No. 7 Angelique Kerber clinched her first-ever spot in a Grand Slam final and set up a championship date with Serena Williams thanks to a 7-5, 6-2 win over the unranked Johanna Konta on Thursday afternoon at Rod Laver Arena.
According to the New York Times' Ben Rothenberg, Kerber's victory put her in fine company:
Ben Rothenberg @BenRothenberg
With Kerber reaching her first, entire WTA top 10 has now reached at least one Slam final. So have 9 of ATP top 10 (not Gasquet). #AusOpen2016-1-28 05:43:04
Kerber jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first set, but Konta wasn't rattled. While it would have been easy for the unranked challenger to back down, Konta maintained her composure and won four straight games to assert her presence.
However, the seventh-ranked Kerber responded with a break back and closed out the first set on serve. Konta's first-set hopes were ultimately dashed by 20 unforced errors and a lackluster second serve.
Although her first serve was more potent early, Konta won just 36 percent of her second-serve points in the opening frame. Conversely, Kerber won 67 percent of her second serves while committing a meager six unforced errors during that span.
SB Nation's Andrew Jerell Jones indicated a shift in a momentary weather patterns may have disrupted Konta's flow:
Andrew Jerell Jones @sluggahjells
Konta maybe a little affected by the rain drops on the forehand, as she places it into the net to allow Kerber to serve for it, 6-5 #AusOpen2016-1-28 05:02:01
The 49-minute first set was a slog at times for the German, but a strong close to the first act gave her some much-needed confidence entering set No. 2. Kerber instantly broke Konta, and she held in a tense second game to maintain some much-needed distance.
Kerber broke Konta once more to gain a 4-1 edge, and that was all the breathing room she needed. While it was hardly the most pristine display, Kerber simply played a cleaner game.
Konta was doomed by unforced errors throughout, with a 36-11 disparity standing out among the match's most striking statistical contrasts.
And while her magical Australian Open run may be over, Konta can take solace in the fact that she emerged as a legitimate threat as the season progresses.
After she was bounced in the first round of her first two tournaments in 2016, Konta responded with victories over ranked opponents like No. 8 Venus Williams and No. 21 Ekaterina Makarova en route to the semifinal appearances.
Konta also became the first British woman since Sue Barker in 1977 to clinch a spot in an Australian Open semifinal, according to WTATennis.com. If Konta can maintain the form that allowed her to blast onto the sport's radar, she should be in for a superb 2016.
Jones reinforced that notion once the semifinal result was confirmed:
Andrew Jerell Jones @sluggahjells
Johanna Konta, a memorable two weeks to consolidate her rise as a force to be reckoned with in the WTA. #AusOpen2016-1-28 05:42:02
Kerber, meanwhile, has a gargantuan task ahead with Williams waiting in the final. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Serena is looking to join Martina Navratilova as the only women in the Open Era to capture six Grand Slam titles without dropping a set.
Furthermore, Serena has dropped five or fewer games in three of her last four matches against Kerber, according to Chris Skelton.
However, it's not all doom and gloom for the German. Kerber defeated Williams, 6-4, 6-4 at the 2012 Western & Southern Open, so she at least has a baseline knowledge of how to keep the world's top-ranked player on her toes.
Handing Williams her first-ever loss in an Australian Open final won't be easy, but Kerber has the chops necessary to push her with a championship on the line.
According to USA Today's Nick McCarvel, Kerber joked that she may need the help of a legend to get past Williams in the final:
Nick McCarvel @NickMcCarvel
#Kerber on if she'll get a text from Steffi Graf on how to beat #Serena: "Maybe I hope so… Steffi write me please! Let's see." #AusOpen2016-1-28 05:43:28
But even if Kerber does get some tips, history isn't on her side, according to Skelton:
Chris Skelton @ChrisSkelton87
Kerber is trying to become the first No. 7 seed to win here since 2005 (Serena, who defeated the world No. 1 in the final).2016-1-28 05:52:20
"I am really looking forward to playing Serena in the final," Kerber said, per the Australian Open's official Twitter account. "I have nothing to lose."