by Kevin Craig
Angelique Kerber fought her way into the semifinals of the Australian Open on Wednesday when she beat Victoria Azarenka, 6-3, 7-5. Despite being the higher seed, Kerber was the underdog in the eyes of many tennis fans. Azarenka had been in great form to start off 2016 after winning the title in Brisbane and not losing a set in her first four matches at the Australian Open, along with the fact that she held a 6-0 record against Kerber, but the German proved why she is the higher ranked player and now has the opportunity to make her first grand slam final.
Kerber got off to a hot start in the quarterfinal as she broke Azarenka at love in the opening game of the match before grabbing another break and running out to a 4-0 lead. Azarenka, though, had been making Kerber’s service games tough as well, as she had a break point in Kerber’s first service game and then was able to get one of the two breaks back and brought the score to 4-3. When Kerber served at 4-3, Azarenka had two more break chances in a game that lasted 16 points, but could not capitalize and ended up losing the game, before being broken in the next game to drop the set.
The tides appeared to turn in the favor of Azarenka in the second set as she broke in the opening game and got out to a quick 2-0 lead. Neither player had much trouble on their serves until Azarenka saw a break point on Kerber’s serve at 4-2 and took advantage of it to take a double break lead at 5-2. While trying to serve out the set and take the match to a third set, Azarenka got up 40-0 before losing five points in a row to get broken. She had another opportunity to close out the set at 5-4 and was up 40-15, but again ended up being broken thanks to the resilience from Kerber, combined with a hesitant style of play from Azarenka. With the German back on serve at 5-5, she held comfortably before applying pressure on the Azarenka serve again and breaking to close out the match for the straight sets win.
A major problem for Azarenka, clearly, was her inability to defend her serve. Kerber won more than half of the points in Azarenka’s service games, including 62 percent of her second serve points. Kerber’s steady play was also a huge factor, as she limited her unforced errors to 16 while she hit 31 winners.
Kerber became the first German to reach the Australian Open semifinals since 1998 and will go on to face Johanna Konta for a spot in the Australian Open final after Konta beat Zhang Shuai in straight sets in their quarterfinal match.