By Michael Stafford-Jones

  • Three must-see matches in the Women’s Singles last 16 at US Open 2016
  • Venus Williams [6] vs Karolina Pliskova [10]
  • Serena Williams [1] vs Yaroslava Shvedova
  • Simona Halep [5] vs Carla Suarez-Navarro [11]
NEW YORK, USA – Serena Williams and her sister Venus are both in action on Arthur Ashe, while Halep plays on Louis Armstrong, on a packed day of last-16 action at the US Open.

 

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Venus Williams [6] v Karolina Pliskova [10] H2H: 1-0

There’s a Williams’ sisters double-header on Arthur Ashe on the middle Monday of this year’s US Open, and first up is Venus. She is up against the player who has hit the most aces on the WTA tour in 2016: Pliskova.

So Venus’ first task will be to try and neutralise Pliskova’s serve as much as possible to unsettle the Czech number one. She will have to stay realistic too because, when an opponent serves as well as Pliskova can, there is sometimes nothing you can do against it. For that reason, the American, 36, will have to make sure she holds her own serve almost all the time. If she gets broken once, and cannot break through on the Czech’s serve, that could be set over.

However, if Venus can get a foothold in the match by holding a few times, she can start swinging freely on her more potent forehand side and potentially do some damage during Pliskova’s service games. The Czech, for her part, will be looking to dominate completely on serve so that Venus feels the pressure when it is her turn. At times this year, Venus has shown a tendency to make a lot of unforced errors, so Pliskova could also have success by making her play extra shot whenever she can.

Their only previous meeting was a close match in Zhuhai in November 2015 that Venus won 7-5 7-6(6). But Pliskova is in a rich vein of form, and has finally reached the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time, so expect her to ride that wave of confidence into the quarter-final.

Prediction: Pliskova in two close sets

 

Serena Williams [1] v Yaroslava Shvedova H2H: 4-0

World number one Serena Williams is attempting to break Steffi Graf’s record of most Grand Slam wins in the Open era at this year’s US Open, and she is being roared on every step of the way by the home crowd. She has bullied her opponents so far, beating all three in straight sets for the loss of just 15 games overall.

The latest challenger attempting to stop her is Shvedova, whose run to the Wimbledon quarter-final earlier this year has clearly given her a lot of confidence ahead of this last Grand Slam of the year. She is a powerful player, who places her shots accurately, and she often displays impressive consistency on court, which forces her opponents to try and make the running and often that approach produces errors. Such a strategy may be her best hope against Serena, particularly if she can wrong foot the American – as some of the world number one’s previous conquerors have done.

Unfortunately for the Kasakhstani, she cannot take much encouragement from their previous encounters, as she has lost all four, but she did at least take a set off Serena at Wimbledon 2012. As for Serena, her game plan hardly changes whoever she plays. She will look to dominate on serve, return aggressively, take control early on and storm to victory very rapidly. Anyone who wants to beat the American has to upset this rhythm. Otherwise they have no chance.

Considering Shvedova and Serena’s past clashes, and the ease with which Serena has dismissed her Flushing Meadows opponents so far, it is almost impossible to imagine anything other than a win for the world’s best in this one. It is up to Shvedova to try and demonstrate otherwise.

Prediction: Serena in straight sets

 

Simona Halep [5] v Carla Suarez-Navarro [11] H2H: 5-5

Settle down and prepare yourself for a long match because both of these two players have great defensive ability. They are also fantastic athletes, able to dash around the court and still have enough energy to play three sets. And their head-to-head record is 5-5 so that suggests there is very little to separate them on court.

However, there is no doubt more is expected of Simona Halep. She has come close to winning Grand Slams before, most notably when she lost the 2014 French Open final to Maria Sharapova, but also when she reached the semi-final stage at Wimbledon 2014 and US Open 2015. And she would love nothing more than to take home the trophy at the end of these two weeks.

After a gruelling three-set win over Timea Babos in round three, Halep will be hoping for a shorter fourth-round match against Suarez-Navarro (preferably a straight-sets win). To have any chance of achieving this aim, the Romanian will have to be aggressive. She could use her devilishly accurate groundstrokes to pin the Spaniard deep behind the baseline and then hit winners into the open court. Another effective tactic might be to draw Suarez-Navarro into the net and then flick the ball past her. She would have to very precise with this approach though as the Spaniard’s speed may enable her to get to the net in time to hit a winning shot.

Suarez-Navarro will have plans of her own too. She knows Halep’s game inside out (how could she not after ten previous matches?) and may have the advantage if she can keep the Romanian out on court for a long time, particularly after Babos tested Halep physically in the previous round. It probably will not happen this time, however, as Halep has been one of the form players on the WTA tour in recent months, winning three titles in the process, and there is a good chance she will raise her level against the Spaniard and produce some of her very best tennis to beat her.

Prediction: Halep in two very close sets

Halep v Suarez-Navarro is on first and is due to start on Louis Armstrong court at 4pm UK time.

 

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