Top seed Angelique Kerber is through to the round of 16 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where she'll take on Monica Puig in a rematch of the pair's Olympic final.
WTA Staff

DUBAI, UAE - Top seed Angelique Kerber earned an Olympic rematch against Monica Puig after sweeping into the round of 16 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Playing in Dubai for the first time in two years, the German downed her countrywoman Mona Barthel in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3 and now sits just four wins away from returning to the WTA World No.1 ranking.

Standing between Kerber and a spot in the quarterfinals will be Puig, who knocked out No.15 Caroline Garcia in three sets earlier in the day. The Puerto Rican had trailed Kerber 2-0 in their head-to-head record before the Olympic tennis event in Rio, but played the best tennis of her career to clinch her country's first gold medal in the final against Kerber.

"I think it'll be a completely new match [against Puig]," Kerber told press after her second round victory. "For sure she's a tough player and I know her. She plays really aggressive, I know this from the match in Rio.

"But for me, it's the same like tonight; I will just go out there trying to play my game again. And I will not be thinking too much about the match in Rio - she played an unbelievable match and she won it. She played from the beginning really one of the best matches I think she played.

"So tomorrow I will try to go out there and win the next one."

Kerber had to shake off the rust in her Dubai opener against fellow German, No.109-ranked wildcard Barthel. Barthel played confidently at the net, moving Kerber forward and chipping away passing shots to keep the former No.1 on the back foot.

But Kerber dominated from the baseline - especially off her tricky lefty forehand wing - hitting 15 winners to 24 unforced errors against Barthel's 21 and 30, respectively.

Kerber righted a late wobble to close out the opening set, letting four set points slip by before an errant Barthel backhand gave her the set. Kerber continued to attack her opponent's vulnerable serve, earning three more breaks to reel off the last five of six games and take the match after an hour and 20 minutes.

"It's always tough to play against a German, that's for sure," Kerber said. "But I'm very happy about my performance after Doha - I'm feeling better than last week.

"So for sure I played a good match tonight, and it's good to have a match like this after the last few weeks, especially after the last few days where I was not feeling so well.

"It's good to have one match done here. I think this gives me also a lot of confidence again, how I'm playing."