Angelique Kerber entered WTA Dubai as the top seed. However, she certainly did not look threatening for the title at the beginning of the week. The year-starting World No. 1 has been in a major slump of late, at least for a player of her caliber. She has two losses this season to Daria Kasatkina, Kerber basically no-showed her match against Coco Vandeweghe at the Australian Open, and the German also lost to Elina Svitolina to start the season back in Brisbane. However, Kerber will have a chance to avenge the latter loss as she and the Ukrainian will meet on Friday in Dubai.
Kerber, who had a bye through the first round, has scored three wins this week that are convincing enough to suggest that she’s shaken off the bad form that she had to start the season. In the second round, the World No. 2 took out Mona Barthel, in the round of sixteen Kerber eliminated the in-form Monica Puig, and on Thursday the German beat Ana Konjuh in the quarters. Not only did all three of her wins come in straight sets, but Kerber never really allowed her opponents to get into a single set. A 6-4, 6-3 line score in the 2nd round against Barthel qualifies as the most competitive match that Kerber has seen this week.
Svitolina is definitely a player that is coming of age this season. She already has a title in 2017 and on year-to-date rankings through the first seven weeks of the year, she’s actually the 5th-best player. If she can conclude Dubai with a title, Svitolina would be the 2nd-best player through the first two months of the season. That certainly says a lot for a player that is still just 22 years old and likely to crack the top ten in the days or weeks ahead.
Understanding why Kerber has slumped this season, might require going back to the US Open last summer and even the 2016 Australian Open. Kerber won her first Grand Slam at Melbourne Park in 2016, and she slumped afterwards for several months, not really waking up until she played at Wimbledon 2016 (although she did win Stuttgart 2016 through a weak draw before the grass-court season). It looks like Kerber isn’t the type of player that puts the pedal to the metal year-round, but rather she seems to be the type that accomplishes something great and then relaxes for a little while, whether naturally or deliberately. Garbine Muguruza kind of looks like that too as she hasn’t been the same since winning the French Open.
With Kerber, after winning the 2016 US Open and becoming No. 1, she repeated her pattern of slumping after success. She has contested numerous events since Flushing Meadows and has not won a single title. Getting by Svitolina will be a difficult task, and the other side of the draw has Caroline Wozniacki and Anastasija Sevastova still alive. The title certainly isn’t a dunk for the World No. 2, however, she is a much more proven player than Svitolina still. Furthermore, Wozniacki should be getting tired soon after playing in the Doha final last weekend and entering Dubai on little rest. If the Dane can complete her current draw with a title, it would certainly speak well to her fitness level at this point in her career after some injury issues in recent seasons.
Kerber can’t reclaim the No. 1 ranking with a title this weekend. However, her and Serena Williams might end up battling it out in Indian Wells and Miami. Williams doesn’t always play her best tennis in the smaller events, so the top spot on the women’s tour seems to be about motivation right now.