Damein Kayat previews the Daria Kasatkina vs Belinda Bencic and Danielle Collins vs Anhelina Kalinina fixtures from the 2nd round of the 2021 French Open.
2021 WTA Tour
Roland Garros, Paris, France (Outdoor Clay-Court)
Selected 2nd Round Matches- 2nd June
Daria Kasatkina 8/10 | Belinda Bencic (10) 98/100
24-year-old Russian Daria Kasatkina is a bit of an enigma. In 2018 she looked poised to become a persistent presence in the upper reaches of the game. She won the Indian Wells title and moved into the top 10 in the world rankings. But she fell off a cliff in 2019 and 2020. I actually thought we may have lost her as a significant presence on the tour. But she has come back with a vengeance in 2021, winning both the Phillip Island Trophy and St Petersburg titles. Amongst that success has been a smattering of mediocrity. She even needed three sets to overcome Doi in the opening round. But I think that Kasatkina could be a dangerous player in this event. The 2018 French Open quarterfinalist has played winning tennis this year and she is made for this surface. Her heavy topspin forehands and crafty use of slice make her a great fit for clay. Even her success at Indian Wells is indicative of this (Indian Wells is one of the slowest hardcourt surfaces out there).
With Federer looking an unlikely bet to capture his 2nd French Open title this year, many Swiss tennis fans will be looking towards Belinda Bencic to carry the torch. Much like Kasatkina, Bencic is a crafty all-court tactician who employs a ton of variety. But I really baulk at her 10th seeding this week. This is obviously a reflection of the somewhat schizophrenic nature of women’s tennis. I just don’t see enough in her recent form to justify that seeding. 2019 saw her win a title and reach her first Grand Slam semi-final. She actually won the WTA Comeback Player of the Year in 2019. But after last year’s disrupted campaign she hasn’t done much. She reached the final in Adelaide earlier this year and reached the quarterfinals of the Madrid Open courtesy of a Round of 16 walkover. She will feel buoyed by a first-round thrashing of Podoroska. Outside of her 2019 US Open semi-final, she has never made it beyond the 4th round of a Slam.
Kasatkina to win at 8/10
The Russian leads the head-to-head 2-1. Having said that, all three of those matches were played on Russian hardcourts. I think that Kasatkina could pull off a minor early upset here. She has some positive history on these surfaces and she has two titles already this season.
Danielle Collins 21/20 | Anhelina Kalinina 15/20
After a stellar collegiate career in which she won two NCAA Singles titles, Danielle Collins has struggled to capture any real consistency on the WTA Tour. Her go-for-broke style has resulted in a largely erratic professional career. But it has also allowed for some pretty spectacular highs. She reached the semi-finals of the 2018 Miami Open as a qualifier. She then topped that achievement with an exceptional showing at Melbourne Park. Her semi-final run at the 2019 Aussie Open was incredible because she had never previously won a Grand Slam match. Much like fellow countrywoman Madison Keys, she seems to play her best tennis in Slams. She reached the quarterfinals of the French Open last year. Her first-round win over Xiyu Wang was her first clay-court match since last year’s French Open (she has been recovering from endometriosis surgery). For more sustained success, I believe the American could look to mix her game up from time to time.
Though I never previewed the first-round matches, I did have an inkling that Angelique Kerber was a potential early casualty. The German has been in poor form and her Roland Garros stats were dire (four out of her last five visits ended in ignominious first-round defeats). Now you can make it five out of six. Kalinina demolished the German with an impressive display. The Ukrainian has mostly plied her trade on the ITF Tour. But one look at her career stats in that event will tell you that this surface should be ideal. 13 of her 21 ITF finals have come on clay. Furthermore, she entered this event off the back of two consecutive ITF tournament wins on clay. When you take French Open qualifying into account, she has amassed a staggering 14 straight wins. I find that winning form- even at a lower level- will always play a role in these early, nervy stages of Slams.
Collins to win 2:1 at 4/1
Collins showed some traces of rustiness is her opening match- which was to be expected. Kalinina actually holds a 2-0 career record over the American. So, there appear to be quite a few ingredients in the Ukrainian’s favour. She has a superior head-to-head record against a player returning from a long layoff. Furthermore, she’s in tremendous form. However, I still think that the American will persevere in this match. Collins to win in three will be the profitable option at 4/1.