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.”
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