Australian Open: Kerber, Muguruza struggle but progress

After looking comfortable in the opening set, Kerber was clawed back by Witthoeft, who played some of her best tennis in the second, reeling off six consecutive points in the tie-break to force a decider.

Angelique Kerber

Germany's Angelique Kerber hits a return against compatriot Carina Witthoeft during their women's singles match.   -  AFP

Muguruza struggles but progress to third round

Garbine Muguruza proved too strong for American Samantha Crawford as the seventh seed overcame a tough examination to make the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday.

The hard-hitting Spaniard struggled through 7-5, 6-4 and will next play Latvian 32nd seed Anastasija Sevastova, who beat Kristina Kucova in two easy sets.

Muguruza showed few signs of early nerves on a cool evening on Rod Laver Arena.

Rather it was 76th-ranked Crawford, a former US Open junior champion, who had the jitters, struggling to find her touch with a string of unforced errors as Muguruza rushed to a 3-0 lead.

But the American, who made a big run to the semi-final in Brisbane last year which remains her career highlight to date, started to get in the zone and broke in game four to get back in the contest.

Muguruza has always struggled with consistency and was rattled by Crawford's blitz, dropping four games in a row to go 3-4 behind.

Both players are thunderous hitters of the ball and there were some fierce rallies before the Spanish star finally got a break in the 11th game and held on to take a tough set.

But it was far from convincing from a player who opened her season with a run to the Brisbane International semi-finals.

The two, in their first career meeting, went neck and neck in the second set with little between them until Muguruza broke to go 5-4 ahead and served out the win.

Kerber punishes wasteful Witthoeft

An error-riddled performance from Carina Witthoeft aided Angelique Kerber as the defending champion advanced to the Australian Open third round in three sets on Wednesday.

A mix of solid defence and Witthoeft's errors saw World No. 1 Kerber claim a 6-2 6-7 (3-7) 6-2 win over her German counterpart at Melbourne Park.

>TOURNAMENT TRACKER

After looking comfortable in the opening set, Kerber, who turned 29 on Wednesday, was clawed back by Witthoeft, who played some of her best tennis in the second, reeling off six consecutive points in the tie-break to force a decider.

READ: > Kerber seeking improved show





But Kerber's experience and quality was telling as the two-time Grand Slam champion outlasted Witthoeft to earn a showdown with either Irina-Camelia Begu or Kristyna Pliskova in the third round.

Women's round-up: >Venus progresses

Witthoeft was her own worst enemy from the outset, with a sun-bathed Rod Laver Arena rattling the German, who served up three double faults in the opening game to hand Kerber an early break.

Kerber was immediately broken back by Witthoeft however, only to regain the break of serve to love in the third. Witthoeft, again, gifted Kerber a point and the game as the 2016 Olympic silver medallist consolidated for a 3-1 lead.

Men's round-up: >Nishikori has it easy

It was more of the same from Witthoeft in the seventh game, firing a forehand long to give Kerber the double break and she served it out to love to claim the opening set.

Kerber continued where she left off in the second set, using a powerful passing cross-court forehand to set up a break point, which she converted. But Witthoeft found her range as the match wore on, settling into her groove to earn three break points and she executed at the third time of asking to level the set at 2-2.

Witthoeft maintained her resurgence, making Kerber work for her points but the latter's defence was impenetrable at times as she claimed an important hold of serve in the eighth game. The pair could not be separated heading into a tie-break and Kerber stumbled dramatically, surrendering a 3-1 lead as two double faults and two unforced errors gifted Witthoeft the second set.

Witthoeft threatened to cause an upset after breaking in the first game of the deciding set but that only sparked Kerber into action, with the U.S. Open champion showing no mercy on her 29th birthday to improve to 3-0 in their head-to-head record.

STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN
Kerber [1] bt Witthoeft 6-2 6-7 (3-7) 6-2

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS 
Kerber – 26/34
Witthoeft – 38/69

ACES 
Kerber – 3
Witthoeft – 3

BREAK POINTS WON  
Kerber – 7/9
Witthoeft – 3/10

FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE  
Kerber – 59
Witthoeft – 69

PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE 
Kerber – 65/51
Witthoeft – 64/28

TOTAL POINTS  
Kerber – 107
Witthoeft – 92