Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships: Angelique Kerber cruises past Monica Puig and into quarter-finals
DUBAI // Angelique Kerber came here searching for some rhythm after a disappointing first seven weeks of the season. Last night, she got her wish. She got some revenge as well.
The top seed, who went into last month’s Australian Open as defending champion only to exit at the fourth round, finally played like the Kerber of 2016 as she rode roughshod over Monica Puig, the woman who had defeated her in the Rio Olympic Games final last year, to take her place in the last eight of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and remain on course to reclaim the No 1 ranking.
Kerber breezed through her third-round clash in 65 minutes, winning 6-2, 6-3, holding serve twice from love-40 as she completely dismantled the Olympic champion with her precision play.
“I was feeling good from the first point and I’m really happy about how I played on Thursday,” said Kerber, who could reclaim the world No 1 ranking from Serena Williams on Monday if she wins the title here. “I was really trying to stay focused on every single point and trying to move good, bring a lot of balls back.
“Just thinking about my game, about my rhythm, and not thinking too much about my opponent tonight.”
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Kerber also tried not to think about the Rio final, where Puig had prevailed 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.
“That was a totally different match,” said Kerber, who will next face Croatian teenager Ana Konjuh for a place in the semis. “In Rio she really deserved to win because she played one of her best matches.
“Tonight it was a new match, new challenge for me. So, I was focusing more on the day than looking back to the last match.”
Looking ahead, Kerber knows she has another tough challenge against Konjuh on Thursday. They have met only once before, two years ago in Stanford, and Kerber won that match in two sets.
“She hits the balls really hard,” Kerber said. “So I know it will be a tough one, but still I’m ready. I’m in the quarters here for my first time, so I will try to enjoy it.”
In her four previous main draw appearances here, the German had managed a solitary win, against Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2015.
Kerber said she is starting to feel more comfortable on the quick courts of the Aviation Club.
“Yeah, I think I was never playing good here, I don’t know why,” said Kerber, who came here after losing her opening match in Doha last week. Outside of the Australian Open, her record for 2017 was one win and three losses.
“But this year I am feeling good from the beginning. I had great practice. I was a little bit sick last week. So that’s why I’m happy I have found my rhythm back. Yeah, I am enjoying the tennis on court again.”
Rediscovering that enjoyment on the court will be crucial over the final three days here as Kerber bids for the No1 ranking. And if she gets to the peak again, Kerber believes she will be in a better position to deal with the demands of the position this time around.
“I think I have learnt a lot from the last few weeks,” she said. “It was a completely different situation in Australia. Also in Doha. And here it’s also a little bit different than two years ago when I was here the last time.
“That’s why I was really trying to go for it and just trying to enjoy it again, not thinking too much, just trying to play my tennis.
“Of course, it was not so easy because of the last weeks. But, yeah, I think I have learnt, and this is what I take as a positive.”
Singles third round:
■ C Bellis (USA) beat  A Radwanska (POL) 6-4, 2-6, 6-2
■  A Kerber (GER) beat M Puig (PUR) 6-2, 6-3
■  E Svitolina (UKR) beat C McHale (USA) 4-6, 6-4, 6-3
■ L Davis (USA) beat E Makarova (RUS) 4-6, 6-1, 6-3
■ Q Wang (CHN) beat K Mladenovic (FRA) 6-1, 6-4
■ A Konjuh (CRO) beat  E Vesnina (RUS) 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(4)
■ A Sevastova (LAT) beat S Peng (CHN) 6-4, 6-3
ORDER OF PLAY
Centre Court (start 2pm)
■ A Sevastova (LAT) vs Q Wang (CHN)
■  E Svitolina (UKR) vs L Davis (USA)
Not Before 7pm
■ C Bellis (USA) vs K Bondarenko (UKR) or  C Wozniacki (DEN) vs
■  A Kerber (GER) vs A Konjuh (CRO)
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Published: February 22, 2017 04:00 AM