For Madison Keys it must have felt like a re-run of her crushing defeat by Sloane Stephens in the final of last year’s US Open. For Angelique Kerber it was a reminder both of how well she had played in 2016 and of how far she had fallen last year.
With her performances earlier in this Australian Open Keys had appeared to have put behind her the disappointment of her debut in a Grand Slam final in New York last summer, but Kerber’s thumping 6-1, 6-2 victory in just 51 minutes might have brought back unhappy memories.
“She played really well,” Keys said afterwards. “I felt like I was trying different things, but I wasn’t playing very consistently.”
It was a total contrast for Kerber, whose form this fortnight has been reminiscent of her run here in 2016 when she claimed her first Grand Slam title and went on to add the US Open later in the year.
After a trophy-less 2017 Kerber appointed Wim Fissette as her coach after the Belgian had parted company with Britain’s Johanna Konta at the end of last year and has never looked back.
Kerber said: “I was just playing my game. I was not thinking a lot about winners or errors. I was staying in the moment and trying to play every single point.
“I just went out and played like I've been playing all week. Just playing my game and enjoying it. I'm just happy to get through and be here in the semis.”
The 31-year-old German, who went top of the world rankings in 2016 but had dropped 20 places by the end of last year, has not lost a match in 2018, having won the Sydney International before arriving here.
Karolina Pliskova replaced Kerber at the top of the rankings last summer, though she stayed there for only eight weeks before being replaced by Garbine Muguruza, who was in turn succeeded by Simona Halep.
Halep, in contrast, appears to have coped admirably with whatever extra pressure there is on a world No 1. The 26-year-old Romanian is also unbeaten this year, having won the title in Shenzhen in the first week of the new campaign, and has maintained her winning run here despite suffering an ankle injury in her first match.
Last week Halep could not even practise but said she did not feel any problems with the ankle as she brushed aside the challenge of Karolina Pliskova to reach the semi-finals.
Halep appeared in some difficulty when she lost the first three games to the Czech but went on to win nine games in a row and eventually beat Pliskova 6-3 6-2 in just 71 minutes, making only 11 unforced errors.
“This was a great match,” Halep said afterwards. “I started slowly but then I got used to the rhythm. I got used to everything. I played very well. You never know with Karolina because she has crazy good shots sometimes and also the serve. But I read her serve many times today. I was just very strong on the return.”
Serena Williams, who won this title last year but was unable to defend her title so soon after the birth of her first child, is to make her comeback earlier than intended. The 36-year-old American has been named in the United States’ Fed Cup team to play the Netherlands in Asheville, North Carolina, from February 10-11.
Williams, who became a mother four months ago, had been expected to make her return in Indian Wells. However, with her sister Venus also in the Fed Cup team, Williams might play only doubles in North Carolina.
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