For the sixth time on the WTA tour and the second time in Stuttgart, Angelique Kerber and Carla Suárez Navarro will play each other, first up at 2pm local time in Germany.
Angelique Kerber recovered from a subdued and erratic start to defeat a gutsy, Annika Beck in the first match of her title defence in Stuttgart. Kerber won, 4-6 6-3 6-1 in two hours and nine minutes. The Australian Open champion was twice up a break in the first set, but never looked in the zone, mis-timing a number of forehands and playing impatiently with a high unforced error count of 17. On the other hand, Beck played an excellent first set, producing some powerful points and experiencing much joy coming forward; she won 6 out of 6 on net points. In a second set that featured eight breaks in nine games, Kerber improved to win it, 6-3. She secured what would be the only hold of the set at 2-1 (saving a break point in the process!).
Kerber really upped her game in the decider, playing with much more intensity and producing a high first serve percentage of 83%, which is key on this surface. Her forehand down-the-line gives me life! It was a high quality third set all round and Beck deserved more than just one game. She put up a super fight but Kerber was clutch in the decider, winning all three games that went to deuce, and hitting a huge tally of 18 winners to just three unforced errors. Title defences are tough, particularly at home. This is the second of four for Kerber in 2016 and all in all, this was a solid opener that should give her confidence going forward in a draw that will ramp up in terms of quality opposition.
Suárez Navarro began her 2016 Stuttgart campaign under the cosh against Oceane Dodin as she watched multiple returns crash past her with interest. However, the Spaniard eventually began to impose herself, playing some smart tennis as an overrawed Dodin began to unravel rather spectacularly. Suárez Navarro won the last 11 games of her first round match to prevail, 6-3 6-0. Suárez Navarro dropped just one more game in a 6-2 6-2 second round victory over Anna-Lena Friedsam. It was a comfortable win for the Spaniard who broke serve in a ten-deuce opening game and didn’t drop serve once, saving all six break points that she faced.
Head-to-head record: Kerber leads Suárez Navarro, 3-2 in their head-to-head. While Kerber won their last match in the semi-finals of Brisbane, 6-2 6-3, Suárez Navarro won their only match on clay in Stuttgart back in 2014, 7-5 6-4.
Final thoughts: I’d expect a much tighter match than their last encounter in Brisbane. Suárez Navarro seems to be over the ankle injury that she picked up at Indian Wells and is much more ease on the clay compared to Kerber. The German player improved during her second round match against Beck and ended the all-German encounter in sparkling form. When I did my draw challenge, I had Suárez Navarro and changed to Kerber at the last minute! I think it will be a close match, three sets for sure, but i’m probably just leaning towards Kerber…