WASHINGTON, January 24, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Before the start of Wednesday’s Angelique Kerber-Madison Keys quarterfinal, it had “great match potential” written all over it. After all, Keys had enjoyed such an impressive run with four consecutive victories during the Melbourne fortnight without dropping a set, and Kerber simply was undefeated in 2018. Playing in front of an enthusiastic crowd on Rod Laver Arena under bright, sunny skies to begin Day 10 at the Australian Open, what could go wrong for either player, right?
Plenty, if your name was Madison Keys. Within a matter of minutes, the 22-year-old American never knew what hit her. Actually, it was the excellent all-court play of the rejuvenated, 30-year-old Angelique Kerber. The left-handed German broke Keys in the opening game and quickly jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the opening set.
Soon, it became difficult to watch Keys implode like she did in losing the U.S. Open final to Sloane Stephens last September – whether you happened to be watching in person or, like me, on my living room TV 16 time zones away. A talented and powerful ball striker, Keys played well below her potential throughout much of the match. She dropped the first set to the 2016 AO champion Kerber in just 22 minutes, and the second set didn’t get much better for the No. 17 seed – and last remaining American woman in the singles draw. By contrast, the No. 21 seed Kerber, who overcame the unconventional play of Taiwan’s 88th-ranked Hsieh Su-wei one round earlier on Monday, played superbly from start to finish against Keys and won the final three games of the match en route to her decisive 6-1, 6-2 victory.
Kerber needed just 51 minutes to complete the rout, which advanced her to the semifinal round where she will face World No. 1 and top seed Simona Halep of Romania. She played brilliant tennis and was the dominant player out on court throughout.
Hall of Famer Martina Navaratilova, who analyzed the match for Tennis Channel’s broadcast back to the United States, said there’s no doubt about whether Kerber is back or not. “It was an impressive performance by Kerber on every single aspect of the game.”
During an on-court interview after her victory, Kerber said she’s really enjoying her tennis now. “I enjoy being on court. The support, it’s always so great. I’m getting old so I have to be aggressive. I cannot run for every ball anymore. I am working for this moment. It means a lot to me.”
In outpointing Keys 54-31, Kerber placed 59 percent of her first serves in play and won 19 of 23 (83 percent) first-serve points. She hit 13 winners by pinpointing the corners with her returns, committed just seven unforced errors, and broke Keys’s serve six times in nine opportunities. Kerber controlled the net through the one-sided match. In contrast, Keys won just 13 of 30 (43 percent) first-serve points, did not hit any aces, double faulted four times, and committed 25 unforced errors. She broke Kerber just once in three tries.
“Madison is always a tough opponent,” said Kerber, happy and relaxed after her match, during a separate off-court interview with Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim. “I was trying to be aggressive and take my chances.”
As good as Keys had been prior to her loss to Kerber – and she was impressive in beating Caroline Garcia of France in straight sets two days ago – she learned first hand that it will take something special to be Kerber this year. If Kerber’s run toward her second Australian Open title is any indication, Kerber 2018 is better than Kerber 2016. She’s the real thing, again. It’s almost as if her difficult 2017 season was an abomination. Now, she’s just two matches from winning another major.
“After last year, I sat down and told myself it was not my best year and I would try to forget it as soon as possible and look forward to the next season,” said Kerber. “I wanted to be able to enjoy myself on court, like 2016, and off court, too. It’s always great to see when hard work pays off and to go on court and play matches well.
“I came here with a lot of confidence after winning Sydney and playing well in Perth (in the Hopman Cup). I’m not looking too far ahead, but I’m not looking back, either. First, I have to focus on the next match. I know it will not be easy. I need to play well like I have the past two weeks.”
Notes: With her win over Madison Keys, Angelique Kerber improved her win-loss record this year to 10-0, which already includes one title, two weeks ago in Sydney. And, by making the AO semifinals, Kerber will return to the Top 10 in the WTA world rankings next week.
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.