Just four women remain in contention at the WTA Western & Southern Open, played in New York this year instead of the usual location in Cincinnati. Will Victoria Azarenka’s vintage run finish with a championship match? Or will it be the more usual suspects playing in Friday’s final? We share our thoughts on both of Thursday’s matches.
Editors Note 1: Naomi Osaka announced she is boycotting her semifinal match against Mertens and joining protests in the world of sports against racial injustice.
Editors Note 2: The Western and Southern Open has announced all matches on Thursday are postponed until Friday in solidarity with the racial justice protest actions.
WTA Cincinnati Semifinal Predictions
Naomi Osaka vs Elise Mertens
Naomi Osaka’s pre-pandemic form left a lot to be desired, culminating in shocking losses to Cori Gauff and Sara Sorribes Tormo. The Japanese woman was unsure whether to enter the Western & Southern Open and failed to sign up before the deadline. However, the tournament directors gave her a wild card, and it appears that playing the event was a great choice. The fourth seed had a stern path to the semis, dropping sets to Karolina Muchova and Anett Kontaveit. This match will be a change of pace compared to her previous ones, as Elise Mertens is a much less powerful opponent than Kontaveit or Dayana Yastremska. However, the Belgian more than makes up for it with her consistency and stability off the ground.
Mertens has dominated most of her opponents this week, though perhaps that can be attributed to the weakness of the opposition. Osaka won their previous meeting last year and should benefit more from the faster hard court surface. The Japanese big game will be put to the test against Mertens’ counterpunching and she will need her shots to be very sharp if she wants to pull this one off. Expect her to find the extra gear in time.
Prediction: Osaka in 3
Victoria Azarenka vs Johanna Konta
Head-to-head: Konta 2-1
Prior to this week, Victoria Azarenka was winless in 2020. In fact, her last win in any match, including an exhibition event during the pandemic, came at last year’s Western & Southern Open. Getting an opponent like Donna Vekic in the first round was expected to end up with yet another disappointment for Azarenka. Yet, somehow, the two-time Grand Slam champion is finding some of her best tennis this week and is back in the final four for the first time in seven years, when she triumphed over Serena Williams. Trying to stop her now will be Johanna Konta, who’s also yet to lose a set in this tournament.
Following straightforward wins over veterans Kirsten Flipkens and Vera Zvonareva, Konta stopped a very dangerous run from Maria Sakkari. The pair split their previous completed meetings (one of Konta’s wins came via retirement). Both women are excellent frontrunners, and if one is off to a great start, she might just end up do dominating for the rest of the game. Fairytales happen and Victoria Azarenka being in the semifinals of a Premier event again, after everything her career has been through, is sort of too good to be true. With the level shown in her first four matches, Konta is certainly in Azarenka’s range. But the Brit seems way more likely to keep playing near her highest level of an extended period of time.
Prediction: Konta in 3
Main Photo from Getty.