The seedings have held in the bottom half of the Rogers Cup draw to produce a Wimbledon rematch between Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep in the first of the semi-finals in Montreal.
Halep won 14 of the last 17 games in her quarter-final match, fighting back to defeat Svetlana Kuznetsova in a lopsided three setter, 3-6 6-1 6-1. Peak Kuznetsova showed up in the first set as she had a break point to lead *5-0. The Russian player was hitting beautiful angles and forcing Halep out wide and into uncomfortable positions. Kuznetsova began to come back down to earth by the end of the set, getting broken at *5-2. She broke straight back in the next game to win the set via a Hawkeye challenge with a mistimed forehand return that just clipped the line.
Halep called down her coach, Darren Cahill after just three games in the first set – it felt a little she was hitting the panic button too soon but she was back in contention by the end of the first set. The Romanian player kept things solid at the start of the second set as Kuznetsova’s game imploded, serving double faults down break points on consecutive service games. Both players hit six winners in the second set but the difference was the unforced error count as Kuznetsova produced eight times as many as errors as Halep (16 to 2), mistiming a whole host of strokes.
Darren Cahill came down for another changeover chat which was a fascinating listen. He spoke about the changes he has made to Halep’s serve being on him and how this match was part of the bigger picture and going after the ball (see video below). Halep was on point with the gameplan as she tightened her grip on the match in the third set, riding the momentum train to the finish line. There was an expectation that Kuznetsova would settle again but Halep didn’t let that happen, noticeably stepping up her aggression and looking mentally secure.
Kerber had laboured through her third round match against Elina Svitolina, at one stage just two points away from exiting the tournament. With a little help from Svitolina, Kerber rallied to book her place in the Rogers Cup quarter-finals for the first time in her career. A much more focused and energised, Kerber came out on Friday she rolled past Daria Kasatkina, 6-2 6-2 in just 60 minutes.
I was really looking forward to this match all day but it didn’t deliver to expectations as Kasatkina just couldn’t get her game going. The 19-year-old didn’t hold serve until midway through the second set and that seemed to feed into all aspects of her game as she was wayward from the baseline. Kerber though looked in superb form. She was lethal off the forehand side and also produced nuggets of variety which kept Kasatkina on her toes. The elbow was a concern pre-tournament but she looks strong heading into the final four.
Head-to-head record: Halep leads Kerber, 3-2 in their head-to-head although Kerber has won their last two matches. In their Wimbledon quarter-final earlier this month, Kerber edged a break-happy match, 7-5 7-6 (2).
Interesting stat: Halep has extended her record to 21-3 since the start of Madrid while Kerber continues to peak at the events that count. This year’s highlights have included titles at the Australian Open and Stuttgart, finals at Wimbledon and Brisbane, and semi-finals at Miami, Charleston and now Montreal. Kerber is pretty much there in terms of qualifying for Singapore at the end of the year.
Final thoughts: Kerber has been somewhat of an uncertainty this week, coming into the tournament with an elbow injury, but she looked healthy against Kasatkina and played her best match of the week by a country mile. If Kerber plays to that level again, then she will be the favourite to prevail in this semi-final. Halep though is building round-by-round and will likely be more comfortable on the hard courts compared to their last match-up on grass. The changeover chat with her coach, Darren Cahill was an eye-opener. Halep is a confidence player and right now, she’s feeling on top of her game with an eight match winning streak and counting.
I’ve always gone for Kerber in this match-up, but I am leaning towards Halep this time round on hard courts, particularly when I remember back to Toronto last year. Halep is so good at redirecting pace and getting Kerber on the run and out wide. In a deceptive way, she’s good at exposing her opponent’s weaknesses and making them uncomfortable. I’ve gone against Kerber every round this week (haha) so there’s a pattern emerging!
Sticking with Halep in three.