NEW YORK CITY, NY, USA - 2016 champion Angelique Kerber was on the ropes during her tough second-round battle against Johanna Larsson, needing a grueling two hours and 20 minutes to move on at the US Open.
Up a set and a break and serving for the match at 6-2, 5-2, Kerber saw two match points come and go as Larsson raised her level to embark on an inspired comeback effort. The No.4 seed weathered the late surge to triumph 6-2, 5-7, 6-4.
“I think it was really a tough match and a tough battle, especially in the third set,” Kerber later told press. “I think that I played, like, good until like 5-2 in the second set, and I was really trying to play the game I was planned to play.
“And then I think it is tennis that you have to play until the last point. She came back. She played good when she was down, and she had nothing to lose then. At the end, it was just like two, three points which decide the match. I was happy that at the end I could serve the match until the end."
Kerber started the first set in full command, bracketing the set with a break to start and another to finish, but despite the scoreline Larsson gave the German plenty of trouble along the way.
After going down a break at 3-1, Larsson chased down a lob, a smash and everything Kerber sent her way to save break point and edge through a 25-shot rally to hold at 3-2. But Kerber got back in command and reeled off the last three games to take the opening set.
She continued to cruise at the start of the second, continuing her momentum to open up a daunting double break lead at 4-1. But that’s when things started getting complicated; Kerber lost her serve for the first time in the match, and then later was once again broken when serving for the match at 5-2. She had match points in the next game at 5-3, but Larsson’s rock-solid defending kept her in the match as Kerber’s unforced error count grew.
Larsson reeled off four games in a row to complete the second-set turnaround, breaking Kerber four times to send the match into a deciding set.
Both players were dialled in at the third set, with Kerber going up a break twice and Larsson fighting her way straight back both times. The German finally broke through at 5-4, and closed out the early thriller after a grueling two-hour and 20 minute battle.
In the third round, Kerber will face another big challenge as she takes on No.29 seed Dominika Cibulkova in her next match. Cibulkova edged past a tough three-setter of her own against Hsieh Su-Wei, 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4.
Their encounter will be a rematch of the 2016 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global final, where Cibulkova took down Kerber 6-3, 6-4 to lift the title.
“I think it will be another tough match against Domi,” Kerber said. “I mean, we have played so many tough battles in the past and now we have another match ahead.
“I'm looking forward. I know what to expect. She knows how I play, I know how she plays. I
think it will be I good match.”