Melbourne: Angelique Kerber smiled and waved her arms like an orchestra conductor as the Rod Laver Arena crowd sang "Happy Birthday" after her 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-2 second-round win on Wednesday at the Australian Open.
The defending champion didn't enjoy the entire performance on her 29th birthday, angrily swiping her racket in the second set in a burst of frustration that momentarily threw her off her game — and allowed Carina Witthoeft back into the match.
Top-ranked Kerber was cool and controlled in the first set, but struggled against some deep, powerful forehands late in the second.
In the tiebreaker, she led 3-2 but double-faulted twice — once on either side of the change of ends — and didn't win another point as Witthoeft leveled the match.
The tension mounted when she dropped her serve to open the third set, but Kerber recovered her composure and took a 4-1 lead, saving two break points in the fifth game.
Witthoeft, who had lost both her previous matches to Kerber, skewed a forehand wide on match point, then went to the net, shook hands and gave her fellow German a kiss on each cheek.
"I'm always playing on my birthday — always in Australia," said Kerber, who had her major breakthrough here last year by beating Serena Williams in the final. She later won the US Open and replaced Williams as the year-end No 1. "I feel like at home here. I'm 29. I'm getting older, but I think I'll have a great day today."
Speaking of age, Venus Williams had to field questions about getting older after energetic performance in her 6-3, 6-2 second-round win over Stefanie Voegele.
The 36-year-old, seven-time singles major winner played the first of her record 73 Grand Slam tournaments at the French Open in 1997. Back then, she got to play against the likes of Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova.
"I have to talk about this every interview!" Williams said. "I've played some of the greats."
"It's an honor and privilege to start that young," she added, laughing, "and play this old."
Venus and Serena Williams withdrew from a scheduled first-round doubles match later Wednesday, citing an injury to Venus' right elbow. The sisters have won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles together, including four at the Australian Open.
Venus thought she could manage the injury and play both singles and doubles, but decided she couldn't after her singles match went 83 minutes.
In the second set, serving and with a game point, she chased the ball like a teenager from one side of the court to the other, and back, trying to finish off. Her forehand landed too long, but her intention was clear. Get through the round ASAP.
At 15-15 and 5-2 in the second, she was still remonstrating with herself after missing a point. She finished off the match later in the same game, another break, to reach the third round. Williams lost to eventual semifinalist Johanna Konta in the opening round last year.
In the next round she'll play Duan Yingying, who beat Varvara Lepchenko 6-1, 3-6, 10-8.
In other matches, two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Australian wild-card entry Jaimee Fourlis 6-2, 6-1 and Alison Riske defeated No. 20 Zhang Shuai 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-1.
No 11 Elina Svitolina had a 6-4, 6-1 win over US qualifier Julia Boserup to advance to a third-round match against No 24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a 6-2, 6-2 winner over fellow Russian Natalia Vikhlyantseva .
On the men's side, fifth-ranked Kei Nishikori reached the third round with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win over Jeremy Chardy and No 12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Dusan Lajovic 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
Updated Date: Jan 18, 2017 11:03 AM