After a trio of dominant performances on the first day, two expected and one unexpected, Istanbul might feature more intriguing action on the second day. The title favorite aims to establish command of the Red Group, the world #1 begins her campaign, and the two residents of the White Group penthouse battle for supremacy over that domain. We discuss all of the action here.
Serena (1-0) vs. Li: One of the few veterans who approaches Serena with the same belief as other opponents, the former Roland Garros champion starts her week in Istanbul with her most daunting test. Even at a level well below her best, the 15-time major champion overcame a wayward first serve to dispatch Kerber without difficulty in an ominous sign for her rivals. Essentially into the semifinals with a victory today, Serena has won five of their previous six meetings, but her only loss came indoors during the fall season. Moreover, Li has extended her to five tiebreaks across those five losses, including a double-tiebreak thriller at the Australian Open where only a timely display of will by the American separated her from the Chinese star. The latter will earn opportunities if the former continues to search for her serve, and a surface slower than anticipated might bolster her hopes. Recently a semifinalist in Beijing, Li has excelled against elite competition in the second half, winning at least one set in all but one of her meetings with top-ten opponents. Facing Serena for the first time since her comeback last summer, she will hope to prevent her from opening the court with angles by pinning her behind the baseline with deep groundstrokes. Key to her success is a bold return strategy, and Li will not hesitate to take risks. But eroding Serena’s confidence on serve—the first step to unraveling her game—is much easier said than done. Serena in three
Azarenka vs. Kerber (0-1): Somewhat cruel for a year-end championships debutante was the schedule that pitted Kerber on her first two days against the women who have won three of the four 2012 majors. Although she competed surprisingly well in the first set against Serena, even erasing an early deficit, she quickly crumbled in the second set as even routine shots deserted her. If Azarenka can establish an early advantage, then, the momentum might tilt inexorably in her direction while Kerber resigns herself to the inevitable. Undefeated against anyone but Serena since the clay season, retirements aside, the world #1 brings significant momentum from consecutive fall titles at Beijing and Linz. A victory would edge her to the brink of clinching the top spot for the start of 2013, and two straight-sets victories over Kerber in 2012 suggest little cause for concern. Aware that the German cannot overpower her, Azarenka knows that she will not need to leave her comfort zone of balanced and patient but opportunistic baseline tennis. An opponent who lacks her power must hope to outlast her with resilient defense and consistency, a promising option neither on an indoor court nor for the mentally jaded, physically drained Kerber. Azarenka in two
Sharapova (1-0) vs. Radwanska (1-0): Considering the woeful ineptitude of Kvitova and the inadequate weapons of Errani, both exposed on Tuesday, the winner of this match should feel optimistic of her chances to win the White Group and likely avoid Serena until the final. From their opening victories came two statistics that should define this match, like most of their previous encounters: Sharapova’s 39 winners in 17 games, and Radwanska’s five unforced errors in two sets. While the second seed’s routine romp past Errani surprised few witnesses, the third seed raised a few eyebrows by dismantling Kvitova so thoroughly, although the defending champion certainly earned a Best Supporting Actress award in her own demise. Radwanska’s almost inconceivable stinginess nevertheless play a role in flustering the errant sharpshooter, as it has on two notable occasions against Sharapova. Never losing her serve during the Miami final this year, the Pole delivered her first victory over the Russian since an unsightly first-week meeting at the US Open five years ago. Between those triumphs, though, Sharapova bombarded the finesse specialist into (temporary) submission with six consecutive victories during which she lost two total sets. Among the most memorable in that span was a Roland Garros battle that showcased roughly 50 winners and 50 unforced errors—in just two sets—from the winner, who committed herself to taking target practice on the first stroke of the point whenever possible. Improved over the years to the point where she can crack triple digits occasionally, Radwanska’s serve must withstand the pressure of the WTA’s fiercest return, which it did for the first time in Miami. Like Li, she will have welcomed the shift to a somewhat slower surface in Istanbul, for she will need all of the time that she can find to craft those unpredictable gambits before Sharapova thrusts her into pure retrieval mode. Sharapova in three