STUTTGART, Germany - Kristina Mladenovic knocked out the two-time defending champion Angelique Kerber in straight sets, securing her spot in the quarterfinals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, 6-2, 7-5.
The Frenchwoman came into the encounter having won just one set off Kerber in their previous three encounters – all on hardcourts – and facing down the vocal Stuttgart crowd hoping to see another German champion.
But at the Porsche Arena on Thursday, it was Mladenovic who looked at home on the red clay as Kerber struggled to find her footing during the hour and thirty-seven minute encounter.
“I prepared my match a little bit differently, I played Angie already three times, always lost,” Mladenovic explained in her post-match press conference.
“I think that was our first one on clay and I really wanted to take advantage of the surface, being a bit more consistent, smarter, playing more angles but also aggressive.”
Mladenovic took the crowd out of the equation early on as she immediately broke the Kerber serve to go up 3-0.
The first set was defined by the break points – Kerber couldn’t capitalize on any of her opportunities (0/2), while Mladenovic went after and converted all her chances (2/2). Kerber also struggled on serve, winning just 45% behind her first delivery (against Mladenovic’s 74%), giving her opponent plenty of opportunities to keep her under pressure as Mladenovic took the opening set 6-2.
Mladenovic opened the second set with another massive lead, going up 3-0 and leaving Kerber to make up ground as the unforced errors leaked off the German’s racquet.
The World No.2 seemed to settle after that and finally earned her first break, pressing the Mladenovic serve to cut down the deficit to 3-2, leveling the match with a strong hold at 3-3.
The pair stayed toe to toe for the next five games, Mladenovic holding and putting all the pressure on Kerber, who twice had to serve to stay in the match. The Frenchwoman stayed aggressive, taking time away from Kerber and earned a final break to wrap up the match and see off the top seed in front of her home crowd.
With the victory, Mladenovic not only books her spot into the Stuttgart quarterfinals, she also denies Kerber a return to World No.1 and ensures that Serena Williams will retain the top ranking for the next two weeks.
Up next for Mladenovic is Carla Suárez Navarro.
“She’s such a great player, she used to be a Top 10 player if I’m not wrong and we know her qualities on clay. I’m obviously expecting a very tough match.
“It’s quite a fight now, the field here is very strong, all girls are playing extremely well. So, I’m really taking a match at a time. I will try to enjoy, try to rest and reset for tomorrow. It's a new day, a new match and I will have to find the best tactic to beat Carla this time.”