In what promises to be an engaging battle, Angelique Kerber, a finalist at Wimbledon in 2016, takes on Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka. With the top seeds falling out of the women’s draw at a rate of knots, both Kerber and Osaka will view themselves as having a real chance to put together a deep run at the Championships if they can get through this match. But both will also be well aware of the dangers posed by the other. Who will come out on top?
Kerber and Osaka have met three times on Tour with all three matches being contested last season. In their first meeting, the Japanese stunned an admittedly out of sorts Kerber in the first round of the Australian Open, winning 6-3 6-1 to knock out the defending champion. Kerber had her revenge late in the season during the Asian hard court swing, knocking out Osaka in her native Japan in Tokyo 6-3 6-4 and then beating her again in Beijing 6-2 7-5 in the first round.
Path to the third round
Kerber began her tournament at Wimbledon after a good run to the semifinals in Eastbourne where she lost narrowly to eventual champion Caroline Wozniacki. Her first match at the All England Club pitted her against 2010 finalist Vera Zvonareva, the first time that two former finalists had met in the first round of the women’s singles at Wimbledon. Kerber was made to work, but never looked in real danger, winning 7-5 6-3. She then overcame American teen Claire Liu from a set down, 3-6 6-2 6-4.
Osaka also reached a grass court semifinal in the lead up to Wimbledon, making the last four in Nottingham, playing some good tennis along the way. She began her Wimbledon campaign in dominant fashion, overwhelming Romania’s Monica Niculescu 6-4 6-1. That set up a match with British wildcard Katie Boulter, who had claimed her first Wimbledon win against Veronica Cepede Royg in the previous round. But she could not repeat her heroics against Osaka, who won 6-3 6-4.
How do they match up?
Kerber, though not blessed with massive natural power, is a very effective baseliner, relying on accuracy off the ground to complement her pace, instead of simply crushing the ball every shot as some of her colleagues at the top of the game do. Her forehand is her best shot, and there are few who hit it on the run as well as the German. She also generally serves well, using her left-handedness to her advantage when hitting the slice serve out wide.
Osaka has this season muscled her way into the ranks of the big-hitters at the top of the game. When given time on the ball, the Japanese star’s power is devastating, particularly off her forehand. Though her defensive skills are not perhaps elite, she moves well enough to make her opponents work for the point against her. One problem area in her game can, however, be her second serves. The 20-year-old sometimes looks caught in two minds about what to do with the shot and consequently double faults.
This may just turn out to be the best women’s match of day six so evenly matched are its participants. Both Osaka and Kerber have looked impressive so far at Wimbledon, and though they play rather differently, their contrasting game styles should make this a good match to watch. But though Kerber may have the greater Wimbledon pedigree having made the final where Osaka has never been beyond the third round, the Japanese is hitting the ball so well it’s hard to see anyone stopping her. Osaka in three.