The world number two, Angelique Kerber will be aiming to get her year on track when she plays fellow compatriot, Mona Barthel in the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Championships on Tuesday.
Kerber is 4-4 for the year and yet to make it past the quarter-finals at any of the four tournaments that she has played in 2017 following a second round loss in Doha to Daria Kasatkina. It was Kerber’s second loss to the Russian player in 2017 although she confirmed in Dubai press that she wasn’t 100% healthy. The good thing about tennis is that there is always a new week and new tournament just around the corner, and Dubai presents an opportunity for Kerber to get more matches under her belt and find her rhythm again.
Barthel dropped as low as #190 in the rankings followed a miserable 2016 season where she was sidelined for four months due to an undiagnosed illness. After battling on for the rest of the year, Barthel said in media at the Australian Open that she finally felt healthy again in December. With a clean slate, Barthel has enjoyed a superb start to 2017 with ten wins, just three off the total she managed during the entire 2016 season. Barthel broke new ground at the Australian Open, reaching the last 16 of a Slam for the first time in her career.
As a wildcard in Dubai, Barthel produced a commanding display in her first round match to notch her first win since the Australian Open against an erratic and frustrated, Jelena Jankovic, 6-1 6-3. The conditions seemed to suit Barthel as she was able to dictate the rallies and hit winners with Jankovic struggling to hit through the court. The fluidity of Barthel’s groundstrokes have always been one of her unique selling points and she looked mightily impressive early on, winning the first five games of the match in super quick time.
Having watched a lot of Barthel matches, I expected a dip in the second set. Barthel gave up her early break with Jankovic levelling up at 3-3 – this was the only negative point for Barthel who refocused to win the final three games. The German player was able to rely on her serve which was strong throughout – she dropped just 11 points behind it (seven on 1st serve, four on 2nd serve) throughout the 59 minute encounter.
Head-to-head record: Kerber and Barthel are tied at 2-2 in their head-to-head; Kerber won their last match at the French Open in 2013, 7-6(6) 6-2. Barthel has two wins over Kerber, both in straight sets and on hard courts. One of these was a 6-1 6-2 thumping in Doha which I still remember watching!
Interesting stat: Kerber has a 1-5 record in Dubai with her only win coming in her last appearance at this tournament in 2015 against Svetlana Kuznetsova. Four of her five losses have been in three sets.
Final thoughts: This is not an ideal opener for Kerber against an increasingly confident opponent. Barthel has beaten Kerber twice before although so much has changed in both of their careers since their last meeting. Still, this is a great opportunity for Barthel and I think this could be a very close match. The concern for me is always how Barthel deals with nerves and front-running a match. She’s had some decent wins this year but is still relatively fresh on the comeback and finding her rhythm again after two years of frequent injuries and illnesses and not being 100% healthy.
I’d give Barthel a set for sure but i’m going for Kerber to battle her way out of danger in three tense sets.