Angelique Kerber put on a stunning exhibition of grass court tennis to beat Simona Halep 6-4 6-3 at the Nature Valley International.
The German, 31, has always loved grass. She has made it to the semi-final stage or further in seven tournaments on the surface. And she her enjoyed three of the best weeks of her career this time last year when she made it to the semi-finals in Eastbourne and then won her first Wimbledon title.
Kerber’s success on the lawns looks set to continue for a long time. She dealt with everything Halep threw at her today and came up with a medley of outstanding winners – most of them on her lethal forehand side.
“It’s never easy to play Simona, but I played really well from the first point today, especially in important moments,” the German said.
“I was hitting the ball good, really deep, and moving well. It was quite a good match from my side.”
She continued, “I’m feeling good so far here. Every tournament is different. I’m focusing right now on my semi tomorrow and not thinking too much ahead.”
Kerber elaborated, “I know that when I am in the car to Wimbledon, a lot of emotions and memories will come. Wimbledon for me is something special, something magic. When I finish here, my whole focus and my heart will be there.”
The environment in Eastbourne suits Kerber’s personality. “It’s better to be here (this week). It’s a little bit quieter than Wimbledon right now, so I prefer to stay here a little bit longer.”
Kerber takes control
Kerber made a great start to the quarter-final. She attacked Halep’s serve and gained two breaks in the first five games to move 4-1 ahead.
As is typical of her character, the Romanian responded by immediately wrestling one of the breaks back. She then served better for the rest of the set to force the German to serve for it at 5-4, which she did.
Halep made a strong start to the second set. She went 40-15 up in the opening game after controlling the first four points.
Then Kerber turned the game on its head with four brilliant points. On the first, she flashed a forehand return past the Romanian. Then she dragged Halep around the court to force into a couple or errors and earn break point. Finally, she unleashed another forehand winner to seize the break.
The World No.7 looked shell-shocked for the next two games as the German won them both in the blink of an eye. Unsurprisingly, Halep called for her coach.
Halep makes Kerber work for the win
Whatever Daniel Dobre, it worked, as the 2018 French Open champion played a series of superb points to get herself back into the match.
First, Halep hit a return that landed on the baseline. Next, she manoeuvred Kerber around the court and put away a volley. Then the Romanian unfurled a delightful drop shot to earn a break point.
The German saved that one, and two more, before Halep procured another chance with a remarkable backhand winner that was achieved with hardly any backswing whatsoever. She then forced Kerber into an error to secure one of the breaks she needed.
The Romanian continued to play well for the rest of the match and there were some amazing rallies for the crowd to enjoy. However, the German came up with exactly the right shot time and again.
In game six, Kerber hit a lob, a forehand winner and a backhand winner. Then, in game seven, she hit two forehand winners. In game eight, she hit an extraordinary forehand winner around the net post. And in game nine, she bested Halep in an incredible rally to set herself up for yet another forehand winner.
Shortly after that rally was over, the match was too, as Halep succumbed to the German’s relentless pressure and surrendered her serve. When the final ball landed out, the crowd showed their appreciation for both players’ performances with loud cheering and rapturous. The match was a great advert for women’s tennis.
Halep reflects on her time in Eastbourne
“(Kerber) played really well today,” Halep said. “I didn’t play badly, but I missed a little bit too much on some points, important points, and I didn’t take my chances.”
“I was not patient enough because with her, you have to be a little bit more patient. She’s very strong on the baseline, and you have also to change something.”
She continued, “Also, in the second set, first game, I had 40-15 on my serve and I couldn’t take the game. But in my opinion, it was a good match.”
The Romanian is happy with her performances in Eastbourne, and she is pleased that her net play is getting sharper, but she knows there is still plenty of room for improvement.
“I would say my grass game is at 70%, but I’m getting better,” Halep said. “I changed some things during the match. I’m doing different things, which makes me happy.”
“I have one more match tomorrow, doubles, and then I go to Wimbledon. Expectations are pretty okay in my head, but I’m not putting pressure on myself. I will just take it match by match and see how good I can be on grass this year.”
Kiki Bertens, Aryna Sabalenka Victorious On Opening Day Of Elite Trophy
The higher ranked players have made a solid start at the penultimate tournament of the 2019 WTA season.
Top seed Kiki Bertens has kicked-off her campaign at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai with a roller coaster straight sets win over Donna Vekic.
Bertens, who hasn’t won a title on the tour since the Madrid Open in May, overcame some testing moments to see off her opponent 7-6(5), 6-2. Extending her head-to-head record against Vekic to 4-3. The Dutch No.1 dropped her serve once in each set on route to victory. Winning 74% of her first service points and converting four out of her seven break point opportunities.
“The first set was really close. We were both fighting for the first set. I think Donna was a little bit injured, but in the second set, I was just trying to get my best from every point and I did that really well.” Bertens said during her on-court interview.
