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Aryna Sabalenkahas comfortably asserted herself as one of the more dominant players on the WTA this season and has essentially improved in so many departments in quite a short space of time. The Belarusian made light work of her first three opponents this fortnight, but now she will want to continue to build to an even higher level ready for sterner challenges in the second week of this major.
Her opponent in the fourth round is a former French Open finalist in Sloane Stephens. Stephens’ career has had its ups and downs and spells of inconsistency, but the American is the type of player that when everything clicks and she is in the right mood she can trouble and topple the very best.
The interesting factor coming into this particular match-up is that the surface and the night conditions don’t necessarily favour the No.2 seed Sabalenka. Sabalenka’s rally tolerance and ability to hit through the slow clay is going to be a huge challenge and this will be a considerable litmus test as to just how far Sabalenka has come. On top of that, Stephens will feel the slower the court the more time she has to counter-punch effectively, use her superior clay court movement and mount her own offence. I feel like Stephens’ level is perhaps the more unpredictable to call and judge, but Sabalenka is more than likely really going to have to adjust and keep her patience in check if she is going to win this.
Prediction: Sabalenka in three sets.
Daria Kasatkina  vs Elina Svitolina H2H and Match Fundamentals
Daria Kasatkina has perhaps been one of the more surprise stories of this tournament thus far. Not necessarily because she is winning matches on clay as generally that is something she is quite good at achieving, but it has been the manner of a lot of her performances. The aggression, the forehand upside, the intent and her clay court intelligence have all been huge factors in her matches and she does not appear to want to stop at the fourth round.
Match-up wise it is not going to be the easiest for Kasatkina to navigate her way through though as she faces the returning Elina Svitolina for a place in the quarter-final of a major. Svitolina is no stranger to the quarter-final of a Grand Slam, having made eight at that level, including three at the French Open itself. The big question has mostly seen people question whether Svitolina can get back to being a Top-5 player, but the title win in Strasbourg just last week suggests that she is on the right track.
Kasatkina actually has lost all six meetings in the H2H versus Svitolina. A lot of that can be put down to Svitolina perhaps possessing similar counter-punching and defensive qualities that they could cancel each other out, but another element that cannot be ignored is that Svitolina knows her way around a clay court additionally, so potentially Kasatkina doesn’t hold as much as an advantage as she does against other opponents in that regard. With that being said I feel that if Kasatkina performs and approaches this in the same way as her other matches this tournament she has greater upside offensively on this surface, especially off a forehand that kicks off this surface so impactfully. It is a fascinating battle that could come down to really small margins.
Prediction: Kasatkina in three sets.
Carlos Alcaraz  vs Lorenzo Musetti  H2H and Match Fundamentals
Even going into the beginning of the clay court season, Carlos Alcaraz was looking in the type of form where he was going to be tough to live with, tough to contain and close to unstoppable in his quest of adding to his major collection at Grand Slam level. He dropped a set surprisingly to Japan’s Taro Daniel in the second round, but then backed up the win with a stroll in the park versus Denis Shapovalov in the third round.
Alcaraz’s fourth round opponent is clay-court specialist Lorenzo Musetti. Musetti enjoyed a comfortable win against the talented Russian Alexander Shevchenko in the second round, then looked just as impressive against Britain’s Cameron Norrie to book his place in the fourth round.
This match-up is perhaps the toughest of them all to call. With Musetti perhaps having the clay-court skillset to unsettle and disrupt Alcaraz in certain aspects and departments, but lacking in others that could really enable Alcaraz to figure this one out. Jan-Lennard Struff gave a good example in Madrid that having easy firepower, attempting to blow Alcaraz off the court and trusting in serve and volley plays are undeniable routes and ways to win points and potentially beat Alcaraz. Musetti doesn’t have the same firepower that the German has, but he’s capable of utilising his forehand aggressively, can be quite unpredictable in terms of how he varies the spins and height and he will have to be unpredictable with his approach to take this to a fourth or a fifth set. Alcaraz will have to be wary of Musetti’s ability in slow and draining conditions because that is where he is most effective. I expect Alcaraz to play with enough controlled aggression to win this, but I would not be surprised if Musetti gets a lot of joy on the day, too.
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