Tennis is back in Guadalajara after the city did a great job hosting the 2021 WTA Finals. Damien Kayat previews two matches including Jessica Pegula vs Sloane Stephens.
2022 WTA Tour
Guadalajara Open Akron
Panamerican Tennis Centre, Zapopan, Mexico (Outdoor Hardcourt)
Selected Quarterfinals- 21st October
Jessica Pegula (3) (1/2) vs Sloane Stephens (6/4)
Jessica Pegula has enjoyed an amazing season that has propelled her to a career-best World. No 5 ranking. She came into this event with a 38-18 record for the year. That has improved to 40-18 after two contrasting victories.
She had to dig deep against Rybakina in her first match, saving three match-points against the current Wimbledon champ. She then had a far more convincing straight-sets win against Bianca Andreescu.
This has been a year of wonderful consistency for Pegula. She reached the quarterfinals of the Aussie Open, French Open and US Open. She reached the final four in Miami and the final in Madrid.
This will actually be her 5th consecutive quarterfinal. She has qualified for both the singles and doubles of the WTA Finals. All that’s missing from her campaign is that elusive title. Could this be her week?
There must be something about Mexico that just agrees with 29-year-old American Sloane Stephens. This is only the 3rd time this entire year that she has managed to win more than two consecutive matches.
Earlier this year she broke her four-year title drought with victory at the Abierto Zapopan. Her straight-sets win against US Open finalist Caroline Garcia takes her Guadalajara winning streak to eight.
That result against Garcia came hot off the heels of a resounding straight-sets win against Belinda Bencic (knocking the Swiss out of contention for the WTA Finals in the process). Stephens is just one of those mercurial talents who can beat anyone in the world on her day.
The 2017 US Open champ is also a French Open Runner-up. She won the 2018 Miami Open (the same season that she finished runner-up at the WTA Finals). She looks possessed this week, tracking every ball down with a relentlessness I haven’t seen in quite some time.
I also like the way she has served this week, mixing in some kick-serves with her regular, flatter delivery.
Verdict: Stephens to win in three at 4/1- Jessica Pegula leads Stephens 2-0 in the head-to-head rivalry. And she has absolutely demolished Stephens in both those matches.
Both of those matches came in WTA 1000 events (last year’s Indian Wells and this year’s Miami Open). It’s hard to bet against Pegula in this form (especially after she defied belief with that escape against Rybakina).
But I just sense something special brewing in the Stephens locker. It almost looks like she has an agenda this week and is out to prove the doubters wrong.
Coco Gauff (5) (8/15) vs Victoria Azarenka (11/8)
Coco Gauff has enjoyed a tremendous season that was obviously highlighted by her maiden Grand Slam final in Paris. It’s slightly unfortunate that the tennis world will remember that final as something of a capitulation.
But victory in her opening match against Elisabetta Cocciaretto ensured that she will be the youngest woman since Maria Sharapova in 2005 to qualify for the season-ending WTA Finals.
Not to mention the fact that she has also qualified for the WTA Doubles Finals alongside the aforementioned Jessica Pegula. The entire year has been a testament to her all-court prowess and powers of consistency. She was a semi-finalist in Adelaide and Berlin. But she has also reached a further five quarterfinals throughout the year.
This included another brilliant Grand Slam showing at Flushing Meadows. She may feel slightly annoyed at not converting more of those quarterfinals into semi-finals and finals. That should come naturally as she physically develops over the next few years.
She was once again trounced by Swiatek in last week’s San Diego quarterfinal and she will be desperate to turn her remarkable consistency into silverware this week.
Victoria Azarenka’s injuries and off-court turmoil have really contributed to some erratic form over the past five years. But the former World No.1 has the potential to beat anyone on her day and she has a knack of just rocking up in prestigious hardcourt finals. In 2020 she reached the US Open final and won in Cincinnati.
Last year she bulldozed her way into the Indian Wells final out of virtually nowhere. And I just felt like she could have that type of performance in her locker this week.
These surfaces are fast and are perfectly suited to her flat-hitting style. Sure, she did benefit from Paula Badosa’s withdrawal in the 3rd round. But she came through a topsy-turvy match against Madison Keys to reach only her 3rd quarterfinal of the year.
This is the 34th WTA 1000 event of her career. That is the 4th most quarterfinals appearances of any player since that tier was created in 2009.
Verdict: Azarenka to win in straight-sets at 7/2- This will be the first career meeting between Azarenka and Gauff.
Will the WTA 1000 experience of Azarenka trump the youthful exuberance of Gauff?
I have a feeling it might. Gauff may feel slightly less invested having already sealed her place in the WTA Finals. But people also tend to forget what an amazing hardcourt competitor Azarenka is. 20 of her 21 WTA titles have come on hard surfaces.
That includes back-to-back Aussie Open tiles and ten WTA 1000 titles. I think she has the pace of the courts now and could overpower the occasionally erratic Gauff.