This might actually be more of a nostalgia pick. Since Azarenka’s return to the tour following the birth of her son Leo, it has been an uphill battle – against injury, trying to find form and consistency, and in truth that is something that could be said of Sabalenka, who has struggled to make quite the impact she made last year.
If anything, it is the younger Belarusian that has had a better lead in to the US Open having got over a spell in the middle of the year but there is no doubt that the desire is there for Azarenka to come back to her position of former glory.
Sabalenka is very much an all-or-nothing player which might explain her slight trobles earlier in the season where she was searching for back to back wins. Azarenka could well disrupt that rhythm with her controlled aggressive play and relentless style of play and solid variety.
The last couple of Slams have seen Stefanos Tsitsipas shattered after his loss for different reasons. His loss to Stan Wawrinka in a hard fought five sets was a complete contrast to a first round exit in Wimbledon, and with only a second round best in two appearances in New York, the stage is set for him to make more of a run.
Against him is Andrey Rublev who seems to have turned a corner in the hard court summer and following in the footsteps of a bit of a Russian resurgence with great performances this year from Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov.
Their tour level encounter at the Next Gen Finals went the way of the Greek, but Rublev actually got the better of him in their first encounter at the Challengers so they have the measure of each other.
Tsitsipas’ signature one-handed backhand together with his aggressive baseliner game and all-court game still marks him out as one of the next generation to possibly break the stranglehold of the Bug Three in time. The danger from Rublev comes with his passing shots often made on the run and is the flashy crowd-pleasing shot-making that should make this match a corker.
Prediction: Tsitsipas in four sets.
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Anastasia Potopova v Coco Gauff [WC] | First meeting
After catching fire at Wimbledon, the USTA has gone against the WTA’s guidelines to prevent young players from over-playing and offered Coco Gauff a wildcard into the main draw – in the hope she will capture the imaginations in the same way as she did at Wimbledon.
Both Anastasia Potapova and Gauff have already picked up junior Slam titles – Potapova winning the girls’ title in Wimbledon 2016, and Gauff winning in Roland Garros 2018, so there is no doubt at all that we are watching the future of the WTA.
With their first main draw win at the US Open on the cards, and Potapova has already amassed more experience that the younger Gauff, the American thrived under the spotlight in Wimbledon and it took the eventual champion to end her run.
Gauff’s versatility and her ability to switch up things on the fly to keep her opponents guessing, but there are still areas of her game which are there to be exploited. Still, if she could come through qualifying at Wimbledon and make such a run, it will be fascinating to see how the brash, bold New York crowd and American psyche hype this teenager up.
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