pick

World No. 8 Aryna Sabalenka takes on world No. 11 Jessica Pegula in the round of 16 at the Italian Open on Thursday. Pegula, who is fresh off a run to the final at the Mutua Madrid Open, is playing some great tennis this season—and has done especially well at WTA 1000s in the past. However, Sabalenka has had a small edge in this head-to-head match-up, and she’s going to be eager to make a positive impression in Rome after losing to world No. 32 Amanda Anisimova in her first match in Madrid.

Since Pegula earned a 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 win over Sabalenka in Cincinnati back on August 25, 2020, the Belarusian has beaten the American in straight sets twice. Both of those victories for Sabalenka happened to come on clay, with one of them being as recent as last year’s Mutua Madrid Open. The clay-court matches weren’t all that competitive either, with the first one being a 6-3, 6-1 win for Sabalenka, and the more recent one in Madrid turning into a 6-1, 6-2 blowout.

Advertising

Make your picks, and you could win big

Make your picks, and you could win big

Think you know what'll happen at Roland Garros? Tell us in our Match Point Predictor.

Whenever you’re backing Sabalenka these days, you have to go in knowing that her serve can fall apart at any moment. She has been double-faulting so often that you just have to get used to it at this point, but the one positive is that her groundstrokes haven’t suffered at all. She’s still hitting the ball extremely cleanly from both sides, and her power is often too much for opponents to overcome. And if the American tries to match her power, that could lead to some unforced errors.

Pegula also has to deal with the fact that she really let her Madrid final against Ons Jabeur slip away, as she lost the deciding set in that one 6-2. Her inability to close it out after winning the second set 6-0 could have her second-guessing herself in this match against another Top 10 opponent.

It’s also worth noting that Sabalenka needed only 51 minutes to dispose of world No. 42 Zheng Shuai in her last match. She wasn’t broken once in that one, so she should be feeling great about her game right now. With that said, the value on one of the top players in the world is just too good to pass up here.

The Pick: Sabalenka To Win (-135)