Angelique Kerber ominously says she is getting her 2016 Grand Slam winning feeling back, signalling her intent to reclaim the Australian Open with a quarter-final demolition of Madison Keys Wednesday.
The champion at Melbourne two years, seeded 21, ruthlessly brushed aside last year’s US Open finalist 6-1, 6-2 — breaking her much-vaunted serve at will in 51 one-sided minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
Kerber will go back into the world’s top-10 after reaching the semi-finals and is on a 14-match winning streak in Australia after an unbeaten singles campaign in the Hopman Cup and her triumph in the Sydney warm-up.
“I know that I was working hard in the off-season, and I know that I can play good matches. I’m just trying to find the feeling back I had like 2016,” said Kerber of the year in which she also won the US Open.
“I love to play here, there’s so many great memories… I’m just happy to get through and make the semis again here.”⁰⁰
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 24, 2018
Kerber said she was enjoying life and tennis again after a torrid 2017 that she began on top of the rankings and ended outside the top 20.
“I just try to enjoy myself again on court. You know, I had a tough last year,” said the German. “I’m proud how I got through all the last weeks and being in the semis again in a Grand Slam. So I’m feeling good.”
For Keys, the 17th seed who hadn’t dropped a set to reach the quarter-finals, it’s back to the drawing board after another big-match choke — she capitulated 6-3, 6-0 to Sloane Stephens in the final at Flushing Meadows last year.
She said she would sit down with her coach, the 2000 Australian Open winner Lindsay Davenport to try and figure out a way forward.
“I think she has helped me in a lot of big moments and a lot of big matches,” said Keys, who reached the semi-finals at Melbourne in 2015.
“She knows what to say in those moments to calm me down or get me going. I think I have handled a lot of the bigger situations better, and I just need to keep working on that.
“I’m not going to walk away from this tournament and think it was terrible because I had one bad match. I think it’s just going to take a little bit of time.”
The match was billed as a classic contrast of styles, the big-serving power game of Keys versus the scurrying, chase-everything-down, all-action approach of Kerber.
For Keys so much depends on the serve, which let her down badly on this occasion as Kerber won 57 percent of points on the American’s first serve.
Keys was broken four times in five error-riddled service games as the German raced to the first set 6-1 in 22 minutes and went 3-1 up in the second.
Keys momentarily held back the tide with a break to love to get back to 3-2.
But the German juggernaut rolled on with a break back and a dominant hold, sealed with a tremendous overhead from near the baseline.
For Keys the final indignity came as, serving to stay in the tournament, she opened with back-to-back double faults.
Moments later her ordeal was over and Kerber was back in the semi-finals where she will face top seed Simona Halep, who delivered a 6-3, 6-2 drubbing of Karolina Pliskova.
While Kerber can often be perceived as a counter-puncher, Keys noted the German is a lot more than that.
“I think she’s really good at also being aggressive. She takes time away, especially with her forehand down the line,” said Keys. “So what might be considered a “safe ball” against some people isn’t, because you know you’re going to be on the run. And she will come forward, and she just does a really good job of balancing getting every ball back but also putting you in a bad position.”
Kerber, who now owns a 7-1 head-to-head lead over Keys, said: “I knew what to expect. I mean, Madison is a hard hitter, and she served good. So I was trying to playing from the first point aggressive and moving good and also bringing a lot of balls back.
“I think this is always my game the last few weeks that I tried to improve, and this was also the plan today, I mean, going out there, trying to, yeah, taking the match in my hands. I’m feeling the ball really good, and I was enjoying the match. I was going out there and trying to playing my tennis again. Yeah, it was a good feeling again.”
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…
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2018
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.”
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