The Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati is finally back on schedule after days of rain and the last four line-up is looking pretty spectacular with a World No.1, a two-time Grand Slam champion, a contender for the Most Improved Player of the year, and a young and fiery talent competing for spots in the final of the prestigous Premier 5 event. Read on for previews of Halep-Sabalenka and Kvitova-Bertens…
1.  Simona Halep (No.1) vs Aryna Sabalenka (No.34)
Halep is on an eight-match winning streak after defeating Ashleigh Barty and Lesia Tsurenko back-to-back on Friday to secure her fourth straight semifinal in Cincinnati. I thought Halep could withdraw from the tournament after her long week in Montreal, coupled together with some injury issues and rain delays, but the Romanian seems determined to push on for the big trophy this week. Halep was pushed earlier this tournament to three sets by Ajla Tomljanovic, but has looked more convincing in her next two matches. Wonder how much she has left in her after so many matches – note: she is scheduled to play New Haven as well next week!
Another player who keeps on winning and winning is the 20-year-old Belarusian Sabalenka. While she has had many exciting deep runs in events such as the Lugano and Eastbourne finals earlier this year, this one should top it all with the quality of players she has beaten thus far – Johanna Konta, Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Garcia and Madison Keys. Sabalenka saved match points to eventually beat Pliskova and Garcia, before scoring a straight-set victory against Keys – her first straight-set victory since the qualifying rounds in Madrid! The win was so impressive for Sabalenka as she stayed in the present and stuck to her gameplan; this was such a rare time where Keys was outhit by her opponent. Sabalenka served so well in the first set and quickly got an early break in the second set, however Keys kept threatening to break serve and the crowd started to get more into the match as the American started to increase her level. Sabalenka impressively though staved off six break point opportunities in the set, usually with an astounding first serve. Sabalenka’s first serve percentage kept decreasing but her second serve was pretty good in the crucial moments. In the end, that early break was all Sabalenka needed to secure her eighth victory over a top 20 player in 2018.
Thoughts: It will be interesting to see if the World No.1 can deal with the youthfulness and hard-hitting of Sabalenka. Halep can struggle with huge-hitting opponents – losses to Naomi Osaka, CoCo Vandeweghe and Karolina Pliskova this year prove so, but the Romanian seems really secure and confident with her game since the French Open. On a normal day I would say Halep grits out the win, but after playing so many matches, I don’t think she is 100% fit and has enough energy to constantly defend the groundstrokes of Sabalenka. I’m predicting Sabalenka in three sets, or perhaps a retirement.
Final Prediction: Aryna Sabalenka d. Simona Halep in three sets
2.  Petra Kvitova (No.8) vs Kiki Bertens (No.17)
Kvitova and Bertens will compete against each other for the third time this year, and this has been a pretty fun match-up thus far – the first time they met was in the Madrid final, and since then both players have been on different paths so far. Other than successfully defending her Birmingham title against Magdalena Rybarikova, Kvitova has failed to impress, especially at the Slams where she lost in the third round in Paris and the first round in Wimbledon. In Montreal, Kvitova suffered a loss to Bertens, but quickly found back her form as she recorded one of the best performances of the year to defeat Serena Williams in Cincinnati. While she hasn’t replicated that play in the next two matches, Kvitova is a very dangerous player in the latter end of tournaments – whenever she has made the quarterfinal of a tournament this year, Kvitova has went on to win the showpiece eventually. This has happened five times in 2018 – will she make it 6-0 in Cincinnati?
While Kvitova failed to impress in Wimbledon and Montreal, these two events were where Bertens showed the tennis world that she no longer is a clay court specialist. Prior to Wimbledon, Bertens’ best results had only come on clay courts, but at SW19 she made her first deep run at a Grand Slam other than Roland Garros, defeating Venus Williams and Karolina Pliskova enroute to the quarterfinal. Bertens continued this play into Canada as she recorded her first hard court Premier quarterfinal, and has now made it two this week. In fact, she is now into the semifinals after a 6-4 6-3 win over No.5 seed Elina Svitolina. Bertens was so aggressive and clear in her gameplan and kept Svitolina pinned way behind the baseline. The Dutch player is now full on confidence and is jus thriving and trusting in her game at the moment.
Head to head: Kvitova leads the head to head 2-1, and as aforementioned the pair have met twice this year. Kvitova won an exciting Madrid final in three sets, while Bertens exacted revenge last week in Montreal in straights.
Thoughts: Both players must be feeling some fatigue by now as Bertens had to pull off double duty yesterday, while Kvitova had to fight through a two-hour and 42 minute battle against Elise Mertens. Hard to tell which way will go as both should be really high in confidence right now and both have huge firepower that can penetrate the court. I’m slightly edging towards Kvitova’s experience and how she is able to elevate her level at the end of the tournament.
Final Prediction: Petra Kvitova d. Kiki Bertens in three sets
Thanks for reading! Check out my Cincinnati predictions here or at the top of the page!