Sunday, April 12, 2015

A long time coming--Kerber wins Charleston title

Photo by Daniel Ward

The Family Circle Cup is known for surprises, and this year's surprise was as sweet as they come for Angelique Kerber, whose last few months had been less than spectacular before she arrived in Charleston. The German player, seeded 5th, wasn't without challenges. In the second round--Kerber's opening match--she went down a set and a break to Evgeniya Rodina. Often, a near-miss like that in an early round can toughen a player considerably, and this seems to have been the case with Kerber.

The German star had to go three sets against Spaniard Lara Arruabarrena. In the quarterfinals, she defeated Irina-Camelia Begu 7-6, 7-6 in what were undoubtedly the two most aesthetically satisfying sets played at the tournament. Begu, in fact, was the woman who had upset Kerber in the first round of the Australian Open. Having passed the tough Begu test on clay, Kerber then had to play one of her closest friends, defending champion Andrea Petkovic. Petko had been on a path to meet close friend Jelena Jankovic in the quarterfinals, but when Jankovic had to withdraw from the tournament, the defending champion wound up facing Kerber, who is also her countrywoman.

Photo by Daniel Ward
Kerber beat Petko 6-4, 6-4 and advanced to the final, in which she faced Madison Keys, whose red-hot serve had not been broken throughout the tournament. Until she served the first game of the final, that is. In that game, Keys was broken at love, but it was also as though her Charleston spell had been broken. As the wind swirled around the court and the temperature dropped, both players had to deal with the conditions set forth by nature. In the end, Kerber was the steadier of the two, but the momentum shifted often enough to provide over two hours and fifteen minutes' worth of thrills and high quality tennis.

The first set was all about Kerber, who played rather conservatively but got the errors she needed from Keys. She won that set 6-2. As expected, Keys raised her level and won the second set 6-4.

Throughout the match, Kerber looked physically challenged from time to time. Her shoulder was heavily taped and seemed to bother her early on. Later in the match, she would tweak her thigh on two occasions, the second of which caused her to limp for few moments. But none of this turned out to be serious enough to trouble her game for very long. What did trouble her was her opponent. Keys went up an early break in the third set. By this time, the 20-year-old from the USA had grown accustomed to participating in the kind of long rallies that are Kerber's bread and butter, and she was winning her share of them.

Down 1-4 and with nothing to lose but a premier title, Kerber increased her aggression and added some strategically sound drop shots to the mix. She held her serve, then broke Keys. She held again for 5-all, and again, the errors began to come off of her opponent's racket. Kerber broke, and then served a dramatic love game to win her first title in a year and a half.

This is the second year in a row that a German player has won the Family Circle Cup; Petkovic won in 2014. Another German, Sabine Lisicki, won in 2009, and Steffi Graf won the tournament four times.

Photo by Daniel Ward


shalini said...

Nice recap Diane! This was an exciting match to watch.

Diane said...

Thanks, shalini! I'm so glad we had such a great final after a bit of a rough week.