Angelique Kerber, the German No 1 seeded 9 at the Adelaide International, was forced to retire through injury on Wednesday in her second round match against Dayana Yastremska, casting doubts on her fitness for the Australian Open next week.
I’m just trying to fight because my dad wanted me to be No 1. I’m doing it for him so that’s what is helping me to be strong right now. Aryna Sabalenka
The 3-time Grand Slam champion sought treatment throughout her clash with the Ukrainian teenager and, after dropping the first set and going down a break in the second, Kerber retired from the match whilst trailing 3-6 0-2.
It initially appeared that she was suffering from a lower back injury, but it was later confirmed by the WTA that the former World No 1’s withdrawal was due to a left hamstring injury.
“I couldn’t notice from the beginning that [Kerber] was injured, because she played really well,” Yastremska said later.
“I hope she can recover very well before the Australian Open.”
While there has yet to be any comment from Kerber or her team regarding the injury, or the severity of it, there must be concerns, not only for her fitness but for the fact that the world No 18 has only won a single match so far this year, and that was against China’s Wang Qiang in the first round here on Monday.
Last week she was knocked out of the first round of the Brisbane International by Sam Stosur.
In the first match between the two players, Kerber started off by breaking Yastremska in the opening game, then raced to 40-0 as she neared consolidating the break.
The 19-year old’s groundstrokes then started to click, and she reeled off shots with depth and power to claim 5 straight points to claw the break back immediately.
The Ukrainian started to take command of the opening frame from there on, blasting a pinpoint backhand winner into the corner to break for 4-2, then wrapping up the next game with a crosscourt winner off of the same wing to lead 5-2.
Yastremska, the World No 24, struck 11 winners to just 4 unforced errors to claim the set, and then took the next 2 games before Kerber retired after dropping the first 2 points of the 3rd.
“From the beginning I didn’t feel that great on the court,” Yastremska told the media, after the match.
“It was a little bit windy and I was a bit confused [on court], but then I managed to get back. I just try to play each ball in the court.
“Then I tried to fix the game by being really stable, and not taking really big risks. Point by point I could get there.”
Yastremska will now take on Donna Vekic in the quarter-finals, after the Croat fought back from a set down to overcome Maria Sakkari of Greece, 2-6 7-5 6-1, in their earlier second-round encounter.
Yastremska has won both of her prior meetings with Vekic.
“I think it’s going to be a really interesting match because every time I play [Vekic], it’s like ‘boom boom boom’!” Yastremska laughed.
“It’s pretty intense. We have similar styles of game. I’m going to look at our last match, and I will try to do my best, and I hope I can win.”
The 19-year-old, who is the only teenager in the draw this week, is seeking to reach her first WTA final on Australian soil this week.
“I want to wish Angie and good recovery and to be ready for the Australian Open. It’s very important that she can get back into a good form.” She said during her on-court interview.
Another player through to the last 8 is America’s Danielle Collins, the 2019 Australian Open semi-finalist who crushed 7th seed and compatriot Sofia Kenin, 6-3 6-1, in just over an hour.
Winning 8 consecutive games at one stage and dropping just 4 points behind her first serve, it is Collins’ 3rd consecutive win over Kenin on the tour.
“Today was a bit of a struggle for me. I’ve been having a hard time keeping food down. I’ve been pretty sick and dealing with some stuff, but I think I faced the adversity well,” she said.
“I just tried to come out here and be the best competition I can be.”
Collins will play either fourth seed Belinda Bencic or Julia Goerges next.
Meanwhile, Aryna Sabalenka has started her season with a heavy heart after the World No 12’s father Sergey passed away suddenly in November at the age of 43.
“It was something unexpected, he was young, he was 43, and I didn’t want to say that, but I think people should know,” Sabalenka told a small group of reporters after defeating Hsieh Su-Wei in the first round on Monday.
Reflecting on the aftermath of her father’s passing, the 21-year-old said boarding a plane for the start of the season was not an easy decision.
“During the pre-season it was tough to practice mentally,” Sabalenka said. “I didn’t think too much actually.
“I couldn’t leave, because I knew it was a tough situation with my family and I couldn’t leave them but somehow I needed to go. I wasn’t excited about the matches, I just went there because I have to.”
Sabalenka’s tough 2019 season ended on a high note when she successfully defended her Wuhan title and finished the season by winning WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, defeating Kiki Bertens in the final.
What should have been a celebratory off-season soon took a tragic turn.
Her father is the reason a 6-year-old Sabalenka picked up a tennis racket, after the pair drove past empty tennis courts and introduced the game to his daughter.
Sabalenka is in Australia with just her hitting partner, after splitting with coach Dmitry Tursunov for the time being.
“I’m just trying to fight because my dad wanted me to be No 1,” Sabalenka said. “I’m doing it for him so that’s what is helping me to be strong right now.”
On Wednesday she took another step forwards, defeating America’s Bernarda Pera, who took out Britain’s Katie Boulter in the first round of qualifying before edging out her compatriot Coco Vandeweghe, 7-6 2-6 7-5, to reach the main draw where she picked up another impressive win, beating Barbora Strycova, 7-6 6-3.
Sabalenka had lost to Pera in their only previous meeting on the clay courts at the Madrid Open in 2018, but on the faster courts in Adelaide, the Belarusian’s greater power gave her the decisive edge and she came through with relative ease after a tight opening set, 7-6(4) 6-2.
She will next face the No 2 seed, Simona Halep, in the quarter-finals on Thursday.