US Open: Angelique Kerber survives tough challenge from Margarita Gasparyan

Margarita Gasparyan put up an extremely tough fight to make it a competitive match against world number four Angelique Kerber but the German proved too strong and ultimately prevailed in straight sets.

Margarita Gasparyan
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Angelique Kerber

The soaring temperatures at the 2018 US Open certainly provided a huge obstacle for all the players — leading to a series of huge upsets. However, fourth seed Angelique Kerber was one of the top players who safely progressed into the second round here at Flushing Meadows. The German put in a relatively solid performance to oust the dangerous and giant-killing Margarita Gasparyan in a tricky opening-round contest with a not-so-straightforward 7-6, 6-3 scoreline after an hour and 45-minutes of play.

Gasparyan, who was returning from a career-threatening injury, is currently ranked 370th in the rankings but was playing well above her ranking. The Russian posed a huge threat and led 3-0 in the opening-set tiebreak but failed to consolidate her lead, allowing the more experienced world number four to move into round two. Kerber will now face Johanna Larsson on Thursday, with yet another quarterfinal run at a Major looking highly possible once more this year.

Angelique Kerber overcame a slow start and fired on all cylinders | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America
Angelique Kerber overcame a slow start and fired on all cylinders | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America

It was a high-quality match with both players owning a positive winner to unforced error ratio. Gasparyan, despite being on the losing end, blasted 23 winners to 22 unforced errors while Kerber, being the more aggressive player, was able to find 29 clean winners while just mishitting on 24 occasions. The German managed to claim more than half of her second-serve points, sending out a message that she is here to challenge for the title.

Kerber overcomes a huge scare

After committing five unforced errors in the early stages, Kerber found herself in a tricky situation as she gifted Gasparyan the confident start. The underdog strolled to a comfortable 2-0 lead within a blink of an eye, but those early nerves from Kerber gradually faded away. Once the German managed to find her groove and start hitting consistently, she was simply unstoppable.

This was Margarita Gasparyan's biggest match of her comeback thus far | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America
This was Margarita Gasparyan's biggest match of her comeback thus far | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America

Kerber’s forehands were working extremely well and she rattled off 16 of the next 18 points, grabbing four consecutive games to claim a commanding 4-2 lead, turning the tides all of a sudden. Nonetheless, Gasparyan managed to stop the rout in time, firing two glorious one-handed backhand winners to seal the assertive service hold and lessened the deficit.

Serving for the set at 5-4 up, Kerber owned triple set points but a slew of unforced errors derailed her momentum, allowing Gasparyan to come out of nowhere and grab the immediate break back. The set was ultimately brought into a tiebreak where the Russian took a quick 3-0 lead but Kerber fought back and eventually claimed the last three points to take the first set after 56 minutes of play.

Angelique Kerber's forehands were just too good | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America
Angelique Kerber's forehands were just too good | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America

Kerber recovers from an early deficit, takes the win

After grabbing the opening set, Kerber’s level of intensity in her game experienced an obvious dip after she sent in an unfortunate double-fault to hand Gasparyan the break in the opening game of the second set. However, in what was the longest game of the match, Gasparyan handed back the favour in a similar fashion — throwing in a double-fault on break point to level the scores.

Margarita Gasparyan would rue her missed opportunities in the match | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America
Margarita Gasparyan would rue her missed opportunities in the match | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America

The Russian had the golden opportunity to draw the first blood in the fifth game but failed to overpower the inspired German as Kerber battled back to survive the nervy game. A series of service holds ended when the nerves started to affect Gasparyan while Kerber stepped up her level of play when it mattered, ultimately clinching the break at the eleventh hour before claiming the hard-fought win in 105 minutes.