INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA -- In a battle of Grand Slam champions and former World No.1 players, No.8 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany emerged victorious over Venus Williams in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday, claiming a 7-6(3), 6-3 win and clinching her third semifinal showing at Indian Wells in her career.
"Today I think [Williams] played really tricky, but in the good way," Kerber told the media, during her post-match press conference. "It was really hard for me to play my game, also with changing the rhythm and everything."
Reigning Wimbledon champion Kerber had won five of her previous eight meetings with Williams, but the 38-year-old American had won three of their five prior matches on hardcourt coming into Thursday’s encounter. Nevertheless, Kerber claimed a hard-fought first set to help ease to the match victory after an hour and 36 minutes of play.
"I was really trying, in the first set especially, to find my rhythm and play my tennis, but it was not so easy," Kerber added. "And, to play against Venus, it's always tough. I know this. I was expecting a tough match. I'm happy that I won the first set and then could move in and play a little bit better [in the second set.]"
World No.8 Kerber had a strong day on return, garnering 16 out of the American's 26 second-service points. Williams had spurts of powerful play but never got her vaunted serve fully clicking, firing just a single ace in the clash.
31-year-old Kerber, into her first Indian Wells semifinal since back-to-back appearances in 2012 and 2013, will take on resurgent No.23 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in the final four. Bencic got past No.5 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic earlier on Thursday; the Swiss player will try to claim her seventh Top 10 win in her last nine matches when she meets Kerber.
"It will be completely different match tomorrow," Kerber stated. "Bencic is playing really flat and she's going for it. She has a lot of confidence, especially from the last weeks. It will be not an easy match. It will be a battle. But I'm looking forward.
"I mean, this is the matches I'm always looking forward to have, especially in big tournaments, semis. And I know that I have to play also aggressive and go for it tomorrow."
Kerber took the first big lead in the groundstroke battle when she used well-placed low returns to break the Williams serve for 4-2. But the American struck back immediately, jumping right back on serve in the next game after a clutch of errors off of the forehand side of Kerber.
The German once again claimed a break lead, taking advantage of backhand errors from Williams to lead 5-4 and serve for the set. But Williams grinded though the next game, blasting her powerful shots to grasp five break points, eventually converting the last after a netted forehand by Kerber.
After two routine holds, the players advanced to the decisive tiebreak, where Kerber used a forehand passing shot down the line to claim the first mini-break, and rode that to a 5-2 lead. Williams was undone by unforced errors in the breaker; her fifth miscue of the tiebreak gave Kerber triple set point at 6-3, and a sixth ceded the set to the German.
Williams continued to use her grit and experience to keep the match from getting fully out of her grasp. The American had to hit through some outstanding Kerber defense to stave off three break points in order to hold for 2-2 in the second set.
Four more break points went begging in the American’s next service game, one saved with the belated first Williams ace of the affair. But the German claimed a fifth break point of the game with a fiery crosscourt forehand, and Williams succumbed at that juncture with a wide forehand error to allow Kerber to clinch the pivotal first break of the set and lead 4-2.
After finally converting a break point on her eighth chance of the set, Kerber eased through the rest of the frame, hitting just two unforced errors in the second set through her hold for 5-2. At 5-3, a love hold was all it took for Kerber to book her spot in the semifinals, as she aims for a first-ever final in Indian Wells.