Rain thwarted the schedule on Day 3 of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati but fortunately we were still able to get some matches underway and a couple of third round match-ups have been confirmed already. Read on for match previews of Kerber-Keys and Mertens-Stephens…
Cincinnati, Third Round
1.  Angelique Kerber (No.4) vs  Madison Keys (No.13)
Kerber has secured her first win since her triumph at Wimbledon with a 4-6 7-5 6-4 victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. It didn’t come as a surprise that Kerber was forced to three sets as the German had struggled in her previous match in Montreal, and Pavlyuchenkova had always caused troubles for the veteran. The Russian took the first set, but ultimately was too inconsistent and Kerber quickly settled into her gears and found some good shots as the match wore on. Kerber will need to improve if she wants to make a deep run as a 58% first serves won percentage won’t cut it out against more solid players.
On the contrary to Kerber’s battle, Keys blasted past Camila Giorgi 6-2 6-2 in less than an hour in the second round. Keys had struggled with injury weeks prior and was a huge mess in the first round so this result seems pretty promising. While Giorgi could have self-destructed (didn’t watch the match so I don’t know how Keys played), eight aces and 93% points won on first serve is pretty impressive.
Head to head: Kerber leads the head to head 7-1 – Kerber has won their past five match-ups with Keys’ lone win coming on the grass of Eastbourne. Kerber has won their last four encounters in straight sets, including a 6-1 6-2 win in the Australian Open earlier this year.
Thoughts: This has never been a good match-up for Keys as Kerber can just redirect and soak up the pace and force her into many errors. The lefty serve into the Keys’ backhand is a perfect weapon as Angie can get many free points with the one-two-punch or the backhand error from the American. I’m not expecting a simple victory for Kerber this time round though as she is still trying to find her footing on the hard courts, but in the end, the one-sided head to head should be the key factor for her win.
Final Prediction: Angelique Kerber d. Madison Keys in three sets
2.  Elise Mertens (No.14) vs  Sloane Stephens (No.3)
Mertens is into the third round in Cincinnati for the first time in her career and it wasn’t easy at all as she was forced to battle against Rebecca Peterson. From the start, it was obvious that Peterson could cause troubles as she possesses solid but powerful groundstrokes that could leave Mertens defending most of the time. Peterson served and returned well in the first set, but Mertens characteristically fought back and eventually won the match in a third-set tiebreak. Mertens once again showed her fighting qualities as she had wasted two match points at 5-4 in the third, but reseted and finished on a high in a commanding display in the tiebreaker. While Mertens seems to be nursing a forearm injury and generally has had taping on all areas of her body since the grass court swing, her fighting spirit has been the key to winning matches whilst not playing at her best.
Stephens has continued her good form from Montreal and claimed a commanding win over Tatjana Maria in the second round. It comes as no surprise that Stephens is starting to find her best tennis in North America, and has done really well in majority of the big events this year. Stephens has won at least 2 matches or more in all of her Premier 5 or Mandatory events in 2018.
Stat: Mertens is 4-17 against top 20 players and 2-7 against top 10 players in her career.
Thoughts: Both players have really similar games, but Stephens possesses the more firepower and is really high in confidence right now. While I think Mertens can make it tough for her with some good counter-punching at times, I think Stephens will once again excel on home soil and expose Mertens’ weaknesses such as the forehand.
Final Thoughts: Sloane Stephens d. Elise Mertens in two sets
Thanks for reading! Check out my Cincinnati predictions here or at the top of the page!