MELBOURNE, Australia -- 2016 champion Angelique Kerber of Germany moved into the fourth round of the Australian Open for the fifth straight season with a grueling 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-3 victory over Italy’s Camila Giorgi on Saturday.
"I think it was really a tough battle out there," Kerber said, in her post-match press conference.
Former World No.1 Kerber, a three-time Grand Slam champion, had won all four of her previous meetings against Giorgi -- the last three of which came in Australia over the last four years. This time, the German was forced into a decider after Giorgi eked out an excellent second set by both players, but Kerber gritted out the third set to triumph after just over two hours of play.
"I played few times against [Giorgi] before," said Kerber. "It was not always an easy match, because you never know with her. You have to play until the last point -- even you are up or down, you have to play until the last point, because she's there. She's fighting, as well, and playing really hard and deep."
Kerber, who won her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne four years ago, was stellar on break points, converting five of her six chances. The German also won three-quarters of points when she got her first serve into play.
Dangerous floater Giorgi, a former Top 30 player who is currently ranked World No.102, blasted 49 winners, well outpacing Kerber's 15. However, the Italian was undone in the end by 65 unforced errors, and could only convert two of her seven break points in the encounter.
"I'm happy to be in the second week," said Kerber. "Now it's the same like the first week for me. I'm trying to staying focused, trying to keep going and playing, from round to round, better tennis. I have to improve. And it's good to win a match like today which was really close and, yeah, just two points decide the match."
The first three games of the match went against serve, but Kerber eventually stopped that trend at 2-1, crushing an ace to garner two game points, and converting the first with an error-forcing backhand down the line to reach 3-1.
Meanwhile, Giorgi was struggling with double faults, averaging two per game in her first four service games. However, the powerful Italian was able to stay within touching distance through 4-2 via the explosive groundstrokes which have become her trademark.
But in that game, Giorgi squandered a game point by misfiring wide on an attempted down-the-line backhand, and after two more unforced errors, Kerber had attained another break and a 5-2 lead. The German took full advantage from there, barnstorming through a love service game and wrapping up the set with an ace.
In the second set, though, Giorgi dispensed with the double faults and cleaned up her ground game dramatically, which led to a high-quality and highly competitive frame. In fact, neither player faced a break point in the set as both Kerber and Giorgi gritted out their service games with fantastic play off the ground.
Each player won over 84 percent of points off of their first serves in the second set as they blasted their way into a decisive tiebreak. In the tiebreak, Kerber took the initial lead, getting to 3-1 with a pinpoint backhand passing winner down the line. However, three fierce forehands in a row from Giorgi turned the breaker on its head, as she moved to 4-3.
Kerber’s unforced errors had been rare up to that point, but she erred with a long forehand to give Giorgi a 6-4 lead and two set points. On the first, Giorgi extended a rally with sterling footspeed before rocketing another forehand winner to squeak out the set, sending the match into a decider.
"In the second set, [Giorgi] was much stronger, and she served really fast," said Kerber. "She was going to go for it. And especially at the end of the second set she took the match on her hand. I mean, I was a little bit too passive, and she was going for it and took the risk and won the second set."
The third set featured a tense third game, where Kerber fended off three break points before holding for 2-1. Kerber used the momentum from that escape to break an error-prone Giorgi in the subsequent game, eventually building to a 4-1 lead.
Giorgi, though, had more scintillating shotmaking to come, as she slammed her way to a love hold for 4-2, then fired more winners from all sectors of the court to race to a service break and put herself back on serve at 4-3.
But in the next game, Kerber took command, shooting a backhand winner down the line to queue up another break point, which she converted after a long backhand miscue by Giorgi. With the finish line in sight at 5-3, the former champion would not falter, and her combination of stellar serves and divine defense propelled her to a quick hold and a spot in the second week.
"In the third set it was, like, just one, two points which decide the set, I think, especially at the beginning of the set where she had the breakpoints," Kerber stated. "Then I was just trying to fight and just playing point by point. Just trying to move good and taking my chances a little bit better than at the end [of] the second set."
Kerber will now face No.30 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for a spot in the quarterfinals. Pavlyuchenkova shocked No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova in two tiebreak sets later on Saturday.