It has been quite the year for the quiet German. At each of her Slam achievements this year (Australian Open, Wimbledon finalist) the ‘Steffi Graf’ question invariably raises its head. While there is no chance of the Golden Slam this year, the prospect of being the first German to win an Olympic gold may well weigh heavily on Kerber’s mind.
There is no doubt that any of contact with Graf has been motivational – she talks often about how she feels Kerber is on ‘the good way’ – she is doing everything right, and while the mental fragility we know, love and hide behind the sofa with is always bubbling under the surface, she has found a way to battle some of those demons.
The dry humour of Keys often belies the steel and passion that is evident on the court. For years now at times her body has let her down when she seems on the brink of those career defining runs we have seen in others, but Keys seems to have turned a corner in that regard.
The Olympics have been a great place for her to showcase her strengths – her big hitting game has served her very well here, although she has not had things her own way. She had a very tight battle with Kristina Mladenovic followed with another three setter against Carla Suárez Navarro, but was ruthless in her path to the semi-final against Daria Kasatkina.
The Britwatch Prediction
In their tale of the tape, Keys will have to snap a three match losing streak to fly the flag for the USA, after the shock exit of defending champion Serena Williams to Elina Svitolina in the third round. The only time she has ever got the better of the German was at Eastbourne, on the way to her first WTA title in Eastbourne, two years ago. Since then though, she has faced Kerber three times at the business end of tournaments, and has never taken a set off her on the hard court battles.
Kerber is looking in supreme form – admittedly she did not have to do too much to breeze past a frustrated Johanna Konta, but she can not only match Keys for fire power at the back of the court, but dare we say it she has a little more variety to her game.
While Kerber has really worked hard to be more aggressive, she knows she can still frustrate them best with her ability to race everything down. She can keep going, and in the heat of the Rio sunshine, it may well come down to the survival of the fittest, and again we would have to give Kerber the edge.
However this time we can see Keys given the German more of a run for her money – we have seen what a difference playing for your country means in the tennis, and it adds a pleasing edge to the proceedings.
Prediction: Kerber in three sets.
Petra Kvitova  (CZE) v Monica Puig (PUR) – First meeting
Two-time Slam champion Kvitova has made her way through the draw (for once?) avoiding all the early carnage. Times have not been the best at times for the Czech who has slipped down the rankings as she adjusts to change after splitting from long-term coach David Kotyza.
Maybe things are working now with former Czech professional Frantisek Cermak. She was tested by Russia’s Ekatarina Makarova, fighting from a set down to book her spot in the quarter-final, where she demolished Williams’ conqueror Svitolina for the loss of just two games.
Another player who has veritably galloped up the rankings is Puig. Starting the year in Auckland qualies just inside the Top 100, she reached the Sydney final to kick her season off, reached the Eastbourne semi-final, and seems to have a thing for 6-1 6-1 score-lines. She stunned Garbiñe Muguruza in the third round, before repeating the score-line against Laura Siegemund and has yet to drop a set.
The Britwatch Prediction
Both hit big, and Kvitova will look to attack from the off. Kvitova does know how to make the most of those tricky leftie serves of hers, and has a heavy groundstrokes to back it up, bit of course can rack up those errors.
Puig has a powerful game of her own, plenty of pride, but might just lack the experience to get though a match that means so much. That being said, Kvitova is not averse from having a bit of a wobble at the key moments!
Expect Puig to be relentless in her ball striking, and trying to shift Kvitova off the baseline. She is unlikely to be able to hustle her to the point of over-powering the Czech, but this could be a great match-up and battle.
Prediction: Kvitova in three sets.
The Olympic Tennis Women’s semi-finals begin at 12pm (4pm BST).
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