Former world number one Angelique Kerber put a testing 2017 behind her on Monday, kicking off the new year with a fighting singles win as Germany beat Belgium 2-1 at the mixed teams Hopman Cup in Perth.
The 29-year-old gave her country an early lead in their Group A tie with Belgium, beating the emerging Elise Mertens in a tough two-set match.
World number seven David Goffin levelled the tie with a straight-sets win over fourth-ranked Alexander Zverev, but Zverev and Kerber then claimed the deciding mixed doubles.
Kerber was delighted to start 2018 with a victory, having battled a dramatic slump in form last year.
She started 2017 ranked world number one but by the end of the season the dual Grand Slam winner had slipped to 21.
Kerber was fully tested by Mertens, whose ranking went the other way in 2017 as she climbed from 120 to 36.
The pair traded service breaks and winners, but it was Kerber who produced when it mattered to win 7-6 (6), 7-6 (1) in one hour and 56 minutes.
Kerber, who won her maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in 2016, said it was a promising start to her preparation for Melbourne.
— Hopman Cup (@hopmancup) January 1, 2018
“I think it was a really good match from both of us,” she said.
“We played on a really high level. It was the first match of the year so I am really happy with my performance.”
Kerber added that she had emerged from last year a wiser player, having struggled with the pressure of expectations.
“Last year was a completely different year, I learnt a lot,” she said.
“I am trying not to look back, we are in 2018 and I’m really happy about that. It’s a fresh start.”
Goffin, coming off a superb finish to last year, capitalised on a misfiring Zverev to secure an impressive 6-3, 6-3 win.
Zverev racked up the unforced errors and the 27-year-old Belgian claimed another big scalp, having beaten Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in London in November.
“I cannot start the year better,” Goffin said of his triumph over the 20-year-old.
However, Zverev’s power was a major factor in the mixed doubles, played under the Fast4 format, with the Germans winning 4-2, 4-3 (2) to claim the tie.
Nick Kyrgios admits he feels pressure at every tournament he competes in but that he is able to keep things in perspective, even when playing on home soil in Australia.
The 22-year-old Aussie is the No. 3 seed in Brisbane this week, and opens his campaign against his compatriot Matthew Ebden on Wednesday.
Ranked 21 in the world, Kyrgios has been in search of a Grand Slam breakthrough ever since he stormed onto the scene with a shock win over world No. 1 Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon to reach the quarter-finals three and a half years ago.
An opportunity once again presents itself when the Australian Open comes around in two weeks’ time.
“Of course there’s pressure. I feel like there’s pressure on me wherever I go. I’m always expected to do well. But I know what you mean, coming to Australia we’re all obviously looking to do well in our back yard, but for me it’s just another week,” Kyrgios told reporters in Brisbane.
“I know you can have five, six terrible weeks and you can have one good week and it turns around your whole year. So you’ve got to keep things in perspective. If you don’t do well here you can’t let it affect your whole year.”
Kyrgios has spoken multiple times about how difficult it is being on the road all year round for the tennis, and that he feels homesick when he’s unable to fly back to Australia throughout the season to see his family.
He says Australian players are at a disadvantage because the tour only stops by the country in January before moving to other parts of the world.
“I don’t know why we don’t have more tournaments in Australia. I think people would be more than willing to come back here throughout the year, I’m not too sure. But for us in Australia, I was on the road for four months last year and that’s pretty tough, I want to spend time with my family but you can’t, you’ve got to stay on the road,” he said.
“We have three tournaments here I think, 250, 500 and a Grand Slam. And I think you look at guys from America and Europe, they have so many tournaments and I think for Australians we’re a bit disadvantaged in that way, being away from home for so long.”
While still only 22, some feel Kyrgios could have done more by now based on the immense talent he possesses. He reached two Grand Slam quarter-finals before hitting the age of 20 but hasn’t made that stage at a major since the 2015 Australian Open. He has collected three ATP titles though, over the past two seasons, and sounds motivated to do more in 2018.
Players in the so-called NextGen age bracket (21-and-under) have been making waves on tour with the likes of Denis Shapovalov and Andrey Rublev enjoying a solid North American hard-court swing last summer.
“I still know that I’m, in the scheme of things, pretty young. But I know that obviously guys are doing great things at my age as well,” said Kyrgios.
“I know that I’m getting older. I love seeing these young guys come through, I think they all got amazing games. Especially – watching Shapovalov play at Laver Cup, for me, he’s really good. Guys like (Frances) Tiafoe, Rublev, these guys have all got game and it’s exciting for me to see them put it together.”
Former world No. 1 Novak Djokovic is still in Dubai as was spotted wearing a bandage over his injured elbow that forced him to withdraw from the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi as well as this week’s Qatar Open.
Djokovic had told Sport360 last week that he was looking forward to beginning the new season “pain-free” but suffered a setback that forced him to delay the start to 2018.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion has made no public announcements regarding whether he will play the Australian Open in two weeks’ time or not but admitted his latest injury setback could force him to adjust his schedule.
His coach Radek Stepanek is with him here in Dubai, which is positive sign that Djokovic could be at least practicing.
Two days ago, world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua posted a photo of him and Djokovic with the Burj Al Arab hotel in the background.
A real humble brother, all the best next year 🎾🤙🏾 pic.twitter.com/I5ORntWYrF
— Anthony Joshua (@anthonyfjoshua) December 30, 2017
If Djokovic does end up playing the Australian Open, he would have to dust off some serious rust having not played a match since Wimbledon last July.