NEW YORK, NY, USA - 2016 champion Angelique Kerber fought past fellow German Anna-Lena Friedsam in straight sets to reach the third round at the US Open.
Kerber, the No.17 seed, outlasted Friedsam under a closed roof on Louis Armstrong Stadium, firing 19 winners and breaking her opponent three times en route to a 6-3, 7-6(6) victory.
“After such a long time [away from the courts], I need to make the transition again to be able to focus during the completely whole match,” Kerber acknowledged in her post-match press conference. “It’s not so easy, so that’s why I’m really happy that I had two close matches, especially today in the second set where just one point decides the second set.
“It gives me a little bit of confidence that I’m getting my match rhythm back, my mental path is there on court, and I can focus on playing points. It’s not so easy, because we had such a long break, but you need a little bit of time to find your way again.”
Earlier in the week, Kerber kicked off her milestone 50th Grand Slam tournament looking sharp in her first match since the Australian Open, fighting through to a 6-4, 6-4 win against Ajla Tomljanovic.
She had another test on her hands in New York against the aggressive Friedsam, who had already contested qualies and doubles matches at Prague and the Western & Southern Open leading up to the US Open. Before the tour’s nearly six-month pause, World No.109 Friedsam had reached her second career final at Lyon, and she looked ready for battle against the former World No.1.
Kerber started the match with a confident break to love to take a 2-0 lead, but Friedsam set the tone for the contest by attacking Kerber in the next game with some tricky net play, creating three break back opportunities. Friedsam wasn’t able to convert as Kerber extended her lead, but struck back a few games later to make it 3-2.
The No.17 seed was back in front as Kerber broke through once again, taking advantage of a shaky service game by Friedsam, and went on to serve out the set 6-3.
Apart from the gulf in their respective rankings, there was not much to separate the two Germans in a tight second set; Kerber opened proceedings with an early break, but Friedsam leveled a game later to keep them on serve, 1-1.
The tension grew as the next 10 consecutive games went the way of the server - both players created chances throughout the set, but they remained on serve as the set went into a tiebreaker. In a reflection of the level of serving throughout the rest of the match, only one minibreak made the difference as Kerber edged through to win, 6-3, 7-6(6).
The victory sends Kerber back into the US Open third round, where she awaits the winner in a battle between two Americans, No.13 seed Alison Riske and Ann Li.
“For me, it’s really important to go on court and play the tennis that I’m playing in practice, that I know I can play and focusing on my matches,” Kerber reflected afterwards. “The six months [away], they showed me how fast everything can be changing.
“So it’s really important for me now to enjoy my time, and have a good team around me - which I have right now. You know, I know I can play tennis, but there are so many things around that has to be good as well, not only hitting balls. I’m trying to enjoy the tennis, and also enjoy the time off court. It’s the journey, and I’m trying to have fun every single day here.”