The 2021 WTA Tour takes center stage at Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open. Damien Kayat previews the matchups between Maria Sakkari vs Coco Gauff as well as Elina Svitolina vs Vera Zvonareva.
Photo Copyright – Steve Haag Sports
2021 WTA Tour
Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open
Selected Round of 32 Matches – 9 January 2021
Maria Sakkari (9) (4/6) vs Coco Gauff (6/5)
This promises to be a fascinating encounter for this early stage of the season. Both Maria Sakkari and Coco Gauff showed throughout last year’s schizophrenic campaign that they have mountains of talent. 25-tear-old Greek sensation Sakkari should theoretically be better suited to these courts. They seem to be playing faster than anticipated, which should aid her tremendously powerful serve and groundstrokes. She dismantled rising star Anastasia Potapova in convincing fashion to open her account this week. She won 90 percent of her first serve points and collected seven aces. Sakkari made great strides in last year’s disruptive campaign. She reached the last 16 at both the Aussie Open and US Open. She also reached her maiden Premier level semi-final in St Petersburg. But perhaps her most significant result was victory over Serena Williams in Cincinnati (this is essentially a rite of passage for any would-be contender in woman’s tennis).
2020 must have been especially frustrating for young Coco Gauff. After her breakthrough 2019 campaign – which saw her claim her debut title at the age of 15- 2020 was really poised to be a springboard campaign for the young American. One wonders how much damage this early developmental hiccup could have caused. Having said all that, Gauff showed little signs of ring-rust in her opening match. She absolutely annihilated ITF veteran Ulrikke Eikeri. Gauff was brilliant, saving all eight break points throughout the 69-minute encounter. I don’t think she will be able to afford as many chances on her serve in this match. Gauff will need to harness her formidable court coverage as she seeks to overcome Sakkari. The match is very interestingly poised: Sakkari’s power-serve will be up against Gauff’s impressive returning capabilities.
This will be their 2nd head-to-head encounter, with Sakkari blitzing the American at last year’s Western and Southern Open. Gauff really looked jaded in the post lockdown season and Sakkari took full advantage of her. Gauff may feel slightly reenergised now. I still think that the Greek has too much power for the American if she plays near her potential. The Greek to win in straight sets looks like a sensible option at 6/4.
Elina Svitolina (2) (2/5) vs Vera Zvonareva (2/1)
2020 was a strange year for Elina Svitolina- as it was for everyone else. The Ukrainian seemed to be trending in the right direction for a Major breakthrough in 2020. She was the 2018 WTA final champion and then went on to reach two Grand Slam semi-finals in 2019. But 2020 saw her underperform in most of the big, scheduled events (excepting her quarterfinal run at the French Open). This included back-to-back first-round exits in the Middle-East (at Dubai and Doha). This was rather surprising considering her generally excellent record in this region of the world: she won back-to-back titles in Dubai between 2017 and 2018. She managed to maintain her top 5 ranking with victories in slightly lesser events (Strasbourg and Monterrey). The Ukrainian knows that this is a vital season in her career and she looked impressive against American Pegula, winning in straight sets.
This match should prove an interesting challenge for Svitolina. She will come up against former World Number two and two-time Grand Slam finalist Vera Zvonareva. The Russian actually enjoyed a stellar end to 2020, claiming the US Open Doubles title alongside Laura Siegemund. Clearly, Svitolina will be the favourite here. But these streetwise veterans are probably some of the players who weirdly benefited from the Covid chaos. The likes of Azarenka and Kuznetsova produced strong tennis towards the end of last year. Experience and maturity seemed to count for something in last year’s conditions. And the early part of this year will likely prove similar. Zvonareva is a hard-court aficionado who clearly focuses on Doubles competition for success. But these early season events can often present opportunities for the more venerated players.
I was kind of amazed to discover that this will be their first-ever meeting. It’s perhaps an indication of how much Zvonareva has focused on doubles in recent years. I think there’s room for a surprise here, with Svitolina always a hard favourite to back. But perhaps the smart money would be on a scare, with Svitolina taking this match in three sets at 3/1.