MALLORCA, Spain - In her first match since her opening-round exit at Roland Garros, top seed Angelique Kerber kicked off her grass season with a solid victory against Ysaline Bonaventure at the Mallorca Open, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2.
Kerber emphatically slammed the door shut on a disappointing clay season, which saw her struggle with viral illness and ankle injury that forced her to withdraw from Madrid and Rome and culminated in a first-round loss to youngster Anastasia Potapova at Roland Garros.
But the reigning Wimbledon champion Kerber proved she was back to full health in her first match on grass, firing 16 winners and breaking Bonaventure six times during her hour and 45-minute battle.
“For a long time I wasn’t really playing matches, and of course playing matches is different from practice sessions,” Kerber explained after the match. “And especially now playing on grass again. I practiced only for three days on grass.
“So at the end, it was feeling still not so natural, but it’s the first match. I was feeling so far good on grass and I’m looking forward to the grass season.”
It’s Kerber’s first win at the Mallorca Open after the German’s debut last year was spoiled by the always-dangerous Alison Riske, who came back from a set down to win 5-7 6-2 6-1. Her reward for making it to the second round will be a blockbuster clash against Maria Sharapova, who is competing in her first tournament since February.
But Kerber might have felt a sense of deja vu in Mallorca when she saw qualifier Bonaventure take the second set and suddenly go up a break in the third.
The German had been in control of the match at the start, breaking early and quickly building up a 3-0 lead. Her defense was on full display against Bonaventure, and had the Belgian tennis player under pressure throughout the first set. Bonaventure took advantage of some untimely Kerber unforced errors to attack her opponent’s serve, and was rewarded with a late break back to tie things up at 5-5. A late push from Kerber reeled off the last two games in a row to take the set and avoid a tiebreaker.
It was a different story in the second set, despite Kerber earning a quick 3-1 lead. Bonaventure broke straight back, and then claimed the last three games of the set, 6-4, to turn the tables on the former World No.1. Kerber had her chances to restore parity, earning a break chance at 4-4, but Bonaventure was too solid.
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She kept up that intensity at the start of the second set, earning an early break at 2-1 and looking set to close in on a stunning upset. But Kerber rallied back admirably, finding her rhythm on her groundstrokes and cutting down on the unforced errors to break straight back. She charged all the way back, claiming the next four games in a row to seal the victory after an hour and 45 minutes on court.
Up next for Kerber, she’ll have to face a fellow former World No.1 and past Wimbledon champion when she takes on wildcard Sharapova in a much-anticipated second-round clash.
Read more: 2019 WTA Grass Season: Who's playing where?
“I think it will be an interesting match,” Kerber said. “We are both playing our first tournament on grass. We’ve both played so many matches, really tough ones, so I think it will be an interesting match for us, for the fans, for the tournament.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s always good to have some really good and tough matches, especially when you’re making preparations for a Grand Slam. That’s why I’m here, to play good tennis against the best players.”
It’ll be the pair’s ninth career match, with their head-to-head record split at four wins apiece. But Kerber has claimed their last three previous meetings, including their latest clash on grass at Wimbledon in 2014.