A potentially cracking quarter-final is on the cards for Wednesday when Angelique Kerber and Madison Keys play each other at the Miami Open.
Kerber has endured a tricky spell after winning her first Slam at the Australian Open, but looks to be back in contention in Miami, scoring her first wins on the WTA tour since January. Kerber fended off a fierce charge from the world number 49, Timea Babos; she recovered from a break down in the third set to prevail, 6-2 3-6 6-4. It was solid as you like from Kerber in the first set who kept things simple with few winners, but even fewer unforced errors (six to five). Babos produced the odd flutter of quality but 17 unforced errors and two double faults on break points didn’t help her cause.
It seemed that double faulting down break point was contagious in this match as Kerber went down an early break. Babos lost her early break but responded in positive fashion, playing a superb return game to go up *5-3. Kerber had two game points to level up at 4-4, but Babos swatted away the second of those with a FABULOUS forehand winner down-the-line. Babos then saved a break point to win the set, 6-4; 17 winners, the majority off the forehand side, and an improvement on the first serve percentage (55 to 76%) were the difference.
There were three breaks to open the decider with Babos the first to consolidate a hold. Kerber broke her racquet at the start of the third set which you don’t often see. Babos threatened the double break with two break points; she had a tough but makeable backhand on the first that just drifted long. Angles and awkwardness from Angie helped her seal a crucial hold. Babos had a game point for *4-2 in the next game but didn’t take it, eventually going wayyy long down break point with a backhand.
Kerber settled and went ahead 5-4*, dropping just one point across two service games. The victory came in the next game as Babos faltered serving with scoreboard pressure at *4-5; a double fault at 30-30 was pretty brutal although Kerber did play a great final game including a magical forehand pass on match point. Babos has all the tools in her game to become solid top 30; big serve, huge forehand, decent at the net and some nice variation with drop shots and the backhand slice. She lacks the mental resilience and has shown vulnerability in the key moments of matches this year. For Kerber, this was a perfect match; she was severely tested but found a way to win… a sign that Angie’s back!
Keys has produced straight set wins over Kirsten Flipkens (6-4 6-2), Roberta Vinci (6-4 6-4) and Irina-Camelia Begu (6-3 6-1). The American needed four set points to bag the opener against Begu but otherwise wasn’t threatened on her serve. The second set scoreline was perhaps a little misleading with a couple of tight games and two of Keys’s breaks coming when Begu was up *40-0. All in all, a good performance from Keys. Begu was shaky though and didn’t hit a winner in the first set, finishing with stats of three winners to 18 unforced errors. Perhaps, a two hour-38 minute win over Kristyna Pliskova the day before had taken a lot out of Begu.
Head-to-head record: Kerber leads Keys, 3-1 in the head-to-head. Their last two matches have both come in finals and ended 7-5 in the third set. Keys won her first title in Eastbourne in 2014, winning, 6-3 3-6 7-5. Kerber turned the tables in Charleston, scoring a huge mental win from a break down in the third set to win, 6-2 4-6 7-5. Both matches in Eastbourne and Charleston featured in my top 20 countdowns of best matches for their respective year.
Final thoughts: I’m on the fence with this match… the win over Babos was a huge one for Kerber’s confidence and she seems to be finding some better form at the perfect time with the first of her four title defences just around the corner in Charleston. However, I don’t think the court in Miami suits her game that well and she’s never been past the quarter-finals before.
Keys is capable of hitting through the heavy conditions, but it also allows her a little bit of time to set up on her strokes. Dare I say, Keys seems a tad more thoughtful in her tactics this year although there’s still very few data points in 2016 with this being just her third tournament of the year.
Their last two matches have been super close and with their respective form, i’d fancy another three setter. Keys does struggles in this match-up where on the Ad side, Kerber has a lot of joy with the lefty serve into the backhand, which did break down on occasion against Begu. In this match-up, Kerber will always be the steadier player… feeling fencey but leaning slightly towards Keys.