Boom… an Australian Open rematch is set between the top two players in the WTA Race to Singapore, Angelique Kerber and Victoria Azarenka. The semi-final will be played at not before 9pm in Miami on Thursday night.
Azarenka is proving super tough to beat right now; in her 20th win of the year, the Belarusian was clutch in a 6-4 6-2 quarter-final victory over Johanna Konta. The Brit was arguably the better player in the first set, winning more points, 37 to 36. Azarenka started a little slow, understandably struggling to match the intensity she produced in her stunning fourth round win over Garbiñe Muguruza. Konta failed to convert on a break point up 3-2 and then dropped her serve in a titanic seventh game. Konta saved two break points, one with a gorgeous cross-court passing shot winner, but double faulted on the third.
Konta looked to have broken straight back in the next game but Hawkeye disagreed! Azarenka would serve for the first set at *5-4. The Brit kept up the pressure, producing the shot of the match with an audacious forehand down-the-line that was on the MONEY. Azarenka came through a tough game to win the first set, 6-4. Konta drifted away somewhat in the second set with Azarenka saving another break point in the final game, clinching the win in one hour and 36 minutes. There was a really nice exchange at the net… i’m all about the handshakes! This was another super week for Konta and with just 87 ranking points to defend before the French Open, she’s only going to go up in this form.
Recent form suggested the fourth of the quarter-finals between Angelique Kerber and Madison Keys would be a close one. While it was very even through the six games, Kerber pulled away from there on, with some help from Keys, winning 6-3 6-2 in 68 minutes. Keys had shown some brief moments of promise, going up an early break to lead *2-1 and then, having lost her break, earning another opportunity to break into a 4-3 lead in the first set.
Kerber though played a smart match, targetting the Keys backhand; while the American did produce one spectacular cross-court backhand midway during the set, she struggled to get round onto the forehand side. The second serve for Keys was also key; she won just two out of 10 points on it in the first set with Kerber upping the aggression. The German player hit a cracking forehand return to set up a break point at 4-3 and promptly took it. She never really looked back from there on, powering through the second set. Kerber dropped just six points on serve in the second set and benefitted from Keys’s ever-growing count of unforced errors.. After a rocky few months, Kerber looks to have found her mojo once more…
Head-to-head record: Azarenka leads Kerber, 6-1, in their head-to-head; notably, Kerber scored her first ever win over Azarenka at the Australian Open, 6-3 7-5, en route to winning her first Major in January.
Final thoughts: This could become a key rivalry in 2016 and i’m super excited about this match, even though I won’t be able to watch it live! For Azarenka, there is no doubt she will be determined to put that Australian Open loss behind her but equally, Kerber will want to exert her dominance in this match-up and prove Melbourne was no fluke. Aside from the encounter in question, Azarenka had always enjoyed this match-up, particularly with her ability to come forward and be successful at the net. She has looked in superb form, in both physical and mental regards, and it will take another magnificent performance from Kerber to halt the Belarusian’s current 10-match winning streak. While Kerber’s form has been steadily improving in Miami, she’s still working her way back to the level that she produced during January.
I’m tempted to go for Azarenka in two sets but i’ve underestimated Kerber before… going for the Azarenka win though!