Their third-round matches yesterday were hardly the best of advertisements for women's tennis, but when Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki meet here tomorrow it will be one of the most eagerly anticipated contests so far at this year's US Open.
Having brushed aside their opponents for a combined loss of one game – Sharapova crushed Beatrice Capra of the United States 6-0 6-0 while Wozniacki beat Yung-Jan Chan of Taiwan 6-1 6-0 – the 23-year-old Russian and the 20-year-old Dane will now concentrate their energies on a battle between two of the players most fancied to win the title next weekend. Sharapova has won their only two previous meetings, both in 2008, but the two women have gone in very different directions in the last two years.
Wozniacki, the runner-up here 12 months ago, has been on fire this summer. Since losing in the fourth round at Wimbledon she has lost only once in 19 matches and won titles in Copenhagen, Montreal and New Haven. And if she wins here she will replace Serena Williams at the top of the world rankings.
Sharapova, the world No 17, has been rebuilding her career since undergoing shoulder surgery. It has been a long haul, but the 2006 US Open champion has looked good of late. In her two tournaments since Wimbledon she reached the final at both Stanford and Cincinnati, losing to Victoria Azarenka and Kim Clijsters respectively.
Sharapova dropped a set to Jarmila Groth in the first round here, but never looked in any danger against Capra, an 18-year-old who had never played a match at tour level before last week.
Wozniacki's one fear against Sharapova might be that she was barely tested in the first week. The Dane has dropped a total of three games in her first three matches.
"I think the next match will be a totally different match," Wozniacki said. "When we go out there, we both have a 50 per cent chance of winning. I just need to get those percentages for me."
Sharapova appreciates the size of her task. "She can run all day and gets a lot of balls back and makes you hit tons of balls," the Russian said. "She changes the pace really well and gets her opponents off-balance. She does many things well. That's why she's at the top of the game."
A match between two of the game's most glamorous women is sure to see hordes of photographers descend on the court. Asked whether she had ever regarded Sharapova as a player she would like to emulate in terms of her image, Wozniacki said she had looked more to Anna Kournikova.
"I definitely wanted to be like her," Wozniacki said. "I thought she was very pretty. She was handling everything really nicely. You saw her everywhere in the commercials."
Jelena Jankovic, who made her only appearance in a Grand Slam final when she lost to Serena Williams here two years ago, was beaten 6-2 7-6 in the third round by the Estonian Kaia Kanepi.
The 25-year-old Serb blamed the tricky conditions, with the unforced error count – 41 by Jankovic and 37 by Kanepi – acting as evidence of the havoc left by Hurricane Earl, which has been sweeping up America's east coast.
"The wind was really tough," Jankovic said. "I had a really hard time hitting the balls. They were going all over the place."
Meanwhile Jankovic's fellow Serb, Ana Ivanovic, has failed to reach the quarter-finals of her last nine Grand Slam tournaments, but there are signs that the former world No 1 is returning to the form that saw her win the French Open two years ago.
Ivanovic made the semi- finals in Cincinnati last month, has climbed back to No 40 in the world rankings from a five-year low at No 65 two months ago and has not dropped a set in the first three rounds here.
Today, however, Ivanovic faces the toughest possible task when she comes up against Clijsters, who is the defending champion here.