By Simon Evans
LONDON (Reuters) – It is rare that a world number one goes under the radar at Wimbledon and it has been even more strange in the case of Angelique Kerber, beaten finalist at the All England Club last year.
But while the attention has been elsewhere, the German has quietly made it into the fourth round where she faces a stern test on Monday against 14th-seeded Spaniard Garbine Muguruza.
The lack of hype around Kerber is a reflection of the poor form she displayed coming into the grasscourt season, in particular her showing at the French Open.
The 29-year-old suffered a humiliating first-round exit at Roland Garros, losing to 40th-ranked Ekaterina Makarova and becoming the first top seed to be eliminated from the tournament at the first hurdle in the professional era.
She was also forced to withdraw from a warm-up event in Birmingham last month due to a hamstring injury, further lowering expectations for Wimbledon.
Kerber, runner-up to Serena Williams last year, hardly looked back to her best in straight-sets wins over Irina Falconi and Kirsten Flipkens and she was in real danger in the third round where she battled back from a set and a break down to defeat American Shelby Rogers.
The German conceded it had been tough for her to find her rhythm and that it was a fighting spirit that had got her through –
But that probably won’t be enough against Muguruza.
“I think I have to play good tennis from the first point against her. I have to be aggressive, as well, and try to play my game from the first ball that we hit,” Kerber said.
“It’s a completely different match than the last three matches I had here”.
Muguruza has won her last four matches against Kerber, including a third-round victory at Wimbledon in 2015, where she went on to reach the final which she lost to Serena Williams.
The Venezuela-born 23-year-old has also been in top form at this year’s championships, reaching the second week without dropping a set.
She was dominant in a 6-2 6-2 third-round win over Romanian Sorana Cirstea but while her recent record and form make her the favorite against Kerber, Muguruza knows she will have to be at her best.
“I think when you play top players, first of all you [have] got to have your best level,” she said.
“I think I kind of found a good level, good shots, good serve, playing against her. I played a lot of times against her, and I know her game. But nothing changes.
“I had tough matches with people that were not in the top, top level. Then you play people in the top level. You never know how it’s going to go. For me, it’s just another exciting match.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)