Angelique Kerber vs Madison Keys: Analysis of stats and facts ahead of blockbuster quarter-final

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Angelique Kerber and Madison Keys face-off in a highly-anticipated quarter-final at the Australian Open on Wednesday, and with both of them entering the match in red-hot form, it promises to be a blockbuster affair.

Kerber is undefeated in all three tournaments she has competed in so far in 2018 (Hopman Cup, Sydney, Australian Open) while Madison Keys has swiftly swatted away every opponent this fortnight in Melbourne.

Here’s a close look at the facts and figures behind this match-up…

THE HEAD-TO-HEAD

Kerber leads Keys 6-1 in previous meetings, with the sole loss for the German coming in the Eastbourne final in 2014. They’ve played each other on every surface, indoors and outdoors, and two of their seven showdowns have gone the distance. Keys has a brute force approach, but like she said, has been playing smarter and smarter with time, while Kerber absorbs pace like none other and can also do damage with her lefty groundstrokes, especially down-the-line.

KEYS’ EFFICIENCY

The American No. 17 seed has been breezing through her matches in Melbourne. She hasn’t dropped a set, has lost just 19 games in total across four rounds (fewest dropped among all quarter-finalists this fortnight), and has spent a mere four hours and 10 minutes in total on court. In comparison, Kerber has had three smooth rounds before having to fight back from a set down in the last-16 against a giant-killing Hsieh Su-Wei. Kerber spent five hours and 28 minutes on court.

FIREPOWER

Keys has fired 100 winners (against 92 unforced errors) so far this tournament. She’s struck 26 aces, dropped serve four times (saved 13/17 break points) and has won 79 per cent of the points on her first serve. Kerber on the other hand has a solid Winners:Unforced errors differential, hitting 79 winners and committing 66 unforced errors. The ex-world No. 1 has struck seven aces and dropped serve eight times.

THE OPPOSITION

The average ranking of Keys’ opponents is 62 while that number is a low 144 for the 21st-seeded Kerber. But it’s worth noting that Kerber easily dismissed Maria Sharapova, whose ranking is still down at 48. That match showcased how strong Kerber is at the moment, while Keys’ routine win over eighth-seeded Caroline Garcia sent a warning to the rest of the field.

KERBER’S STREAK

The two-time Grand Slam champion has won 13 matches in a row in 2018, if you count the four singles clashes she won in the Hopman Cup. She then took the title in Sydney and is now in the Melbourne last-eight.

OTHER FACTS

Kerber is bidding to become the first woman to win Sydney and the Australian Open back-to-back since Victoria Azarenka in 2012. The 30-year-old German is bidding for a 75th career win over a top-20 player.

Keys can re-enter the top-10 if she reaches the semi-finals. Is contesting her fourth Grand Slam quarter-final while Kerber is contesting her eighth.

SPORT360 VERDICT

Riding a strong winning streak and with a comfortable head-to-head, you’d expect Kerber to enter this match with sky-high confidence. Her test against Hsieh made her fight hard and come back from a tough situation, which only added to her self-belief. Keys is in great form but she hasn’t faced someone like Kerber yet this tournament and unless she keeps her error count under control, the German can frustrate her by forcing her to keep hitting an extra ball. I say Kerber takes it in three sets.

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Caroline Wozniacki stutters into Australian Open semis after surviving Carla Suarez Navarro test

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Second seed Caroline Wozniacki withstood a fightback from Spain’s unseeded Carla Suarez Navarro to stutter into the semi-finals of the Australian Open 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-2 early Wednesday morning.

“I knew it was going to be tough against her because in the first set a lot of games were very close,” said the Dane, who is into a second semi-final at Melbourne Park, after losing her first against China’s Li Na back in 2011.

“Another semi-final here, I’m excited,” she added after completing a see-saw win in 2hr 11min.

Wozniacki will face another unseeded player, Elise Mertens of Belgium, on Thursday for a place in the final.

“She’s had a very good start to the year, she’s unbeaten I think,” she said of Mertens.

The former world number has often failed to live up to the hype in the majors, but in the opening set she outplayed Suarez Navarro who was trying to become the first Spaniard to make the last four since Conchita Martinez in 2000.

Wozniacki was 100 percent successful with service returns and had just three unforced errors in as near a perfect display as is possible over 34 one-sided minutes against the world number 39.

Her level inevitably dropped and she had to fend off a break point at the start of the second.

Suarez Navarro finally got on the board in the eighth game to prevent a dreaded “double bagel” 6-0, 6-0 scoreline.

It fired up the gritty Spaniard and she sparked the late night crowd into life by breaking Wozniacki, whose accuracy began to desert her.

“She improved and made me step behind the baseline,” said Wozniacki. “That made the difference.”

Carla Suarez Navarro

Suarez Navarro suddenly found her timing and had a break point in the next service game which the Dane saved with her sixth ace before breaking back to level at 4-4.

