Welcome to Memory Lawn, where wtatennis.com will take a look back at some of the most memorable matches from the grass seasons of the past five years. Following our retrospective of the best of Birmingham, we move to Eastbourne on the south coast of England to cover the historic Nature Valley International, a tournament that has been an integral part of the grass swing since 1974. Up next is Angelique Kerber's epic encounter with Russian rival Daria Kasatkina.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The 2018 Nature Valley International quarterfinals featured an all-star line-up and blockbuster matches, none more stylistically intriguing than the day's closing act between former World No.1 Angelique Kerber and rising Russian Daria Kasatkina.
Kerber's breakthrough 2016 season and resurgent 2018 swing are sandwiched between a 2017 slump, one that led her to hire a new coach in Wim Fissette, who had previously worked with the likes of Simona Halep and Johanna Konta to great success. The Australian and US Open champion began 2018 with a more fluid service motion and in imperious form as she captured the Apia International Sydney and had Halep herself on the ropes in a classic semifinal in Melbourne.
Kerber continued to post solid results through the spring, even reaching her first Roland Garros quarterfinal in six years, where she fell to eventual champion Halep in three sets. A Wimbledon runner-up in 2016, grass has long been the German's favorite surface, and arrived in Eastbourne looking to find a rhythm that could take her one match farther at the All England Club.
Into the last eight with straightforward wins over Dominika Cibulkova and Danielle Collins, she would next face Kasatkina, who had won three of their last four meetings. Their most recent clash came at the BNP Paribas Open, where the young Russian ceded just two games to Kerber en route to the biggest final of her career. Kasatkina's steady run of results as a teenager turned meteoric in 2018 under the tutelage of coach Philippe Dehaes, whose viral coaching time-out at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships seemingly helped Kasatkina turn the tide against Konta and go on to another championship match.
Kasatkina also reached the second week of Roland Garros; a former junior champion in Paris, she ended then-reigning Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki's 10-match Grand Slam winning streak for her most impressive major result yet.
On a surface that blunts her preferred higher bounce, Kasatkina was nonetheless in confident form on grass after nearly outlasting five-time Wimbledon winner Venus Williams at SW19 a year earlier, and booked the Kerber meeting after solid wins over Alison van Uytvanck and Anastasija Sevastova.
WHAT HAPPENED: The opening set saw Kerber as imperious as Kasatkina had looked a few months earlier in the California desert. The low bounce playing perfectly into the German's unorthodox groundstrokes, and raced through the first four games. While Kasatkina soon got on the board, it was but a brief respite as the No.4 seed reeled off the final eight points.
Things suddenly got tenser from there. Kasatkina reigned in her serve and made use of her all-court instincts to keep Kerber from running away with the match. Though she twice led by a break, Kerber remained in reach and ultimately forced a tie-break.
The turning point came with the No.7 seed ahead 4-3, tracking an almost impossible drop shot from Kerber and punctuating the exchange with a forehand volley. Stretched out wide by a Kerber return on set point, the Russian made an angle of her own to level the match.
Kasatkina continued to frustrate Kerber early in the decider, using her impressive variety to move within five points of victory. Kerber soon unleashed some audacious shots of her own, turning the final set on its head to twice find herself serving for the match. Kasatkina duly broke back each time, forcing another tie-break that would decide the match.
Much like the last breaker, Kerber drew Kasatkina to net with a drop shot, but unlike the last time, pulled off a perfect lob to keep the Russian at bay, using that momentum to clinch victory with a searing forehand up the line.
WHAT THEY SAID: Kerber's victorious relief went far beyond hard-fought wins; the former World No.1 was most excited to have put 2017 behind her, and was eager to resume focus on the sport's biggest titles.
"London is not so far from here," she said of Eastbourne's proximity to Wimbledon, "and if you practice here or there, at the end, for me it was a decision to play matches before going there.
"Of course it's easier because you are not there. You have still the tournament before. You focus on the matches. You're trying to not think about the Grand Slam. For me, Wimbledon starts next week. Now we have Eastbourne, and I will try to perform here as good as I can and to have a lot of good matches, as well, and then to go in with a good feeling to Wimbledon."
Like Kasatkina, Kerber started the year outside the Top 20, and was on the precipice of a Top 10 return with a strong grass court swing.
"I'm not looking right now about the rankings. I was through all of these up-and-downs and rankings from the top to, I don't know, 20 or 15.
"But right now I don't care, to be honest, about the rankings. For me now it's more important to be improving my game and having fun what I'm doing. Going on court, preparing as good as I can, going on court, playing the match as good as I can, going on court on this day, because every day is different, and then to do my best.
"I think this is more what is now in my mind, to really practicing hard but also taking time for myself and finding the middle way between the pressure and the time for myself.
"I think this is what change the most in the last few months, and, yeah, and this is what I will try to continue, especially to the end of the year."
WHAT IT MEANT: Though Kerber bowed out of Eastbourne to eventual champion Wozniacki in the semifinals, it would soon become clear that Kerber had found the secret combination to Wimbledon success.
After a second round hiccup to American Claire Liu, Kerber went on a tear against some of the game's best, dismissing Naomi Osaka and Belinda Bencic to book her spot in another quarterfinal with Kasatkina.
Where Eastbourne's match saw both with chances for victory, Centre Court was a far friendlier stage for Kerber, and the 6-3, 7-5 win was hardly ever in doubt. Two wins later and Kerber avenged her 2016 loss to Serena Williams, halting the American's quest for a 23rd Grand Slam title - and first after marrying and giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia Jr. - and putting herself a French Open away from a Career Grand Slam.
For her part, Kerber wasn't looking that far ahead.
"To win my third Grand Slam, it's amazing, especially here. I think Wimbledon was always the Grand Slam I was dreaming for it. To start with Australia, with New York, I learned a lot from those experiences. Winning three different Grand Slams, I think it's just the best thing.
"About clay, I think we have to see in the future. I think that's a longer way to go for it."
Kasatkina was undaunted by the defeats, capping her stunning 2018 season with a home title at the Kremlin Cup and a Top 10 finish. Struggles soon followed the Russian, though the start of 2020 was seemingly proving kinder with a run to the Open 6ème Sens semifinal in Lyon.