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Titleholder Kerber follows other stars to the exit at the Aegon Classic

3 min

Birmingham (United Kingdom) (AFP)

Angelique Kerber, who set her heart on defending the first grass court title of her career at the Aegon Classic, came agonisingly close to reaching the semi-finals before losing Friday to one of the tournament's many surprises, Carla Suarez Navarro.

The world number 15 from Spain was brought up on clay courts, but coped resiliently and skillfully with extra pace and low bounce of the lush grass, in a 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 victory in the best match of a rain-stricken tournament so far.

Three times Kerber came within two points of victory in a long tenth game of the final set, but could force the issue no further against an opponent who appeared to have just a little bit extra physically.

This was certainly one of the crucial qualities on a day in which both players had to complete unfinished overnight matches, both of which went to three sets.

That made it an even tougher setback for Kerber, whose successes since her Grand Slam title sensation in Australia at the start of the year have been disappointingly few.

"I may not have defended my title here, but I played well, and I will go to Wimbledon (starting in ten days' time) with confidence," Kerber claimed, nevertheless looking upset.

She established a fine flat-hitting rhythm in the middle part of the match, and tenaciously turned many a difficult situation into winning ones. But she paid a price for making a slower start than Navarro, and played a poor penultimate game, dropping serve to love, giving the Spaniard her chance to close it out.

Even then Kerber diligently engineered three break back points, also pressurising Navarro into a double fault on the first match point before the Spaniard constructed yet another of many brilliantly varied rallies to finish it off.

"I had to fight to play my best tennis to beat the best player," Navarro said, though the seedings gave that accolade Agnieszka Radwanska, one of four well-known names to fail to make the last eight.

The others were Petra Kvitova, the two times Wimbledon champion, or Belinda Bencic, the 19-year-old who is the youngest in the world's top ten, who were among six seeds who failed to reach the quarter-finals amidst disruptively rainstorms.

Navarro on Saturday plays the only remaining seed, Madison Keys, the top 20 American who recovered from a wayward start to overcome Jelena Ostapenko, Kvitova's conqueror, 6-7 (1/7), 6-4, 6-2.

The other semi-final will be between CoCo Vandeweghe, the American who ousted Radwanska in the first round, and Barbora Strycova, the Czech who is a former finalist here.

At her best Keys looks the new favourite but this has been the most unpredictable of tournaments, and the hard-hitting Vandeweghe clearly fancies her chances too.

So many big names going out early amidst many violent rainstorms is a calamity for a tournament which is trying to make itself one of the best ten in the world and has acquired its best entry in its 35-year history.

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