The most enticing of the first round matches from the 2015 Bank of the West Classic Premier tournament in Stanford features the number five seed, Angelique Kerber up against Daria Gavrilova. The pair played each other in consecutive weeks in Brisbane and Sydney at the start of the year. Although Kerber won both matches, the second of their encounters in Sydney was a battle. Kerber won in three sets, 6-7(8) 7-6(2) 6-3 in a match that lasted two hours and 35 minutes, and finished at 3.10am local time. It was an excellent match considering the unfortunate timing of the match after rain had wreaked havoc with the schedule.
At both the French Open and Wimbledon, Kerber was defeated by an in-form, Garbiñe Muguruza in the third round. The loss to Muguruza at Wimby was a particularly crushing one for Kerber, particularly as the Spaniard went on to reach the final. It’s been a funny old year for Kerber who began the year with a semi-final in Sydney. After a first round exit at the Australian Open, Kerber went on a wretched run (2-6 W-L record between Australian Open and Miami) and looked dejected on court as she appeared to be at her lowest ebb since cracking the top ten for the first time in 2012. Out of nowhere, Kerber suddenly hit a hot streak. She was down a set and a break in her first match in Charleston against Evgeniya Rodina, but fought back to win that match and the next four to win her first title in well over a year.
Kerber would go on to win two more Premier events in Stuttgart and Birmingham. The victory in her home country was particularly impressive as she knocked out the defending champion, Maria Sharapova in one of the most memorable WTA matches of the year. The final against Caroline Wozniacki was also a cracker as she rescued a significant third set deficit. It would seem that one of the reasons for Kerber’s turnaround is the reinstatement of Torben Beltz as her coach. She has definitely looked to be more aggressive and take more opportunities while her defence still remains as the crux of her game.
Gavrilova has had a superb year and laid down a pretty solid marker for newcomer/most improved in the WTA awards for 2015. After ending 2014 at world number 233, Gavrilova has risen almost 200 places into the world’s top 40. Her best results of the year have included a semi-final in Rome, a quarter-final in Eastbourne, last 16 in Miami and two $50K ITF titles. Gavrilova is defending just 201 points for the rest of the year and should comfortably break the top 30 if she maintains the form that she has displayed for much of this year.
I watched a number of Gavrilova’s matches in Eastbourne and was very impressed with her tenacity and resolve. While her on-court attitude will likely divide fans (I think she’s hilarious haha), I was really blown away by a match she played against Camila Giorgi. The Italian player was clearly outpowering Gavrilova but she showed terrific mental application to wear her down. Gavrilova saved a match point on an exhausting rally before winning the match in three sets.
Kerber and Gavrilova have similar game styles in that they both defend well but they also are not afraid to go for winners. One of Gavrilova’s greatest attributes is the belief she has in her game and she should have that in abundance having come close to upsetting Kerber in Sydney. Kerber hasn’t played since Wimbledon so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her start slowly. Ultimately, Kerber’s superior consistency and defence should give her the edge.
Prediction: Kerber d. Gavrilova in 3 sets