ZHENGZHOU, China - Unseeded American Alison Riske came back from a set down and had to save match points en route to a stunning upset over No.5 seed Angelique Kerber, winning 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(4) at the inaugural ICBC Credit Card Zhengzhou Open.
“It was nothing short of a battle, that’s for sure,” Riske told wtatennis.com after the match. “I knew going into it that it was going to be really tough, just because Angie is obviously an amazing player.
“And yeah, especially for a first round, it’s just really challenging. I’m just really proud of the way I fought through it. I tried to stay present as much as I could.”
Kerber had grabbed a wildcard into Zhengzhou in hopes of jolting the second half of her 2019 season to life after stalling out during the grass season. After her run to the Eastbourne final in early July, Kerber won just one match at Wimbledon - and came into China on the back of a four-match losing streak.
But she was dealt one of the toughest first-round matchups at the Premier-level tournament, with the tireless Riske eager to add another scalp to her impressive tally.
“I think it was a really good match from both of us, we played on a really high level,” Kerber said. “At the end, it was just one point that decided the match. I had my chances, but she always played great in the important moments.
“I will try to take the positive things, and try to do better next week.”
The American has built up a reputation for pulling off epic, never-say-die victories - and she scored one such comeback over Kerber last year in their previous meeting, turning around a set deficit to win 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 in Mallorca.
Despite taking an early lead against Riske with a break for 1-0, Kerber quickly found herself in trouble as Riske proved why she’s earned so many comeback wins. The American’s relentless attack earned her back-to-back breaks, and suddenly she was leading the three-time Grand Slam winner 4-1 after reeling off four games in a row.
Kerber stayed patient, and her rock solid defense kept her in the contest as she broke at 4-3. She continued to chase Riske in the score, staying within touching distance and was finally rewarded with a late break at 6-5 before serving it out to escape with the opening set.
But just as in their previous battle in Mallorca last year, Riske refused to shrink away in the second set. She once again turned around a break deficit and reeled off four games in a row to lead 4-2. The extra break cushion gave her the edge in the four consecutive breaks of serve that followed, and Riske closed out the set 6-4.
For the third set in a row, Kerber started out with an early break at 1-0 - and just as many times, Riske responded with two breaks of her own to take the lead, this time for 3-1. With both players dialed in, they wrestled for momentum as they stayed level at 4-4 after combining for six breaks.
Another two breaks exchanged sent them into a tiebreaker, where there was nothing to separate the in-form Riske and Kerber. Ten of the first 12 points went to the server, with both players trading minibreaks to stay apace. Kerber held a match point at 6-5, but Riske found another level to stay in the contest. From there, Riske claimed the next three points to put an end to the two hour and 53 minute battle, booking her spot into the second round.
“To be honest, I’m most proud of my fight,” Riske said. “I fought really hard, and I associate that with my game too. I think that was the best part today.”
Riske struck 50 winners and 49 unforced errors across all three sets, far outpacing Kerber’s 19 and 26, respectively. The pair broke each other 10 times each, with Riske serving at 63% first serves and Kerber 72%.
Up next, Riske will take on China’s Zheng Saisai in the next round. Zheng edged past Bibiane Schoofs in straight sets, 7-6(4), 6-1 earlier in the day to advance.
“I’ve played her quite a few times, before. She’s going to be a battle, and especially in her home country. It should be interesting. But I’m looking forward to just some rest now!”