Two of the year’s most accomplished yet unheralded players battled in a high-quality encounter today on Court Suzanne Lenglen, before Sara Errani got the best of Angelique Kerber 6-2, 7-6 (2), to move on to her first semifinal at Roland Garros.
Errani, who made the quarterfinals at this year’s Australian Open and has since won three singles and five doubles titles, was world-class today, beating a Top 10-player for the first time in 28 attempts. Reminiscent of compatriot Francesca Schiavone in athleticism and versatility, Errani took the court with a shrewd game plan that exploited both to the full. Against Kerber’s big, lefty forehand, Errani used her own forehand to throw up high, looping balls which pushed the German back, then crunched her cross-court backhand.
Errani not only came forward at every opportunity but used soft hands to bring her opponent forward, too, neutralizing Kerber’s ability to hit great shots on the run. The Italian also jabbed tricky, short slices down the middle of the court which Kerber never figured out how to deal with. It was a flurry of variety that had Kerber discomfited from the beginning, losing her serve in the opening game to 15.
Kerber battled in every service game of Errani’s, but the combination of having to hit three or four would-be winners, often from above shoulder-height and having to generate all the pace—just to win a point—proved too much. Equally, Kerber’s bigger serve should have given her the edge, but Errani, whose first serve is more of an opening gambit, returned beautifully and invariably attacked behind it. After another backhand error gave up a 38-minute first set, Kerber looked understandably bewildered. She had, after all, served at 78 percent and struck double the number of winners to unforced errors (16:8). Those are winning statistics for a woman with Kerber’s big game—or at least, they should have been.
Kerber’s immediate solution, as the second set opened, was just to try harder. She started to return and use her backhand more aggressively, and it paid immediate dividends as she broke to lead 2-1. Errani, however, would not be shaken off, lulling Kerber with more of those hypnotic, high balls before flattening the ball out once again to break back.
Breaks were exchanged twice more before Kerber changed her tactics; she started to hit high, looping balls of her own. Errani began to miss frequently off her own forehand, and it let Kerber serve for the set twice. But Kerber could not serve big enough either time, earning no cheap points, and once she was drawn into the rallies, she found herself trying to mix up the ball against someone who is an expert at the game.
As the tiebreak opened, Errani remembered the aggressive returning and forward movement which served her so well at the start of the match. She punished Kerber’s second serve to get the mini-break and alternated hammered backhands and lovely forehand drop-shots. Errani will hope to repeat this virtuoso display against former finalist Sam Stosur in the semifinals.