Day 3 at the WTA Championships in Istanbul starts with a battle for the driver’s seat in the White Group and features a highly anticipated clash of styles. Matches begin at 10 a.m. ET (5 p.m. local time).
Victoria Azarenka vs. Li Na: Both players won their opening matches Wednesday in the White Group. The French Open champion is 4-1 against Azarenka, including 2-0 this year, the last meeting in the French Open quarterfinals when Li was in form. Li relishes playing flat, aggressive hitters like Azarenka. But while Li had to fight to beat a subpar Maria Sharapova at the Championships for her first victory since August, Azarenka was flawless in dismantling Sam Stosur in two easy sets. It’s hard to doubt Azarenka right now; she looked good Wednesday and she’s coming off a title in Luxembourg. She has to be the overwhelming favorite. The event has already produced its share of surprises, and a struggling Li’s winning her first two matches to move into prime position to reach the semifinals would be the biggest one yet.
Caroline Wozniacki vs. Petra Kvitova: The match is a delicious contrast of styles pitting Kvitova’s otherworldly ability to hit winners from all parts of the court against Wozniacki’s impenetrable defensive wall. As is the case when an attacker meets a defender, the match is on Kvitova’s racket. Wozniacki leads the head-to-head 4-1 but the 21-year-olds haven’t met this year during Kvitova’s ascent into the WTA elite. Given their form this week, I have to give the nod to Kvitova, who didn’t even have to unveil her A-game to beat Vera Zvonareva handily on Tuesday. Wozniacki lost a three-setter to Zvonareva on Wednesday, though the Dane did clinch the year-end No. 1 ranking after Sharapova withdrew.
Vera Zvonareva vs. Agnieszka Radwanska: Radwanska has owned Zvonareva lately. They’ve met three times in the latter half of 2011 and the Pole has beaten the Russian each time on hardcourts. It’s difficult to tell what exactly about Radwanska’s game bothers Zvonareva so much. Perhaps it is the selective aggression that Radwanska has learned to perfect. Maybe it’s the fact that Radwanska refuses to give Zvonareva much pace with which to work. It’s a tough match to call. Zvonareva was fantastic against Wozniacki on Wednesday, while Radwanska wasn’t able to bring her best against the No. 1 two days ago. With Aga nursing a lingering shoulder injury, I’m tipping the Russian. But only by a hair.