The latest clash between the two was a tale of two halves. To begin, it was Vekic who got off to a better start as she broke right away before the world No.10 clawed her way back to draw level midway through the opener. With little to separate the two, Bertens seized her chance in the tiebreak. Tied at 5-5, she broke the Vekic serve with the help of a clean backhand passing shot for a chance to serve the set out. An opportunity she converted with the help of a forehand error from her opponent.
Clinching the lead, the proceedings were interrupted by a medical time out for Vekic. Who underwent some treatment on her lower back. Upon resumption it was a one-way show with Bertens racing to a set and 5-0 lead. Even a wobble at the very end, where she lost two games in a row, failed to deny the top seed victory.
“I think I went for her shots there and hit a few good returns. My concentration was maybe not there, but I am happy that I could close it (the match) out at 5-2.” Bertens commented about the end to the match.
It is the fourth time Bertens has played Vekic this season. She has won three of those encounters.
Earlier in the day Aryna Sabalenka was another player to make a winning start at the tournament. The fifth seed ousted Greece’s Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-4. Sabalenka saved all five of the break points she faced throughout the 89-minute clash and dropped just four points behind her first serve (24/28).
Sabalenka is playing in the Rose Group of the round-robin tournament, which also features Elise Mertens. Meanwhile Bertens heads the Azalea Group with a clash against Dayana Yastremska lurking in the coming days.
Kristina Mladenovic Dropped By Coach After Six Months
The 26-year-old reacts to the unexpected departure of her mentor.
Former top 10 player Kristina Mladenovic has suffered an off-court blow following the departure of her coach Sascha Bajin.
The 26-year-old had been working with Bajin since April and has made steady progress on the tour by rising more than 20 places to back inside the world’s top 40. Last Month Mladenovic reached the semi-finals of the Zhengzhou Open, in what was one of her best runs on the WTA Tour this year. During 2019 she has also recorded four wins over top 10 players, including Naomi Osaka when she was No.1 in the world.
It is understood that the departure of Bajin was on his own terms and not of a mutual agreement. Bajin is the former hitting partner of Serena Williams (2008-2015) and help guide Osaka to her two grand slam titles prior to his departure in February. In 2018 he was awarded the inaugural WTA Coach of the Year Award.
“I’m very disappointed about Sasha’s decision not to continue our relationship next season, I enjoyed our work, we had some great wins and I truly felt my game was on the rise again.” Mladenovic wrote on Twitter.
“I think that there was a lot more to achieve together, but I can’t change his opinion and decision. On my side, I am proud of my year and progress and I will keep working hard and build strong to be even better in 2020.”
Last week at the Kremlin Cup Mladenovic reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Belinda Bencic. At the tournament she scored wins over seeded players Anastasija Sevastova and Kiki Bertens. Whilst her season has been mixed, the Frenchwoman believes she has the ability to beat the best players in the world.
“When I put together everything on court I can beat anyone.” She told reporters in Moscow.
“And no matter what the season, no matter what ranking, I always have some upsets here and there but now it is really about coming back in the rankings where I was at my highest. And already this year, I am still not satisfied with my ranking but I have a lot of wins against very good players.”
Mladenovic, who is also a top five doubles player that won the French Open title in June, is currently ranked 39th in the world. She is set set to end the season inside the top 50 for the fifth year in a row.
There has been no information released about who may potentially replace Bajin next year.
Belinda Bencic ‘Happy’ After Qualifying For WTA Finals In Moscow
Belinda Bencic is delighted after not only reaching the Moscow Final and qualifying for the WTA Finals.
Belinda Bencic expressed her happiness after qualifying for the WTA Finals after a 6-3 6-4 win over Kristina Mladenovic in Moscow.
The world number 10 had to reach the final before this week started to secure her place in the season-ending finale and that’s what has happened after beating Mladenovic in straight sets.
Hitting 24 winners, Bencic powered past her French opponent to seal her spot at the WTA Finals for the first time in her career.
After the win Bencic is relieved to achieve a goal that she had set at the start of the year, “I’m so happy I reached the top eight,” the Swiss admitted to wtatennis.com.
“It was a huge goal for me this season and so last-minute. I was so nervous before the match, but also reaching the final here tomorrow is amazing. I’m so happy.
“It was such a good level from us. We know each other well so that’s why it was very tactical. I just tried to really focus on myself and keep my emotions under control.”
As a result of Bencic’s qualification, the field for the WTA Finals is set, which starts on the 28th of October:
- Ashleigh Barty
- Karolina Pliskova
- Naomi Osaka
- Elina Svitolina
- Bianca Andreescu
- Simona Halep
- Petra Kvitová
- Belinda Bencic
The first alternate for the season-ending finale will be Serena Williams, with Kiki Bertens being the second alternate in Shenzhen.
As for Bencic, her week in the Russian capital isn’t done yet as she is set to play Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Karolina Muchova in tomorrow’s Kremlin Cup.
Should the 22 year-old win tomorrow she will win her second title of the season following on from her victory in Dubai in February.
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