Two of the world’s best players stand between Australia and a place in the Mastercard Hopman Cup 2019 final.
For Ash Barty and Matt Ebden to finish on top of Group A and advance to the decider, they will need to beat tournament favourites Germany, represented by world No.2 Angelique Kerber and No.4 Alexander Zverev, in their tie tonight.
Ebden meets Zverev for the first time.
The ledger stands at 2-2 between Barty and Kerber though, with the Australian claiming wins in two of their past three outings, including a straight-sets victory the last time they met, in Wuhan late last year.
So, although Kerber is unbeaten in six singles matches in two years at the Mastercard Hopman Cup, she is wary of the improving Barty.
“It’s always tough and good to play against her,” she said.
“We played so many tough matches in the past. And here at home, she loves to play here.
“She’s a tricky opponent because she can play everything. She’s a really good mover, but also she’s hitting the balls good, flat. Having a good serve. She’s going to the net. She can play everything, and that makes her very good.”
— Ash Barty (@ashbar96) January 2, 2019
Barty finished 2018 at a world No.15 and has carried that form into success this week at RAC Arena.
She did not drop one set in her wins against Alize Cornet of France and former world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam champion, Garbine Muguruza of Spain.
But she knows she will need to lift her game even further if she is to get past Kerber.
“She is one of the best competitors in the world; it’s another level again,” she said.
“I will have to serve well again. And it’s a little different against a lefthander with a serve coming in.
“We’ll just focus on my end of the court; try to be aggressive when I can; try to move forward when I can and try to control the tempo.”
Kerber has also beaten both Cornet and Muguruza in the past week, but dropped a set to each.
Ebden has had a mixed time in his home city, beating Lucas Pouille of France, but losing in straight sets to Spanish veteran David Ferrer. Zverev beat both players, but like Kerber, also dropped a set in each victory.
Both Germany and Australia are chasing their third Cup titles.
The host nation’s last win was in 2016 when represented by Nick Kyrgios and Daria Gavrilova.
Boris Becker and Anke Huber last claimed the championships for the Germans in 1995.