Yay for this one… The first of the semi-finals at the 2016 Volvo Car Open in Charleston will be a tantalising match-up between the number one seed and defending champion, Angelique Kerber and the number seven seed, Sloane Stephens.
Kerber produced a classy display to defeat a fatigued Irina-Camelia Begu, 6-2 6-3. The Romanian player was impatient throughout, committing 35 unforced errors in the 72-minute contest. It would seem that three consecutive three setters and seven hours and 33 minutes on court took its toll for Begu. Kerber though, played a great match and is beginning to rediscover the form she produced in Australia. Hitting 18 winners to 9 unforced errors, Kerber soaked up the pressure from Begu but also, wasn’t afraid to go for her shots when the opportunity arose, taking the forehand down-the-line early.
In a fascinating second quarter-final, Stephens saved a match point to prevail against the 18-year-old, Daria Kasatkina, 6-1 5-7 7-5. The American played a tremendous opener, keeping things steady and drilling backhands down-the-line. Kasatkina looked nervous and folded a little after being unable to hold at *1-2 *40-0. She was too reactive, waiting for Stephen’s shots and perched way behind the baseline.
This pattern continued in the second set; however Kasatkina hung around, saving all seven break points she faced in the set, including coming back from *0-40 down at 3-3 and saving five break points in that particular game. Stephens was doing a remarkable job at getting over those missed opportunities with clinical holds. However, the pressure finally told at the end with Kasatkina breaking for the set at 6-5 on her third set point.
The wind was an issue again in the third set, particularly for Stephens who was beginning to miss more and more. After an exchange of breaks midway through the decider, Kasatkina had a huge hold at 4-4, saving two break points with some smart kick-serves. In the next game, she earnt a match point… Kasatkina couldn’t take it though with Stephens finishing a longgg rally on a superb inside-out forehand winner. The forehand came to the rescue again as Stephens clawed her way out the game.
Stephens won the last 11 points of the match, claiming a huge battling win. While she was playing well enough to win this in two, the American did remarkably well to weather the storm in the decider and stay focussed down match point. For Kasatkina, it was another tough loss and in a similar vein to the one in Doha against Roberta Vinci where she had three match points. I don’t feel we saw the best of Kasatkina at all in this match (15 winners to 43 unforced errors) and she was passive through large chunks of the match. Her stickability and fighting spirit was superb but she wasn’t bold enough when it mattered with Stephens being rewarded for going for her shots. But with Kasatkina… 18 years old! This will be another key match in the learning experience…
Head-to-head record: Kerber and Stephens are tied at 1-1 in their head-to-head; both previous matches came at Indian Wells where Kerber won in 2012, 2-6 7-5 6-4 and Stephens won in 2015, 7-6(6) 6-2.
Interesting stat: When Stephens has won a match at a WTA tournament in 2016, she’s gone on to win the title…
Analysis: Based on the quarter-final performances, Kerber had a much more straightforward match and looked at ease. Stephens had a real test but will be dangerous, having survived from match point down. This will no doubt give the American a huge boost of confidence, much like it did for Kerber at the Australian Open when she saved a match point in her first round match against Misaki Doi. Edging very slightly towards Stephens but this one is really too close to call. While I will admit that I am a little sad we didn’t get Kerber-Kasatkina, Kerber-Stephens is still a fantastic semi-final match-up… fingers crossed for a great match!