Germans stand in way of Aussies’ title shot at Hopman Cup
Two of the world's best players stand between Australia and a place in the Hopman Cup final in Perth on Saturday night.
For Ashleigh 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 women's world number two Angelique Kerber and men's world number four Alexander Zverev, in their match on Friday night.
Ebden will face Zverev for the first time.
The ledger stands at 2-2 between Barty and Kerber but the Australian claimed wins in two of their past three outings, including a straight-sets victory the last time they met, in China late last year.
So, although Kerber is unbeaten in six singles matches in two years at the 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."
Barty finished 2018 in a career-high 15th placing in the world rankings.
The Australian has not dropped a set in her wins against Alize Cornet of France and former world number one 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 tournament, 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'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.
The winner of Group A will most likely face the defending champions Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in the final.