Angelique Kerber is starting to get that feeling again. And that could lead to some bad feelings for the rest of the field at the Volvo Car Open.
Kerber, the defending champion here, struggled to a three-set victory in her first match on Tuesday night, dealing with the transition from hard courts to green clay, and from the heat of Miami to a chilly night at Volvo Car Stadium on Daniel Island.
On a warm and breezy Thursday afternoon, the top-seeded Kerber looked much more comfortable, rolling to a 6-2, 6-3 win over qualifier Kristina Kucova. That put Kerber into the quarterfinals, one step closer to becoming the first player to win this tournament in consecutive years since Serena Williams in 2012 and 2013.
Kerber and No. 7 seed Sloane Stephens avoided the string of upsets that left just three of the top 10 seeds — and one of five former champions — still in the field. Former winners Venus Williams and Samantha Stosur were among those who hit the exits Thursday, while Stephens beat No. 12 Daria Gavrilova in straight sets.
“I think the feeling is coming back like I had last year,” said Kerber, who is ranked No. 2 behind only Serena Williams. “Right now, I’m feeling much better on clay again, moving like, yeah, it feels better. And when I hit the ball, I’m feeling the ball, I’m feeling the court.”
Kerber, 28 and from Germany, also is feeling the love from fans at Volvo Car Stadium. Her first Grand Slam title, at the Australian Open this year, has dramatically raised her profile. Beating Serena in the final there didn’t hurt, either.
“When I walk in here, of course the people recognize me much more than last year,” she said. “But it feels good. I mean, I’m enjoying it, and the people are so nice here. I’m feeling like really I’m welcome at home, so it’s great.”
Kerber has been able to maintain focus as other top players in the draw crash out. Third-seeded Venus Williams and No. 10 Stosur went out Thursday, a day after top 10 seeds Belinda Bencic, Lucie Safarova, Andrea Petkovic and Madison Keys were beaten, along with former Charleston winner Sabine Lisicki.
The 35-year-old Venus, ranked No. 14, battled 21-year-old Yulia Putintseva for three hours before the younger player won, 7-6, 2-6, 6-4.
Venus received a standing ovation from the crowd when the match was over. But the seven-time Grand Slam champ spent less than a minute in the press room to discuss her loss.
“She played really well, you know, and I think sometimes it just comes down to luck,” said Venus, who won this tournament in 2004. “You just don’t get any luck. And there’s no easy matches, and I tried to continue to play aggressive, but just wasn’t in the cards today.”
Williams did not serve as well as she did during her opening win against American Allison Riske, firing just two aces and hitting just 50 percent of her first serves. That allowed Putintseva to piled up 17 break points, and she converted 11.
After forcing a third set, Venus went down 4-2 before battling back to 4-4. Putintseva, from Kazakhstan, closed the match out from there.
“You know, I just tried and she always seemed to have an answer,” Venus said. “And, you know, a lot of shots were just too tough. So what can you do?”
Stosur, the 2010 champion, fell by 6-4, 7-6 to No. 5 seed Sara Errani of Italy, now the top threat to Kerber. They would meet in the finals, but Errani is not thinking that far ahead.
“No, I’m just thinking about the next match,” said Errani, who is ranked No. 20 and is seeking her 10th career singles title. “I know it’s really difficult to win matches. Now I have to play against a really good player (Putintseva), who today beat Venus and is playing great on clay.”
For her part, Stosur is sad to leave Charleston so soon. She ate at FIG (twice), Hall’s Chophouse and High Cotton during her stay.
“I’m always disappointed when I have to go,” said Stosur, who is off to her native Australia to play Fed Cup against the U.S. next week. “Especially when there are two days left of the tournament where I wish I was playing.”
Kerber will try to ignore the chaos in the draw.
“I am just thinking about my next opponent, and that’s it,” said Kerber, who will face either Irina-Camelia Begu or Monica Puig in the quarters. “It’s not like I’m looking at the draws every night, looking who is in, who is out. Sometimes you know when good players are out. But at the end, I’m just trying to play day by day and trying to improve my tennis, especially now on clay.”
Also Thursday, No. 14 seed Daria Kasatkina moved on with a 6-0, 6-4 win over American qualifier Louisa Chirico. Newly married qualifer Elena Vesnina of Russia defeated Spain’s Lourdes Dominguez Lino, 6-1, 6-3. German Laura Siegemund, who took out No. 8 seed Madison Keys, earned her quarterfinal spot with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Croatia’s Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.