We take a look at the Australian Open second-round matches between Belinda Bencic and Elise Mertens as well as Anette Kontaveit against Daria Kasatkina.
Australian Open 2021
12 February 2021
Selected Third Round Matches
Belinda Bencic (11) (51/20) vs Elise Mertens (18) (2/7)
The steam-train that is Elise Mertens just goes on and on. She needed to overcome a roller-coaster of a first set in her second-round tie against Lin Zhu. She ultimately won the set and completed a slightly misleading straight sets victory. Regardless, it just continued a sublime run of form. She is essentially the Man City of current female players. She has won 10 of her last 11 matches, including victory in last week’s Gippsland Cup. It underlined her status as an Aussie- and Melbourne- aficionado. She has previously won back-to-back Hobart titles and reached the semi-finals of this Slam in 2018. Mertens has just been brilliant post-lockdown. Finals in Prague and the Linz Open were supplemented by a Western and Southern Open semi-final and Flushing Meadows quarterfinal. Many are feeling that this could be the time for Mertens to seriously contend for a Grand Slam title again.
Standing in her way is a player who was building serious momentum heading into 2020. Belinda Bencic’s career has gone through every conceivable twist and turn. The former junior number 1 broke onto the scene in spectacular style in 2014, becoming the youngest US Open quarterfinalist since Martina Hingis in 2014. That rise continued until 2016, a year which saw her begin to struggle with persistent injury issues. But 2019 saw her come back into the reckoning in a big way. She won her 2nd Premier 5 title at Dubai, underlining her expertise on harder surfaces. She then showed how much she has evolved by reaching the semi-finals of the US Open. This helped her qualify for the WTA Finals for the first time, where she would ultimately reach the semi-final stage. This helped her clinch the WTA Comeback Player of the Year. But 2020 was essentially a no-show for Bencic. She only played once post-lockdown, going down in the opening round of the Italian Open. Bencic was poor in her Aussie Open warm-up event (she has also needed three sets in both of her opening ties here).
This should be an enthralling clash between two former Grand Slam semi-finalists. Oddly enough, this will be the first-ever meeting between these two fine players. Mertens has got to be the choice here. She has been in incredible form and clearly adores this arena. 71/100 for Mertens to win in straight sets.
Anette Kontaveit (21) (57/100) vs Shelby Rogers (27/20)
I love it when my real outside bets come to fruition. Many probably thought it mad to back Rogers against Martic last week. But the mercurial American talent came through in big style, actually demolishing the Croatian in straight sets. Rogers then went on to push Aussie Open favourite Ashleigh Barty to a deciding set. I swear, this player has it in her to surprise a few this week. Her career has been hampered by injuries, though she showed towards the end of last year what she is about. She memorably beat Serena Williams in the Top Seed Open en route to the semi-final. She then showed off her potential Grand Slam prowess with a quarterfinal run at Flushing Meadows. She is yet to drop a set this week and could be a genuine threat to the seeded players. Her service game is integral to success and she could threaten anyone if that clicks.
Could this be a potential upset? Anett Kontaveit arrives to this event in pretty decent form having reached the semi-finals of last week’s warm-up event. However, that performance broke actually broke a sequence of fairly underwhelming results for the plucky Estonian. The former Wuhan finalist enjoyed a fairly consistent 2020, all things considered. She hasn’t really been able to make the next leap into true contender status. Having said that, she did reach her maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal at last year’s Aussie Open. Solid performances in Cincinnati and the US Open were her highlights elsewhere. From my perspective, Kontaveit is a prime candidate for an early tournament upset. She needed to come from a set down to defeat Heater Watson in the last round (never a ringing endorsement).
Kontaveit leads the head-to-head with Rogers 2-0. Auckland in 2014 seems fairly irrelevant while the 2019 Wimbledon match was a tight affair. I have to go for the upset here. That’s not just from someone who loves the underdog. Rogers has been slowly edging towards the upper echelons of the sport and could be a strong underdog this week.