MIAMI, FL, USA - No.10 seed Angelique Kerber put on a typically impenetrable performance to defeat the unseeded Johanna Larsson 6-2, 6-2 in one hour and four minutes to make the third round of the Miami Open for the sixth consecutive year.
"I love these courts, they are quite fast - I can play my game," enthused Kerber in the on-court interview following the match. It's not just this tournament she's been enjoying, though - 2018 has been a resurgent year for the German, who has reached the quarterfinals in every tournament she's played so far.
"It's not 2017 any more, which makes me smile," she laughed. "I played so many good matches this year already. It's so great to be on the court enjoying my tennis, enjoying my time on and off court."
In their two previous meetings, Larsson had failed to win a set from Kerber, falling 6-0, 6-1 in the quarterfinals of Dallas in 2011 and 6-1, 6-4 in the first round of Madrid in 2012 - both matches taking place before Kerber had cracked the Top 10. Six years and two Grand Slam titles later, the German demonstrated that she still had the measure of her opponent.
Larsson's opening service game set the tone for the match-up. The World No.76 started by attempting to pin Kerber into her backhand corner - but found that, in engaging in a relentless crosscourt rally, it was her own forehand that broke down first.
Indeed, throughout the match the 29-year-old would face this dilemma: unable to hit through Kerber's impenetrable defence on a sustained basis when she tried to be aggressive, but too inconsistent with her own groundstrokes to outgrind the former World No.1.
When Larsson upped the pace on her shots, the result would often be either an unforced error as the German's court coverage narrowed the target ever further - or would simply play into Kerber's hands, with the 30-year-old nailing a number of her trademark forehands down the line just when Larsson seemed to have pushed her out wide.
Throughout the first set, the 2016 Australian and US Open champion would prove herself equal to most of what an increasingly frustrated Larsson threw at her. Battling to stave off a double break deficit, the Swede engaged Kerber in a slice-off; Kerber, unbothered, ended it by hammering another forehand down the line. When the WTA Finals doubles runner-up realised forecourt forays would serve her better than baseline battles, Kerber simply chased down her best volley to seal the double break with - naturally - a forehand down the line.
For her part, Kerber was sharp and efficient, particularly on serve, winning 80% of the points behind her first delivery. She would face just three break points, all in the sixth game of the second set and none converted.
The second set saw a confident Kerber press home her lead with increasingly aggressive tactics, dominating points from the outset as well as she had counterpunched in the first set and racking up 13 winners in total. By contrast, the errors continued to mount up to a final tally of 27 for Larsson.
The 2015 Bastad champion briefly seemed to have found a winning strategy with the dropshot. After a couple of delicate Larsson winners, though, its effect was merely to ready Kerber to chase them down - and to awaken her to the option of using them herself, as she did when saving a third break point en route to moving ahead 5-1.
Though the World No.10 would spurn three consecutive match points when trying to serve the match out, a fourth did not go begging. In the third round, Kerber will face either No.23 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Brisbane finalist Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Afterwards, Kerber said that she had been able to put her last defeat, a one-sided 6-0, 6-2 rout at the hands of Daria Kasatkina in the Indian Wells quarterfinals, behind her. "I learned a lot from the last few months," she explained. "To be honest, I just forget about the last match in Indian Wells. I mean, it was not my day. Here the tournament starts from zero... I'm quite happy about how I played today."
Expanding, Kerber attributed her fine play this year to her work on mental focus. "I am really trying more to think and to focus on the side where I am on the court and just trying to playing my plan," she said.