The bottom half of the second quarter in the draw is a huge blockbuster — all the players have won at least a Premier 5 title with the lone exception being the young and upcoming talent Aryna Sabalenka. The Belarusian reached the third round in Montreal last week and looks to continue her good run of form here at the 2018 Western and Southern Open although she faces an extremely tough opponent in the first round.
Her opening-round opponent will be the former top-five player and the in-form Johanna Konta, who also had some encouraging runs in the past few weeks. Konta, having reached the quarterfinals here in Cincinnati last year, will be looking to replicate that run with some hope of achieving a seeding at the upcoming US Open two weeks later.
The winner of this hard-hitting contest will face the winner of another mouth-watering clash between ninth seed Karolina Pliskova and former world number two Agnieszka Radwanska.
Recent form: Konta back in the running
After an encouraging run to the quarterfinals at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic where she claimed a huge 6-1, 6-0 win over 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, Konta has been in good form since. The Brit overcame her disappointments from the early stages of the year and finally got back onto her winning ways after a rather tough stretch of results.
Despite the tough draw she received at the Rogers Cup, Konta claimed her biggest win of the year (in terms of rankings) against world number 11 Jelena Ostapenko in the opening round, recovering from a set down to triumph with a commanding 6-7, 6-1, 6-2 scoreline after two hours of play. The path does not get easier though, as former top-ranked player Victoria Azarenka awaited in the second round.
Her opponent was labelled as the best returner on the tour during her glory days and hard-courts were her best surface, but Konta was firing on all cylinders and defeated the Belarusian with an outstanding performance. Konta will hope that she can display her monstrous form against Azarenka’s compatriot on Monday as well.
Although her run ended in the hands of eventual semifinalist Elina Svitolina, it was a terrific run which came timely to boost her confidence on a surface where she can excel on.
Recent form: Heartbreak for Sabalenka in Montreal
A terrific run to the final of the Nature Valley International saw her defeating three top-15 players consecutively, but it also pushed Sabalenka towards a career-high ranking of 32, but she could not be seeded just in time for Wimbledon which started immediately after.
Her North-American hard-court swing got off to an extremely poor start, after falling to the world number 258 Maria Sanchez in the opening round of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic qualifying rounds as the Belarusian had forgotten to enter the tournament. Nonetheless, she stormed back with a stunning display at the Rogers Cup, grabbing the biggest win of her career after she ousted world number two and Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki in the second round, saving three match points and blasting a total of 64 winners against the Dane to grab the win in 151 minutes.
Due to a rain delay, Sabalenka had to take the court just two hours later once more, this time to fight for a place in the quarterfinal in Montreal. However, this time the Belarusian failed to convert a match point and was ultimately given a bagel in the deciding set, and she will no doubt be extremely disappointed with herself but she will look to overcome the agony with a win against Konta in the first round here in Cincinnati.
First meeting between the pair
This will be their first meeting in their respective careers although they have been slated to meet in the past. Luck just was not on their side as they were poised for a third-round meeting in Indian Wells but Konta fell to Marketa Vondrousova in the second round. Just last week at the Rogers Cup, Konta and Sabalenka could have met in the quarterfinals but both lost out to their opponents in the third-round eventually.
Match Analysis: Hard-hitting contest looks to be a thriller
In this contest between two hard-hitting players, what fans would anticipate will be the countless winners although that could only be ensured when both players are in their top form. However, if both players could not find their groove, it will result in a slew of unforced errors but the player with the most consistency in their game will definitely have a higher chance of triumphing. Konta and Sabalenka will be looking to overpower each other, but ultimately it all comes down to which player commits less unforced errors, and with her experience and calmness on the court, it seems like the Brit has the slight edge in this blockbuster encounter.