World #4 and Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber will continue her quest for a second US Open title when she takes on former Australian Open finalist and Tour Finals champion Dominika Cibulkova in third-round action. Kerber has played rather indifferently so far on the hard courts, but she will be well-aware of the need to raise her level against Cibulkova, who though not the player she once was, still packs a punch. But who will come out on top?
Cibulkova and Kerber have met 12-times so far in a head-to-head the German leads 7-5. But it was Cibulkova who won their first four meetings, a run that stretched from the first round at Roland Garros in 2008 until Kerber won 7-6 7-5 in Sydney in 2014. That was the first of five straight wins for Kerber, a run Cibulkova snapped in the final in Singapore, after Kerber had beaten her at the same tournament. Kerber has also won their last two matches, in Sydney and Eastbourne this year.
Path to the third round
Kerber began her tournament against Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan, who has endured terrible luck with injuries of late. But she gave an excellent account of herself against Kerber, with her one-handed backhand firing. Ultimately, however, Kerber’s experience and quality won out, and she advanced 7-6 6-3. She then looked to be cruising to victory up 6-2 5-2 against Johanna Larsson, only for the Swede to launch a spirited fight back. But Kerber again hung tough and won 6-2 5-7 6-4.
Cibulkova has also had to fight for her place in the third round. She opened her US Open campaign against Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands and had to rally from a set down to win through 4-6 6-3 6-2, though she will be pleased with how she finished the match. She then battled past the giant-killer Hsieh Su-wei, who beat Muguruza in Melbourne and Halep at Wimbledon, with the Slovakian advancing a 7-6 4-6 6-4 winner after over three hours.
How do they match up?
Both Kerber and Cibulkova might fairly be described as all-action baseliners. Both move extremely well, but can also step in and dictate when on top in a point. Kerber was doing just that in the early running against Larsson. Her controlled but aggressive hitting was keeping the Swede on the move and off-balance. But Kerber went into her shell as the second set approached its denouement and that allowed Larsson more time on the ball. She punished Kerber for it.
It is a mistake she will need to avoid making against Cibulkova, whose 5’3” frame belies her considerable power. Like Kerber, she favours her forehand when on the attack and if given time she will be able to work Kerber over with that shot. Her serve, particularly her second delivery, can be a weakness however. Kerber would do well to return aggressively from the outset and try to put as much doubt in Cibulkova’s mind about that shot as she can.
This has the potential to be one of the best matches of the third round. Both women are exceptionally gifted players and are reasonably well-matched. But Kerber does have a few slight advantages, notably when stepping to the line, and there is a reason that the German is a three-time Major champion and that Cibulkova finds herself on the edge of falling out of the top 30. Expect Kerber to find a way to dig out the win and advance after three close sets.