Clinical Kerber takes the cake

  • Linda Pearce
  • Elizabeth Bai

Angelique Kerber turned 30 on a day better suited to ice-cream cake than candles, with a clinical performance that left talented young Croatian Donna Vekic in the shade. Well metaphorically, anyway, for the enervating heat of Melbourne Park gave no-one anywhere to hide on Thursday.

At the same time Gael Monfils was threatening to melt on Rod Laver Arena, Kerber was her old relentless, tenacious self on adjacent Margaret Court, tested when Vekic recovered a service break to level at 4-4 in the first set, but losing only one more game to advance 6-4 6-1.

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As the crowd on MCA sang ‘Happy Birthday’ without too much urging from the court announcer, Kerber was clearly pleased to be on and off and into a marquee third-round match-up with a certain world No.48 named Maria Sharapova after just 70 minutes of toil. Of the pair’s six completed matches, the tally stands at 3-3. 

"You know, it's another tough match here. We both played in the past a lot of good matches. I know that I have to play my best tennis again. I think it will be a good match. She played very good the last two here," she said.

"I'm just looking more about me, like how I will prepare, just playing my game from the first point, just of course trying to do my best."

Unbeaten this year, the horrors of 2017 are well behind the Australian Open 2016 champion, who was eliminated at the quarterfinal stage last year by Coco Vandeweghe. Along with Sharapova, another past No.1, the 21st seed is one of only two former titleholders in an increasingly-depleted women’s draw.

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Still, 21st seed. Like Novak Djokovic’s No.14, there’s something that just doesn’t look right about that.

“I really enjoy to be here in Australia – to have my 30th birthday here was just amazing,’’ said Kerber. “I’m feeling good. I’m happy with my performances, I’m happy with how I have played over the last few days and weeks.

“I’m really enjoying my tennis again on court,’’ said a player unbeaten at the Hopman Cup and Sydney International since starting work with new coach Wim Fissette (interestingly, her long-time former mentor, Torben Beltz, is now in Team Vekic).

“The last year was not so easy, but I just try to forget. The new season starts, and I think everything pays off. I’m so happy to be playing good tennis again – like 2016, actually.’’

Unforced errors
17 Angelique Kerber
30 Donna Vekic

After her even more emphatic opening-round win over compatriot Anna-Lena Friedsam,  the senior German had ruled a line under the 2017 season she started at No.1 and finished with a number unbecoming a dual major winner.

Little wonder Kerber has had enough of talking about what went so horribly wrong after she added the US Open to the Australian version, for what was clearly not a fluke has now morphed into a “restart”, as well as a quest for the enjoyment that had been lost amid the clamour for her signature on endorsement contracts and the myriad requests for her time. Lucrative, yes, but demanding, too.

But, to a large degree, normality has returned. The birthday girl is back wearing down opponents from the baseline as well as threatening them offensively with her experienced leftie’s game. The negativity has gone, she is smiling again. Great to see. More to come. Many happy returns, indeed.