The last time these two faced off, at the 2019 Rome Masters, Svitolina played an exceptional match until she found herself up 5-2 in the third. Azarenka stormed back to win five consecutive games, ultimately prevailing, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5. At one point in the second set, Azarenka won an incredible 13 consecutive points.
With that win, Azarenka improved her head-to-head record against Svitolina to 3-0, and barring a bad day at the office, will likely make it four straight.
After receiving a bye, Svitolina cruised through her first match against Misaki Doi, winning 63 percent of the total points en route to a 6-1, 6-2 victory. Azarenka had to put in twice the number of sets, but earned convincing wins over Svetlana Kuznetsova and Laura Siegemund to show a rough Australia experience was firmly behind her.
Azarenka presents a tough matchup for Svitolina if for no other reason than her size and strength advantage. Not only does Azarenka win more free points on serve, she wins plenty of easy points by crushing the Ukrainian’s second serve.
There’s really no clear-cut game plan to defeat the two-time Doha champion and former world No. 1, as she often takes the racquet completely out of her opponents' hands.
But depth is never a bad option, and Svitolina could find success by pressuring Azarenka down the middle, eventually forcing her to hit low-percentage shots. Azarenka is surprisingly patient for someone who possesses her level of power, but embracing the grind might be Svitolina’s best option. Here, Svitolina forces an error by hitting hard down-the-middle.
It should go without saying that Svitolina must capitalize on Azarenka’s second-serve points. As well as some sneak-attacks into the net. Svitolina has excellent touch, and would be wise to engage Azarenka in some cat-and-mouse exchanges.
It’s extremely difficult to beat an opponent of Svitolina’s caliber multiple times in a row, but unless the world No. 5 can shake off the ghost of her Rome collapse, Azarenka should crush her way through to another semifinal appearance in Doha.
The Pick: Victoria Azarenka