American CoCo Vandeweghe has stormed into her first Australian Open quarterfinal after stunning women’s top seed and defending champion Angelique Kerber 6-2 6-3 on Sunday night at Rod Laver Arena.
With that, the Australian Open has lost both top seeds and both defending champions before the quarterfinals for the first time in the Open era, following shock defeats for Novak Djokovic in the second round and Andy Murray in the last 16 earlier on Sunday.
Vandeweghe’s first win over a world No.1 sends her through to the second Grand Slam quarterfinal of her career, where she will face reigning French Open champion Garbine Muguruza. The result also opens the door for Serena Williams to regain the WTA No.1 ranking should the six-time champion collect an Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam title next Saturday.
“You fake it until you make it,” said Vandeweghe, who admitted to struggling with confidence in her game over the past year. “When you play tough players, like you will in major rounds in tournaments, you can’t show them that you’re struggling – that’s what I told myself this year and late last year.”
Vandeweghe, the world No.35, installed herself as the bully of the piece early and fired her way in front in the sixth game, breaking Kerber at the third time of asking before doing so once more to seal the set. While her first serve was erratic – she made just 51 per cent during the match – it was potent, good for 21 of 27 points played off her first delivery.
With brief flashes of her 2016 form, Kerber hit back at the start of the second, with one cross-court backhand helping her break to open a 2-0 lead. But Vandeweghe hit back at the midpoint of the set, flicking a superb forehand winner down the line to bring up three break points at 3-2 and converting the first off another weak second serve from the German, who has struggled to recapture her 2016 form at the start of this season.
“It was a tough match, and of course I'm disappointed,” said Kerber. “But I was not feeling the ball at all tonight. I was not playing good from the first point. So, yeah, it was not my day and not my match, for sure.”
The book on Vandeweghe says that her forehand is the danger shot, and it did the damage time and again against the world No.1. Of her 30 winners, 13 came from her dominant wing – almost double Kerber’s total winner count.
“We're two totally opposite players,” Vandeweghe said. “I would expect myself to have more winners as well as more unforced errors than she would have. That's kind of an expected stat, that I would have more [winners] than she would. [It’s] up to how well I'm hitting my spots and how well I'm playing out there against an opponent.”
As she had in the first set, Vandeweghe doubled down after the break to put together another four-game surge to the finish line. A fifth backhand winner secured a 5-3 lead before she served it out in style, spreading her arms in celebration as Kerber’s final return sailed high and long after one hour, eight minutes.
“It's the first time I've ever beaten a world No.1,” Vandeweghe said. “And especially at a Grand Slam, I think it makes it that much sweeter. I set a goal for myself for this tournament to make the quarterfinals here, and to make a major semifinal this year.”
She will get her chance to tick both boxes against Muguruza in the last eight. Vandeweghe heads into the match with a 2-1 head-to-head lead over the Spaniard, but lost their most recent meeting last year in Cincinnati in straight sets.
“It's an interesting matchup because she holds a different aspect to a playing style of she's an aggressor, as well. She is going to play that way, and no other way,” admitted Vandeweghe. “For me it depends on if I can match it, as well as if I can beat her to that punch of getting first strike, first play.”
But as ‘faking it’ has helped her make it this far, why stop now? “I took confidence from the off-season, breaking a lot of goals,” she said. “Last year I didn’t win a match, and here I am now.”