SYDNEY: Angelique Kerber continued her return to form by clinching her first title of the season on Saturday, beating Ashleigh Barty in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4 at the Sydney International.
The German, who starts the Australian Open as 21st seed next week, went a break ahead at 3-2 in the first set after a double fault from home favourite Barty and took the opener.
In front of a capacity crowd at the Ken Rosewall Arena, the players traded breaks to start the second set but Kerber’s defensive fortitude was too much for the Australian, breaking to lead 4-3 and taking the deciding set and the trophy.
“I am playing amazing tennis again and feeling just great. It feels very good to win my first title in my first tournament this year,” Kerber said.
“I have had a great week and the final was not easy against Ash but I was able to play my game in important moments. I feel like I am getting closer to my 2016 level.”
It was Kerber’s first title since her success at the 2016 US Open and her 11th career title overall. The victory continues her fine start to 2018, having now won eight consecutive matches including the Hopman Cup and Sydney victories against Venus Williams and Dominika Cibulkova.
Having come into the tournament unseeded, the German saved match points against Lucie Safarova in her first round match, and she did not drop a set in her last three matches against Cibulkova, Camila Giorgi and Barty.
“I think the draw was really tough. A lot of tough players was playing here. The draw was also not easy, but I was not seeded, so that was also what I was expecting from the beginning, to have really tough matches,” she added.
“I came here to just playing match by match, and I was not looking too far ahead. I was just trying to getting used to the weather conditions, as well, because every day was a little bit different: windy, it was hot, and everything. I’m very proud how I was able to play every single day.”
Barty was gracious in defeat during the presentation ceremony, saying: “It’s amazing to see Angie back playing at her best. I played some of my best tennis this week and it wasn’t enough. Hopefully, I can go bigger and better next week.”
In her post-match media conference, the Australian No.1 also reflected on her own strong showing in Sydney, which helped swell the spectator numbers and making for a cracking atmosphere during the final.
She said: “To be honest, I felt like I probably played some of my better tennis this week. But Angie is on fire. She’s such a competitor and makes you work so hard for each point.
“The crowd was phenomenal. It really was. There’s nothing better than playing in front of a crowd, especially when they’re very much pro you.
“It would have been nice to get a win for them today but it was a hell of a week. Perfect preparation for next week [the Australian Open]. I feel like if I play like that, I’ll probably beat most of the people in the draw. Today it wasn’t just meant to be.”