World no. 10 Angelique Kerber begins her BNP Paribas Fortis Diamond Games campaign against Francesca Schiavone.
Kerber and Schiavone are scheduled on court in Antwerp at 5pm (4pm GMT). Click here and register your details for a live stream of the match available via mobile, tablet or computer:
One of two top-10 players headlining the draw at the revived WTA Antwerp event, now a Premier tournament under the direction of former pro and Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters, Angelique Kerber has been a little overshadowed so far by the presence of world no. 7 Eugenie Bouchard (with new high-profile coach in tow).
But that’s been Kerber’s fate over the past season or so, as the German – a stalwart in the top echelons over the last few years – has seen new emerging stars like Bouchard and Simona Halep overtaking her in the rankings, alongside the resurgent likes of Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams, who currently trails Kerber by 340 points. Kerber will have been rarely mentioned in 2014 season reviews, but the German, now 27, compiled a very solid season, just falling short in four WTA Tour finals – Sydney to Tsvetana Pironkova, Doha to Halep, Eastbourne to Madison Keys and Stanford to Serena Williams. But even her fourth-round defeat of Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon was quickly eclipsed by the run to the final made by Bouchard, who eliminated Kerber in the quarterfinals (just a couple of weeks after taking out Kerber at the French Open, too).
A final between Kerber and Bouchard at the BNP Paribas Fortis Diamond Games would not just be a tournament director’s dream but offer an intriguing match-up in an emerging rivalry. But there’s a few rounds to go for both players and it hasn’t been the best start to the season for Kerber so far. There’s little wrong with losing to Elina Svitolina in the Brisbane quarterfinals and less with exiting to Karolina Pliskova in the semifinals in Sydney, but a first-round loss to world no. 42 Irina-Camelia Begu 6-4, 0-6, 1-6 at the Australian Open is a headscratcher.
Francesca Schiavone (LUC CLAESSEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Kerber’s Fed Cup weekend, however, may have been the boost she needed as she recovered from a three-set defeat to Jarmila Gajdosova in the first rubber to beat Sam Stosur in straight sets on Sunday to put Germany 2-1 ahead and see her country progress to the semifinals once more and although she trails her second-round opponent Francesca Schiavone 1-2 in the head-to-head, she should be able to beat the Italian. Former French Open champion Schiavone had to qualify for Antwerp due to her current ranking of world no. 81 and there’s no denying that Schiavone, now 34, is something of a fading force. A glance at Schiavone’s year-end rankings since she finished world no. 7 in 2010 reveals a steady downwards trend – out of the top 10 in 2011, the top 20 in 2012 and the top 50 in 2014, a season she began with seven straight first-round losses and during which her best results were semifinal finishes in Baku and Hong Kong.
By the end of 2014, Schiavone was playing $125k events (and not winning them) and so far in 2015, she has been winless through three events before successfully qualifying for Antwerp and knocking out world no. 43 Klara Koukalova in straight sets in the opening round. That sounds promising, but Koukalova was a state during that match, spending some of it in tears and generally not turning in a performance worthy of her, and it’s very unlikely she will get any such leeway from Kerber.
Schiavone beat Kerber in Melbourne in 2008 and Miami in 2011, but the German got her revenge in three sets in Miami in 2013. Obviously, something about Schiavone’s aggressive baseline game doesn’t match up well with Kerber’s own left-handed baseline game, which leans heavily on her fantastic movement around the court, but this is the kind of match which Kerber can and indeed should win.
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Kerber and Schiavone are scheduled on court in Antwerp at 5pm (4pm GMT)