One of the most intriguing first round matches in what is an exciting women’s singles draw at the US Open sees sixth seed Angelique Kerber, the defending champion in New York, face talented rising star Naomi Osaka for a place in the second round.
Things have certainly not gone to plan for Kerber this year, with the German failing to win a title and generally struggling with her form, and she is undoubtedly under a lot of pressure to defend the 2000 ranking points she gained last year. However, Osaka herself has had an inconsistent season and is yet to defeat a top ten player.
This will be the first meeting between the two, with the match being the second during the day session on the Arthur Ashe Stadium. The winner will face Denisa Allertova or qualifier Rebecca Petersen in the second round on Thursday.
US Open build-up
Osaka started her summer in Stanford, suffering a surprise defeat to qualifier Caroline Dolehide in straight sets in the opening round. She rebounded slightly with a fairly strong run in Toronto, winning two matches in qualifying before beating Heather Watson and Anastasija Sevastova in the main draw. However, she was forced to retire in the third round against Karolina Pliskova, and then withdrew from Cincinnati; she should, however, be fit for this encounter.
Meanwhile, Kerber was unable to improve on her early season form in the build up to the final Grand Slam tournament of the year. The German started well in Toronto, seeing off Donna Vekic in her opening match after receiving a bye in the first round, though was then crushed by Sloane Stephens in the third round. Kerber then fell in her first match in Cincinnati, falling to Ekaterina Makarova despite having a match point; she will be desperate to gain some form in this match.
One issue with Kerber’s game this season is that she has generally been lacking in conviction in her shots, and has often looked unwilling to attack and try and take control of points. Though she is naturally a counter puncher and will have to defend well against a very powerful opponent, the sixth seed must also look to attack as much as possible and be aggressive herself; she plays her best tennis when she looks to step forward, and she will find it easier to take advantage of some of the vulnerabilities of Osaka’s game if she does so.
Osaka, meanwhile, is certainly the more powerful of the two and there is no doubt that she will look to be aggressive throughout the vast majority of this encounter. The Japanese should look to attack any short balls by Kerber and also attack the German’s serve, though must be patient as the defending champion may prove tricky to break down; there is no doubt that Osaka cannot be allowed to be pressured into making many unforced errors in this match, even if Kerber is not at her best.
This is certainly one of the most anticipated first round clashes of the tournament, with one of the most promising young stars on the WTA facing one of the most successful players in recent years. Kerber has certainly not been at her best this year, though she realistically should have enough to hold off any danger from Osaka, who herself can be inconsistent.
Prediction: Angelique Kerber in straight sets