Playing a countrywoman, even a lower-ranked one, can be a difficult prospect for a top player due to familiarity, friendship, or a number of other contributors.
So it went on Wednesday for world No. 1 Angie Kerber, who on her 29th birthday struggled through into the third round after a 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-2 victory over unheralded 21-year-old German countrywoman Carina Witthoeft at the Australian Open.
“I was making a lot of mistakes in the important moments,” said Kerber, who had previously beaten Witthoeft 6-0, 6-0 in tour play. “But at the end, I’m happy that I won the match. It was not so easy. The conditions were also a little bit difficult today…I’m trying to play more aggressive. Today, I was not finding my rhythm from the first ball. But I know I can trust my legs and run for hours. When the other things are not working, I know I have to run for every ball.”
Witthoef broke to start the third set, but Kerber found her rhythm and went on to lose only one more game before closing it out.
“I’m fit,” Kerber said. “I am prepared for playing, like, two, three hours, so that’s not a problem. Tomorrow I have a day off, so it’s not a big deal. I think I will be fine.”
Kerber will next face Kristyna Pliskova, the twin sister of No. 5 seed Karolina, who upset No. 27 seed Irina-Camelia Begu 6-4, 7-6(10).
“I played once against her a few years ago, and I know that she has a great serve, as well,” Kerber said.
Other Top 10 winners on Wednesday were No. 7 Garbine Muguruza Blanco defeating American Samantha Crawford 7-5, 6-4, and No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova easing past Aussie Jaimee Fourlis 6-2, 6-1. Kuznetsova will next match up against former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, who defeated German Julia Goerges 6-3, 6-4.
“She was super-powerful and hit the ball very hard, which made it difficult,” said Muguruza, who had her right thigh strapped, of the American Crawford. “Today, I had to concentrate and wait for my opportunity.”
A Top 10 casualty was No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro, who was ousted by Romanian Sorana Cirstea 7-6(1), 6-3.
Also upset-minded were American Alison Riske who beat No. 20 Zhang Shuai 7-6(7), 4-6, 6-1, and German Mona Barthel who defeated Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig 6-4, 6-4. Barthel will next face Aussie comeback story Ashleigh Barty, who beat American Shelby Rogers 7-5, 6-1.
“I’ve only played Mona once. She absolutely flogged me off the court,” Barty said. “It’s an opportunity for us to go out there and have fun and just enjoy it. It’s a bonus from where we are right now.”
Other seeded winners were No. 11 Elina Svitolina, No. 13 Venus Williams, No. 24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and No. 32 Anastasija Sevastova, all in straight sets.
Former Top 10er Eugenie Bouchard was also a winner, beating China’s Peng Shuai 7-6(5), 6-2 to line up a meeting with American CoCo Vandeweghe, who defeated France’s Pauline Parmentier 6-4, 7-6(5).
Thursday’s highlight reel of matches in Melbourne includes Japan riser Naomi Osaka vs. (9) Johanna Konta, (17) Caroline Wozniacki vs. Donna Vekic, (2) Serena Williams vs. Lucie Safarova, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni vs. (3) Agnieszka Radwanska, and (22) Daria Gavrilova vs. Ana Konjuh.
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