Damien Kayat previews the Italian Open selected round of 32 and 64 matches.
WTA Tour 2021
Foro Italico, Rome, Italy (Outdoor Clay-court)
Selected Round of 32 and Round of 64 Matches
Jelena Ostapenko 76/100 vs Johanna Konta 1/1
It’s amazing to think that Jelena Ostapenko was within earshot of reaching the World Number One spot. The Latvian reached as high as five in the world in 2018. 2017 was a massive year. She incredibly won the French Open without being seeded (the first time that had happened since 1933). She then went on to win in Seoul later that year. 2018 just seemed to justify her rise to the upper reaches of the game. She reached the final in Miami and semi-finals of Wimbledon. Everything looking great right? Wrong. It has been almost nightmarish since then. Injuries and poor form have seen her plummet down the rankings (despite picking up an unexpected Luxembourg title towards the end of 2019). Tragedy also intervened with the death of her father last year. 2021 has been middling, at best. She is 9-8 for the season. She has got out of the habit of first round defeats. But she has struggled to rack up consecutive wins. She will be hoping that the muscle memories of 2017 make this a more successful period.
16th seed Johanna Konta has arguably suffered a more pride-swallowing fall from grace over the past two years. 2020 was abysmal, ending in an 8-9 win-loss ratio. This year has actually been worse: she has only won three of eight matches. Konta has sometimes struggled with the vagaries of being a top ranked tennis player (remember, she was ranked as high as four in the world at one stage). I think there’s also a unique pressure in being a British tennis star- just ask Tim Henman. But she has supreme talent when operating at her optimal level. The former Miami Open Champion also possesses real clay-court credentials. In 2019 she reached the final of this very event (just weeks after reaching her first clay-court final in Morocco). She then went on to reach the semi-finals of Roland Garros. Had this match been played three years ago it would have been something of a mini-classic.
Verdict: Ostapenko to win at 76/100
These two share the head-to-head spoils at two apiece. Their last meeting came back in 2019. Crucially, Ostapenko won their only match on clay. What’s more: it came in this event back in 2018. This is what they call a veritable toss-up. Both of these players have the ability to blow hot and cold. One thing is for sure- whoever wins the first set will likely go on to win here (neither of these players has been particularly durable of late). My money is on Ostapenko to come out harder.
Round of 32- 12th May
Coco Gauff (2/1) vs Maria Sakkari (17) (2/5) *forecast betting
Coco Gauff has shown a tremendous amount of maturity this year, especially for a 17-year-old. You could see that she was obviously affected by the Covid break last year. Outside of a semi-final run at the Top Seed Open she struggled to regain her tread for the remainder of 2020. That did however include a decent first outing in Rome. She beat Jabeur in her first match before a tight three-set defeat to clay-court expert Garbine Muguruza. She started this week with an arduous three-set win against Putintseva. Gauff actually entered this year’s event at a career-high ranking of 35. She is 14-7 in 2021, which includes a semi-final run in Adelaide. She also picked up three wins on the green clay in Charleston. She has been working specifically on improving her serve (especially that kick serve out wide). That added skill will be crucial in her development on clay. She will need to serve well against the powerful Maria Sakkari.
Maria Sakkari is also having a very solid season, with a win-loss ratio of 16-8. She started the year in sound fashion, reaching the semi-finals of both the Abu Dhabi Open and Grampians Trophy. Then things went a bit quiet for the Greek. That was until an epic semi-final run in Miami (which included a huge victory over reigning Grand Slam queen Naomi Osaka). She looked impressive in Madrid before imploding against Muchova. Sakkari has always been an impressive clay-court player. She has the pure power to generate winners on these slower surfaces. Her one-and-only title came on clay in the 2019 Morocco event. More crucially, she reached the semi-finals on these very courts in 2019. She will look to physically dominate the effervescent Gauff. Sakkari won’t want to get involved in overly extensive rallies with the dynamic American.
Verdict:Sakkari in straight sets at 1/1 * forecast betting
Sakkari leads the head-to-head between these two 2-0. In fact, she is yet to drop a set against the youthful Gauff. Both of those victories did come on harder, quicker surfaces. Gauff will feel that her athleticism should give her a solid chance in this match. But I’m actually going to opt for the Greek to emerge victorious. She has history here and her power could prove decisive. I think straight sets at 1/1 is fair.