Daria Kasatkina targets her second win over Angelique Kerber in two months when the pair square off for a spot in the Qatar Total Open quarter-finals on Thursday in Doha.
With an opportunity to reclaim the World No. 1 ranking within her grasp over the next fortnight in the Middle East, can Angelique Kerber avenge her Sydney loss to Daria Kasatkina and advance into the quarter-finals in Doha on Thursday?
Persistent rain has marred the prestigious WTA Premier tournament in the Qatari capital this week, with players forced to play twice in one day in order to maintain the original schedule. Indeed, the winner of this clash will take to court later on Thursday to face Rio Olympics gold medalist Monica Puig for a place in Friday’s semi-finals.
It’s been a very quiet start to 2017 for Kerber. With increased pressure and expectations surrounding her after finishing a season as World No. 1 for the first time, the German experienced a disappointing Australian summer. Kerber struggled significantly with her serve in Brisbane, edging Ashleigh Barty in three sets before falling to Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals.
Up next was her opening round loss (7-6 6-2) to Kasatkina at the Apia International in Sydney, which wasn’t exactly the best preparation heading into what was her first ever grand slam title defence in Melbourne. Kerber again battled through a pair of three-setters against Lesia Tsurenko and Carina Witthoeft before an encouraging 6-0 6-4 win over Kristyna Pliskova - her first straight sets win of 2017. However Kerber’s title defence was snapped in emphatic fashion by CoCo Vandeweghe in the Round of 16, with the American completely overpowering the top seed with a clinical 6-2 6-3 victory.
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Kerber’s form was nowhere near her sublime performances from last year, with the 29-year-old deciding to skip Germany’s recent Fed Cup tie in Maui against USA in order to rest and prepare herself for this week in Doha. Having performed poorly in the Middle East last year, Kerber has the opportunity to accumulate substantial ranking points over the next fortnight. She will return to No. 1 if she reaches the final of Doha and Dubai next week, but she will need to raise her level significantly if she is even to get past the second round on Thursday.
Daria Kasatkina (Photo by PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images)
Daria Kasatkina, one of the brightest young talents on the WTA Tour, registered the biggest win of her short career in Sydney when she upstaged then World No. 1 Kerber in straight sets in a comprehensive display. However Kasatkina hasn’t kicked on as perhaps she would have liked following that triumph, winning just two matches since.
The 19-year-old lost her next match in Sydney to eventual champion Johanna Konta (certainly no shame in that), but she suffered a timid 6-0 7-6(5) loss to Shuai Peng at the Australian Open. Kasatkina was seemingly on the verge of a big slam breakthrough heading into Melbourne, so it was definitely a setback in terms of the immediate progress she was making on tour. Kasatkina moved on to St. Petersburg (where she was a semi-finalist last year), but she went down in another disappointing loss to Natalia Vikhlyantseva after earlier defeating Belinda Bencic in the first round. The teenager avoided an opening round loss in Doha on Wednesday, edging Irina-Camelia Begu in a scrappy three-set clash, emerging a 3-6 6-1 7-5 winner.
Nevertheless, despite a bit of a lull since toppling Kerber in Sydney, Kasatkina remains an extremely dangerous player. Her highlights last year included quarter-final finishes in big tournaments at Indian Wells, Charleston, Montreal and the Olympics, but the next step for the Russian is to go deep in a Slam or Premier event in 2017. Could this week in Doha be that tournament?
Kasatkina has got every opportunity of replicating her Sydney win over Kerber in Doha. Kerber is lacking confidence right now, while her form hasn’t really been impressive since she won the US Open last year. Kasatkina is the kind of player that loves rising to a big occasion, and this is certainly one of them. Don’t be surprised if the young Russian emerges victorious again.