In a tenth career meeting and a fourth encounter in the last six months, Angelique Kerber and Elina Svitolina will square off in the second of the semi-finals at the Dubai Duty Free Championships on Friday.
The number one seed, Angelique Kerber came into Dubai with a 4-4 W-L record and having won just one match at this tournament in five previous attempts; the German player has enjoyed her best week of the year so far with straight set wins over Mona Barthel (6-4 6-3), Monica Puig (6-2 6-3) and Ana Konjuh (6-3 6-2). In her quarter-final win over Konjuh, Kerber improved significantly as the match wore on. While she only hit one winner in the first set, it was more than enough – Konjuh produced some flashy backhands but was largely subdued, lacking consistency off the ground and on serve.
The second set was much improved from both players. Kerber found her mojo and was hitting the ball with conviction off both wings, particularly the forehand side. By the end, there were shades of Kerber’s 2016 form including an incredible point up at the net with a right-handed instinct volley. Konjuh played a better set but so did Kerber, and the world number two finished the match off in style. World number two could become world number one again with a title in Dubai.
Svitolina played her best match of the week to book her place in the Dubai semi-finals with a 6-0 6-4 victory over an inconsistent, Lauren Davis. The American had come from a set down in all three matches she played this week but couldn’t repeat the feat on this occasion. Svitolina tore through the first set in just 21 minutes and despite being pegged back on several occasions in the second set, always looked in control. Svitolina was 100% on first serve points won in the first set and always looked capable of breaking Davis’s serve, which she did six out of eight times.
Svitolina’s shots had more purpose about them compared to her first two matches in Dubai and she seemed to have the confidence to come forward to the net. It wasn’t always successful but I appreciated the effort! Davis did have her chances to break back with Svitolina serving at *4-3 in the second set but she missed a flurry of returns as her hopes faded fast. Svitolina served out the match to love with a confident hold of serve.
Head-to-head record: Kerber leads Svitolina, 5-4 in their head-to-head. Svitolina has won their last two matches in Beijing (6-3 7-5, 2016) and Brisbane (6-4 3-6 6-3, 2017). Svitolina’s win in Brisbane was a superb effort, playing Kerber at her own game and winning.
Interesting stat: Svitolina has now made back-to-back semi-finals in Dubai and also, is on a ten match winning streak extending back to the Australian Open.
Final thoughts: Both players have improved during the week and this paves the way for a sure-to-be intriguing match. I’ve been impressed with Kerber so far this week – she looks relaxed and has been mostly clutch in her matches so far. Her serve is holding up better than it has done all year and there have been flashes of forehand magic.
Svitolina has always proven to be a tricky match-up for Kerber because she likes to feed off pace which Svitolina doesn’t give her. Add to that, Svitolina’s looking at her resilient-best and capable of running for days, coupled with dashes of aggression as her confidence rises. For Svitolina, the Kerber match-up will be similar to her recent matches in Dubai while for Kerber, she’ll need to adapt quickly having played three big hitters this week.
I was mostly torn on this match-up – for me, the way that Kerber ended her quarter-final win over Konjuh with some decisive groundstrokes and confidence behind her serve has just tipped the scales in her favour.