News & Media

Day 1 Preview: Slam champs, former winner open campaigns

5 January 2020, by Dan Imhoff

It is more than eight years since an unheralded Angelique Kerber and Australia’s Samantha Stosur first squared off for a berth in a maiden US Open final.

On Monday, the two Grand Slam champions will clash for the 10th time when they meet in the opening round of the Brisbane International.

Stosur won that first showdown before going on to surprise Serena Williams in the title match on Arthur Ashe Stadium in 2011.

But the German has grown immensely as a player since, winning six of their next eight meetings and capturing three majors during that period, including the 2016 Australian Open.

The 31-year-old arrives in Brisbane as the world No.20 and with a new coach, Dieter Kindlmann.

“You have to improve every single tournament, every year, because even if you win a Grand Slam, everyone is looking to beat you,” the former world No.1 said.

“It’s even harder to work to improve just a few things, having the motivation again to start from zero, so it’s harder than reaching the top spot [in the first place].

“Maybe now I’m not really the focus. So it’s always good to focus more on what you do on court.”

The 35-year-old Stosur – having pledged to donate $200 for every ace she serves this summer to Australia’s bushfire relief efforts – received a timely confidence boost late in 2019 after reaching the final in Guangzhou and the WTA Finals doubles semi-finals with Zhang Shuai.

Kerber holds the edge in the head-to-head series, with the Queenslander’s last win coming in 2015.

“She’s obviously an extremely good player,” Stosur said. “She’s won Slams, she’s been at the top of the sport.

“So you know every time you’re going to play Angie, you’re going to have to work very hard, be willing to hang in some points, try and take charge.

“You want to play your game, but not be sucked into doing too much too early because you know she’s going to be able to run a lot of balls down and make some incredible winners.”

A champion in Brisbane two years ago, No.4 seed Elina Svitolina will also begin her campaign on Monday when she faces American Danielle Collins for the first time.

After 27 straight Grand Slam appearances, the Ukrainian finally shook the monkey from her back when she passed the quarter-finals at a major for the first time in 2019, not once but twice.

That weight lifted following a run to the Wimbledon semi-finals and Svitolina backed it up in reaching the last four at Flushing Meadows.

With the recently retired Marcos Baghdatis joining existing coach Andrew Bettles in her team late last season, Svitolina feels ready to take that next step up.

“For me it’s important to add the small things that can improve my game and that’s what I’m looking for,” she said of adding Baghdatis.

“I really enjoy the atmosphere when we are all three of us on the court and that’s been going well so far.”

Svitolina’s opponent, the 26-year-old Collins, is no stranger to success on Australian hard courts either.

The American was a shock semi-finalist at last year’s Australian Open, following a run which included wins over seeds Julia Goerges, Caroline Garcia and Kerber.

The final four main draw berths will also be filled on Monday when women’s qualifying wraps up with top seed Yulia Putintseva and Australian wildcard Storm Sanders leading the charge.