Australian Open Day 5: Insights on Stephens v Kasatkina
It is Day 5 of the Australian Open and this match has to be one of my favourites due to both players being previously ranked inside the Top 10 and meeting in the 2nd Round of what very well could have been a quarter-final match a few seasons prior. Whilst Stephens has regressed outside the Top 10 she is still a contender on any day of the week considering her US Open triumph came at a time when she was coming back from injury and not considered a serious contender for the Championship title. If there was anything to learn from that time it was that Stephens is at the ready no matter her ranking range. As for Kasatkina, she has briefly held a place inside the Top 10 tennis rankings in the past seasons and has steadily maintained her place inside the Top 20 since this brief stint. Irrespective of Kasatkina’s time inside the Top 10 being relatively short lived – recall that 2% of players every season regress due to losing their hold on the 7 Keys. Needless to say, as Kasatkina currently hovers outside the Top 10, she has the potential to become a barrier breaker this season in particular, if she is able to further progress more consistently at the Grand Slam level this season.
An interesting metric that both players align with is the 2% regression outside the Top 10 as explained in “How to Develop a Top 10 Tennis Ranking“. By all accounts, due to Kasatkina being more closely within reach of the Top 10, this has specifically been pinpointed due to her fluctuating patterns of play and that she has exhibited key traits to potentially afford her the capacity to reside inside the Top 10 and maintain her hold inside the 8%. On a similar front, Stephens does have the capacity to re-join the 8% but her level of maintenance the past 2 to 3 seasons has been cause for her regression outside the Top 10 yet still inside the Top 50. Noteworthy, is that this ranking range comes with its own correlations but a Top 10 tennis ranking is not one of them.
Whilst Stephens has regressed to a lower ranking range in previous seasons and has steadily been progressing towards her current ranking over more recent seasons, not only does this place Stephens as a serious threat this Australian Open, but a player of her calibre — when finding their rhythm once again that steadily integrates the 7 Keys into their game, places them as a danger no matter the tournament.
When, considering the metrics of both of these players, Kasatkina leads the way early in the first and is in alignment with her current ranking range. However, once a Top 10 player and once privy to the 7 Keys places a player of Stephens calibre with the capacity to increase her level of maintenance and frequency of application of key metrics to patterns of play that are assimilated with a Round of 16 performance or greater. Interestingly, neither player has the metrics nor level of maintenance that is correlated with a Top 10 tennis ranking. However, both players are in fact highly capable of increasing these metrics to solidifying them into their game should they become privy to the 8 Keys. Stephens does in fact have a head start, despite her current ranking, due to her previous experience in the application of these specific metrics that were incredibly evident when winning the US Open Championships. On the other hand, Kasatkina is the player who is favourite for good measure. Not only is her ranking on the cusp of becoming a barrier breaker, but she has been able to maintain her level of play more succinctly over the past 1 to 2 seasons.
Whilst it is too early to pinpoint whether or not Kasatkina has more steadily integrated the 7 Keys into her game, by becoming aware of the 8th Key and cementing it into her training framework, this will place Kasatkina with greater advantage — unlike the 92% of players that do not know and as such have not integrated this key ingredient into their playing schematic. But there is one tell-tale sign of the likelihood of this occurring and that is a Round of 16 birth as a baseline with sights set towards the quarter-finals. Until this level of consistent application to the integration of these patterns of play begin to coincide, the player is more susceptible to reside outside the Top 10 rankings yet at the same time, Kasatkina is one of only a handful of players that are flagged to displace 2% of the current Top 10 players as extrapolated in “How to Develop a Top 10 Tennis Ranking” if her game begins to shift towards the aforementioned metrics.
No matter the outcome of this match, as the first set currently unfolds, Stephens won’t shy away from putting on a fight whilst Kasatkina does have the capacity to switch gears and close out the match in two if she tightens her level of power-play and draws upon the key technical metrics that allow them to not only shine through, but carry her across the line.
It is somewhat ironic, however, at this stage of a Grand Slam that players of this calibre are matched against the other. At the same, Stephens Is not at the level she once was nor are the 7 Keys cemented in her game and until all of these keys can become more evident and integrated into her game, Stephens will have a hard time breaking into the Top 20 without these key integrations. On the flipside, Stephens is a primary example of what is possible with a “number” of keys and/or “all” 7 Keys if they’re maintained — a progressive ascension towards a Top 10 ranking. But if these fluctuate, that ranking will plateau — whether inside the Top 30 or close by. But there’s one thing for sure. With the match now at a close in three tight sets, it was Stephens who leveraged these metrics when it really mattered, slightly edging Kasatkina in these moments and that Round of 16 is now even closer for Stephens to become flagged as one to watch this season. Even better, Stephens has proved once again the danger she presents at the Grand Slam level with prospects of her game tightening with more success to come.
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