Angelique Kerber’s early season renaissance continued to flourish on Friday as she led Germany into their first Hopman Cup final since 1995 at the mixed teams tournament in Perth.
The left-hander wound the clock back to 2016 with her menacing forehand as she thrashed Australia’s Daria Gavrilova in straight sets in the singles and then lifted the Germans to victory in the deciding mixed doubles as they notched a dramatic 2-1 win in their final Group A tie.
Kerber and Alexander Zverev only had to beat the Australians to reach Saturday’s final against Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic.
But it came down to a tense mixed doubles clash after world number four Zverev suffered a shock loss to Thanasi Kokkinakis in the men’s singles.
With Zverev’s form faltering noticeably, the Germans dropped the first set in the Fast4 doubles.
Although they levelled the match, their fate looked grim when Australia led 3-1 in the first-to-five third set tie-breaker, with the in-form Kokkinakis having two serves to come.
But the Germans won the next four points to advance to the final, denying the Belgium pairing of David Goffin and Elise Mertens, who had beaten Canada earlier in the day and would have gone through to the final with an Australian win.
Zverev said Kerber deserved all the plaudits for their place in the final.
“Angie played unbelievable in both her matches,” he said.
“She is the reason we are in the final and I’m going to give her all the credit. I didn’t play very well today.”
The German pairing of Boris Becker and Anke Huber won the final in 1995, with Michael Stich and Steffi Graf winning it two years earlier.
Kerber started 2017 ranked number one in the world but slumped to 21 by the year’s end and on paper appeared to have her work cut out against the 26th-ranked Gavrilova in the singles.
The Australian held four break points in the first game of the match, but it was one-way traffic from there as Kerber produced a procession of winners on her way to an emphatic 6-1, 6-2 victory.
Kerber has won all three of her singles matches at the Hopman Cup and hasn’t dropped a set.
The confidence of 29-year-old is rising as she heads towards Melbourne, where she won her maiden Grand Slam in 2016.
“I am really happy with my three wins,” she said.
“It’s still the beginning of the year, but having good matches under my belt before heading to Melbourne gives me much confidence.”
She will face another player unbeaten in singles this week in Saturday’s final in Bencic, the former world number seven rebuilding her career after injury.
The injury-plagued Kokkinakis is ranked 209th but stunned world number four Zverev, coming from a set down on the back of a booming forehand and superb serving to win 5-7, 7-6 (7/4), 6-4 and keep the tie alive against the odds.
Little separated the pair throughout as they traded blows, with Zverev staving off seven set points in the second set before the Australian levelled the match.
One break in the fifth game of the third set was enough for Kokkinakis to record one of the wins of his career on his third match point.
Zverev beat Federer in three sets, all tie-breakers, in Perth last year.
Earlier in the day, troubled Canadian Eugenie Bouchard suffered an untimely injury setback in her final singles match as Belgium beat Canada 3-0.
Bouchard suffered a buttock injury late in her straight-sets loss to Mertens.
After Mertens beat Bouchard, who produced her best performance of the tournament prior to the injury, world number seven Goffin then cruised past Vasek Pospisil to secure the tie for the Belgians.
They were handed a clean sweep when Bouchard pulled out of the mixed doubles, but it wasn’t quite enough to get them into the final.
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