MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — For anyone who doubted, this was Angelique Kerber in 2016 vintage form.
Kerber routed U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys 6-1, 6-2 on Wednesday to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open, the tournament where she kicked off her career-best season in 2016 with victory over Serena Williams in the final.
She also won the U.S. Open and finished that year with the No. 1 ranking. But she was upset in the first round at Melbourne Park last year, and her ranking dropped into the 20s.
The 30-year-old Kerber won the Sydney International to prepare for the first major of the year, then won her first three rounds at Melbourne Park in straight sets.
Her third-round victory over Maria Sharapova meant she was the only singles Grand Slam winner remaining in the women’s draw. But a struggling fourth-round win over No. 88 Hsieh Su-wei had commentators wondering if Kerber was in 2016, or 2017 form.
Against No. 17-seeded Keys, she responded by winning the first four games to take control of the quarterfinal — her first at a major since the 2016 U.S. Open. Keys held in the fifth game of the first set, but Kerber went on another roll to lead 3-0 in the second set.
Keys slowed the momentum by holding and then getting her first service break of the match, but Kerber responded quickly to finish it off in 51 minutes. She broke Keys six times in total in the match and now has a 7-1 record again the American.
“I’m just trying to enjoy myself again on court,” Kerber said of change of fortunes. “I know that I was working hard in the offseason, and I know that I can play good matches. I know that I can win close matches and also, yeah, going out there and playing good in the bigger tournaments.
“I just try to find the feeling back that I had, like 2016, and just enjoying my time. I mean, on and off court.”
For Keys, it was another disappointing loss in a major. She reached the U.S. Open final last September but lost in straight sets to Sloane Stephens.
Kerber’s semifinal opponent will be decided later Wednesday in a quarterfinal match between top-ranked Simona Halep and No. 6 Karolina Pliskova.