TC DESK: Barty assesses latest win vs. Kerber

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A pair of two-point sequences told the story of Ashleigh Barty’s 6-2, 7-5 win Saturday over Angelique Kerber in the semis of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.

The first two-point moment revealed Barty’s exceptional court management skills. It happened early in the first set, Kerber serving at 2-3, love-30. Kerber drove a ball that landed wide to Barty’s forehand, just inside the service line. Many players, far more comfortable moving east-west than north-south, fail to recognize the opening created by a shot this short and instead end up driving it deep in rather linear fashion.

But Barty is as adept moving forward as sideways. Gliding towards the ball, Barty put herself in prime position to roll an untouchable crosscourt forehand and earn three break points. On the first, Barty took advantage of a passive Kerber serve to feather a backhand drop shot winner and go up 4-2.

Two games later, Kerber serving at 2-5, 30-40, Barty lofted a fine lob and then rifled a crosscourt backhand passing shot to close out the opener. “She starts playing really aggressive,” said Kerber, “and, yeah, I was just trying to finding my rhythm.”

Barty went on to take Kerber’s opening service game in the second set and go up 2-0, 40-15. Said Kerber, “she's just playing really like tricky, as well. She know where to put the ball and how to play in the moments where it's really important.”

At last, Kerber’s fingers on the ledge, she at last arrived, in all her paradoxical glory. When this three-time Grand Slam champion takes her place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, words like gritty, steady and consistent will be deployed. These are terms one associates with classically defensive players. But the pictures from those perilous moments tell a richer story. “Angie has got an incredible ability to raise her level when it matters most,” said Barty.

Barty has now won her last three meetings with Kerber.

Barty has now won her last three meetings with Kerber.

With Barty a point from going up 3-0, Kerber smacked a forehand winner. At 40-30, the Aussie missed a makeable smash. At deuce, Kerber drove a down-the-line backhand winner. Break point in hand, she tracked down just enough Barty missiles to extract a netted backhand.

Beware if you consider Kerber strictly a defensive player. Better instead to regard her as a creator, impersonating a defender. For in so many of her matches, there come those moments when, back to the wall, Kerber doesn’t merely hold down the fort. She will lash, adding a bit more heft to her lefty serve and, most dangerous of all, strike boldly with the forehand, be it the angled crosscourt drive or the delayed, off-forehand.

A similar pattern played out when these two had last played one another. That match took place in the semis of Wimbledon. Barty won that one, 6-3, 7-6 (3), rallying from 2-5 down in the second set. “She's made me work for every single point,” Barty said today, “every single match that we have played.”

Throughout the second set, the two stayed on serve, Barty aided by 12 aces. Said Barty, “Angie is a hell of a returner, one of the best in the game, so I wanted to try and take that away from her as best I could today.”

One game away from defeat at 4-5, Kerber aggregated several exquisite points, including a drop shot-lob volley combo at 15-all, a superb crosscourt forehand on the next point and a trademark off-forehand at deuce. At this point, a tiebreaker seemed likely. But two games later, serving at 5-6, 15-30, Kerber blinked. One forehand went long. The next went wide. It was over, 75 minutes of engaging movement and versatility capped off by two surprising errors.