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Angelique Kerber, Flavia Pennetta capitalizing on weakened draws at the Australian Open

Hannah Wilks in News 17 Jan 2014
Angelique Kerber and Flavia Pennetta at the US Open in 2011 (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Sometimes the stars align for a good run at a Slam. Angelique Kerber and Flavia Pennetta are into the round of sixteen at the 2014 Australian Open and one of the two will make the quarter-finals as big names fall.


Germany’s Kerber, the ninth seed, moved into the fourth round of the Australian Open for the second straight year with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Alison Riske. Kerber was projected to meet no. 23 seed Elena Vesnina; instead, she faced 53-ranked Riske, who had never been beyond the first round of the Australian Open.

As her name suggests, Riske plays an audacious game which relies heavily upon attacking the net to finish points. It was always going to be tough for her against Kerber, whose deadly passing shots punished every foray forwards and whose impressive movement and footwork lets her chase down anything short, and the German took the first set 6-3 in 32 minutes.

After falling behind 0-2 in the second, Riske decided on a, well, risky strategy; staying at the back of the court to avoid exposing herself to Kerber’s passing shots. It worked briefly as the American led by a break twice, but as bravely as she competed, she had no way to finish points off quickly without coming forwards and found herself in the kind of protracted, toe-to-toe baseline exchanges that are meat and drink to Kerber. Serving at 4-5, Riske came out on the wrong end of a 22-shot rally for 0-30, then double-faulted disastrously to give up three match points. Two came and went with audacious winners, but on the third Kerber hung back and played patiently and Riske pushed a forehand long to end her best Australian Open run.

‘I’m just happy to win in two sets,’ Kerber said afterwards, as temperatures on another hot day climbed inexorably towards the zenith. It’s the first time in 106 years of recorded history that the thermometer has topped 40 degrees Celsius for four days in a row in Melbourne. ‘I tried to focus on my game and not on the sun.’ 

The German was a champion swimmer as a teenager and was asked if she regretted choosing tennis on days like this when she could be slipping into a nice cool swimming pool instead of sweating it out on the court under blazing sun with nothing but an ice bath to look forward to as a reward. ‘I’m having fun out here on the court,’ Kerber laughed. ‘I chose the right decision.’

In the fourth round, Kerber will look to avenge her compatriot Mona Barthel after Flavia Pennetta beat Barthel 6-1, 7-5. Pennetta is also taking advantage of a draw that has opened up for her; the twenty-eighth seed would have expected to meet sixth seed Petra Kvitova in the third round, but Kvitova was upset by Thailand’s Luksika Kumkhum on the first day of play and Pennetta had a much easier task against 39-ranked Barthel.

Pennetta raced to a 6-1 lead in 26 minutes as Barthel made 19 unforced errors to the Italian’s four. The second set was more of a battle as Pennetta was down a break for much of it, but the veteran’s all-court game put too much pressure on the inconsistent German. After failing to serve out the set, Barthel was broken 5-7 for the match.

Pennetta was a surprise semi-finalist at the US Open in 2013 but has never been beyond the round of sixteen here. Now 31, Pennetta has a great opportunity to make it one further: in four meetings with World No. 9 Kerber, the Italian has won twice. Taking only those matches that have taken place on hard-courts into account, the head-to-head is still even, with Pennetta winning in Auckland in 2012 and Kerber on the way to her own semi-final appearance at the 2011 US Open. Kvitova’s loss is these two’s gain with an Australian Open quarter-final awaiting the winner.


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Angelique Kerber, Flavia Pennetta capitalizing on weakened draws at the Australian Open

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