Victory this week at the Lindner Family Tennis Center will see Kerber usurp Serena Williams and rise to the top of the rankings for the first time in her career, and she moved one step closer to that goal by edging past Strycova, 7-6(5), 6-4.
"It's always tough to play against Barbora - we've had a lot of tough matches in the past - but I just tried to stay aggressive at the important moments and I'm really happy with how I played at the end," Kerber said.
By her own admission, Kerber has been something of a late bloomer - she did not win her first silverware or break into the Top 10 until her mid-20s. However, just five months from her 29th birthday, she is playing the best tennis of her career.
"I've had a lot of ups and downs in my career, but I'm having the best year of my career and it's still not over," Kerber said. "It's amazing what's happened in the last few months - it's just incredible!"
In January she stunned the tennis world by beating Serena to the Australian Open title, and after taking a while to come to terms with her achievement is now reveling in the limelight; at Wimbledon, she reached her second Grand Slam final, losing narrowly to Serena, following this up with a semifinal in Montréal and a silver medal at the Rio Olympics.
Making light of this hectic summer schedule, the German was her usual indefatigable self against Strycova, scurrying to track down a succession of seemingly lost causes. This application served her well in the opening set tie-break, drawing the errors then closing it out with a typically precise backhand pass.
Strycova continued to hold her own in the second set, but once again it was Kerber that won the points that mattered most, breaking in the penultimate game before confidently serving out.
Now she is only three wins away from becoming the 22nd player to scale the top of the rankings. While Serena may be absent, things are unlikely to get any easier in Cincinnati. The next obstacle comes in the shape of Carla Suárez Navarro, who earlier on overcame Roberta Vinci, 6-1, 7-5.
Pliskova Continues To Impress
The 11th-hour withdrawal of Serena has left the top half of the draw wide open. It is an opportunity Karolina Pliskova has grabbed with both hands, capitalizing on the fast surface to get some much-needed confidence ahead of the US Open.
Pliskova has endured a frustrating campaign, struggling to replicate the form that briefly took her into the Top 10 and threaten to the 2015 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
On her day, the Czech has all the attributes to contend, her imperious serve complemented by dazzling power from the baseline, and against Misaki Doi, the lucky loser beneficiary from Serena's injury, she finished strongly to run out a 7-5, 6-3 winner. The reward is a meeting with two-time major winner and No.7 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 winner over Timea Bacsinszky.