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US Open Women's First Round Clutch Preview

This post continues on my first round preview for the 2016 US Open Championships. Having already taken a dip into the men’s draw, let’s now take a look at some of the most interesting of the women’s matches in the days ahead.

As with the men’s preview, I have selected among matches of players who have some match history and have reported. For each match, clutch summary statistics of the players’ last meeting and most recent result are shown. The clutch statistics tell us about how players have performed on the most important points of a match when playing against each other and in their most recent matches. Details of the clutch-averaging method are described in the previous post.

Even not being 100%, it’s Serena Williams’ tournament to lose. If 2016 turns out to be a repeat of 2015 for Williams, here are some of the women we might see make a surprise run for the title.

Match Previews

The 5th seed of the draw, Simona Halep, will square-off against Kirsten Flipkens in her first match. It has been some time since the two have played each other. We have to go back to the 2014 Cincinnati Masters to find the last time they played. In that match, Halep won handily, taking 60% of the most important points of the match. Although Flipkens is even more the underdog this year, her recent run at New Haven, where she had a quarterfinal loss to Aga Radwanska, could give her a confidence boost going into the Open. This is unlikely to give Halep much pause, however, as she defeated Radwanska just a week before Flipkens’ loss. Still, Halep’s subsequent crushing loss to Angelique Kerber, in which she won only 35% of important points show us how vulnerable the players at the top can be on any given day.

As with Fritz-Sock match on the men’s side, Keys-Riske is the marquee all-American match of the first round. Keys and Riske had a close three-setter on clay earlier this year. Keys goes into this match on the high of reaching the semi-final at the Rio Olympics, where she lost to Angelique Kerber in another three-set match. Riske’s performance at New Haven suggests that Keys will have an easier go this time around, especially on a hard court that better suits her power game. Elo predictions give Keys an 85% chance of winning her first round match.

The pairing of Elena Vesnina and Anett Kontaveit is an interesting one since the two faced-off this month at New Haven. Kontaveit retired shortly after the first set, raising some concerns about her fitness going into the Open. Vesnina, on the other hand, must have felt a blow to her confidence with her eventual exit from New Haven, losing badly to Elina Svitolina. In that match, Vesnina won only 32% of important serve point and 0 important return points. If Kontaveit is healthy, Vesnina will have to raise her game to avoid a fight for a spot in the second round.

One of the first round matches that Elo predictions put at a near coin toss is Sabine Lisicki and Yulia Putintseva. The last meeting of this pair this year at Charleston was a heated three-set match that saw Putintseva emerge the victor. Neither Lisicki and Putintseva would seem to have an edge in confidence going into this match, both having big losses in their warm-ups to the Open. Even more reason to expect these women to serve up a first-round epic.

Aussie-hopeful Daria (Dasha) Gavrilova will meet Lucie Safarova in the first round. The two last played at the 2015 Cincinnati Masters, almost exactly one year ago. Gavrilova struggled on the pressure points on serve and return in that match but has since had success against several top 10 players. But at this year’s Cincinnati tournament, Halep wasn’t one of them. Gavrilova had difficulty to even generate pressure points in that match. Safarova, on the other hand, hasn’t gotten past the R32 since Wimbledon. This match is truly either competitor’s to win.

If any two first-round competitors are ready for an epic, it’s Svetlana Kuznetsova and Francesca Schiavone. When these two last played at the French Open in 2015, the match had to go to 18 games in the third set to be decided. Since that time, Schiavone has been slipping in the rankings and struggling to advance in lower-tier tournaments, as her recent loss in Nanchang shows. Kuznetsova, by contrast, seems to be one of those players, like the Williams sisters, who seems to get better with more experience. It took the powerhouse of Karolina Pliskova to shutdown Kuznetsova’s run at Cincinnati this year. Kuznetsova has to be the strong favorite going into this match but both of these women have fighting in their blood and you can expect neither will take a loss without given it their all.

Slicing Monica Niculescu will have her first match against Barbora Strycova. It has been more than a year since the two have played. In their last meeting, Strycova won easily, winning nearly equal majority of points on serve and return. Strycova was in strong form in her warm-up to the Open, losing in the R16 to Angeqlique Kerber, a strong favorite for the slam title. If Strycova can handle the tough points the same way she did against Kerber, she will likely cruise into the next round.

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