The world number one, Angelique Kerber will open her campaign at the 2017 Apia International in Sydney against the world number 26, Daria Kasatkina.
Kerber and Kasatkina both opened their seasons in Brisbane with one win and one loss. Kerber lost in three sets to Elina Svitolina in an entertaining quarter-final. As her first tournament of the year, it was an OK start. Svitolina has proven to be a testing opponent for Kerber in the past with the German player barely leading their head-to-head at 5-4.The one area of Kerber’s game that looked rusty was her serve as she hit a combined 14 double faults and was broken eight times during her two matches.
Kasatkina made an encouraging start in Brisbane and played arguably the match of the year so far, missing out on a match point in a tremendous contest against Garbiñe Muguruza; the Spaniard won, 7-5 3-6 7-6(7). Kasatkina was staring down a straight sets defeat in her first match of Sydney down 3-6 1-3 to Timea Babos, but recovered well to win in three sets, 3-6 6-4 6-2. Kasatkina was overrawed at the start with Babos’s booming serve and groundstrokes pushing her way back behind the baseline.
It wasn’t Kasatkina’s best performance by any stretch but she fought hard to gain a foothold in the match and she did so by forcing longer rallies with improving depth on her groundstrokes and nuggets of variety. Babos was unable to sustain her first set level and the errors began to mount in the third set as Kasatkina won six of the last seven games.
Head-to-head record: In their only previous match (which I remember being so excited about!) Kerber won in a comfortable straight setter, 6-2 6-2 in Montreal last year.
Interesting stat: Kasatkina has been so close to some notable upsets over the past year:
Roberta Vinci in Doha – Kasatkina had three match points, Vinci won, 2-6 6-4 7-6(4)
Sloane Stephens in Charleston – Kasatkina had one match point, Stephens won 6-1 5-7 7-5
Venus Williams in Wimbledon – Kasatkina was a break up in the third set, Williams won 7-5 4-6 10-8
Karolina Pliskova in Wuhan – Kasatkina had one match point, Pliskova 3-6 7-5 7-6(7)
Garbiñe Muguruza in Brisbane – Kasatkina had one match point, Muguruza won 7-5 3-6 7-6(7)
Final thoughts: Kerber and Kasatkina are two of my favourite players to watch and I really hope this blossoms into a memorable match-up over time. Once again Kasatkina gets a shot at a top ten player in the second round of a tournament. There have been many instances when Kasatkina has been so close to upsetting a notable seed (see above) but has just come up short.
I think Kerber will be vulnerable in her first match in Sydney as she is still finding her game in 2017 so this should be an intriguing match. Kerber spoke in her press conference about the need to be aggressive and that will likely be a big factor in this match about who can step it up and on a consistent basis. I’d fancy Kasatkina to learn from their previous match and make this much more competitive but i’m still leaning towards Kerber who will be eager for more matches before the Australian Open.