Serving at 4-5 Suarez Navarro, who was in her sixth Grand Slam quarter-final and third in Australia but had never progressed further, saved a match point before taking it to a third on her first set point in the tiebreak.

“I was disappointed after I had my chance to win in the second set,” said Wozniacki.

“But I’m proud to have stayed cool and close it out in the third.”

Wozniacki regrouped and at 1-1 broke Suarez Navarro’s serve.

When she repeated the dose to lead 5-2, the Spaniard’s resolve was broken and she served out at 1:38 am on Wednesday morning in another late night finish.

Provided by AFP Sport

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Rafael Nadal urges tour officials to look into slew of injuries ravaging the men's game

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Rafa Nadal after withdrawing from the Australian Open

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal has urged officials of the ATP tour to examine the slew of injuries ravaging the men’s game at the moment after he was forced to retire during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarter-final against Marin Cilic on Tuesday.

Nadal, who had pulled out of the ATP Finals after his first match last November to deal with a knee injury, delayed his start to the 2018 season – skipping an exhibition in Abu Dhabi and the Brisbane International – in efforts to be ready for the Australian Open in Melbourne.

He is just one of a host of players dealing with physical problems. Novak Djokovic missed six months of action due to an elbow injury, which is yet to heal and affected him during his fourth round loss to Chung Hyeon on Monday. Andy Murray just had hip surgery, also following a six-month absence, while Stan Wawrinka missed the same amount of time due to double-knee surgery.

Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori are others who spent time away from the game with injuries and there are countless other examples.

“Somebody who is running the tour should think little bit about what’s going on. Too many people getting injured,” said Nadal, who has been struck by injuries more than most of his fellow top players throughout his career.

“I don’t know if they have to think a little bit about the health of the players. Not for now that we are playing, but there is life after tennis. I don’t know if we keep playing in this very, very hard surfaces what’s going to happen in the future with our lives.”

The tennis season runs from January to November and while players have spent years complaining about the length of the calendar, no significant changes have been made. In the past, Murray and Nadal both have backed the idea of having less mandatory tournaments, which would allow players to be more flexible with their schedules.

Roberto Bautista Agut, a former world No. 13 now ranked 21, agrees with Nadal’s views, and believes the tour must intervene to limit the number of injuries. He believes it won’t just benefit the players, but the tour itself.

“I think ATP should do something with the schedule. They would get more quality tournaments, more quality matches, if they would start thinking more of the players,” said the Spaniard during the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi last month.

“I’m not the one who knows exactly what they can do but of course they should discuss with the players and try to find a solution and I think it’s going to be better for all of us and also for the ATP.”

Cilic doesn’t necessarily share Nadal and Bautista Agut’s opinions. He believes cutting down on tournaments would hurt the tour.

“The calendar is there for so many years. Just in this last year, obviously beginning of this one, we see a lot of top guys that are injured. In the end it’s on all of us to try to take care of our bodies, to try to pick the right schedule, to listen to our body, how it feels,” said the Croatian.

“I completely understand there are a lot of tournaments that we play, mandatory tournaments. In my own perspective, we are all picking our own schedule.

“It’s tough to say, Okay, we going to take out two months of the season, cut that many tournaments, because tennis is such a global sport. Everywhere we play people enjoy it. I think tennis is getting more and more popular, which we really want also.”

Nadal said he felt pain in his upper right leg during the fourth set against Cilic and is unsure exactly what the injury is. He said it was not the knee though, which is what kept him out of action end of last year.

The top seed could not hide his disappointment and said he felt it was a missed opportunity. He was gunning for a 17th Grand Slam trophy this fortnight.

“Tough moments. Is not the first time an opportunity that is gone for me. I am a positive person, and I can be positive, but today is an opportunity lost to be in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam and fight for an important title for me, no?” Nadal told reporters after his quarter-final on Tuesday.

“In this tournament already happened a couple of times in my life, so it’s really I don’t want to say frustration, but is really tough to accept, especially after a tough December that I had without having a chance to start in Abu Dhabi and then Brisbane.

“Yeah, I worked hard to be here. We did all the things that we believed were the right things to do to be ready…

“Yeah, I was playing a match that anything could happen: could win, could lose. I’m being honest. He was playing good, too. That’s the real thing.

“But I was fighting for it. I was two sets to one up. Yeah, just accept, recover, come back home, stay with my people, and keep going. That’s all.

“It’s a negative thing, but I don’t going to complain because happened to me more than others. But on other hand I was winning more than almost anyone. That’s the real thing. But who knows, if I didn’t have all these injuries…”

This isn’t the first time injury has bothered Nadal in Melbourne. He hurt his back during the 2014 final he lost to Wawrinka, he sustained a hamstring injury during his defeat to David Ferrer in the quarter-finals in 2011 and he retired from his last-eight clash with Murray the year before with a knee problem.

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