WTA Brisbane Semi-finals preview
By Ros Satar
- Angelique Kerber  v Carla Suarez Navarro 
- Victoria Azarenka v Samantha Crawford [Q]
- Quarter-final round up and scores
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – After being rocked with withdrawals and retirements by the three top seeds, the rest of the field got on with the business of pushing towards a sunny conclusion in Queensland.
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Angelique Kerber  def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4 6-4
Perhaps it was a bit of a nervy start to start off a sunny day on the Sunshine coast as highest seed standing Kerber traded breaks with the Russian before she felt she could get into the rhythm of the game.
She said, after the match: “[Pavlyuchenkova] was hitting the ball so fast, so I was I was just feeling that I was always on the defensive. But I was trying to be relaxed and focus on my game and just try to serving good and if I had the chance going for it.”
It is a very different Kerber to the one we saw exceptionally frustrated with her inability to advance for a shot at the title in the Singapore WTA Finals, and she acknowledged that a few changes were needed.
“I had three weeks off, and the first few days I was really just trying to think about the year, what was very good and just the positive things. Then I was sitting on the beach and trying to focus on this, what could be better and where I can improve more. I will try to take the experience from the last months and also from Singapore to this year to getting better in the stressful moments, what I think I will have this year for sure.”
With the WTA Top 5 out via injuries or illness, it has not been strange to see the early casualties of the season (albeit only a week old) already lining up for Sydney, ahead of the Australian Open. Kerber is actually aiming to be there too, and explained her own rationale.
“I think it’s not so easy to start the year and to coming back, because we had two months off right now. I think it’s the most important thing to think is to starting easy and not going and like playing the first matches 100%.
“I think you need time with the weather, jet lag, everything. I think everybody is here and preparing so good as she can for the Australian Open. For me, was of course to have a lot of the matches, which is always important for me.”
Last year Kerber was trying to be more aggressive and perhaps not rely on her trademark tireless approach, but now I think we can see that she can’t totally let go the play that comes naturally to her. Indeed at the start of this match, her ability to stay on the defensive kept her in touch and eventually was enough for her to edge ahead in both sets. So how has she learned to balance the two?
“I think for me it’s good to find the middle. To be more aggressive, but also still running everywhere and try to get every single ball back. I think that’s what I was also practicing last few weeks, to make the transition from the defense to the aggressive playing. Still I think what I should playing or making better is my serve, to be more aggressive on my second serve and then the next few points.”
Kerber remains the highest seed standing following the withdrawals of top seed Simona Halep, and defending champion Maria Sharapova, as well as last night’s retirement for Garbiñe Muguruza.
Samantha Crawford def. Andrea Petkovic 6-3 6-0
So just who is this giggly American qualifier? That was probably the question on most people’s lips, not least of which Petkovic, who has really only just decided to give tennis her love once more.
Crawford is possessed of a hefty forehand and with that all coming together swimmingly this week through qualifying, we will have quite an exciting prospect when the young American faces up to Victoria Azarenka.
But being a new face from the other side of the net can work in her favour, as she explained: “I think that’s the great thing about tennis: anything can happen on a given day – anyone can beat anyone. So, yeah I just want to play well and enjoy it.”
Victoria Azarenka def. Roberta Vinci 6-1 6-2
Any nerves that had been evident against an unknown in the previous round were gone as Azarenka came roaring out of the blocks. All the Vinci trademark spins, angles and slices seemed to be nullified to the point of her extremely animated change of ends discussion with her coach, where she wailed that she had no idea how to even try and break through Azarenka’s barriers.
But against Ysaline Bonaventure she was jumpy and unsure of what to do against someone she had never seen before. As she indicated in her on-court interview – for someone to have reached the semi-finals (regardless of rank) means they can play, so she will need to be sharp but has the experience to adjust as she needs to.
She said: “I’m curious to see how I can handle this situation. [The] semifinal is going to be interesting for both of us facing somebody I never face before. Haven’t been in the semifinals in a while, which is great, too. So it’s a lot of good experience, and I’m looking forward to that. It’s exciting. I think the important is to stay focused on myself, like I did the transition from my second match to the third round.”
Carla Suarez Navarro d Varvara Lepchenko 4-6 6-4 7-5
Not as under the radar as she would have hoped as the tricky leftie took full advantage to edge the first set from the Spaniard, but Suarez Navarro has been playing very well, with more than a little bite to some her shots already this season.
It’s time to put aside the ‘what if’ scenarios now as we gallop headlong to most likely a Kerber/Azarenka final but with the Belarusian not having won a tournament for the last two years, and with Kerber at times still wrestling her demons, and the fact it IS the first tournament of the year – well anything could happen!
Kerber and Suarez Navarro are scheduled on Pat Rafter Arena, not before 3pm (1am GMT) and Azarenka v Crawford is scheduled not before 9pm (7am GMT).
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