open titlist can display those traits that she has lacked during their previous encounters.  Having defeated Serena in a Slam final, she should realize that she can overcome any challenge if she can showcase her ATP-like game to its fullest.  Reportedly less than full strength after a painful ankle injury at the Tokyo tournament, Sharapova has played only a handful of matches since winning Cincinnati in early August.  So heavily does she rely on precision that her lack of preparation and any nagging concerns over her injury may offset her timing by a critical fraction.  Meanwhile, Stosur won just one total match in Tokyo and Beijing before reviving with a solid albeit not spectacular march to the Osaka final.  Since the Russian and the Australian have struggled in equal measure against Azarenka, each will want to open their Istanbul campaigns with a victory that permits them margin for error as round-robin play progresses.  Much as with the Wozniacki-Radwanska match, one player eyes an opportunity to build upon a potential career breakthrough, while an opponent who has dominated their meetings aims to ensure that history repeats itself.