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Sharapova and Kerber feel the squeeze

Matt Zemek

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Dan Hamilton - USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber shouldn’t be written off. They have won eight major titles between them. Yet, even they know that the squeeze of the Rogers Cup is a part of their 2019 reality after Monday night in Toronto.

What is the significance of the Rogers Cup, beyond the large point allocation and the prestige associated with one of the oldest tennis tournaments in the world (created in 1881, with the women debuting in 1892)?

Various valid answers exist, but the one I wish to amplify here is that doing well in Canada takes a lot of pressure away from Cincinnati and allows a top tennis pro to feel that a good U.S. Open result is attainable.

Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber could do well in Cincinnati. They could still write a story of renewal this summer. Yet, losing in round one at the Rogers Cup significantly reduces their window of opportunity. That window isn’t closed, but it certainly didn’t get larger on Monday night.

Sharapova lost the ninth (4-4) game of the third set in over 16 minutes of tense and contentious play. Anett Kontaveit then served her out of Canada. Sharapova’s wild card wasn’t parlayed into added points and matches which she sorely needed in the great North.

Kerber bageled Daria Kasatkina in a rematch of a 2018 Wimbledon quarterfinal… and then lost the next two sets to continue a year which has been almost as miserable as 2017. Kerber — who tumbled out of Wimbledon early against Lauren Davis and has been bothered by injuries — has reinforced her “great one year, sluggish the next” pattern which began in 2016.

Was anyone EXPECTING these two players to make a charge at the U.S. Open this year? I doubt it. Yet, if they WERE going to author a resurgence, they very probably needed to collect some matches in Canada and create a building block for Cincinnati.

Now, they don’t have that benefit and the positive reinforcement attached to it.

Yes, the WTA is supremely unpredictable these days. Ash Barty won the major tournament Simona Halep was supposed to win (Roland Garros), and Halep won the major Barty was supposed to win (Wimbledon). Top WTA players generally (Barty and Karolina Pliskova being the main exceptions) have had a tough time replicating results.

Anything IS possible. Heck, Elina Svitolina made a Wimbledon semifinal this year.

Nevertheless, even in this wide-open world of women’s tennis, Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber needed a productive Rogers Cup to give themselves the best possible chance of becoming factors in New York.

This is the squeeze of the Rogers Cup when you leave Canada early.

We will see if Sharapova and Kerber can climb through the smaller windows in front of them.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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