The first round of the Western and Southern Open features a blockbuster encounter between world number 23 Barbora Strycova and the Washington DC champion Ekaterina Makarova, with the winner being part of another blockbuster match-up as the third seed and former world number one Angelique Kerber awaits in the second round.
Strycova’s recent results
Strycova’s only hard court event in the US Open Series thus far was in Toronto. Having fallen out of the Top 25 in the rankings recently for the first time since the 2016 Wimbledon Championships, Strycova entered the Rogers Cup looking for a great run. However, she was handed a very tough draw as the Czech was drawn to face 13th seed Kristina Mladenovic, who has had deep runs in Indian Wells and Madrid, in the first round. Unexpectedly, Strycova produced an upset when she outclassed the Frenchwoman in straight sets, playing some solid tennis to take the win despite Mladenovic being very erratic.
The Czech then followed it up with yet another amazing victory, this time over Daria Gavrilova as she came from 4-6 1-4 down to produce an improbable comeback and prevail in three tough sets, setting up a meeting with world number two Simona Halep in the third round. There, she was outgunned by the firing Romanian, who prevailed easily in straight sets losing just one game in the process after just 59 minutes of play.
Makarova’s recent results
Makarova has had a successful US Open Series thus far, having won the title in Washington DC after defeating quality players like Simona Halep, benefitting from a retirement in the final set of their quarterfinal set, fending off the formidable power of Oceane Dodin and triumphing against Julia Goerges having come back from the brink to clinch the win and the title in three sets. Proceeding to Toronto, she had an even tougher draw when she was drawn to face Nanchang champion Peng Shuai in the opening round.
However, she defied the odds and shocked everyone when she triumphed in straight sets against her higher-ranked opponent. Makarova’s second round match featured a more formidable opponent in Johanna Konta, but she still overturned a 0-4 head-to-head record against the Brit, recovering from a huge 5-7 2-5 deficit to triumph in three tough sets, earning her first win over the Wimbledon semi-finalist and world number seven. Another miraculous comeback looked to be on the cards against Lucie Safarova in the third round when she powered her way back from 3-6 2-5 down to force a deciding set, but eventually still fell short as the Czech won the battle of lefties after 2 hours and 25 minutes.
Head to Head
Strycova leads their head-to-head 3-2, with Strycova winning their only hard court meeting thus far. Makarova’s only wins came at the Wimbledon Championships, but the Czech won their last meeting at the Sydney International at the start of this year, with Strycova prevailing in two tight sets, 6-3 7-5. It is also worth noting that Makarova owned a 3-1 lead in the first set and also led 5-3 in the second.
Strycova is a good returner and would definitely perform well against the lefty serve of Makarova, who tends to add a lot of spin on it. However, despite getting some good wins last week in Toronto, the Czech has to up her level of play and find her best tennis if she were to increase her chances of beating the Russian.
Throwing in slices could help Strycova to disrupt her opponent’s game and causing her to be playing at an uncomfortable position. Being a successful doubles player, Strycova could also opt to move forward to the net more often to kill off the points easier using her great hands there. Moving fast around the court, the Czech will not find a problem retrieving Makarova’s drop shots. The feisty Strycova would also look to perform well on her serve and forehand, and getting the win could be tricky if she is not playing her best tennis.
Carrying her good form into Cincinnati, Makarova will look to produce another good result. Her groundstrokes are fairly aggressive, especially the backhand which is able to produce winners after winners should it be firing on all cylinders. The Russian would look to attack and exploit the vulnerable second serves of Strycova and also aims to dictate play throughout the whole match.
However, the Czech’s amazing variety of shots would definitely trouble Makarova but she can come up with her passing shots or lobs, outgunning her opponent at the net. Similar to Strycova, Makarova is also an accomplished doubles player having just recently triumphed at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Therefore, she could use her net fortress to defeat the crafty Czech, who is able to stay solid at the baseline.
Recent form could play a major part in this match considering Strycova has not been playing her best tennis and Makarova has been playing some peak tennis recently. However, the Russian has struggled against the Czech in their previous encounters. Therefore, being higher-ranked and leading their head-to-head, Strycova has the slight edge in this match-up.
Match Prediction: Barbora Strycova d. Ekaterina Makarova in three sets