MALLORCA, June 20, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Former World No. 1 players and future Hall of Famers Angelique Kerber and Maria Sharapova met on grass for just the second time during their storied careers Thursday afternoon at the Mallorca Open in Spain. Coming in, the reigning and former Wimbledon champions had split their eight previous meetings. After Sharapova won four of their first five encounters, it’s been all Kerber, who had strung together three straight wins all since 2014.
Make that four in a row for Kerber.
Playing before a sold-out Pista Central audience under perfect, sunny (28º Celsius) conditions, the sixth-ranked Kerber continued her winning ways against Sharapova. She defeated the 85th-ranked wild card, 6-2, 6-3, in one hour and 32 minutes, to move into Friday’s quarterfinal round against No. 6 seed Caroline Garcia of France. It was Kerber’s ninth consecutive victory on grass.
“It’s always tough to play Maria, especially in the second round,” said Kerber during an on-court interview after her win. “I think everybody was enjoying the match, and we gave our best today. It’s great to be back here in Mallorca. I love this place and I’m looking forward to playing my next match.”
Kerber took control from the beginning, opening with a quick break of Sharapova’s serve. She went ahead by a double break at 5-2 and consolidated it with a quick hold to win the 40-minute first set. The German won 66 percent of her service points – she would finish the match at 65 percent – and backed it up with a 53 percent efficiency throughout in winning points on her returns,
In the second set, Kerber pushed ahead 2-1 with a key break on her fourth break-point opportunity during the 12-point third game. It came after Sharapova hit a backhand return wide that finished an 11-shot rally between the two players. Kerber consolidated the break with a quick hold at 15 for a 3-1 advantage. Then, she pushed ahead 5-2 with another break of Sharapova that capped a 16-point seventh game. Although Sharapova erased one of the breaks in the next game, Kerber rebounded nicely and closed out the match at love on her first match point after securing her fifth break of the Russian’s serve in 12 opportunities.
Looking sharp, Kerber hit 18 winners and committed just five unforced errors, while Sharapova compiled 22 winners. Her undoing was the 31 unforced errors she accumulated. Sharapova broke Kerber just once and was outpointed 73-53.
Defeats Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-3! pic.twitter.com/S5JEWNuOWP
— WTA (@WTA) 20. Juni 2019
Before their blockbuster showdown, Kerber prevailed over Sharapova in their only other grass-court match, a three-set victory that came during the fourth round at 2014 Wimbledon. Most recently, the three-time Grand Slam champion Kerber won in straight sets in the third round of the 2018 Australian Open.
As the top seed this week at Mallorca, Kerber has been looking for consistency in her game – and seems to have found it on grass. “If you have a lot of wins before Wimbledon, this is the goal,” she said earlier this week. “I’m here to play good matches against the best players in the world, so of course, it gives me a little more confidence for my next matches and next days before I go to London.
“I still think I need a few more matches but I’m in a good way, and the most important thing is to have a lot of good matches and to enjoy my stay here.”
Meanwhile, the five-time Grand Slam titlist Sharapova, who was playing in only her second match since late January – and just the fourth tournament of the season after recovering from shoulder surgery – gained some good match experience this week heading into next month’s Wimbledon.
Around the Mallorca Open
• No. 3 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland advanced to her first Mallorca quarterfinal when American qualifier Shelby Rogers retired in the third set. The 13th-ranked Bencic, who had won two of her three previous meetings with the No. 356 Rogers – none on grass – was ahead 5-7, 6-3, 3-1, when Rogers retired due to an arm strain injury. Their match lasted one hour and 47 minutes.
“I’m really sad for Shelby that she’s injured, of course I wish her the best recovery and to get ready soon,” said Bencic following the match. “For me, I’m really excited to be in the quarterfinal. I think it was a tough match today, and I’m just really happy to be through.”
Bencic hit 23 winners, including nine aces, while Rogers, who is coming back after missing much of the past two seasons after knee surgery, finished with 12 aces and 36 winners. Bencic converted four of her five break-points opportunities before Rogers retired.
Next, Bencic will face No. 5 seed Amanda Anisimova of the United States. The 17-year-old American beat No. 56 Alizé Cornet from France, 6-2, 6-4, for her 21st victory of the year and reached the quarterfinal round of her first WTA grass-court tournament. Anisimova, who outpointed Cornet 69-54 during the one hour and 15 minute match, is coming off a semifinal finish at Roland Garros that lifted her into the Top 30 at No. 27.
“It feels amazing to be in the quarterfinals at my first grass tournament, and I’ve been enjoying playing here a lot, and playing in front of the people in Spain,” said Anisimova, following her second-round victory. “It’s been a very enjoyable week.
“It was really hot and my opponent was playing very well, so it was quite a battle, especially in the end. I’m really happy with how I was able to play in the end, and my performance, I had to make it rise.”
• In the final match of the day, No. 6 seed Caroline Garcia, the 2016 Mallorca champion, defeated 132nd-ranked Spanish wild card Paula Badosa, 6-2, 6-7 (1), 6-3, in two hours and five minutes. The 23rd-ranked Garcia improved her winning streak on grass to seven matches after capturing the title at Nottingham on Sunday and beating former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka on Tuesday.
• The doubles No. 1 seeds, Elise Mertens of Belgium and Zhang Shuai of China, ranked 14th, were upset by Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia, 6-0, 6-2, in the quarterfinal round.
• Friday’s singles quarterfinal order of play begins at noon with No. 4 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium facing No. 7 Sofia Kenin of the United States. It will be followed by No. 3 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland against No. 5 seed Amanda Anisimova of the United States. Not before 4:30 p.m., unseeded Wang Yafan of China takes on No. 2 seed Anastasija Sevastova from Latvia, and, finally, not before 6:30 p.m. it’s No. 1 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany versus No. 6 seed Caroline Garcia from France.
What they’re saying
After No. 2 seed Anastasija Sevastova improved her career record at the Mallorca Open grass-court event to an impressive 15-2 following her 6-2, 6-1 second-round win against Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia on Wednesday evening, the three-time finalist and 2017 titlist from Latvia said with a laugh, “I don’t know what to say, I’m like the Rafa (Nadal) of Mallorca. A little bit – just one percent! I like the grass here, I like the conditions, I like how the balls fly here.”