For Goffin vs. Berdych and Almagro vs. Stepanek, please see the Day 1 preview. (We had forgotten that the men’s first round extends across three days, and thus we previewed all of the top-half men’s matches at once.) Unfortunately, the men’s matches on Day 2 suggest little intrigue, so we focus on a handful of somewhat more notable women’s encounters.
Stakhovsky vs. Wawrinka: For those who appreciate the art of one-handed backhands, a contest between two of them should delight. Whereas Wawrinka pounds his signature shot from well behind the baseline, Stakhovsky often will use it as an approach shot behind which to showcase his skills at the net. Just 12-22 this year, the latter has watched his ranking dip to the edges of the top 100, while Wawrinka has headed in the opposite direction lately following a Cincinnati semifinal appearance. But their first meeting seems like less of a mismatch than it looks on paper because of the fast court that favors Stakhovsky’s style and the Swiss #2’s propensity for playing to the level of the competition.
Vandeweghe vs. Serena: A rematch of the Stanford final, this all-American clash under the lights essentially features a woman who can hit a serve through a battleship and a woman who can hit every stroke through a battleship. Once past the point-starting shot, Serena clearly trumps Vandweghe in athleticism and shot-making talent as well as experience and grit. When they met earlier this summer, though, the youngster from Southern California served for the first set against a sluggish Serena before the veteran restored order. Until Roland Garros this year, Serena never had lost in the first round of a major. Perhaps as a result of that experience, the early rounds of Wimbledon became more adventurous than expected for her. As the last several majors have taught her rivals, one either ousts Serena early or not at all.
Schiavone vs. Stephens: Although the former Roland Garros champion won their only meeting in May, the shift from clay to hard courts should boost the home hope’s fortunes. Shortly after that match in Strasbourg, Stephens also delivered a significant breakthrough by reaching the second week of Roland Garros. The 19-year-old produced solid albeit not outstanding results this summer, winning sets from Radwanska and Bartoli at her last two tournaments. Despite her reputation as a clay-court specialist, Schiavone has not lacked for success in New York with a 2010 quarterfinal and nearly another in 2011. Dormant for most of 2012, she implausibly reasserted herself with a strong grass season at Wimbledon and the Olympics. The canny Italian would have devoured the raw Stephens a year or two ago, but the American has matured quickly and generally learned how to shoulder pressure. Since both women know how to use all parts of the court, entertaining rallies should develop with placement more pivotal than power.
King vs. Shvedova: Together they won doubles titles at Wimbledon and the US Open, so the dynamic of standing across the net from each other will create an intriguing psychological test. Whenever doubles partners spend many weeks and collect notable laurels as a pair, the competitive instinct sometimes struggles to stir when one must overcome the other. That said, Shvedova has revitalized her career in stunning fashion by winning seven matches at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, culminating in a near-upset of Serena. Having lost that close match, she lost another thriller to Kvitova at the Olympics, so she must not allow those narrow reverses to discourage her. King can empathize with her partner, for she hovered on the brink of dispatching a top-seeded Bartoli in Carlsbad this summer before slumping to defeat. A similar fate awaited her a week later as she could not finish off Pavlyuchenkova in a Washington semifinal. With two women who have struggled to find a killer instinct and have profited so much from each other’s company, a match of uneven rhythm and momentum shifts should unfold.
U. Radwanska vs. Vinci: Overshadowed by her sister throughout her career, this former US Open junior runner-up has raised her ranking during a summer of tournaments depleted in marquee entrants by the Olympics. Consecutive quarterfinals in Stanford and Carlsbad foreshadowed two main-draw victories in Cincinnati, where she played two competitive sets against (an admittedly enervated) Serena. Don’t expect another artist of the racket like Aga, for Urszula follows much more the power baseline model more typical in the WTA. Or perhaps one should expect an artist of the racket, since Vinci owns a biting backhand slice that has frustrated plenty of more potent opponents. On Friday, the Italian won her first title of the season in Dallas, an achievement preceded by victories over Ivanovic and Kerber en route to a Rogers Cup quarterfinal. This match should offer multiple types of contrasts: playing styles, national origins, age.
Jovanovski vs. Barthel: So rapidly do German players develop now that each generation of women blurs into the next. A little behind the group of Lisicki, Petkovic, and Goerges on the trajectory of evolution, Barthel twice has taken Azarenka to 5-5 in the third set this year and notched her first top-10 victory on home soil in Stuttgart. Armed an explosive serve but also susceptible to double faults, she has reached double figures in both categories by relentlessly pounding away with her greatest weapon even on its less impressive days. That stubbornness should carry Barthel far later in her career, but it has undermined her during a tepid recent span that started with the grass season, while a walkover last week in New Haven causes concern. The future of Serbian women’s tennis, meanwhile, Jovanovski has accumulated a somewhat cloudy reputation such as when she resorted to gamesmanship at Wimbledon against Lisicki. Double-bageled by Serb-slayer Vinci last week, she already has shared her countrywomen’s taste for veering wildly in form, although much less distance separates peaks from valleys at her lower elevation. After winning the title in Baku, for example, she lost her first qualifying match at Montreal or Canada. Is the future now for Serbia or for Germany?