When the Wimbledon women’s draw was revealed on Friday, a match catching the eye of many tennis enthusiasts was that between No.7 seed Angelique Kerber and dangerous American Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
And, following Kerber’s gritty 6-3, 6-4 win on Tuesday, it was easy to see why.
Had a couple of points gone the other way, we might have been discussing one of the women’s draw's biggest upsets, with the scoreline hardly indicative of the closeness or the quality of the match.
Yet the statistics sheet told the ultimate story – Kerber finished with four unforced errors to Mattek-Sands’s 26, helping the German score her first victory over the American in three matches.
“I was talking with my coach a little bit and he just told me that I play very good right now on the grass. I love to play on grass,” she said of her mentality going into the match.
“I think I was the whole match there and I was just trying to play point by point. She served very well today. I think also I had good returns in the very important moments, so this was also I think the key.
“But she is a great player. She served very well and she had great results in the last few months. So it was not easy.”
About the only commonality between the pair was their height – just an inch or two separated them – and their white fabrics. The rest was an absorbing contrast of styles that delighted the No.3 Court crowd.
At one end you had the left-handed Kerber, dressed in a simple skirt-and-top combination, defensively-minded and rock-solid from the baseline.
At the other was the right-handed Mattek-Sands, who attacked at all costs – mostly off the forehand, and often erratically – all the while donning pleats, tattoos, knee-high socks and a trucker cap, which contained a vibrantly-coloured shock of hair moving through yellow, green and blue.
At the beginning of the match it seemed defense would win over attack. Kerber immediately broke on her way to a 2-0 lead and barely had to play a ball, while the American sprayed hers everywhere but inside the lines.
It was in the sensational third game that Mattek-Sands found her range, firing consecutive aces and then a service winner to move ahead 40-0. She could only watch as Kerber unleashed a pair of cold winners, but steadied on the next point, winning it, and the game, with an athletic volley winner.
When she scorched a backhand winner down the line to break for 2-2, predicting the outcome proved tricky.
Yet the pattern at the beginning of the match again emerged. The world No.58 collapsed in a bundle of errors and relinquished serve to love in the fifth game, a deficit from which she would not recover in the first set.
Kerber, a reigning Wimbledon semi-finalist, was unlucky to draw the American. Despite her lowly ranking Mattek-Sands is a former top 30 player and one of the biggest improvers this season, having begun the year at No.173 after an injury-marred 2012.
Yet Kerber betrayed few signs of being hard-done-by, weathering Mattek-Sands’s early onslaught in the second set to level scores following a 2-0 deficit.
“Of course it was not easy to get my rhythm, but I get it in the end,” she reflected.
From there, the set progressed on serve, with Kerber keeping her nose in front and Mattek-Sands fighting desperately to alter the pattern.
Kerber wouldn’t let her.
In a final game that proved a microcosm of the match, Mattek-Sands smacked a forehand winner and an ace to gain a point for 5-5, only to commit several errors – including a wild swinging backhand volley – to hand Kerber a match point.
Saving that and another with breathtaking winners, a final error proved the American’s undoing, seeing the world No.7 into a second-round battle with Kaia Kanepi.
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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