2013 US Open: Women’s Round of 16 preview, Part I

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It has been an eventful week one at the 2013 US Open and there are still some great matches to be played as the number of contenders start whittling down.

Already the top contenders have stated their case for the title by virtue of crushing victories, and if this is anything to go by, then you can confidently look forward to another Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka showdown.

But first, the top half need to get through their fourth round matches, which start on Sunday, when four of the first eight quarter-final places will be decided.

Among them will include a rematch of a thrilling Australian Open quarter-final, and as well, one match will produce a first-time US Open quarter-finalist.

Let’s have a look at the top half of the women’s Round of 16 matches to look forward to (the bottom half will be previewed as soon as the third round is complete):

Serena Williams (1) vs. Sloane Stephens (15)
Head-to-head: Tied one-all
Last meeting: Stephens 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, quarter-finals, 2013 Australian Open.

The potential is there for fireworks when two players at the opposite ends of their careers – the ageless Serena Williams and the rising Sloane Stephens – go head-to-head in what is expected to be a full-capacity Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The pair have already met twice during the Australian swing, dividing their results: Serena winning at Brisbane en route to the title and Stephens coming from behind to record a stunning three-set victory at the Australian Open later on.

But ever since then, the pair have been outspoken and it won’t be until this Sunday (Monday morning AEST) when the pair will meet again.

Both players have had contrastingly consistent seasons this year: Serena has scooped eight titles, returned to world number one and went 28-0 on clay (statistically and historically her worst surface), whilst Stephens, although yet to win a big title, reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and defeated Maria Sharapova at Cincinnati.

There is no doubt the whole of America will be watching this eagerly-anticipated showdown. Can Serena continue her march to title number five at Flushing Meadows, or will Stephens stop her in her tracks again?

Key: Serena has only dropped eight games in her run so far, so it’ll take a lot of work for Stephens to take her down.

Prediction: Serena in straight sets.

Carla Suarez Navarro (18) vs. Angelique Kerber (8)
Head-to-head: First meeting

If there’s one player inside the top ten who’s had a disappointing year, it’s Angelique Kerber.

The German has not enjoyed a good year by her standards, having not reached a Grand Slam quarter-final since Wimbledon last year and is also the highest-ranked player to have not yet reached a final this year.

Additionally, she has yet to record a top ten victory this year (a walkover against Samantha Stosur at Indian Wells does not count), and has had a three-set loss to Sharapova and a pair of straight-sets losses to Ana Ivanovic, all on clay.

But if there is ever a place where she can bounce back and realise her potential, it’s here.

Kerber has the easiest opponent you could ever ask for when it comes to trying to earn a place in a Grand Slam quarter-final.

Carla Suarez Navarro, who reached the quarter-finals of the French Open at her Grand Slam debut in 2008, could finally be realising her potential, but has yet to really impress on the WTA Tour.

Reaching the fourth round equals her second-best performance at Grand Slam level (behind the aforementioned debut at the French Open in 2008 and the Australian Open in 2009) and now she needs to take the next step up if she wants to really prove herself as a consistent tennis player.

This will be the first ever meeting between the two players.

Key: Can Angelique Kerber turn around her season or is it too late?

Prediction: Kerber in straight sets

Agnieszka Radwanska (3) vs. Ekaterina Makarova (24)
Head-to-head:
Radwanska 3-0
Last meeting: Radwanska 6-1, 6-2, first round, 2011 New Haven at Yale

From the top half of the draw, this is the match which is guaranteed to produce a first-time US Open quarter-finalist.

Agnieszka Radwanska, title-less since January, has continued to maintain her consistency throughout the year, and as such can become the first woman since Serena Williams in 2009 to have reached the quarter-finals or better at all four Majors this year.

But to do that she’ll have to do what she’s never done – win a fourth round match at Flushing Meadows.

By reaching the round of 16, the Pole has matched her best effort here, previously recorded in 2007, 2008 and last year (with a hat-trick of second round losses in between).

It took her four attempts to get past the fourth round at Roland Garros, and it should take her the same amount of times to try to reach the last eight in New York for the first time.

Her opponent will be Ekaterina Makarova, who has never even won one set off the Pole.

Like Radwanska, Makarova also has the chance to reach her first US Open quarter-final, but looking at the history between the two players, it appears set that the Pole will be on her way.

Makarova is coming off a big victory over Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki, but one will strongly doubt her chances of pulling off a repeat against Radwanska.

Key: Radwanska, like many of her top rivals, has not yet dropped a set on her run. She should get through without hassle.

Prediction: Radwanska in straight sets.

Jelena Jankovic (9) vs. Li Na (5)
Head-to-head:
Tied 4-all
Last meeting: Jankovic 7-6 (7-2), 7-5, third round, 2013 Rome Masters

Whilst the above match between Radwanska and Makarova will decide a first time US Open quarter-finalist, this match will end a drought of sorts for either Jelena Jankovic or Li Na.

Jankovic, a beaten finalist at Flushing Meadows in 2008, and Li Na, a quarter-finalist in 2009, had not reached even the fourth round here until this year.

The Serbian appears set for a return to the world’s top ten after dropping out in May 2011; but in recent years her results have been far from disappointing.

She has won just two titles since the end of 2009 (and hasn’t won a big title since Indian Wells in 2010) and has only reached the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam twice (2010 and 2013 French Opens).

But this year has seen a return to her old self, as proven by a title in Bogota, a final in Charleston and a quarter-final run at the French Open.

However, standing in the way of Jankovic and a first Flushing Meadows quarter-final is China’s Li Na, who has returned to her consistent self after a disappointing 2012.

Li avenged a loss to Laura Robson at last year’s US Open by casting her aside in straight sets and she is looking the goods as she tries to re-enter the top four before the end of the year.

The Chinese, coached by Justine Henin’s former coach, Carlos Rodriguez, enjoyed a consistent run-up to New York by reaching the semi-finals of the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati, losing to the eventual finalists at each.

This followed quarter-final runs to Eastbourne and Wimbledon, which themselves followed a disappointing clay court campaign, which included a loss to Jankovic in Rome.

But you can expect Li to continue her average-to-consistent season here.

Key: It’s a battle of two players who are regaining their best form after disappointing seasons last year. But Li is the one that is higher-ranked and she should be victorious here.

Prediction: Li in three sets.

Part II will look at the bottom half of the draw, where the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka will try to progress to the round of 16. This will be previewed as soon as the rest of the third round is complete.