The first week of the US Open ended with a bang with the likes of Kerber, Kvitova and Garcia all crashing out on Saturday. The depth of the tour is always so strong though and the line-up for the last 16 is still a fantastic one. Unlike Wimbledon, the four fourth round matches from the top half of the draw will be played today first and in this post I will be previewing two of those matches. Read on for previews of Stephens-Mertens and Ka.Pliskova-Barty…
1.  Sloane Stephens (No.3) vs  Elise Mertens (No.15)
Stephens has produced one of the better Grand Slam title defences in a long while – she is into the fourth round after an exhausting three-set win against Anhelina Kalinina and a convincing straight-set victory against Victoria Azarenka. I was very impressed with everything Stephens did against Vika: she managed to land so many first serves in, yet most of them were so accurately placed and helped her to set up points easily. She barely made any unforced errors at the important, and she handled Azarenka’s high loopy balls to her backhand so well. Stephens was in complete control in the first set but had to recover from 2-4 down to win the next four games to secure her third victory over the Belarusian in 2018.
Mertens is now up to 11 wins in her four events over the US hard court swing with a 6-3 7-6(4) victory over Barbora Strycova. Mertens has looked in stellar form since Wimbledon and toughed out so many wins over the summer, one of them which was over Kurumi Nara here in the first round in a 6-2 6-7(5) 7-5 scoreline. It was much more easier against Strycova where she was perfect in movement and defence, yet took her opportunities to play aggressively, especially when it mattered most. Mertens did need to save three set points in the second set but overall it was a steady and promising victory for the Belgian.
Head to head: The pair have only met once, just two weeks ago in Cincinnati where Mertens won 7-6(8) 6-2.
Thoughts: Mertens executed a perfect gameplan in their match in Cincinnati but this time around in front of a supportive Ashe crowd, the result could be different. Stephens really thrives under the home support and her reaction to winning the match against Azarenka just shows it. Both players have really similar games but I’m slightly edging towards Stephens here – she’ll be eager to exact revenge from their previous match, and Mertens has played a ton of matches the last few events (she is also playing doubles this week).
Final Prediction: Sloane Stephens d. Elise Mertens in three sets
2.  Karolina Pliskova (No.8) vs  Ashleigh Barty (No.17)
Pliskova hasn’t played her best tennis at all since the clay court swing, but perhaps is looking near to that level after reaching the fourth round here without dropping a set. Pliskova defeated Zarina Diyas, Ana Bogdan and Sofia Kenin enroute – all unseeded but dangerous floaters which could make some upsets in draws. Kenin had started off great against the Czech and had led 4-2 in both sets; however Pliskova found her serve and started using her experience to great effect. It was the best I’ve seen Pliskova serve in a long while – 11 aces to three double faults are great numbers from the Czech.
Barty has reached uncharted territory at a Slam with her first second week appearance at the US Open. Barty hasn’t played a player in the top 60 thus far but has looked comfortable with victories over Ons Jabeur, Lucie Safarova and Karolina Muchova without a loss of a set. Just like Pliskova, Barty’s serve has been a huge asset to her run and her game has been steady all week.
Head to head: Barty leads the head to head 2-1, and in their last match outmaneuvered Pliskova in Wuhan, 4-6 7-6(3) 7-6(2).
Thoughts: Not sure whether this new experience at a Slam will cause Barty to feel more nerves, or allow her to play freely with a ‘nothing to lose’ mindset. Pliskova has been so solid at the Slams and has reached the second week of four of the last six Slams. I think Pliskova is very close to a huge run and if Barty’s feeling some nerves, I feel Pliskova will pounce on this opportunity. Stat: Barty has lost her last six matches against top 10 players.
Final Prediction: Karolina Pliskova d. Ashleigh Barty in three sets
Thanks for reading! Check out my US Open predictions here or at the top of the page!