WTA Rome preview & pick: Victoria Azarenka vs. Sofia Kenin

WTA Rome preview & pick: Victoria Azarenka vs. Sofia Kenin

Azarenka showed no signs of fatigue in her opening-round victory over Venus Williams, but now she'll face the notoriously tenacious and tricky 2020 Australian Open champion.

Victoria Azarenka showed no signs of fatigue in her opening 7-6 (7), 6-2, victory over Venus Williams in Rome. Though she must be getting tired, Azarenka clearly wanted to avenge her 6-3, 6-2 Lexington Open loss. There must be a glitch in the draw randomization software, as their past four meetings have taken place in the first round, though Azarenka's return to the Top 15 happened after the draw came out.

One has to think Azarenka invested some of her US Open prize money into a private flight to Rome, but at some point—probably Thursday—fatigue will catch up to her. Sofia Kenin is not who you want across the net when the legs start sputtering. While Kenin and Azarenka played doubles together in New York, don’t expect Thursday’s clash to be friendly: both players are two of the fiercest competitors on tour. 

Kenin defeated Azarenka last year in the Acapulco quarterfinals, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, but they have yet to play on clay. Expect to see a fair amount of drop shots and junk-balls as Kenin should do well to test Azarenka’s legs early and often. She knows what can happen when you give the Belarusian a rhythm. 

If Azarenka somehow remains fit and fresh, Kenin will need to adjust quickly and gain control of the points. Perhaps the most effective shot against Azarenka is a sharp crosscourt forehand, like this one from Acapulco. 

Azarenka’s backhand has been on fire. Her heavy shoulder turn and early preparation allow her to fool her opponent, especially from the middle of the court. There’s just no way of knowing if lightning will strike crosscourt or inside out. Kenin’s anticipation remains one of her greatest strengths, and will be a key to her success. 

But it’s not just Azarenka who owns a devastating two-hander. Kenin can crack backhand winners from anywhere with equal disguise.

Even though Azarenka is still in the zone, she’s playing her 14th singles match in four weeks. For that reason, expect Kenin’s tenacity and tennis IQ to outlast the recent US Open finalist and Western & Southern Open champion.  

The Pick: Sofia Kenin