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Kerber breaking free of the ‘last-eight mould’

8 January 2016, by Nick McCarvel

For Angelique Kerber and the Brisbane International, fourth time was finally the charm.

The fourth-seeded German – the highest-remaining seed in the women’s draw – was a three-time quarterfinalist in three prior appearances at the Queensland Tennis Centre. So when she marched into the quarters again this week, the casual tennis fan may have assumed it was job done, week over.

Not so fast. Kerber bested former Brisbane finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 6-4 on Thursday and is into her first semifinal here, with a new tennis season in front of her full of possibilities.

“I like coming here to Brisbane,” she said. “I really enjoy the first tournament of the year, and the weather is much better than in Europe.”

The left-handed Kerber is a workhorse on court. She speeds along the baseline with unending effort. And for whatever reason, her game style so often leads to three-set thrillers. In 2015 she played 27 of them in all.

“Angie is somebody, when she gets challenged, she gets the best out of her as well,” good friend and doubles partner Andrea Petkovic said. “So I think these two things coming together just make for Hollywood, popcorn, great movie nights.”

Kerber would like a couple more movie nights in which she has the starring role in Brisbane, having spoiled the plot where she goes out in the final eight. It was in 2011 that she had her breakthrough run, a semifinal at the US Open in which she was bested by eventual champion Sam Stosur.

Since then she has been a mainstay at the top of the game. Last year, after a reasonable start to the season, she lost three of 10 matches and lost her way. A win against Petkovic helped restart her fire in Charleston, and eventually she would win four titles in the season.

“I had a tough start last year, but I think I will try my best to have a better start this year,” she said. “I just kept going and practising and (was) not thinking that the start was not good.”

Twice a grand slam semifinalist, Kerber hasn’t been back to that stage since Wimbledon 2012. She’ll turn 28 later this month (a yearly tradition to celebrate her birthday in Melbourne), and the goals this year are quite clear: Do better at the bigger events.

“I will try to stay in the top 10 … maybe even go a little bit higher in the ranking,” she said, smiling. “I need to be more focused in the bigger tournaments, in the grand slams. That’s my goal for this year.”

Brisbane is a start to that, having overcome the quarterfinal hump and set to face either Carla Suarez Navarro, the No.5 seed, or American Varvara Lepchenko. She is the favourite regardless.

The balance for Kerber is finding one – controlled aggression that allows her to transition between that whipping forehand and the ability to track down balls, corner to corner.

“I think for me it’s good to find the middle,” she laughed. “I just try to get out there and play like I have practised in the last few weeks. I think it works good. I think that I’m on a good way to be 100 per cent ready for Melbourne.”