World number one Angelique Kerber was faced with a favorable draw to start her title defense at the Australian Open as she was drawn to open against Lesia Tsurenko in the first round. Tsurenko was actually in doubt for the Australian Open after she had to withdraw from the semifinals of the Hobart International due to a viral illness. She already had to withdraw from the Brisbane International on the first day of the year once again due to a viral illness that prevented her from playing her match. It would really be a big question mark if Tsurenko is able to play her best in the match on Rod Laver Arena in front of more than 10,000 fans.
Whereas, it might be a good opportunity for Kerber to regain her rhythm and momentum after a disappointing start to the season as she lost to Elina Svitolina in the quarterfinals of the Brisbane International and the second round of the Sydney International to Daria Kasatkina. A straightforward victory here could give Kerber the confidence at the start of her title defense campaign and could be crucial in her next matches. The world number one eventually got the win, but she had to do it the hard way after she failed to convert a match point in the second set and was taken to the distance to eventually close out the match.
Kerber strolls through the first set
Tsurenko started the match perfectly as she produced an excellent hold of service to love to start the match with, and her serves looked accurate and on-point in that game. Kerber had yet another slow start to the match as she had to save a break point in her opening service game to hold her service and prevent Tsurenko from having the early advantage. The German once again failed to win any points on the Ukrainian’s serve as Tsurenko held her serve to love yet again.
After yet another love hold, this time for Kerber, there was finally a break of service after the unforced errors proved costly for Tsurenko as the world number one broke serve to take the lead. Four unforced errors for Tsurenko once again cost too much for her as she was broken by Kerber for the second time in the match and gave her the opportunity to serve out the first set. She did just so, as some good offensive play by Kerber allowed her to successfully serve out the first set 6-2 after just 27 minutes.
Tsurenko fights back
Kerber looked like she was going for another routine victory when she earned the lead of a set and a break early in the second set after she broke serve to lead 2-0 and win her seventh consecutive game. Tsurenko almost looked certain to be out of the tournament when she allowed Kerber to earn a break point opportunity in the fifth game, but she maintained her composure and held her serve to prevent Kerber from running away with the match.
The following games were all won by the servers, until the last moment when Kerber was serving for the match at 5-4. The German earned a match point at 40-30 but crumbled from then on as she started to allow Tsurenko to play her normal offensive tennis which made her comfortable on the court. Tsurenko eventually broke back and took the lead in the second set for the first time after she held her serve having saved two break point opportunities. A lengthy service game for Kerber while serving to stay in the set saw Tsurenko take advantage of Kerber’s seven unforced errors in the game to make an improbable comeback to win the second set and level the match. That seven unforced errors in the final game by Kerber was more than the number of unforced errors she made in the whole first set.
Kerber strolls to victory
The first game of the final set saw Tsurenko hold her service game despite a nervy start. The Ukrainian had a chance to go up by a break in the fourth game but failed to convert it after Kerber hit a forehand winner to save it and eventually hold serve. Tsurenko would rue the missed opportunity as she was broken immediately in the next game to let Kerber take the lead in the final set. With the momentum and confidence in her, Kerber strolled to yet another break of service in the seventh game to have the chance to serve out the match and prevent a big upset from happening. The German successfully served out the match after 2 hours and 3 minutes to clinch the confidence-boosting win.
It was a fair performance for Kerber on her service today, after winning 70 percent of first service points and 64 percent of second service points. Whereas, Tsurenko won 64 percent of first service points and 47 percent of second service points, and the low percentage of second service points won cost her greatly in the whole match with the benefit of hindsight. Kerber was uncharacteristically erratic during this match, as she hit a total of 34 unforced errors in the match despite hitting just 5 of them in the first set. Tsurenko hit 40 unforced errors, but that came along with 30 winners but she was still unable to win the crucial points.
Next up for Kerber
Kerber would next face fellow German Carina Witthoeft in the second round on Wednesday, and the world number one holds a 2-0 head-to-head record against her previously. It would be their first meeting on a hardcourt and Kerber should be able to get past her in straight sets.