The crowd on the Rod Laver Arena could be in for a treat on the opening day of action at the Australian Open, with Kateryna Kozlova looking to upset the 13th seed, and seven-time Grand Slam champion, Venus Williams in the opening round in Melbourne.
The two have faced off once before, and it is because of that previous match there is some intrigue heading into this match; despite a strong start, Williams was pegged back by Kozlova, and was taking to a third set where she eventually saw off the Ukranian 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 in a fantastic contest.
This is the second match on the Rod Laver Arena, following the clash between Simona Halep and Shelby Rogers, and the winner will face Stefanie Voegele or Kurumi Nara in the second round.
So far in 2017
Neither of the two has played that well this season so far, so it will be interesting to see if either can improve for this meeting.
Kozlova won her first two matches of the season, beating Sara Tomic and Sachia Vickery in the qualifying event for the Brisbane International, though fell to Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the final. Following that, she had an extremely disappointing loss in qualifying for the Apia International Sydney, losing to Ellen Perez, ranked 533 places below her, in the opening round; she will certainly need to improve to have any chance here.
Starting her season at the ASB Classic in Auckland, which she won in 2015, Williams won her opening match unconvincingly, struggling past Jade Lewis, ranked outside the top 1000, 7-6, 6-2. Following that, she withdrew from her clash against Naomi Osaka with injury; it will be interesting to see what kind of shape she is coming into this.
Arguably the key thing for the American will be her fitness; if she is not at 100-percent, she will be sluggish, error-prone, and Kozlova will be able to take several opportunities. If fit, Williams must look to limit her error count, but she’ll most likely be able to use her power to dictate play and create opportunities for winners. Furthermore, she should try to use her serve to take control of points early, and stop the Ukrainian working her way into rallies.
There is no doubt Kozlova will have to raise her game massively, though she is helped by the fact there will be very little pressure on her; this could help her confidence, as she will have little to lose. She must defend well to keep herself in rallies, and try to frustrate Williams, and must also serve well to not allow the American to take control of the rallies early on. Furthermore, the Ukrainian must try to make very few unforced errors and take every opportunity she gets; there may not be too many.
This could be a tight match, though it seems unlikely that Kozlova will have enough to see off Williams. The 13th seed should take the victory, and it could be comfortable if she is playing well, though it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise if she finds it a bit tricky.
Prediction: Venus Williams in two sets