By Ros Satar, in Singapore

  • Naomi Osaka [3] v Kiki Bertens [8]
  • Angelique Kerber [1] v Sloane Stephens [5]
SINGAPORE – Once more the stage is set for an exciting finish as all four players in the Red Group fight for a chance to advance to the semi-finals

 

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Naomi Osaka [3] v Kiki Bertens [8] | H2H: Osaka leads 1-0

Naomi Osaka in the first round-robin match at the WTA Finals 2018, Singapore

Naomi Osaka in the first round-robin match at the WTA Finals 2018, Singapore | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

It has been a bit of a struggle for the reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka here. She handled the immediate aftermath of the chaos surrounding her convincing win over Serena Williams at the US Open with grace and dignity, backing that up with a run to the Tokyo final, and even though she might have been feeling below par, she still made the semi-finals in Beijing.

However, two round-robin losses out her in a three-match losing streak for the first time since the start of the US Open series with losses in Washington, Montreal and Cincinnati.

For Kiki Bertens, the opposite is true with a stunning win once more over Angelique Kerber and although she came out on the losing end of the match-up against Sloane Stephens, there is a sense of belief n Bertens that she does belong among this season’s elite – and that she means business.

Even though Osaka beat her in their only encounter in Acapulco 2018, it is fair to say their games have advanced a lot since then. Osaka has improved physically and mentally, while Bertens has the belief that her game that works so well on clay has every place on the other surfaces too.

Bertens is a real all-rounder – she has a lot of variety, she covers the court well and is very sharp at the net. Osaka will try and dominate from the baseline, and she is reliably solid of both wings and the easy power she possesses allows her to steady her frame and rip an winner off both sides. Moreover, she has a bigger serve than Bertens and it this was a quicker court, she would be looking for a lot more free points than she is likely to get.

However, she may be just a little too gassed especially after two gruelling three-setters. We are more than likely in for another one.

Prediction: Bertens in three sets.

 

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Angelique Kerber [1] v Sloane Stephens [5] | H2H: Stephens leads 4-1

Sloane Stephens in the first round robing match of the WTA Finals Singapore, 2018

Sloane Stephens in the first round robin match of the WTA Finals Singapore, 2018 | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

This match-up between two Slam champions is arguably going to be the battle of the night. On the one hand we have Kerber who has the experiences good and bad of struggling through these formats, and Stephens, whose devil-may-care attitude belies a lot of steel.

Angelique Kerber in the first round robin match at the WTA Finals 2018, Singapore

Angelique Kerber in the first round robin match at the WTA Finals 2018, Singapore | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

It appears to be a peculiar time for Kerber – her win at Wimbledon this year eradicated a horror of a 2017 that followed two Slam titles, one Slam final and the season-ending World No. 1 spot. And yet at the height of this run, she finds herself coach-less, and literally pushing herself one last time before a well-earned break (presumably to go shopping for a new coach)!

Stephens may be without the extremely charismatic  Kamau Murray, but she has hustled and fought hard for her two wins and is very much in the driving seat. If she wins she is in thanks to an unblemished record in the round-robins. If Kerber grinds her down, then Stephens needs to hope that Osaka gets the job done against Bertens.

Watching Kerber in the second round-robin match, it was very noticeable how much time the German had on the ball, and Stephens can very much put the rush on the German. The key to this match will be athleticism.

You would have to give an edge in this regard to Stephens – while Kerber has the legs to run all day long, Stephens has a natural speed and agility which really means she has it in her to run Kerber just as long but more importantly yank her all around the court.

This match feels like it will be a war of attrition and it is an extremely tough one to call. Common sense and form would suggest it is Stephens’ match to lose.

Prediction: Sloane Stephens in three sets.

 

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