Angelique Kerber (GER) vs.  Sloane Stephens (USA)
Perhaps it wasn’t a surprise since Stephens has won their last two encounters; however, given the circumstances, the odds were in favor of Kerber winning this match. Stephens has been off the Tour following foot surgery since August 2016 and this is her third tournament since her return in early July. She was expected to be rusty and lacking in professional match toughness and we saw that in her two previous tournaments; however, she is proving to be a quick study and looks like she is rounding in to her top form at this tournament.
Kerber has not been at her best since she won the US Open last year. Truthfully, despite the fact that she won the Australian and US Opens last year, she really did not do much to impress her fans. The only other title she won in 2016 was in Stuttgart and she has not won a title since the US Open. While she has made it to the semifinals and finals of a couple of tournaments, she could not elevate her game enough to win the title. She, like so many tennis players, has also been battling injuries and it has taken a toll on her both physically and mentally. She is not the player she was when she won those major titles and the desire required to give that degree of effort each and every match seems to have faded. Can she return to that dominant form? Does she want to get back to that top form? While some may argue that she was never dominant; many must agree that she was a much better fighter than she has been portraying recently.
This was not just a test for Stephens; it was also a test for Kerber. Could she elevate her game enough to beat a player who has been off the tour for a protracted period due to surgery? For Stephens, the test was to beat a player she had a winning record against after such a long lay-off from the Tour? The result speaks for itself. While Stephens was able to raise her game impressively to defeat Kerber 6-2, 6-2; the German, was unable to mount any sort of resistance to the attack from the American. She never appeared fired up and although she is usually very stoic during her matches, you often can sense the fire within; today she just seemed disengaged.
Stephens will play Lucie Safarova in the quarterfinals; unfortunately, Safarova leads their head-to-head 2:0 and is more match-tough than Stephens. Can Stephens pull off the upset and get to the semifinals?
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