By Ros Satar, in Singapore

  • Naomi Osaka [3] v Sloane Stephens [5]
  • Angelique Kerber [1] v Kiki Bertens [8]
SINGAPORE – One old hand and three newcomers take to Centre Court on Day 2 of the WTA Finals to round out the first of the group stage matches.

 

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Naomi Osaka [3] v Sloane Stephens [5] | H2H: Stephens leads 1-0

The level of interest for the last running of the WTA Finals in Singapore has intensified with the qualification of the Indian Wells and US Open champion Naomi Osaka. That being said, Osaka is no stranger to the set up here. At the age of 18 and ranked 202, Osaka was part of the 2015 Rising Stars field defeating last year’s newbie Caroline Garcia in the final.

Sloane Stephens in the first round of Roland Garros, 2018

Sloane Stephens in the first round of Roland Garros, 2018 | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

Also making her debut, coming off the back of the Miami win and reaching the Roland Garros final, Sloane Stephens qualified with the lowest amount of match wins (33) among all of the qualifiers.

We can expect heavy hitting from the off but these matches should be intriguing. Stephens uses the court extremely well with a large swing on her forehand and in general she hots a steady ball. Her athleticism means she is at home both at the back of the court trading blows, or coming into the net to finish points.

Osaka describes herself now as an aggressive baseliner, and there has been a lot of improvement in Osaka’s mental fortitude, so perhaps the head to head is a bit misleading, as Stephens has always had the capability to be at the top of the game but often gives the impression that she does not care.

Prediction: Osaka in three sets.

 

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Angelique Kerber [1] v Kiki Bertens [8] | Kerber leads 2-1

Angelique Kerber in the third round of the Nature Valley International, WTA Eastbourne 2018

Angelique Kerber in the third round of the Nature Valley International, WTA Eastbourne 2018 | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

The top seed, and Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber finds herseld the most experienced in the group, not to mention the fact she is the only player over 30 or above at this year’s WTA Finals. She will face Kiki Bertens who thought she had missed her chance to make the cut, after an early exit in Moscow, so she needs to banish the whole ‘just happy to be here’ and focus on business.

Kiki Bertens in the semi-final of the WTA Mutua Madrid Open, 2018

Kiki Bertens in the semi-final of the WTA Mutua Madrid Open, 2018 | (c) Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

Kerber has the measure of Bertens, but by a slim margin, and surprisingly the latest win is on her least favourite surface of clay. Bertens may have had the best of her results are clay, but this year she has shown she can take that game and adapt it to the other surfaces.

It will be interesting to see how Kerber approaches this. Top seed by virtue of Simona Halep’s withdrawal with injury, and in a group that for the first time contains all the debutantes, Kerber at times has not been the best at being the one expected to come out of the group.

Bertens may feel that she has unlocked her game on other courts but she has an all-round game – variety, court coverage and net play. That in particular famously undid Kerber in 2016 in the first round of Roland Garros following her Australian Open triumph.

That being said, while she might not have played all the way into the tournament, experience can count for a lot here and it might take Bertens a match to fully get her bearings. With so many still undecided about the pace of the court, Kerber can take time on the ball, and more importantly run all day long. Their last two matches have very tight and this could well be the same.

Prediction: Kerber in three sets.

Osaka & Stephens are scheduled on Centre Court at 7:30pm (12:30pm BST), followed by Kerber & Bertens not before 9pm (2pm BST).

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