MELBOURNE, Australia - 2016 champion Angelique Kerber made quick work of Donna Vekic, to celebrate her 30th birthday with a third round berth at the Australian Open.
The German needed just over an hour to close out the 6-4, 6-1 win and comfortably see off the ascendant Croat. The victory extends her winning streak to 11 matches in a row after lifting the trophy last week at the Sydney International and her unbeaten run at Hopman Cup.
“I really enjoy being here, having my birthday here is just amazing,” she told the crowd at Margaret Court Arena, who sang her ‘Happy Birthday’ after her win. “I am feeling good, I am happy about my performance over the last few days and weeks.
“My birthday gift? Maybe an ice cream...and then go for dinner tonight.”
Kerber’s birthday victory earns her more than just a bowl of ice cream - she’s also set up a clash with former champion Maria Sharapova in the next round.
“[Sharapova and I] have played a lot... We played a lot of matches which I remember were really close and tough,” Kerber told press. “Now we have another match ahead.
“I'm looking forward to playing against her. This is the matches I'm looking forward to have, especially at the beginning of the year. I had a lot in the last few weeks. I will try to continue my run and playing good like I played also here like the last two matches.”
To get there, the former World No.1 had to battle against Vekic, who pushed her to a tiebreak in their last career meeting - and who’s also been working with Kerber’s former coach Torben Beltz since the end of last season.
“I was just trying to focus more on my game because I know if I will overthink everything,” Kerber commented. “I know that Torben coach her right now, so I just stayed on my side in the court.
“It was a new situation for me. I mean, I never played before against my ex-coach. Yeah, it was a new experience, for sure.”
The German got off to a fast start, breaking early and employing her rock-solid defending to get ahead 3-1. Kerber took advantage of Vekic’s impatience, forcing her to hit one more shot time and again and drawing out the errors.
Vekic found joy by exploiting Kerber’s movement; she regularly hit a one-two combo with her blistering crosscourt forehand and feather-light dropshot, catching Kerber on the back foot. She finally broke back after a marathon seventh game, converting on her third chance and consolidating with and ace to bring them level at 4-4.
But Vekic just couldn’t maintain her level as Kerber broke once more - this time to love - and closed out the opening set. As Vekic’s frustrations mounted, so did her unforced error count in the second set, and Kerber reeled off five games in a row to take the match after an hour and 10 minutes.
Kerber played more solidly and more consistent than her 21-year-old opponent, and it’s reflected in the stats: Kerber struck 23 winners to 14 unforced errors across both sets, while Vekic hit 18 winners and 30 unforced errors - almost double the amount of errors than Kerber. The German’s serve was a big factor as well, allowing her to win 73% of points off of her first serve, and she was only broken once.