Feeling Good On Grass After Forgettable Clay Season, Kerber Looks Forward To Sharapova Clash

Angeique Kerber (photo: Manuel Queimadelos)

MALLORCA, June 19, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Mallorca Open top seed Angelique Kerber began her grass season with a solid-albeit-not-spectacular victory against Belgian qualifier Ysaline Bonaventure, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, on Tuesday evening. She hit 16 winners and broke her opponent six times. The win, which was her eighth straight on grass, set up a featured – and much-anticipated – second-round clash Thursday between the sixth-ranked Kerber from Germany and fellow former World No. 1 and Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova on the Pista Central grass at the Santa Ponsa Tennis Academy.

The reigning Wimbledon champion Kerber would just as soon forget what turned out to be a disappointing clay season. It included dealing with a viral illness and an ankle injury that forced her to withdraw from both Madrid and Rome. She made a quick exit at Roland Garros thanks to a first-round loss to unheralded Anastasia Potapova of Russia.

“For a long time I wasn’t really playing matches, and of course playing matches is different from practice sessions,” said Kerber following her win over the 118th-ranked Bonaventure. “And especially now playing on grass again. I practiced only for three days on grass.

“So at the end, it was feeling still not so natural, but it’s the first match. I was feeling so far good on grass and I’m looking forward to the grass season.”

During her press conference Tuesday, Kerber said she looks forward to her showdown with the 85th-ranked wild card Sharapova from Russia. It will be the pair’s ninth career head-to-head meeting, but first on grass since Wimbledon 2014. Each has four victories.

“I think it will be an interesting match,” said Kerber. “We are both playing our first tournament on grass. We’ve both played so many matches, really tough ones, so I think it will be an interesting match for us, for the fans, for the tournament.

“I’m looking forward to it. It’s always good to have some really good and tough matches, especially when you’re making preparations for a Grand Slam. That’s why I’m here, to play good tennis against the best players.”

Around the Mallorca Open

• No. 2 seed Anastasija Sevastova moved a step closer to reaching her fourth Mallorca Open final. On Wednesday, the 2017 titlist beat Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia, 6-2, 6-1, needing just 62 minutes, as the 12th-ranked Latvian improved her career win-loss record in Mallorca to 15-2. Sevastova won 80 percent (28 of 35) of her service points, faced no break points, broke Tomljanovic five times, and outpointed her opponent 62-38.

In Friday’s quarterfinal round, Sevastova will oppose Wang Yafan of China, ranked 58th, who advanced with a 7-6 (3), 6-3 win over No. 57 Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium. It was their second meeting in two weeks on grass and the win by Wang avenged a loss to Van Uytvanck last week at ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

• No. 4 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium needed just 72 minutes to advance to the quarterfinals over Australian wild card Samantha Stosur, 6-3, 6-3. It was a disappointing loss for the 115th-ranked Stosur, who reached her first grass-court semifinal in seven years at Mallorca last year. The 21st-ranked Mertens was bidding for only her second quarterfinal showing on grass and first since 2016. She overcame seven double faults by winning 79 percent (27 of 34) of her first-serve points and broke Stosur four times. It was the Belgian’s 17th win of the season.

• A year ago, Sofia Kenin of the United States garnered her first WTA semifinal and her first Top 10 win (against Caroline Garcia) at Mallorca. Fast forward and the No. 7 seed entered her match against 63rd-ranked Ons Jabeur of Tunisia leading their career head-to-head 2-1. Just 45 minutes into the second-round match, the 20-year-old American advanced on retirement by Jabeur, ahead 6-2, 2-0, as the Tunisian was clearly favoring her right shoulder after weakly hitting a forehand return.

“I felt pretty good on court,” said Kenin afterward. “It’s unfortunate that Jabeur had to retire, obviously I wasn’t expecting to win like that. But I’m overall happy with the way I played, and I stuck to the game plan really good.”

Next, the 30th-ranked Kenin will face Mertens in their first head-to-head meeting in Friday’s quarterfinals.

• The doubles No. 1 seeds, Elise Mertens of Belgium and Zhang Shuai from China, ranked 14th, advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 7-6 (4) win over Irina Bara and Andreea Mitu, both of Romania.

• Thursday’s order of play showcases Kerber versus Sharapova, which is the third match of the day on Pista Central, not before 4:30 p.m. Also, the remainder of the upper half of the singles draw will be in action, beginning at noon with No. 3 seed Belinda Bencic from Switzerland facing American qualifier Shelby Rogers, followed by No. 5 seed Amanda Anisimova of the United States against Alizé Cornet from France. The evening’s featured match pits No. 6 seed Caroline Garcia of France opposing wild card Paula Badosa of Spain, not before 6:30 p.m.

What they’re saying

Maria Sharapova, 32, on winning the 2004 Wimbledon championship as a 17 year-old: “It always brings incredible memories. They’re memories I’ll hold for the rest of my life, and as the years go on, they become more valuable because you understand the triumph and what you achieved as a young girl. In the present, we don’t realize things and years have to pass to understand the effect it has on you. It was an incredible moment, but I’d like to have the perspective where I go into a tournament hungry for more.”