Kerber sets up Sharapova clash of the champions  

Kerber sets up Sharapova clash of the champions  

MELBOURNE - Agence France-Presse
Kerber sets up Sharapova clash of the champions

Angelique Kerber celebrated her 30th birthday on Jan. 18 by setting up a mouth-watering clash between the only two former Australian Open champions left in the draw.

The 21st seed, champion here two years ago, will face 2008 winner Maria Sharapova in a glamour clash on Jan. 21 after beating Croat Donna Vekic 6-4, 6-1 in an hour and 10 minutes.“We played a lot. We played in Stuttgart.

We played in Wimbledon,” said the German former world number one.

“I’m looking forward to playing against her.”Sharapova was equally impressive in beating 14th seed Anastasija Sevastova 6-1, 7-6 (7/4) on Rod Laver Arena.

“You know, it’s another tough match here,” said Kerber.

“We both played in the past a lot of good matches.“I know that I have to play my best tennis again. I think it will be a good match. I’m just looking more about me, like how I will prepare, just playing my game from the first point.”

Kerber had a standout 2016 when she won in Australia, beating Serena Williams in the final, to become the first German since Steffi Graf in 1999 to claim a Grand Slam.

She backed it up by being crowned U.S. Open champion and began 2017 as world number one, before her form deserted her and she slumped to 21st by the end of the season.

But a series of wins at the Hopman Cup this month, coupled with ending a 27-tournament title drought by winning the Sydney International - her first since the U.S. Open - has restored her confidence.

“It’s just the beginning of the year, but I’m feeling the tennis again,” she said.

“I know what to do on court. It’s like in my mind more similar to 2016 than to 2017.”

And was no longer being in her twenties a problem? 

“I was waking up this morning, I say, OK the ‘2’ is gone right now,” Kerber said, smiling.

“I mean, I’m feeling the same like yesterday. I’m still feeling young.”

Djokovic beats Monflis

Meanwhile, six-time champion Novak Djokovic survived a brutal fitness examination to overcome Gael Monfils in intense heat and stagger into the third round at the Australian Open on Jan. 18.

Djokovic stretched his unbeaten record over Monfils to 15-0, one of the longest at Tour level, after dropping the opening set but just managed to get to the finish line.

He just did enough at the end to carve out a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 win in 2hr 45min on baking Rod Laver Arena.The 12-time Grand Slam champion has a day to recover for his third round encounter with Spanish 21st seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

The extreme elements made it a survival of the fittest with Monfils looking the worse for wear early before Djokovic had enough in the tank to win on his fourth match point in a grueling eight-minute final game.

“It was brutal conditions and we both suffered, it was a big challenge for both of us,” Djokovic said on-court.“

Gael is one of the best athletes in our sport but he was not at his best in the second and third sets.

It was about just hanging in there and try to use every opportunity.”Asked about the state of his right elbow, Djokovic added: “It’s still not 100 percent, but it’s building. I have a lot of faith and belief in what I am capable of.”

It was another step forward for the Serbian former world number one, who had been out of action for six months with elbow trouble.

A decade after winning his first Melbourne Park title Djokovic has slipped to 14 in the world, his lowest in 10 years, but he has survived the opening two rounds in his comeback Grand Slam.Monfils broke Djokovic’s opening two service games to get off to a flyer, only to give back a break with a double-fault on break point.

Djokovic’s greater consistency yielded a second break when Monfils hit a wild backhand, but the Serb 14th seed was broken a third time.

Monfils fought off a couple of break points as he served for the set before he took it in 47 minutes with a put away at the net.

The Frenchman began showing the debilitating effects of the searing on-court temperatures and often was hunched with his hands on knees in between points.

He was broken in the eighth game and Djokovic served out for the set as the distressed Monfils sought the doctor and trainer during the changeover.

He complained of dizziness and left the court before returning for the third set.

Monfils went down a double break as he looked to be running on empty and Djokovic doing his best to keep things together.

Djokovic, showing the effects of the struggle, beat off Monfils’ renewed late effort and the Serb needed his fourth match point to claim victory

Australia Open,