Angelique Kerber in Day 3 Action at 2017 Australian Open

Angelique Kerber will attempt to continue her title defense at Melbourne Park on Wednesday (Tuesday night coverage in North America).

Angelique Kerber certainly hasn’t played her best tennis to start the 2017 season. With her first-round victory from a couple days ago, the German is still just 2-2 on the season. However, so long as she remains in the Australian Open draw she has the potential to find her top form. Kerber will look to advance to the third round on Wednesday as she faces Carina Witthoeft, a fellow German player.

Witthoeft, who will turn 22 years old next month, is not entirely unproven in Grand Slams. She is currently playing in her 11th major with first or second-round eliminations quite common for her. However, at a fairly young age she does have a trio of third-round appearances in majors. That includes two running appearances and an appearance in the third round of the 2015 Australian Open.

This could be a tricky opponent for the World No. 1, however Kerber does own a 2-0 record against Witthoeft and both victories were earned in straight sets. Furthermore, both wins came on a large stage as the Germans have met at Wimbledon in each of the last two seasons. Only one set played between them has been competitive, otherwise Kerber is a crushing 18-1 in games played between them. Wednesday will mark their first contest that will not be played on grass, however the hard-court surface is the World No. 1’s best surface and Kerber enters the match as a very heavy favorite.

The defending champion won’t be looking ahead in the draw at this point, however if she did she would definitely see an opportunity for a deep run. Irina-Camelia Begu is the nearest seeded player to Kerber, but the Romanian is more of a clay courter than anything else. Coco Vandeweghe and an improving Eugenie Bouchard aren’t far from Kerber, however the seeded players are eliminated in their section’s draw to the fourth round. Looking well ahead, Garbine Muguruza is in Kerber’s draw to the semifinals. The Spaniard still hasn’t broken out of her post-French Open slump so it may yet be Carla Suarez Navarro that advances to the quarters in that section.

Sticking to the immediate future, Kerber needs to defeat Witthoeft on Wednesday to stay alive in the tournament. They are second up on Rod Laver Arena, following the Stefanie Voegele/Venus Williams contest. The stadium starts at 7pm ET with Kerber likely to start at about 8:30pm ET or so, depending on the length of the Williams/Voegele contest.

Shane Lambert