Angelique Kerber, who played in her first match as the official World No. 1 on Tuesday, defeated Kristina Mladenovic in three sets 6-7, 6-1, 6-4. That moved the German into the round of sixteen where she will next face Petra Kvitova.
Kvitova herself has looked impressive so far through two rounds of play. Whoever survives the upcoming contest between her and Kerber may very well end up in the final in China this weekend.
Kvitova, who is seeded 14th in Wuhan, did not receive a bye through the first round. However, the Czech player had no trouble as she defeated Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-1 on Monday. Kvitova followed that up with an identical line score against Elina Svitolina in the 2nd round. The convincing win over Svitolina is certainly a quality result as the Ukrainian, currently ranked 18th in the world, has enjoyed some strong results in the last couple of months.
On head-to-heads, Kerber has just a slight advantage against the Czech player. The two have met nine times in the past on tour, with the German winning five of those matches. However, a key trend within the overall series is that Kerber is 3-0 in their most recent matches. Furthermore, in those matches, which date back to the WTA Finals last season, Kerber is 6-1 in sets played between the two players. They may look even on overall head-to-heads, but Kerber seems to have figured Kvitova out in the last year.
The Czech player is certainly a tough read on tour right now. She did not enjoy a strong first-half of the WTA season. However, she turned things around with a bronze medal in Rio. Furthermore, the two-time Wimbledon champion clearly has immense potential. She did well in both New Haven and the US Open after Rio, losing to Kerber in the Grand Slam’s fourth round.
But looking at Kvitova’s season-to-date, there is little that suggests that she is playing at a high enough level to defeat the World No. 1. She has just two wins against players in the Top 10 and has commonly fallen to much lesser-ranked foes.
Kerber certainly did not play a flawless match against Mladenovic. However, after dropping the first set, the German upped her game big time. Down the stretch of the match, in point after point, the French player dropped her shoulders as though to say that there was nothing she could do against the World No. 1.
Whoever survives the Kerber/Kvitova round-of-sixteen match may very well have an easier match in the quarters. However, Simona Halep shares a draw with both players to the final. The Romanian, who enjoyed a victory via retirement in the 2nd round, has Yaroslava Shvedova and probably Madison Keys in the next two rounds.
Kerber, before entering Wuhan, made it clear that she welcomes the challenge of playing as the top woman on tour.
“I’m actually more excited,” she said on the matter. “I know that I have the pressure on my shoulders because now nobody has anything to lose against me….I am really looking forward to taking this challenge.”
She certainly didn’t crumble after losing the first set on Tuesday. Chances are that she will make at least the semifinals in Wuhan and face either Halep or Keys, with my guess being the former.