Favorites continued to handle business on Thursday sans No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki losing in straight sets to Lesia Tsurenko.
Today we get two popcorn matchups on Arthur Ashe Stadium: Victoria Azarenka meets Sloane Stephens for the third time in 2018 during the day, while Serena and Venus clash tonight.
We’ll get to that highly anticipated night match later today, but let’s first take a look at a few of the early WTA matches today at the U.S. Open.
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Elise Mertens (-220) vs Barbora Strycova (+180)
Time: 11 a.m. ET
H2H: First meeting
If you want to sit back and enjoy a potential three-hour grind fest, this is your match. Considering the heat will be down, these two could go on forever.
Both play an ultra-defensive style. Strycova has a little bit more craft to her game, but Mertens is quicker and plays better angles (at least in 2018).
Mertens should be favored, but -220 looks quite high for someone that is not great at finishing off points. I would look hard at the over 21 games, which should hit unless one of them doesn’t show up. I expect plenty of live opportunities as well.
Anastasija Sevastova (-115) vs Ekaterina Makarova (-105)
Time: 11 a.m. ET
H2H: Makarova leads 3-1 (3-0 on hard courts)
Despite a disappointing 2018 season, Makarova is rounding into solid form. She’s won six of her last eight matches — all against decent competition. Makarova seems to thrive in NYC, having made the round of 16 or better in three of the past five years.
Sevastova is also a player that has really taken to the courts in Queens — as she seeks a third straight quarterfinals appearance. However, I’ve been much more impressed with Makarova’s game so far this tourney.
The players split two matches this year, though Sevastova’s win came on an indoor clay surface in Fed Cup action in her home country.
I’m not one to back Makarova often, but she has a real chance to pick up major ranking points this week. I also think she’s the better hard court player.
Considering her confidence level and 3-0 head-to-head record on outdoor hard courts, Makarova is a solid play as a small underdog.
Sloane Stephens (-150) vs. Victoria Azarenka (+130)
Time: 12 p.m. ET
H2H: Azarenka leads 3-2 (all hard courts)
This is turning into one of the better WTA rivalries. While Vika leads the head-to-head, Stephens has won both 2018 meetings, including a comeback victory in the Miami semifinals.
Vika has looked solid in New York, as I now believe even more that she was prepping all year for this tourney. Her aggressive play against Daria Gavrilova was a most welcome sight, but this will be a major step up in competition.
Meanwhile, Stephens struggled mightily versus qualifier Anhelina Kalinina, hitting only 31 winners to 42 unforced errors. The American was spraying her forehand and backhand and will need to be much sounder to get through Azarenka.
This line feels like a bit of an overreaction to each player’s last match. Coming into this tournament, I would have expected Stephens to be about a -200 favorite over Azarenka.
Stephens tends to struggle in early rounds before gaining momentum and playing flawless tennis later in tourneys. Perhaps she got her poor level out of the way on Wednesday. Regardless, this line is simply too short.
Elina Svitolina (-278) vs. Qiang Wang (+240)
Time: 12:30 p.m. ET
H2H: Svitolina leads 2-0 (both hard courts)
After a shaky first round, Svitolina easily moved past a tricky Tatjana Maria. Wang is a much different opponent who will hit flat and try for more winners than Maria. Svitolina does hold the 2-0 H2H advantage, but both matches went the distance.
Wang has two top-10 wins in her career — most recently over Venus Williams at Roland Garros (although Venus on clay is hardly an upset nowadays). She won’t be too overwhelmed by the spotlight.
Svitolina played very aggressively versus Maria, coming the net 25 times and winning 17 of those points. I don’t think she will demonstrate a similar game plan versus the more offensive-minded Wang, but having that in the repertoire does not hurt.
I expect Svitolina to get through, but I don’t see any betting value for a player that has never gone too far at majors.
Ekaterina Makarova -105