A promising semifinal pits the world no. 1 Angelique Kerber against a former top-10 player searching for form after injury, Carla Suarez Navarro, at the Abierto GNP Seguros in Monterrey on Saturday.
The top seed at the Abierto GNP Seguros in Monterrey, world no. 1 Angelique Kerber, faces old rival Carla Suarez Navarro for a place in the final.
Last February, Spain’s Suarez Navarro was ranked as high as world no. 6. Long a dangerous floater in draws but not seen as a real threat at big events, Suarez Navarro finally broke into the top 10 in 2015 when she finished runner-up in Antwerp, then at the Miami Open – beating Venus Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska – and at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, beating Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep. Suarez Navarro went on to make the fifth Grand Slam quarterfinal of her career at the Australian Open in January 2016, and then went on to win just her second, and by far biggest, WTA title at the Qatar Total Open in Doha, beating Radwanska and Jelena Ostapenko in the final.
The diminutive Spaniard with the beautiful one-handed backhand was rewarded for her win with her highest-ever career ranking of world no. 6, but almost immediately dropped out of the top 10 when she was unable to defend her Miami Open points. Suarez Navarro generally trended downwards for the rest of a solid but unspectacular 2016, and a shoulder injury has been the dominant influence on her season so far. Coming into Monterrey, Suarez Navarro had played just four events in 2017 so far and won just one match – her first of the season, at the Australian Open over Jana Cepelova – before losing to Sorana Cirstea at the Australian Open, qualifier Miyu Kato in Kuala Lumpur, Katerina Siniakova at Indian Wells and Julia Goerges in Miami. As a result, Suarez Navarro has slipped down the rankings to world no. 25.
But Suarez Navarro is far too good a player to languish outside the top 20 for long, and in Monterrey she’s snapped her losing streak. Making her first appearance at the Abierto GNP Seguros, Suarez Navarro got her first win since Melbourne over Alison van Uytvanck before dusting compatriot Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-2, 6-0 and beating the very dangerous Alize Cornet 6-1, 6-1 – an impressive win that suggests Suarez Navarro has found something of her old form – to make her first semifinal since Linz last October.
So Suarez Navarro is no pushover – this is the kind of match that you would normally see in the quarterfinals of a Premier-level event, and indeed this will be the first time in Kerber’s history with the Spanish player that they have met at so small a tournament.
But dropping down to International level to look for wins and confidence – as well as satisfying WTA requirements for top players to appear at International events – was a smart idea for Kerber, who has never really found her feet in 2017. I’ve pointed out repeatedly that Kerber’s 2017 results haven’t been that bad – she hasn’t lost to bad players at all, certainly, with Daria Kasatkina (twice), Elina Svitolina (twice), Coco Vandeweghe, Elena Vesnina and Venus Williams the players to beat her. But they also haven’t been that good, not just in comparison to her sensational 2016 season but in terms of what we expect from a world no. 1 player.
Managing the burden of expectations is part of Kerber’s job now and after dropping a set to Francesca Schiavone in the first round of Monterrey, she’s done well in Mexico, easily ousting Mandy Minella in the second round and beating defending champion Heather Watson 6-4, 6-4 in quite an edgy quarterfinal match on Friday.
‘I think it was a good match, especially at the end,’ Kerber said afterwards. ‘We both struggled a little bit but I'm happy to be in the semis right now.
‘I tried to play my game aggressive, and it's always tough to play against Heather, especially because she was the defending champion here. But I'm happy I'm through it.’
Kerber leads the head-to-head with Suarez Navarro 5-3, and 4-1 on hard courts, and also won three of the last four they played, beating Suarez Navarro in Brisbane, Stuttgart and Cincinnati during the 2016 season (Suarez Navarro won on grass in Birmingham). Given Suarez Navarro’s recent struggles with injury and lack of form, even if she has been playing well this week, Kerber has to be the favourite here.
Kerber vs Suarez Navarro is scheduled on Estadio GNP Seguros in Monterrey on Saturday at 2.30pm local/8.30pm BST