Serena Williams’ quest for Grand Slam number 23 and to retain her number one ranking continues Monday as she will face Yaroslava Shvedova in the fourth round. Many will be expecting a straight sets win for the American, but those who have followed Shvedova throughout her career will know the danger she possesses. However, for those who are unfamiliar with the Kazakh, here is why she can not only trouble the World #1, but also beat her.
You can find many words to describe the career of Shvedova, but the best might be underachiever. The 28 year old is blessed with great athleticism and talent for tennis. On her day she looks like a top ten player capable of winning big titles, but for numerous reasons the breakthrough has never happened. Injuries have often held her back when she starts to gain momentum, but the main cause of her not going any higher than 25 in the world is the way she crumbles under pressure. There has been countless times in which Shvedova has let leads slipped, so bad that the heartbreak of the result has sent her into slump periods.
The closest the World #52 has ever gotten to breaking through the glass ceiling was in 2012. After reaching the Roland Garros quarter finals that year, defeating defending champion Li Na in the process, Shvedova hit a good run of form in which she achieved something none of the greats have–win a set without losing a point. In the third round of Wimbledon, the Kazakh played flawless tennis to win a golden set against French Open finalist Sara Errani, and her victory in that match set up a round four clash with Serena. It was a close affair, but the American managed to take advantage of a tense Shvedova to win 7-5 in the deciding set.
The good run of form propelled her up the rankings where she achieved a career high of 25. However it was in Flushing Meadows in which her momentum came to a halt. In a second round match against Roberta Vinci, Shvedova wasted numerous match points and went on to lose the match in three sets. Vinci would eventually go on to lose in the quarter finals to Errani, making you think of what could have been if Shvedova had pulled off the win.
The heartbreak of the loss sent the Kazakh into a slump, and despite odd flashes of returning to that form, she has never been able to replicate it over a sustained period. Despite that, she is never a name you want to be drawn against in a grand slam, especially if you are a seeded player. Big performances and runs often come out of nowhere, as proven by her run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals this year and her US Open run so far.
When playing well, Shvedova possesses a wide range of skills. Her backhand is one of the best when firing, her forehand is inconsistent but dangerous, her serve can be a big weapon, she returns well, she moves quick and she has good net skills as proven by her doubles success. For all them shots however, she still has to overcome the mental hurdle, and there is none bigger than facing Serena.
Shvedova has never beaten the 22 time grand slam champion, but she has pushed her close on more than one occasion. In them said matches though, she has often let leads slip due to the nerves of playing Serena. There is enough to suggest she has the game though, and that gives her something more than many have against the world #1. She has the ability to return Serena’s serve, she has the power to get on top in rallies, she has the speed to defend and she has enough variety to cause problems.
It is probable that Serena will come through this in straight sets, but it is not a given. We have seen her have horror shows in the past, and if Shvedova plays to her capabilities, this becomes a very interesting match. The Kazakh has all the tools needed, she just needs to remain strong mentally. Unfortunately for her, that is her toughest career opponent so far.