Angelique Kerber faces defending champion Heather Watson in the quarterfinals of the Abierto GNP Seguros in Monterrey on Friday.
Looking for her first title of the 2017 season, world no. 1 Angelique Kerber has dropped down to the International level to compete in Monterrey for the first time since finishing runner-up to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in 2013. She has been rewarded by reaching her fourth quarterfinal of the season at the Mexico event, surviving a tough challenge from fellow Grand Slam champion Francesca Schiavone 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 in the first round before having a much easier time of it against Luxembourg’s Mandy Minella, an experienced but not particularly accomplished player, in the second round – Kerber won 6-1, 6-3 and dropped just three points behind her first serve.
‘It was a good match from me,’ Kerber said after the match.
‘I played very well, and was able to play aggressively from the first point. I enjoyed the match tonight.’
Kerber’s results so far in 2017 haven’t been terrible, and she certainly hasn’t been losing to bad players – Elina Svitolina (twice), Daria Kasatkina (twice), Coco Vandeweghe, Elena Vesnina and Venus Williams. But she’s often been subdued and flat during those losses, and having made just one semifinal in her first seven events of the year isn’t a great record. Pressure and expectation are weighing heavily on the German’s shoulders as she tries to back up her sensational 2016, and it probably doesn’t help that she became world no. 1 again despite her poor results when Serena Williams, who had reclaimed that ranking after the Australian Open, pulled out of Indian Wells and Miami.
What Kerber needs is to string some wins together, and it’s not a bad time to do it with her Stuttgart title defense looming and not too many points to defend in Madrid, Rome and at the French Open (she lost early at all three in 2016). So it’s little wonder that Kerber has opted to stay on hard courts for as long as possible.
Next up for Kerber is defending champion Heather Watson in the Abierto GNP Seguros quarterfinals on Friday.
Unseeded in Monterrey, Watson is trying to successfully defend a title for the first time in her career. Winning the Abierto GNP Seguros in 2016 marked the third WTA Tour crown of Watson’s career thus far. The British player had previously triumphed in Osaka in 2012 and Hobart in 2015.
Watson, who was briefly ranked inside the top 40 in January 2015, went 21-23 in 2016, which was quite an average season for her highlighted by two things: A run to the round of 16 in Miami in March, where she beat Sloane Stephens before losing to Simona Halep, and her Monterrey title. After taking three sets to beat Misaki Doi in the first round in Monterrey (then played before Indian Wells and Miami, not after), Watson went on to beat Polona Hercog, Caroline Wozniacki and Caroline Garcia without dropping a set to reach the final, where she outlasted crafty Belgian Kirsten Flipkens to claim her third career title.
Watson did not win back-to-back main-draw matches for the remainder of the 2016 season after Miami, and hadn’t done so in 2017 before this week, with second-round exits at the Australian Open, Acapulco and Indian Wells on her resume as well as a first-round loss to qualifier Patricia Maria Tig in Miami. As a result, Watson’s ranking has declined well outside the top 100 (the fact that the calendar change meant that her Monterrey points dropped off well before she had a chance to replace them didn’t help) and she is now ranked world no. 125.
However, whatever works for Watson in Monterrey has been working again, as she beat Nina Stojanovic 6-2, 6-7(7), 6-4 before defeating two-time Grand Slam semifinalist and sixth seed Ekaterina Makarova 6-4, 6-3 to reach her first quarterfinal of the season.
‘I think it'll be a good match; she won here last year and is the defending champion, so she knows the court and venue,’ Kerber said.
‘I think I'll have to play like today, play my game. I'm looking forward to playing against her.’
Kerber might well be looking forward to playing against Watson; she’s won their previous two encounters, although both have gone to three sets, with Kerber winning at Wimbledon in 2014 and Miami in 2015 (on both occasions, Watson took the second set). Watson is a great mover and defender who can track down a lot of balls, and in this way has occasionally been able to frustrate Kerber momentarily, but she struggles to maintain the level of accuracy in aggression she needs to defeat a player of Kerber’s solidity off the ground.
Kerber vs Watson is scheduled on Estadio GNP Seguros in Monterrey on Friday at 8.30pm local/2.30am BST