Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep lead the action
Women’s Round of 16
Naomi Osaka over Belinda Bencic
Osaka keeps winning, which is a nice sight to see, as she’s such a gracious champion. After triumphing in New York last September, she swept to her second straight Grand Slam tournament by marching to the title in Melbourne. She has continued to roll, even when she has not played her best, and that is the true sign of a champ. This doesn’t bode well for Belinda Bencic, another Swiss Miss, who is trying to take the mantle from former Swiss great Martina Hingis, who just became a mother last week. Bencic has posted a terrific record, at age 21, and is a pretty good doubles player as well. If she gets to the net she will stand a puncher’s chance in this match, but in all likelihood, Osaka will overpower Bencic from the baseline, as this has become her signature.
Karolina Pliskova over Anett Kontaveit
Kontaveit, the charming Estonian, has barely had to play in this tournament. After getting a first round bye because she was the 21st seed, she took out Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig, the former Olympic Gold Medalist, in straight sets, and then received a walkover from Anastasija Sevastova as the Latvian retired, ill, down 5-0 in the first. Therefore, it’s hard to tell how well she’s playing here in the difficult conditions that the California desert has presented. Normally, she’s a good player and a good competitor. But Pliskova is the 5th seed here, and is playing with poise. The win in Melbourne over Serena Williams really helped her confidence, and until I see Kontaveit play a tough three set match, I’ve gotta go with the Czech, who holds a career 1-0 advantage between the two.
Garbine Muguruza over Kiki Bertens
Let’s just put this out there right now. Serena Williams was getting her butt kicked by former Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, who was born in Venezuela, lives in Switzerland, and plays for Spain. Down 6-1, 1-0, Williams threw the towel in and quit, allowing Muguruza to move into the Fourth Round without even competing. Although Williams pled a viral illness, I believe that, at almost 38-years-old now, Serena is at the end. She can’t play the way she used to, a problem most 38-year-old athletes share, and doesn’t know how to handle it. I predict she retires after the U.S. Open when she finally can admit to herself that she’s done challenging for titles. At any rate, Muguruza, who has been playing with spotty results lately, can be a challenger again. She’s only 25-years-old, stands 6’ tall, and has a good serve that she backs up with wonderful athleticism. She’ll have a very tall order ahead of her in Kiki Bertens, the 6’0” 7th seed from The Netherlands. Bertens holds a 4-1 lifetime advantage over Muguruza, and that might be telling here. If Muguruza shows the array of shots she did in her quick eight games against Serena, she can break the schneid against Bertens. If not, Bertens will win and move on.
Elina Svitolina over Ash Barty
Svitolina has not shown her best game here in Indian Wells. She struggled to beat the American Sofia Kenin, and slid by Australian Daria Gavrilov, although she did recover from a poor start to take that third round match in two close sets. If she doesn’t bring her “A” game into this match with the young Aussie, Barty will make her pay. But the 22-year-old from Ipswich hasn’t been able to put it all together in her four previous matches with Svitolina, losing them all. Svitolina is the 6th seed, and sports that undefeated record over Barty, which is huge, so I expect Gael Monfils’ girlfriend to move on.
Simona Halep over Marketa Vondrousova
Marketa Vondrousova is another very young, very appealing player on the WTA Tour who has had a really nice run here. She holds wins over Laura Sigemund, Daria Kasatkina, and Jelena Ostapenko over the past few days, and stands a puncher’s chance against Halep. But Halep is just such a tough competitor that I really don’t see how the 19-year-old Czech can take out the 2nd seeded Romanian. I think Halep moves on, and how close the match is will be more an indicator of what we can expect from Vondrousova in the near future than anything else.