Sloane Stephens and Daria Kasatkina clash at the Emilia-Romagna Open. Our tennis writer previews.
2021 WTA Tour
Parma, Italy (Clay-Courts)
Selected Round of 16 Match- 18th May
Daria Kasatkina (4) vs Sloane Stephens
Three years ago, this would have been considered a blockbuster clash between two of the world’s most exciting young talents. To prove that point you just have to look at the last time these two met on a clay court. In 2018 they sparred for a place in the French Open semi-finals. Those much grander environs are a testament to the undeniable ability of these two players. Kasatkina has been on the comeback trail this year while former US Open Champion, Sloane Stephens has really struggled to string consistent results together.
Daria Kasatkina 52/100
Daria Kasatkina was at the vanguard of Russian women’s tennis in 2018. She reached the final of Indian Wells and reached two Grand Slam quarterfinals (this included a run to the Roland Garros quarterfinals). Despite certain preconceptions, Kasatkina is actually a solid clay-court player. That Indian Wells Final almost muddied the waters. She won a clay-court title in Charleston and her use of heavy topspin is perfectly suited to slower surfaces. But she really fell off the map over the last two seasons. But she has returned with a vengeance in 2021.
Coming into the clay-court season, she was 15-4 in her win-loss statistics. That included two titles. She beat the likes of Petra Martic and Danielle Collins en route to the Phillip Island Trophy. She then became the first two-time WTA Champion of the year when she won the St Petersburg Open. Unfortunately for Kasatkina, her clay-court form hasn’t been anywhere near as solid. In four events thus far she has only won three matches. She defeated Hsieh in straight sets to open her account in Parma. Perhaps that’s a sign that her fortunes are starting to turn on this surface.
Sloane Stephens 29/20
It’s amazing to think that Sloane Stephens is already 28. The 2017 US Open Champion is perhaps one of the most naturally talented players in the world. However, her work rate and hunger have come into question over the past few years. Her former junior coach Chris Evert questioned her motivation and inclination towards inconsistency. Stephens has been on a pretty rapid downward trajectory over the past two seasons. I wonder why she actually split from former coach Kamau Murray. Under Murray, she won five of her six career titles including the 2017 US Open and 2018 Miami Open.
She started 2021 in dire straits. She struggled to progress beyond the first round of any event. She lost her first four consecutive 1st round matches this year. It wasn’t until Miami that she actually won a match. But it seems as if the switch to clay has been positive for Stephens. She reached her first quarterfinal in aeons in Charleston. But it was the manner of her performance that will have given her confidence. She won three consecutive matches in straight sets. Let’s not forget that Stephens was a 2018 French Open Finalist. Although most of her best results have come on hardcourts, she personally identifies clay as her favourite surface. Her first-round win over compatriot Caty McNally will give her some confidence going into this match.
Verdict: Sloane Stephens to Win at 29/10
One positive part about Stephens’ laissez-faire attitude is that it can switch in an instant. It has been a while, but she has the capacity to bring an amazing performance out of nowhere. She also leads Kasatkina 2-1 in their head-to-head duels. Those two victories came on clay surfaces. I think there’s definite value in backing the American this week.