Ashleigh Barty missed out on a Sydney International title on Saturday as former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber confirmed she was ready to launch an almighty assault on next week’s n Open.
Germany’s Kerber produced a clinical 6-4, 6-4 win to end Barty’s golden run in the tournament, the n hitting the ball into the net after yet another powerful Kerber forehand to end the match.
It was an improved showing from ‘s top-ranked player from Friday’s three-set semi-final win over Daria Gavrilova, although she still produced 38 unforced errors to go with the 42 she struck a day earlier.
But a lot of these came from Barty trying to hit winners against the brilliant Kerber, whose heavy ground strokes gave her opponent little opportunity to dominate rallies.
“I felt like it was a pretty good level, to be honest. I felt like I probably played some of the better tennis that I have this week,” Barty said.
“And Angie is on fire. She’s such a competitor and makes you work so hard for each point.
“Angie is obviously back to the top of her game. She’d probably tell you that herself, that she’s feeling great on the court and she’s feeling the best that she has.”
Barty’s serve was much improved too, hitting just one double fault from the nine she dished up in the Gavrilova match. Unfortunately the double fault she did hit was when trying to stave off a break point in the opening set.
From there Kerber took control and stayed in charge, pilfering another key break in the seventh game of the second set before convincingly serving out the match.
“What she did in the last year, it’s amazing. I mean, where she was and where she is now, I think it’s a huge step,” Kerber said of Barty.
“She will have still a great 2018. I’m very sure about this.”
This was Kerber’s first title since lifting the US Open crown in 2016 – the same year she triumphed at the n Open when lifting her maiden grand slam title.
It puts paid to a sub-par 2017 where she tumbled out of the top 20 and was knocked out in the first round of two of the four majors.
She heads into Melbourne as the 21st seed next week and has landed in the intriguing second quarter of the draw which includes world No. 3 Garbine Muguruza, and Maria Sharapova playing in her first n Open since serving her doping ban.
“Next week starts a completely new tournament, new city, we are all starting from zero,” Kerber said.
“Every match will be tough, but first of all, I will just be enjoying today, the title, and then from tomorrow I will be thinking about Melbourne.”
Barty tipped Kerber to be one of the major contenders in Melbourne.
“In my eyes, she has just as big a chance as anyone else, she’s obviously won the title and knows what it takes,” Barty said.
“What she’s achieved in her career, the accolades she’s had, you can’t do anything but respect her.
“Angie was probably one of the first girls that sort of welcomed me when I first came on to the tour when I was quite young. She always made time for me. I think there is that mutual respect, which is amazing to get respect from such a champion like Angie.”
Barty also looks to have set herself for a deep run at the n Open, after making the third round of the tournament last year.
She has Aryna Sabalenka in the first round, before a possible second match against Sydney International semi-finalist Camila Giorgi.
Potentially awaiting in the fourth round is world No. 1 Simona Halep.
Should Kerber and Sharapova both win their opening two matches, they will square off in a mouth-watering third-round clash made all the more spicy by recent tension between the pair.
Sharapova was given a wildcard in Stuttgart in March last year, even though her suspension didn’t allow her to play her first-round match until the third day of the tournament – a decision Kerber labelled at the time as “a little bit strange”.
When asked her opinion on Sharapova returning to the n Open earlier this week, Kerber was only willing to offer: “She’s back and she played not bad in the last few weeks.”