Kerber tops Wozniacki, wins Stuttgart final; Nishikori wins Barcelona Open
Angelique Kerber extended her win-streak to eleven straight matches after defeating No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 to win the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. Kerber rallied from 3-5 down in the third set to put an end to an otherwise resurgent week for the Dane. Over in Barcelona, No. 5 Kei Nishikori successfully defended his title at the Barcelona Open, beating Pablo Andujar 6-4, 6-4 in the final. Three thoughts on Sunday's events:
1. Kerber has forgotten how to lose
Kerber has won two Premier-level titles before, in Paris in 2012 and Charleston last week, but this is undoubtedly the biggest title of her career. She performed at her best level under the pressure of playing in Germany and beat two top five players in three-time defending champion Maria Sharapova and Wozniacki en route. She is now 2-0 in finals this year, a remarkable rebound from her 0-4 mark last season, where she was the only Top 10 player that failed to lift a trophy.
Kerber was down and out in the final set. She fought off two break points just to hold to 2-1 and was broken in her next service game to fall behind 1-3. But with the German crowd urging her on, Kerber tapped into the confidence that only comes from winning 10-straight matches. She simply refused to lose.
Kerber responded to getting broken by breaking in the very next game. When she was broken again to 3-5 she didn't panic. Perhaps more importantly for Kerber -- a player who can grown so frustrated that she mentally checks out -- she kept her head in the game. With Wozniacki serving for the match and getting within two points of what would have been the Dane's biggest title in years, Kerber broke back and went on to win the last four games of the match.
"A few days ago I said clay is actually not my favorite surface, but right now I think I will change my mind," Kerber said. "I've played very well on clay the last few days and weeks. I feel good that I have had so many matches on clay, and now I'm looking forward to the next tournaments before Paris."
On Monday Kerber will move up to No. 12 in the rankings.
Watch one grueling rally below:
2. Fortune favors the brave
This was a strong week for Wozniacki. She beat No. 3 Simona Halep and No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro, two players who rate far higher than her on clay. She played aggressively throughout the week and her fitness remains second to none. Her legs alone can win her a load of matches, but she flat-out produced better tennis this week than she has all year.
Wozniacki's disappointment from coming so close only to fall short was obvious and understandable after the match. She had the trophy on her racket, serving at 5-4, 30-all in the third set. But as she built her lead in the third set and the trophy was so tantalizingly close, Wozniacki forgot what got her there. She began to revert to a more defensive style and it was Kerber who stepped up and went for her shots. Even when she was down in the scoreline, Kerber was looking to dictate, while Wozniacki fell into her reactionary patterns, running everything down and hoping Kerber would miss.
The question surrounding the Dane's game has always been whether she can transition into a more aggressive player, one who steps in and looks to dictate with her shots. Her legs may win her matches, but alone they will not win her titles. The more aggressive player wins out in the big matches.
Wozniacki proved she could ratchet up her game in the second half of last season, but finding that balance has been difficult this year. She was up a set on Venus Williams before losing in the Auckland final in January. Now she was a break up in the third on Kerbe
3. If healthy, Nishikori is an elite challenger on clay
Nishikori says clay is his favorite surface, a quizzical statement given only two of his nine titles have come on the dirt. But it's easy to see why his game transitions so well to clay. When he's serving well, which he has been over the last year, he's a tough player to break. Off the ground he gets more time to use his speed to set up and take the ball impossibly early. He can hit with margin and he can also go flat off both sides. His netgame is solid.
Last year he became the first Japanese man to win an ATP World Tour title on clay when he won the Barcelona Open. He defended that title with just one set lost all week this year, moving to an astounding 21-1 when playing as the top seed at a tournament. As he found his game on clay last year he was beset with injury, forced to retire to Rafael Nadal in the Madrid Open final despite holding a one-set lead. If Nishikori can stay healthy this year he will go into Paris on the short list of challengers to the apparent Nadal-Djokovic stranglehold on clay.