By Ros Satar, in Singapore
- Angelique Kerber  v Naomi Osaka  | H2H: Kerber leads 3-1
- Sloane Stephens  v Kiki Bertens  | H2H: Stephens leads 1-0
SINGAPORE – Reigning Wimbledon and US Open champions Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka seek redemption after opening losses.
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Angelique Kerber  v Naomi Osaka  | H2H: Kerber leads 3-1
After a strong looking start, Angelique Kerber ran out of steam against a tricky opponent in Kiki Bertens and this finds herself in the round-robin for the first-round losers. Naomi Osaka had done well in her match against Sloane Stephens to come back at the American in the second set but tailed away pretty badly at the end.
Kerber’s fate in her first-round match seemed to be just the opposite as she took advantage of Bertens’ nerves to run away with the first set before the Dutch woman woke up and caused the kind of headaches we have been accustomed to seeing throughout this season.
Last time Kerber and Osaka met, we were set for an exciting showdown between a former (then) two-time Slam champion against the newly minted Indian wells champion – and we expected it to be a thriller. What it turned out to be was a masterclass from Kerber in why grass is fast becoming a surface to fear her on.
She eased past Osaka in straight sets and set down a marker that she would be one to watch on grass.
Osaka said, of the match-up: “For me, it’s weird because I played her only once this year and it was on grass. So, I can’t really compare, because I played her on hard court and then grass.
“But I think when I played her in Wimbledon, she literally — she probably only missed, like, three balls and she was hitting winners. So, I thought she played really well. Yeah, I think it’s really amazing that she won the tournament, because like if she were to play like that every match, then it’s pretty obvious why.”
It is worth noting Osaka’s only win over the German came at the US Open in the first round as Kerber was attempting to defend her title in a year she would much rather forget. Since then, Kerber is back to showing the kind of aura she built in 2016, but with some moments of frailty still thrown in.
Osaka will expect to be made to run on a court that is faster than last year, but still quite slow in comparison to others, which probably suits Kerber quite well. The German can expect to see shots of varying pace and spin, and by all accounts it should be a tough one.
Prediction: Kerber in three sets
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Sloane Stephens  v Kiki Bertens  | H2H: Stephens leads 1-0
The tournament newcomers made their impact in the opening rounds with fearless looking wins. Stephens took an early advantage with the first set against Osaka and even though she dropped the first set, then level was great throughout especially as she ran away with the decider.
For Bertens it was much more of a fight on her hands to come back from a set down against Kerber, and her fighting spirit brought her through to a win. It is worth noting through that her one defeat to Stephens came on the surface that is more natural to her – clay.
Both have come a long way since then. Stephens demonstrated that she is more than capable of dealing with a slower, more ponderous surface like clay and has shown she can deal with some of the inconsistencies on this surface a little better.
Bertens’ all-round skills have shown her, as much as any observers, what a danger she can be across surfaces, and we can expect her to cover the court well, as well as be pretty devastating at the net. However, Stephens’ athleticism and her own ability to finish at the net means this could be another late night for the crowd.
Prediction: Stephens in three sets.
Kerber & Osaka are scheduled on Centre Court at 7:30pm (12:30pm BST), followed by Stephens & Bertens.
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