Angelique Kerber aims to maintain her perfect record against Camila Giorgi when the last Australian Open champion left standing in the women’s draw takes on the hard-hitting Italian on Saturday.
Kerber vs Giorgi is live from Melbourne on Saturday 25 January at 11am local/12am GMT
There were five former singles champions in the Australian Open women’s draw when the tournament began, but Maria Sharapova fell in the first round to Donna Vekic and the third round was not kind to the others: Coco Gauff ended Naomi Osaka’s title defense, Caroline Wozniacki called time on her career after losing to Ons Jabeur and Serena Williams was shocked by Wang Qiang.
That leaves only 2016 winner Kerber standing as the third round continues on day six, although Simona Halep has reached the final before and Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova and Ashleigh Barty join Kerber and Halep as active Grand Slam champions still alive going into the first weekend.
Despite having an excellent Australian Open record in recent years, winning the title in 2016 and making the semifinals in 2018 when she fell short of the final after losing a marathon thriller to Halep, Kerber was not someone being much talked about in the run-up to the first major of the year. The German left-hander, whose banner two-major season of 2016 was followed by a slumping 2017, did not have a good season in 2019, failing to defend her Wimbledon title when she fell in the second round to Lauren Davis. Kerber did not qualify for the WTA Finals and did not win a title, although she did make the finals of both Indian Wells and Eastbourne and semifinals in Doha, Monterrey, Mallorca and at the Toray Pan-Pacific Open.
Kerber, who is now working with Dieter Kindlmann after splitting with Rainer Schuettler last July, ended her 2019 season with a rather limp straight-sets defeat to Polona Hercog in Beijing and is currently ranked world no. 18. She had a subdued start to 2020, losing to Samantha Stosur in straight sets in Brisbane and then retiring against Dayana Yastremska in Adelaide due to what was officially listed as a left hamstring injury, although it was also reported as a back problem.
Her Australian Open participation was reported to be in doubt, although Kerber has yet to drop a set – but she also hasn’t faced the toughest opposition, beating qualifier Elisabetta Cocciaretto 6-2, 6-2 and Australian wildcard Priscilla Hon 6-3, 6-2.
Camila Giorgi should be more of a test, despite Kerber’s excellent record against her.
The Italian, always notable for possessing one of the quintessential tennis parents (in the really bad sense) and for her game plan of hitting every single ball as hard as she can for a winner, has always been a dangerous floater but climbed as high as world no. 26 in 2018 after reaching her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon, as well as winning the title in Linz and making semifinals in Sydney, Prague and Tokyo.
But like Kerber, Giorgi had a difficult 2019, although in her case it was much more about struggling with injury. The Italian played only 30 matches in the season, 14 of them in July and August when she made the finals in Washington, D.C. and at the New York Open, missed the entire clay season and ended the year on the brink of dropping out of the top 100 – which she promptly did after losing 3-6, 2-6 to Serena Williams in the first round of the ASB Classic Auckland after qualifying for the main draw.
Giorgi has won back-to-back matches at the Australian Open twice before but never gone beyond the third round. Her first-round win over Antonia Lottner 6-3, 6-3 was not remarkable, but beating Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-1 was, and suggests the Italian might be getting back to her 2018 level.
Kerber has a flawless 4-0 record against Giorgi, dropping just one set, and it’s not hard to see why: Kerber’s defense and counterpunching is so excellent that she forces Giorgi to hit a lot more balls than the Italian is comfortable with. Giorgi makes errors as she snatches to try to win the point as quickly as possible, and her brittle serve – she tends to be plagued with double faults – doesn’t stand up well to Kerber’s returning. On the other hand, she can be an extraordinarily effective player and should pose a much sterner test of how Kerber is feeling physically after her Adelaide issue than the German’s previous opponents. This third-round clash should reveal how seriously we should be taking Kerber as a dark horse for the title.