Wimbledon 2018: Angelique Kerber back into final with dominant win over Ostapenko
Angelique Kerber beats Jelena Ostapenko in two short sets to reach the Wimbledon final
Certainly the 2018 playing of the Wimbledon Championships took some unexpected twists and turns on the way to the final four women on final Thursday.
For a start, for the first time in Wimbledon history, none of the top-10 seeds made the quarter-finals. Indeed many of the biggest names fell in the first week. Which meant that, for only the third time in the Open era, neither of the Wimbledon finalists would be a top-10 seed.
But that did not mean there was not real quality among the four remaining players.
For a start, three of the four were Major champions. Serena Williams, indeed, was aiming to equal the all-time record for Major titles. Could she turn her Open record of 23 into a record-equalling all-time 24? She may not have been tipped for such success a month or so before Wimbledon, given that she was currently ranked 181, had played only seven matches this year, and had given birth only last September.
But this is one of the greatest women ever to play the sport: With a discretionary seeding of 25 in a nod to her having won the title on her last two visits to Wimbledon, she came through to meet her first seed, No13 Julia Goerges.
And the first women’s semi-final was just as starry: Two Major champions facing off against one another.
Angelique Kerber, seeded 11, was runner-up here in 2016, the year she won two other Major titles: the Australian and US Opens. She had made the semis and the quarters at Wimbledon before that, too, and had come through her share of seeds to make the semis for the third time.
Indeed Kerber was showing great signs of regaining the form and confidence that slipped in the aftermath of her breakout 2016. The title in Sydney, semis in Eastbourne, Dubai and Australia, and the quarters at other big tournaments such as Roland Garros, Miami and Indian Wells, contributed to the best match-winning season among the remaining players, 37-12.
Now age 30, Kerber had taken out a swathe of young challengers: No18 seed Naomi Osaka, age 20, Daria Kasatkina, the 21-year-old No14 seed, and the former No7 Belinda Bencic, also age 21, and had dropped only one set along the way.
Now she would face last year’s French Open champion, also just 21 and seeded 12, Jelena Ostapenko—a first-time meeting.
The young Latvian, a former Wimbledon junior champion, cut an extrovert, confident figure from the start, and rightly so. She could count eight top-10 wins to her name, and though she had not yet faced a seed here, that was because her quarter-final opponent, Dominika Cibulkova, had missed out courtesy of Williams’ entry at No25.
Ostapenko was also the only player to have reached the semis without dropping a set, and had dropped the fewest games, too, just 32. She was certainly no stranger to this part of the tournament: She went on from winning at Roland Garros last year to reaching the quarters here, and was playing with the same infectious freedom this year.
Proving that she is a player with many strings to her bow, she shone on the hard courts of Miami in March to reach her first Premier Mandatory final and break into the top five, and then made the quarters on Rome’s clay and on Eastbourne’s grass. Could she bring her charismatic, big-hitting tennis against Kerber?
She certainly went for her shots—she does not know how to play any other way—and that all-or-nothing style almost had her in trouble at the start. She saved break point in the first game, fended off two deuces in the third, and her swashbuckling tennis was there for all to see in the stats. Twelve winners, yes, but eight unforced errors in just three games.
Meanwhile, Kerber focused on her strong leftie game, aggressive from the baseline, producing flat angles off both wings. She held to love, but again was unable to take advantage of a break point in the fifth game.
In reply, she too came under pressure but saved break point with an ace, and her solid aggression finally paid off in the seventh game to get the break. The wayward power from Ostapenko gave up another break via a double fault, for the set, 6-3.
The Latvian had certainly gone for her shots, 18 winners, but they profited her not at all: She thumped 19 errors—to only two from the experienced Kerber racket.
The second set would produce a near-identical result, but with Ostapenko losing her way early before regaining her form too late.
Kerber broke in the second game, and opened a 5-1 lead, as Ostapenko shook her head, lost for ideas. The errors continued to spray until, at last, she found her range to make a series of winners to break back and hold for 3-5.
She even had the chance to break again, but Kerber was too solid, served too well, to allow the comeback. One final forehand wide from the Latvian, and it was over, 6-3, in precisely the same time as the first set, 34 minutes.
It was, perhaps, not the close match that many had anticipated, or hoped for. Ostapenko is an unpredictable talent, and could not reign in the errors against the controlled power of the German. The Latvian made 30 winners, yes, but at the expense of 36 errors, while Kerber made only seven errors.
Make no mistake though: This was a popular if quick win. The German woman with the big smile and quiet charm is liked: It is good to see her back to her winning ways.
As she admitted afterwards, when reminded of the dip in form and confidence she suffered after that stand-out 2016:
“2017 is over and I’m really happy about that! Really happy and proud to be back in a Grand Slam final. I will just try to play like I did, and just focus on my game.”
The final could be a replay of the last one here, which she lost to Williams, in the most recent of their eight previous matches. But that final came after Kerber had done the same to Williams in Australia six months before.
There was, too, another scenario. This was the first time in the Open era that two German women had reached the Wimbledon semis, and not since Roland Garros in 1993 had two Germans made any Major semis.
So there was history in the making—if Goerges could beat Williams, that is.