There is something about Melbourne that just makes everything right with the world for Ekaterina Makarova. The bubbly blonde Russian has been a perennial performer on the WTA for the past two seasons, with just one title to her name, from Eastbourne in 2011.
But she made the tennis world sit up and pay attention on these very courts last year, handing Serena Williams, the then fifth seed, a startling loss in the fourth round to reach her very first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Lightning does not have a habit of striking twice. But when a player feels comfortable in a place, on a court, things that go wrong go right, and shots that miss, don’t miss. See Federer, Roger and Wimbledon and Nadal, Rafael at Roland Garros.
So it was that Makarova repeated her great feat, ousting another fifth seed in the fourth round at Melbourne Park, this time felling Angelique Kerber, 7-5 6-3.
“Everything is, the crowd is so perfect, my team is [doing a] great job, I’m so happy,” the 24-year-old beamed.
“I’m so happy to beat Kerber because last year I lost three times to her. I’m so happy.”
Opening the day’s play on Rod Laver Arena, it was widely thought that this would be Kerber’s day, a chance for the German to further cement herself as a potential title threat. But she reckoned without Makarova’s propensity to rip winners from all four corners of the court, and it was the Russian that had a break after just 15 minutes.
Even the most assured players get nervous though, and, serving at 5-2, Makarova wobbled. Kerber smashed her way back in, winning three games on the trot to level the set. But Makarova remained undiminished. Taking stock in the shade at the back of Melbourne’s Centre Court, she broke the German’s left-handed serve to love, and served out the set after 46 minutes.
The second set was just as tight. And Kerber’s discomfort on court became clear as she left the court for a medical timeout at 3-2. Receiving treatment again at 4-3, whatever remedy the physio employed seemed to be working as the German earned herself two break points. But three forced errors got Makarova out of a tight spot, and she completed the hold with an ace.
From there, Kerber had nothing left. Broken to 30 by her unforgiving opponent, she could merely sit and watch as Makarova served out the victory to love, finishing with her fifth ace.
Despite having achieved the biggest upset of the women’s draw so far, Makarova is not done yet. She has her sights set on a meatier scalp. Maria Sharapova’s.
“I really want to play against Maria because I lost against her last year. I’m feeling really confident in my game,” she said.
That assumes that Sharapova will follow the script. Kirsten Flipkens, whom the Russian plays later on Sunday, could have something to say about that.
But, whoever she meets in Tuesday’s quarterfinal, Makarova will be ready and waiting. “I’m a little bit used to it this year,” she said with a grin.