It’s been a great 2012 so far for Angelique Kerber. When the rankings are published on Monday, she will be in the top 10 for the first time. Her great ascent, similar to what her German countrywoman Andrea Petkovic did last year, has been built on victories over players like Li Na, Marion Bartoli, Jelena Jankovic and Venus Williams. She has two wins in 2012 against former #1 Caroline Wozniacki. Going into the Rome 2012 semifinals against Maria Sharapova, she had the confidence of splitting their two meetings this year, winning the last match in Paris (hardcourt). It wasn’t to be on the red clay of Rome. Masha came out focused as ever, with her serve working…a tough combination for any opponent to face. The result was a 6-3 6-4 straight set victory for Sharapova. Masha wasn’t really hitting a lot of aces, but her serve was hard and well placed, earning her several service winners (for those that don’t follow tennis, a service winner means the opponent was able to get their racquet on the ball but not return it in bounds as opposed to an ace that goes by the opponent without being touched). She was also strong off the ground, ripping laser backhands. Basically, Masha just overpowered Angelique.
So now Sharapova has an opportunity in the final to successfully defend her title. Trying to prevent her from winning back to back Rome championships will be Li Na. As a result of Serena Williams pulling out with a lower back injury, Li Na received a walkover into the final. I have said for a few posts that Li had a quarterfinal streak going coming into Rome but needed a big win to push her further. Well, now she has advanced to a final, breaking the quarterfinal wall, but I still think she could use a big win going into her defense of her Roland Garros crown next week. She avoided potentially playing Victoria Azarenka when Vika withdrew before her match with Dominika Cibulkova. She also avoided playing Serena when Williams also pulled out. A win over Masha would be big…and not just because one of her former coaches left her over a year ago to work with Sharapova, especially since that coach had told Li Na he was leaving because he didn’t want to travel anymore…but then hooked up with Masha! Of course, Li Na really has already exacted a little revenge for that, defeating Masha on her way to winning Roland Garros last year, the first singles Major victory for a Chinese player…or any player from an Asian country, for that matter (Michael Chang is a born and raised American!). But Masha has had a little help, too. Last year’s Rome title came with Victoria Azarenka retiring with an injury in their quarterfinal match, although to be fair Masha did then go on to beat then-number 1 Caroline Wozniacki and then Samantha Stosur. But if she wins again in Rome, she will also benefit from not having to face Vika or Serena. Still, Masha has less to prove than Li Na. Wins over Kerber, Ana Ivanovic and potentially Li Na would make a solid championship resume. Plus, Sharapova did break through and beat Vika at Stuttgart, winning a shiny new Porsche 911 in the process. Li Na doesn’t have a title since Roland Garros last year. She definitely needs the boost more than Masha.