With ‘Seedaggedon’ at Wimbledon 2018 engulfing those seeded ahead of her, Angelique Kerber has risen above the chaos.
Facing a tough test in the back-in-form young Swiss Belinda Bencic, the two-time Grand Slam champion came through their last 16 encounter 6-3, 7-6(5) to earn a place in the quarter-finals here for the fourth time in her career. As the highest-ranked player left in the draw the No.11 seed will take on No.14 seed Daria Kasatkina for a place in the semi-finals.
“I’m trying not to look left or right, just focus on my play, and improve my tennis every single match,” Kerber said, when asked about the open draw. “I have a lot of tough matches still and the next one will be the same as this. [Bencic] is a great opponent. I knew she had been playing really well in the last few weeks, so I was expecting a very tough battle. In the second set there were a lot of ups and downs and I was trying to play my own tennis in the important moments, to stay in every single point. I’m so glad to be in the quarter-finals again.”
Before the match began it was astonishing to contemplate that one of these players had never relieved the other of so much as a set in their three previous meetings. Kerber, right? Nope. It was Bencic who led 3-0 ahead of this contest between the erstwhile world No.1 and the former No.7, each now on a road back towards their best. Anyone who – admittedly, rather peculiarly – loathes tennis which is all about angles, position, shot selection and sheer finesse was unlikely to find much to enjoy here. But the rest of us on No.1 Court had a fine old time.
In muggy heat, Bencic fended off early break points to nose in front herself for 3-1. But the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up began to counter cross-court shots with winners down the line, and with just enough errors creeping into Bencic’s game, the left-handed German snapped off five straight games.
Each player arrived at this match on the rebound from dark times. Having last held the No.1 spot in January 2017, Kerber found herself at the start of this year down at No.22. For Bencic, the crisis has been more bewildering.
She peaked at No.7 in February 2016, then experienced a horrible slump in form followed by left wrist surgery last year (not her racket hand, but a vital lever in her two-handed backhand), which saw her slump to No.318 last September. She had grafted her way back to No.56 before this Wimbledon, and guaranteed a rise into the early 40s by making the last 16.
Moreover, it has been splendid stuff here, Bencic dismissing the No.6 seed Caroline Garcia in the opening round, then saving four match points to defeat Alison Riske, and trampling the No.27 seed Carla Suarez Navarro in the third round. It all seems especially commendable because Bencic’s peak ranking came at the age of 18, at which age confidence can sustain mortal damage. But it is three years since she played four straight Grand Slam matches, and in Slams such a streak is as demanding as it is exhilarating.
Kerber, for her part, hasn’t had it all her own way so far this Fortnight, having to fight back from a set down in the second round to the world No.237 Claire Liu. But her confidence is rising – consider that she came into this match with ten wins over top-20 players so far this year, whereas in the entire span of 2017 she mustered only one such.
So when Kerber leapt out to 3-1 in the second, stormy clouds of trouble were gathering for Bencic. Splendidly, she shooed them away to put it back on serve. Now it was Bencic on the rise, and at 4-4 her self-belief was evident when she forced her way through, as Kerber’s face crumpled in vexation.
But Bencic could not convert any of four set points, including one where she delivered a truly awful double fault. Kerber piled on the pressure with a rebutted match point, but in the breaker Bencic’s forehand deserted her at the worst moment, and a point later the combatants shared a heartfelt handshake.
Source: Kate Battersby|| Wimbledon