Birmingham - Angelique
Kerber, who set her heart on defending the first grasscourt title of
her career at the Aegon Classic, came agonisingly close to reaching the
semi-finals before losing on Friday to one of the tournament's many
surprises, Carla Suarez Navarro.
The world No 15 from Spain was brought up on clay courts, but
coped resiliently and skillfully with extra pace and low bounce of the
lush grass, in a 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 victory in the best match of a
rain-stricken tournament so far.
Three times Kerber came within two points of victory in a long tenth
game of the final set, but could force the issue no further against an
opponent who appeared to have just a little bit extra physically.
This was certainly one of the crucial qualities on a day in which
both players had to complete unfinished overnight matches, both of which
went to three sets.
That made it an even tougher setback for Kerber, whose successes
since her Grand Slam title sensation in Australia at the start of the
year have been disappointingly few.
"I may not have defended my title here, but I played well, and I will
go to Wimbledon (starting in ten days' time) with confidence," Kerber
claimed, nevertheless looking upset.
She established a fine flat-hitting rhythm in the middle part of the
match, and tenaciously turned many a difficult situation into winning
ones. But she paid a price for making a slower start than Navarro, and
played a poor penultimate game, dropping serve to love, giving the
Spaniard her chance to close it out.
Even then Kerber diligently engineered three break back points, also
pressurising Navarro into a double fault on the first match point before
the Spaniard constructed yet another of many brilliantly varied rallies
to finish it off.
"I had to fight to play my best tennis to beat the best player,"
Navarro said, though the seedings gave that accolade Agnieszka
Radwanska, one of four well-known names to fail to make the last eight.
The others were Petra Kvitova, the two time Wimbledon champion, or
Belinda Bencic, the 19-year-old who is the youngest in the world's top 10, who were among six seeds who failed to reach the quarter-finals
amidst disruptively rainstorms.
Navarro on Saturday plays the only remaining seed, Madison Keys, the
top 20 American who recovered from a wayward start to overcome Jelena
Ostapenko, Kvitova's conqueror, 6-7 (1/7), 6-4, 6-2.
The other semi-final will be between CoCo Vandeweghe, the American
who ousted Radwanska in the first round, and Barbora Strycova, the Czech
who is a former finalist here.
At her best Keys looks the new favourite but this has been the most
unpredictable of tournaments, and the hard-hitting Vandeweghe clearly
fancies her chances too.
So many big names going out early amidst many violent rainstorms is a
calamity for a tournament which is trying to make itself one of the
best ten in the world and has acquired its best entry in its 35-year
Results from the WTA Birmingham tournament on Friday (x denotes seeding):
Coco Vandeweghe (USA) bt Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) 6-4, 6-2
Barbora Strycova (CZE) bt Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) 6-2, 7-5
Madison Keys (USA x7) bt Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) 6-7 (1/7), 6-4, 6-2
Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP x6) bt Angelique Kerber (GER x2) 6-4, 1-6, 7-5