On Thursday the WTA quarterfinals revealed the final four from the Nature Valley International draw that began with sixty-four players. The theme of the day, a clash of youth and experience. Experience nearly made a clean sweep, except for one unlikely twist. The 2017 Eastbourne champion and ace leader, Karolina Pliskova would fall.
Match of the Day
Angelique Kerber  d. Daria Kasatkina  6-1 6-7(3) 7-6(3)
I wandered over to Court 1 after Kerber captured the first set 6-1 and was up a break in the second. Upon entering, the usher commented to me, “the match is almost over.” While I did not respond, my immediate thought was “not likely, Kasatkina is a fighter”. While Kerber prevailed today before many fans, I also heard comments about Kasatkina’s gutsy performance in spite of her troublesome service day.
The pivot point of the match was 4-4 in the second set. It seemed Kerber might close, as she was the continual backboard today when it came to baseline defense. Under pressure at 5-4 on serve, Kasatkina was not a willing victim. Despite a double-fault, she pressed and held to 5-5. The Russian began to mix things up, finding ways to force the German to scramble to net where she came up short several times. Kasatkina appeared to be swinging with a new freedom as if to say, I am going for it… I’ve got nothing to lose.
With Kerber serving for the match, Kasatkina came up with the break. In the hush of a very British crowd, you could hear chatter at the turnaround by the determined 21-year-old as she forced a tiebreak. Kasatkina was up quickly to lead, but Kerber delivered rocket-like groundstokes with balls just grazing the net and the lines. They also traded errors to 3-3. Kasatkina captured the set with keen net touch and celebrated with a fist pump. With a blank chapter about to unfold, Kerber was quick to call for her coach.
In the final set, both players showed great intensity, as well as frustration over missed opportunities. Thigh slaps and heated self-conversations were heard. The set began with holds to 1-1, as neither player dropped their level. Kerber’s physicality and Kasatkina’s crafty tactics continued. In the end, Kerber tapped her experience and delivered with more consistency. She did not yield ground often, but Kasatkina continued to find the open court with shot variety. Kerber showed tremendous heart and an ability to let go of mistakes. Perhaps the saying “Keep calm and carry on” worked today.
Kerber played tremendous defense, owning the baseline and lightning fast acceleration to net. She maximized her physicality and her intensity was heard throughout the match. Kerber will need a solid recovery to take out world No.2 Caroline Wozniacki, who came through an “easier” path winning two sets in just over one hour.
Caroline Wozniacki  d. Ashleigh Barty  6-4 6-3
Ashleigh Barty stepped on court near her career high-ranking of No.16 and delivered a week of strong performances. She defeated Kristina Mladenovic, Su-Wei Hsieh and Danielle Collins who is also having a solid 2018. But Wozniacki showed why she is No.2. With consistency, she has dropped only one set this week and will meet familiar friend and foe Angelique Kerber for another shot at the title. This is their 15th meeting where Kerber owns the head-to-head 8-6. However, Wozniacki was an Eastbourne finalist in 2017 and shows no signs of letting up.
Aryna Sabalenka d. Karolina Pliskova  6-3 2-6 7-6(5)
Upset of the day! For those who do not know Aryna, she shares her home country Belarus with Victoria Azarenka. On her way to the quarters, she took out American lucky loser Sachia Vickery, Julia Georges and Elise Mertens in a tight three-setter, 7-5 2-6 7-6(4). Aryna is a righty who has been climbing the rankings from No.548 in the end of 2015 to No.45. She has been a member of the Belarus Fed Cup team since 2016.
Agnieszka Radwanska d. Jelena Ostapenko  6-2 7-5
While we are not used to seeing Radwanska outside the Top 20, it seems the “Wizard of Grass” is back. The depth of her skill variety confounded Ostapenko today. Aga is clearly enjoying the seaside courts in Sussex, where even the seagulls seem to root for her. She will need all of her skills to come thru to the final against Sabalenka, who is defying odds. Aga and Aryna kick-off Friday play on Center Court.
Friday’s semifinal matches begin at 11:00 on what promises to be another banner day at Devonshire Park. The venue has hosted the event now titled the Nature Valley International since 1974.