Two big names were sent packing at Wimbledon on Friday, 2018 champion Angelique Kerber at the hands of Elise Mertens, and World No 5 Maria Sakkari, who fell to mother-of-two Tatjana Maria.
The match against Sakkari at the Australian Open gave me some confidence because I saw that I was super close. I knew that I have my chances. If I play clever and good, I can win this match. Tatjana Maria
Three Germans were in action on Day 5, and two unseeded prevailed, Maria and Jule Niemeier, who beat Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko earlier and will face Britain’s Heather Watson in the Last 16, but 15th-seeded Kerber was toppled by the No 24 seed Elise Mertens from Belgium, 6-4 7-5, on Court No 1.
Mertens had beaten Kerber, the German No 1, in their only previous meeting at the WTA 1000 Doha in 2019, en route to her biggest career title, and the Belgian did it again on Day 5 of The Championships, in an hour and 20 minutes.
She was lucky to come through her previous match after saving 2 match points against Panna Udvardy from Hungary, in a match that spanned Wednesday night and Thursday, 3-6 7-6(5) 7-5.
Mertens seemed unaffected by any lingering effects from that marathon, converting 5 of her 7 break points and hitting 18 winners to 14 unforced errors, while Kerber’s 16 winners were out-numbered by an uncharacteristic 28 unforced errors.
“It was a very difficult match [in the] second round, losing the first set, then down two match points,” said Mertens, who picked up her first Top 20 win in over a year with the victory. “Playing a third set yesterday, so I kind of feel like I’m on court non-stop.
“That’s also a good sign because I haven’t had those matches in the last couple weeks.
“I felt like, ‘OK, let’s get some energy, some rallies, some matches in.’ I think that really helped me for today, too, to know that even when you’re down that you can come back, mentally being tough.”
Mertens got off to the better start to the match, breaking the left-handed Kerber in the 4th game for a 3-1 lead, but she failed to serve out for the first set as the German cut the deficit to 4-5.
The Belgian, however, was able to keep her focus as she broke Kerber again in the 10th game, when the German was serving to stay in the match.
After losing the first set, Kerber broke Mertens early to open up a 2-1 lead, but it was short-lived as the 24th seed broke back to level the set at 2 games apiece, only for the German to break again and consolidate in her next service game to go up 5-3.
The former World No 1 then suffered a collapse as Mertens claimed back-to-back breaks and won 4 games in a row to overturn the deficit and claim a straight-set win.
Mertens will face No 3 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in the Belgian’s second trip to the Wimbledon Round of 16.
The World No 31 beat Jabeur, ranked 2, in their only previous meeting, at last year’s US Open.
Meanwhile, Sakkari was out-duelled by Maria, whose hard, sliced forehand unsettled the Greek 5th seed and provided the biggest shock on day.
Just a year after maternity leave, 34-year Maria extended her resurgent season with a big milestone at a Grand Slam.
Sakkari had beaten the German at the Australian Open in January, but suffered a 6-3 7-5 loss in an hour and 30 minutes on the grass of No 2 Court.
It secured Maria, the oldest woman left in the draw, who is ranked 103, her maiden appearance in the 4th-round of a Grand Slam.
“I’m the first time in the last 16, so that’s already amazing, and to win against Sakkari today, yeah, it’s pretty awesome,” she added.
The upset marks the 5th Top 10 win of Maria’s career, and she had not won a match in a Grand Slam main draw since 2018, but now has picked up 3 wins this week as her slice-filled game propelled her to a big run in her 10th appearance at Wimbledon.
The former Top 50 player returned to tour in July 2021 after giving birth to her second daughter, Cecilia, in April of last year, while her eldest daughter, Charlotte, was born in 2013.
Since then, she has risen to World No 103, bolstered by winning her 2nd career title in Bogota as a qualifier in April.
Against Sakkari, Maria struck 19 winners against just 12 unforced errors, while the Greek’s 28 winners were overwhelmed by 29 unforced errors.
“The match against Sakkari at the Australian Open gave me some confidence because I saw that I was super close,” Maria said. “I knew that I have my chances. If I play clever and good, I can win this match.”
Maria had already claimed a big win in the 2nd-round on Wednesday, when she battled back from a double-break down in the 3rd set to beat No 26 seed Sorana Cirstea from Romania for her first Top 50 win in over 2 years.
Once again, Maria had to fight back from a dire deficit when Sakkari led 5-2 in the second set, and the Greek held 2 set points at 5-4 to level the match, but the German blasted a group of strong serves to hold on for 5-5, and then snagged the next 2 games to complete the upset.
Sakkari, who reached the French and US Open semi-finals last year, could only convert 1 of her 7 break point opportunities.
Maria will face a 3rd seeded player in a row when she takes on No 12 seed Jelena Ostapenko in the Round of 16, her first meeting against the 2017 French Open champion, who was also a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2018.
Ostapenko beat the German and her partner Oceane Dodin from France in the women’s doubles on Thursday, and was the first woman into the 4th-round, but she needed 3 sets to get the better of Irina Begu from Romania, 3-6 6-1 6-1, on No 3 Court.
Last week, Ostapenko reached the final at the grass-court warmup tournament in Eastbourne, where she was defending the title she won there in 2019.
On Friday, the Latvian trailed 6-3, 1-0 when she turned things around, winning 9 straight games to take a 3-0 lead in the deciding set before Begu was able to hold serve again.
Ostapenko then had to save a break point in the next game before taking a 4-1 lead.
The Latvian landed 57% of her first serves in the first set, but was broken twice to lose it, yet, despite that number plummeting to 27% in the second, she only dropped 3 points on delivery to win the second, during which she faced no break points.
Her second serve proved the key difference as, in the first set, she won only 3 points, 20%, behind it but, in the second, she upped her success rate to 73%.
Behind those numbers were her greater focus in the rallies that ensued behind her second serve, and her improved ability to rise to the occasion on big points.
In the first set, Ostapenko was in the ascendancy after coming back from an early break, capturing the Begu serve with 4 monster returns and moving up 3-2, but the Romanian took advantage of a series of loose Ostapenko errors to reel off the next 4 games for the set.
In the second, though, Ostapenko found some scintillating tennis to break Begu 3 times, each after a tight deuce tussle, and put together a 9-game streak of her own, and she took this form into the decider.
Leading 3-1, Ostapenko passed her first test on serve since the first set, saving 2 break points and edging up 4-1 and, as the finishing line approached, she found yet another level, breaking Begu for 5-1 with her most breath-taking game of the match, sealing it with a spectacular forehand pass on the run, one of the 28 clean winners the Latvian struck over the course of the match.