INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - No.8 seed Angelique Kerber is back into the BNP Paribas Open quarterfinals for the second year in a row after edging past No.9 seed Aryna Sabalenka in three sets.
After easing through the first set, Kerber had a battle on her hands as Sabalenka stormed back and got ahead a double break in the third - but the three-time Grand Slam champion responded emphatically to complete the comeback, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.
“For sure it was the toughest match of the tournament for me,” Kerber told press afterward. “It was an up and down match, a lot of emotions on court. I played really well in the first set, she came back really strong. The third set, I think it was just another fight and another comeback from me.
“I was trying to play every single point and still believing that I could turn around the match. I think in the end it was a fight to win the match.”
It was one-way traffic for the German in the opening set as Kerber absorbed everything Sabalenka sent her way and returned it with interest. As a result, Sabalenka found herself wracking up unforced errors as she tried to go for bigger and bigger shots.
As a result, Kerber was able to apply the pressure to the Sabalenka serve, creating a break opportunity on each of the Belarusian’s service games and reeling off three breaks in a row to claim the opening set.
Kerber made it eight games in a row when she opened the second set with a 2-0 lead, looking ready to race across the finish line. But Sabalenka found her range in a big way after a brief on-court coaching break with Dmitry Tursunov, breaking straight back and playing more measured tennis to even the score at 2-2.
Sabalenka scored the breakthrough at 4-3 and raised her level on the serve tremendously - she didn’t drop a single point on serve the rest of the set - and forced a decider. She continued to steamroll in the start of the third set, going up a double break to lead 4-1.
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But the match had a final twist as Kerber rallied once more, edging through the last five games in a row to book her spot in the quarterfinals - as well as seal her first Top 10 win of the year.
Up next will be an even bigger battle for Kerber, who is set to take on an in-form Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. Williams edged past Mona Barthel 6-4, 6-4 earlier in the day to advance.
“It will be another tough battle but I’m looking forward to playing against Venus again,” Kerber said. “Of course, this match gives me lots of confidence that I can still turn around matches.
“It will be a completely new match, we are starting both from zero. She’s an inspiration for so many players and people out there - I think it will be a good match.”
Kerber leads Venus 5-3 in the pair's head-to-head record, and claimed victory in their most recent match at Sydney in 2018, winning in three sets.