Angelique Kerber  v Petra Kvitova  – H2H: 4-4
This battle of the lefties could be one of the best matches of this year’s US Open. Kerber’s inventiveness and her ability to retrieve points that already seem lost up against Kvitova’s hefty arsenal of huge groundstrokes is often a fascinating combination to watch.
To make matters even more intriguing, both are Grand Slam champions and Rio 2016 medallists, neither player has dropped a set so far at US Open 2016 and their head-to-head is locked at 4-4. Does this make it too close to call? Possibly, but considering the career-best year Kerber has had, she must go down as the slight favourite.
The German, 28, won the Australian Open in January and another title in Stuttgart. She reached the final at Wimbledon, the Rio Olympics and Cincinnati. Kerber has also made three further semi-final appearances and boasts a 47-14 win-loss record. By contrast, Kvitova has had a poor year. She hasn’t won a title or reached a final, and her win-loss record is 26-18. However, she won Olympic bronze recently and has looked good so far at Flushing Meadows.
During their last meeting, in the Stuttgart semi-final in April, Kerber’s greater consistency throughout the three-set encounter proved to be the crucial factor, as too many unforced errors from Kvitova proved to be her undoing. Nevertheless, she showed what she is capable of doing to virtually any player in the second set of that match as hit a succession of brutal winners to take it 6-4. So the key for the Czech will be to maintain a high level for the majority of the match. If she does, a win is within her grasp. It is not guaranteed even then, however, as Kerber has demonstrated time and again in 2016 that she can absorb pressure and come through tough matches.
There is more than one American with her eyes on the US Open title this year. Madison Keys has really come of age this year, playing mature, consistent tennis to rise into the world’s top ten. Winning in Flushing Meadows would make it a truly amazing year for her.
But first she has to get past this year’s comeback queen, Caroline Wozniacki, who she has never played before. The Dane had a miserable first half of 2016 as she went out in the first round at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon and missed the French Open with an ankle injury. She also failed to make it past the quarter-final of any tournament and lost more matches than she won. Her fortunes improved when the ITF allowed her to compete in the Olympics and carry the Danish flag, despite not playing enough Fed Cup matches, and she has played her best tennis for over a year to reach this fourth round.
Facing Keys will be another step for Wozniacki, whose greatest strengths are her defensive ability and her stamina. The American will try to hit her off the court with her formidable serve and groundstrokes and, if the Dane is not prepared, the match could be over quickly. However, if Wozniacki does make full use of her strengths, she could frustrate Keys and force her into making errors. Anything could happen if she manages that.
But Keys is the strong favourite. She has been consistent all year and brilliant at times – in particular when she won the title in Birmingham and reached the final in Rome. She can be prone to nerves, as she showed in her fourth-round loss to Simona Halep at Wimbledon. However, she has looked relaxed at Flushing Meadows so far, even when she had to fight for three-set victories over Alison Riske and Naomi Osaka.
Looking at the draw, this match is not an obvious pick, but it is well worth watching because of what happened on the only previous occasion Radwanska and Konjuh played each other. In the second round of Wimbledon 2016, their third round match went to three sets with Radwanska winning the decider 9-7. However, it could have gone the other way as Konjuh looked to have the Pole on the ropes in that final set before she went over on her ankle.
Considering these events, both players may be having nightmares as they re-live that encounter ahead of the upcoming re-match. But Konjuh should take great confidence from the way she took it to the world number four with her fearsome groundstrokes. On the other hand, Radwanska needs to come up with a way of coping with the Croatian’s power, as she often struggles against players who hammer the ball past her consistently on court.
Konjuh, 18, has certainly been tested more than Radwanska at US Open 2016 so far. She played superbly in her opener against 20th seed Kiki Bertens, but it still took her three sets to get through. Then Varvara Lepchenko’s spirited second-set comeback took the Croatian to a decider again in third round. It could work in Konjuh’s favour, as she will be fully match-sharp as a result. But if she is at all tired, expect Radwanska to take full advantage.
The 2012 Wimbledon finalist’s progress has been mostly serene. She brushed aside American wildcard Jessica Pegula in round one and had little trouble with Caroline Garcia in round three. In between, she won a tricky second-round match in straight sets against Naomi Broady – who played really well. Radwanska will probably win this clash of styles with Konjuh, but the talented Croatian is definitely capable of an upset.
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