CINCINNATI, OH, USA - In a battle of two of the WTA Tour's top lefties, Ekaterina Makarova notched another upset over No.3 seed Angelique Kerber in a marathon match, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(11), at the Western & Southern Open on Wednesday.
Kerber came into the match with a winning record against Makarova, and had won their previous meeting in Cincinnati in 2014. The Russian, however, had won their most recent meeting in the first round of this year's French Open, where she claimed her first win over a World No.1 player.
“Today was unbelievable match and great fighting from both of us,” Makarova said in her post-match press conference. “Every time when we play, normally it's like three sets, a lot of times three sets. So I knew that it would be very tough match. She's a great player, a champion.
“With these conditions, it's also very tough, because we played until the end in Toronto and there was quite comfortable weather and here is so humid and hot, and we just two days here. But I'm so happy that I got through this tough one.”
It seemed that Makarova would quickly grab another win this season against Kerber in the early stages of the match, as Makarova grabbed the first break for 2-1 when Kerber meekly put a forehand into the net on break point.
The Russian then won a couple of tight games down the stretch, as she saved two break points to hold for 4-2, and then took another Kerber service game on her third break opportunity to lead 5-2.
Kerber cleaned up her game by the end of the set, and was able to break back for 5-3 and force Makarova to serve for the set at 5-4. Makarova erased a break point with a strong serve that was returned long, and clinched the set as Kerber put another forehand into the net.
But Kerber, the 2016 runner-up in Cincinnati, had regained momentum by the second set, and cruised through it thanks to increased effectiveness off her forehand wing. Moreover, the 2016 year-end World No.1 dropped only one point in her first two service games of the set, and held again for a 4-1 lead after saving three break points.
It looked as though Makarova would stem the tide when serving at 4-1, but she was unable to convert two game points, and then double faulted on break point to hand Kerber a chance to serve out the set, which she did when Makarova sent a return long.
The deciding set started with Kerber breaking Makarova in a lengthy opening game, then holding at love for a 2-0 lead, and it looked as though a visibly frustrated Makarova would quickly succumb.
But at that point, Makarova reeled off 5 straight games to jump to a 5-2 lead. After Kerber held with an ace for 5-3, a 10-minute game ensued, where the German had three early break points, but Makarova saved them all. Two match points went begging, though, and Kerber was able to get back on serve when Makarova double faulted on the fifth break point of the game.
Both players then held serve to reach the tiebreak, which was as topsy-turvy as the match itself had been. Kerber took an early 3-0 lead after a cluster of errors by Makarova, but the Russian won two points on her serve and then received a double fault from the German to knot the tiebreak at 3-3.
At 5-5, Makarova hit a strong return to gain her third match point, but Kerber saved it after an incredibly lengthy rally which had both players gasping at the changeover. Another Makarova match point was saved at 7-6, and suddenly Kerber had her first match point at 8-7.
But Kerber could not close out the match when she failed to successfully return a Makarova backhand, and she found herself down four more match points as the tiebreak progressed, fending the first three of those off but unable to get a lead of her own.
At 11-11, Kerber sent a forehand long, and that gave Makarova her eighth match point, which turned out to be the decider. The Russian found herself with another Top 3 win, and eliminated Kerber from contention for the World No.1 ranking coming out of Cincinnati.
“I think it was up-and-down match,” Kerber explained in press. “I was finding my rhythm actually in the second set. But I had the chance as well in the first set. She played well then.
“The third set was, yeah, a completely up-and-down set. She had chances; I had chances. In the end it was just one point which decide the match.”
Makarova advances to the third round, where she will play the winner of the match between No.14 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and American wild card Sloane Stephens.