The second match on Day 1 of this year’s WTA Championships is a clash between the first and last women to qualify. Check out the Williams vs Kerber Head to Head.
Serena Williams’ (Player Profile) season can be summed up in numbers alone: two Grand Slam titles, eight other tournament trophies, 73 wins and only four losses. Almost every week, on every surface, she has been the best player in the world by far. Gone are the days when she was susceptible to an unfocussed early round loss to a lower ranked player. Gone too is the casual disregard of lesser events. In 2013, Serena has been determined to win every match she plays, regardless of where or when it takes place. As a result of her improved work ethic and incredible success, she qualified for Istanbul in the first week of August.
In contrast, Serena’s opponent on Tuesday didn’t book her spot at the elite event until the Linz International a couple of weeks ago. Angelique Kerber’s (Player Profile) year pales in comparison to that of the world number one; it doesn’t even rank with her own breakthrough 2012 season. Kerber didn’t make it past the fourth round of any Grand Slam, and didn’t beat a top ten player until she scored back-to-back wins over Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki in Tokyo last month.
The German admitted on Monday that she had been putting herself under too much pressure in the first half of the year.
“After the US Open I was feeling much more relaxed than before. I’ve been playing like last year, like I have nothing to lose. I’ve been really enjoying it again more and more, and having a great time with my team. Everything works very well together – that’s why I’m playing well right now.”
But can she play well enough to stretch or even upset Serena in the Sinan Erdem Dome today? Kerber almost sprang a surprise last year in Istanbul when she held match points against Victoria Azarenka, but puncturing Serena’s aura will be much more difficult.
The left-hander can take solace from the fact that she is the only woman in the Red Group to have beaten Williams, but that victory came in the quarter-finals of Cincinnati last year, when Serena had just won Wimbledon and the Olympic Gold Medal and was clearly fatigued. Serena gained revenge in Istanbul a few months later with a comfortable 6-4, 6-1 win.
As is the case with most players taking on Serena these days, Kerber will have to hope that the American is several notches below her best. An erratic Serena will spray forehands wide and maybe even struggle on serve; Kerber, a great counterpuncher, could capitalise by getting the extra ball back and coaxing more errors.
However, the bad news for the underdog is that Serena has won even when playing sub-par tennis this year. Her four losses came for different reasons: she was injured against Sloane Stephens in Australia, outhit by a a fearless Sabine Lisicki playing the match of her life at Wimbledon, and only just edged by Azarenka in Doha and Cincinnati. It’s hard to see how Kerber, who lacks these players’ weapons, can trouble a fit and motivated Serena in Istanbul, even if the latter does have an off day.
Prediction: Serena in straight sets.
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