Kerber cruises in her ‘special place’

Match Report

Angelique Kerber has made a triumphant return to Rod Laver Arena, erasing the harrowing memories of an Australian Open semifinal defeat in 2018 to breeze past Slovenian Polona Hercog on Monday.

The German owned the court as a former champion hungry for more with a routine 6-2 6-2 first-round outing.

Hercog v Kerber R1

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Typically stingy on giving away points cheaply, Kerber exposed a chasm in consistency against a player who had beaten her twice before.

Her 15 unforced errors paled in comparison to the world No.97’s 41, despite finishing with just eight winners to 24.

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Kerber was at her mistake-free best in a comfortable victory

If there was any lingering heartbreak from Kerber’s previous outing at Rod Laver Arena, it had been quickly wiped from her memory.

It was last January when the German departed the court to a standing ovation after falling in a semifinal thriller, letting two match points slip against Simona Halep.

It was in stark contrast to the standing ovation she received in 2016, having stunned Serena Williams in a women’s final boilover to clinch her first slam silverware.

There was no guessing which departure from Rod Laver Arena left the lasting impression.

“It’s a really special court, a really special place for me,” Kerber said. “It’s where it all started for me, it’s where I won my first Grand Slam … Every time I walk on this court I have such great memories.”

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Unforced errors
15 Angelique Kerber
41 Polona Hercog

Under the guidance of Wim Fissette, the esteemed former coach of Kim Clijsters, Kerber had recovered her ranking from No.21 back to No.3 in 2018, winning Sydney and denying Serena Williams’ bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title in the Wimbledon final.

But indifferent form and a difference in opinions prompted a split ahead of the WTA Finals in Singapore.

Kerber wanted new direction, and it was former Australian Open runner-up and fellow German, Rainer Schuettler, whom she appointed to provide that.

Despite falling to Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals of her Sydney title defence last week, four wins from as many matches at the Hopman Cup leading in had the German quietly assured she and Schuettler were headed in the right direction.

She will meet Brazilian qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia for a place in the third round.

“I’ve played a lot of matches already here in Australia,” Kerber said. “I'm feeling the balls good, I have my rhythm. Of course, the balls are a little bit different to the balls last year.

"But for me, I really don't care too much about balls, courts, weather. I [just] need the ball, the racquet, just try to play.”

No nonsense, no fuss. It’s the approach that has served the 30-year-old best in the past, particularly on the arena where it all began.