From her pleasant exchanges with fans and media to her friendships with other players, it’s hard to imagine a more genial person in tennis than Angelique Kerber.
But as the No.11 seed faced No.18 Naomi Osaka in Wimbledon’s third round, the all-business German was clearly in no mood for niceties. It took Kerber, 10 years older than the highly-touted 20-year-old, just 63 minutes to record a 6-2, 6-4 victory.
“I knew what to expect, we played a lot of tough battles in the past,” said Kerber of her fourth meeting with Osaka. “I was just trying to play my game, be aggressive, but at the same time just enjoy it. It’s always special to play on the Centre Court here.”
The emphatic victory over the dangerous Osaka continues a season of comebacks for the former ladies’ finalist. Runner-up to Serena Williams in a high-quality final in 2016, Kerber was beaten by Garbiñe Muguruza a year later.
While that three-set loss to the eventual 2017 champion, coming in the fourth round, was in hindsight a respectable one, there were a series of disappointments at other events that led to Kerber’s ranking dropping outside the top 20.
One of those for the former No.1 was a loss to then-No.45 Osaka in the first round of the 2017 US Open. Despite two victories against the Japanese player at other events, Kerber needed to reassert her Grand Slam authority.
And from the very first point of the match, in which Kerber dictated in a long rally to force an Osaka error, the German was simply relentless. Her first break of serve came in the opening game, another followed four games later.
The unusually muted Centre Court crowd only seemed to underline the concerned expressions of Osaka’s coach, Sascha Bajin, as Kerber claimed the first set in 27 minutes. Kerber’s support team, on the other hand, cut understandably relaxed figures in the bright afternoon sunshine.
Teamed with high-profile coach Wim Fisette in a rejuvenated season, Kerber’s commanding performance highlighted a return to the form that previously delivered two Grand Slam titles.
Her power relentless and her angles superb against Osaka, she gained another confidence-building break of serve in the first game of the second set. While the No.18 seemed to lift slightly, she couldn’t secure an opening.
Comfortably serving out her victory, Kerber’s statistics made for pleasing post-match reading. While her 23 winners were five fewer than the hard-hitting Osaka’s, the supremely-focused German hit just five unforced errors and didn’t face a single break point.
At these Championships she has already defeated a former finalist in Vera Zvonareva and ended the main draw dreams of Claire Liu, the 2017 girls’ champion. Having reached the second week at SW19 for the fifth time in 11 appearances, Kerber is positioning herself perfectly to claim a third Grand Slam title. Belinda Bencic, Kerber’s fourth round opponent, won’t be expecting any favours.
Source: Vivienne Christie|| Wimbledon