One of the most intriguing opening round matches at the US Open this year sees wildcard Svetlana Kuznetsova, champion at this tournament in 2004, take on 16th seed and two-time champion Venus Williams for a place in the second round.
It is undoubtedly surprising to see two multiple Grand Slam winners face off so early in the tournament, though injuries for Kuznetsova this year have led to her dropping down the rankings, forcing a brutal first round clash between the two. This will be the 11th time Williams and Kuznetsova have met, with the head to head evenly poised at 5-5.
This clash will take place on the opening day of the tournament, and the winner will face Camila Giorgi or wildcard Whitney Osuigwe in the second round.
US Open build up
Williams has had a disappointing season, with early losses at all the slams so far, and she has had a far from ideal build up for her home Grand Slam tournament. Starting in San Jose, the American won her first match against Heather Watson, though then fell to the unseeded Maria Sakkari after that. She then beat Caroline Dolehide and Sorana Cirstea at the Rogers Cup, only to fall easily to Simona Halep after that. Following that loss, Williams withdrew from the Western and Southern Open with a knee injury.
Injury issues have seen Kuznetsova fall out of the top 100 this season, though the Russian has picked up some form this summer. The former world number two captured her 18th career title at the Citi Open, beating Andrea Petkovic in the last four before saving match points against Donna Vekic in the final, though missed out on a wildcard for the Rogers Cup. She did, however, receive a wildcard into the Western and Southern Open, battling past Stefanie Voegele before suffering a narrow defeat to Elina Svitolina.
Whilst it is key in every match, serving could be particularly important in this clash. Williams is undoubtedly one of the greatest servers of all time, and Kuznetsova will find it tough if the American is firing well, though the 16th seed has struggled on serve at times over the past few seasons, and must not hand too many free points over to the Russian. Meanwhile, Kuznetsova is now perhaps the slightly more consistent server of the two, though does not get the same power on her serve that her opponent can, and must be prepared for Williams attacking serves that fall into her striking zone.
Williams is generally the more powerful of the two and could take control of the majority of the rallies, though must be patient, as her opponent in this match is the better mover, and could force errors out of the American; Williams must be careful not to make too many mistakes. Kuznetsova has the greater variety of the two and is the better mover, though must not play too many short balls or safe shots in this encounter, as Williams is more than capable of punishing her with her strong ground strokes.
This is certainly a tough encounter to call, with so many interesting factors to look at; Kuznetsova has arguably shown the better hard court form this summer, though Williams was a semifinalist here last season, and has had a more complete season this year than the Russian. The fact the head to head is tied also makes it interesting.
However, despite her injury issues earlier on in the year, Kuznetsova is playing well above her ranking, and with Williams certainly not reaching the heights she reached last season, it seems that the Russian could prevail here.
Prediction: Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets