Kaia Kanepi vs Iga Swiatek: Swiatek Should Be Too Solid for Kanepi (Jan. 25)
Credit: NurPhoto, Getty. Iga Swiatek trains ahead of the WTA season.
Kaia Kanapi vs Iga Swiatek
|Time||9 p.m. ET (subject to change)|
Kaia Kanepi survived an intense, high-drama match against number two seed Aryna Sabalenka. The Estonian won 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(7), showing incredible mental toughness after failing to serve the match out from 5-4 40-0 in the third.
Kanepi had stretches of the match where she was unplayable with her power but also other moments where she struggled with nerves and the accuracy of her groundstrokes which came with those nerves.
Kanepi hit 30 winners compared to 30 unforced errors and won 73% of her first-serve points. In this match, she was also aided by 15 Sabalenka double faults.
Sabalenka was the first power player that Kanepi had faced this tournament, having played Angelique Kerber, Marie Bouzkova, and Maddison Inglis in her first three matches. While Kanepi was able to push those three players around, she did a great job of navigating this match, where Sabalenka was able to push Kanepi around at times.
With Sabalenka only winning 46% of her second-serve points (although some due to double faults), Kanepi has now held every opponent this tournament to under 50% of their second serves won. Opponents are getting eaten alive on their second serves against Kanepi’s powerful return game.
Iga Swiatek did well to recover from a set deficit to come back and beat Sorana Cirstea 5-7, 6-3, 6-3. For the first time this tournament, Swiatek struggled with her second serve. She won only 24% of her second serves, the first time she dipped under 55% second serves won since the Australian Open began. It was also the first set she lost in Melbourne this tournament.
However, Swiatek won 76% of her first serves and was only broken twice after the first set. She hit 29 winners compared to 36 unforced errors, however 14 of those unforced errors and only nine winners occurred in the first set.
Overall, Swiatek has had a very hot start to the year. Including a warmup tournament in Adelaide, she is 7-1 on the season and has already beaten strong players like Leylah Fernandez, Victoria Azarenka, and Daria Kasatkina. Her only loss was to world number one Ashleigh Barty.
On return, every player that Swiatek has faced this tournament has won under 60% of their first-serve points and under 50% of their second-serve points. The Pole has done a great job of neutralizing opponents’ serves.
It’s also worth noting that while Sabalenka hit 15 double faults against Kanepi in their round of 16 match, Swiatek has only hit seven double faults all tournament!
Swiatek is known for her heavy forehand that controls the baseline and forces opponents in defensive positions, but her backhand also looks strong this season. Swiatek also does a good job absorbing opponent’s pace, which will come in handy against a player as powerful as Kanepi.
This is a very interesting matchup between a player with extraordinary power who plays a very aggressive style in Kanepi taking on well-rounded player in Swiatek.
I am not too concerned here with Swiatek struggling for a set with Cirstea. Swiatek’s level has been high all season, and she finished the Cirstea match strong with three consecutive breaks on the Romanian’s serve. One poor set doesn’t mitigate everything Swiatek has done up until this point.
In addition, before today, Swiatek had only been broken three times in her first three matches. She had a slightly-off match taking on an in-form opponent and still won in three sets. And, while she didn’t cover the game spread, she still managed to finish the match up by four games.
In terms of Elo ratings, while it has not been updated since the Australian Open began, Swiatek is eighth in overall Elo and 18th on hard courts. While Swiatek, with her 2020 French Open title, is often seen as a clay-centric player, she can clearly still play on hard courts. Kanepi’s Elo rating is 67th overall and 51st on hard courts.
Kanepi has been to six previous Slam quarterfinals, two on hard courts. If we look at her current game handicap for this match of +4.5 games, Kanepi would have only covered that in 1/6 of the quarterfinal matches and in neither hard-court quarterfinals.
Kanepi is going to have times where she blasts Swiatek off the court, but I don’t think this is a good matchup for her. Despite Swiatek’s ability to control the baseline, she can also counterpunch well when she needs to and will be able to absorb Kanepi’s pace both on the serve and from the ground.
Swiatek will take good advantage of Kanepi’s downswings in level. The Pole also has the consistent depth and control over her groundstrokes necessary where Kanepi won’t be getting many short balls to tee off of, and she might start pressing.
It’s also worth noting that Kanepi looked quite nervous closing out the match against Sabalenka, and the pressure only ramps up with a chance to make her maiden Slam semifinal on the line. That could affect her level of play.
At the end of the day, Swiatek should win this match comfortably and cover the 4.5 games.
Pick: Swiatek -4.5 games (-135 at PointsBet)