Australian Open champ Kerber moves into Volvo semifinals

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber moved a step closer to her second straight Volvo Car Open title, moving into the semifinals with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Irina Camelia Begu on Friday.

“I’m feeling like home,” the 28-year-old German told the crowd after her eighth straight match win on the green clay of Charleston.

And this latest victory could be a powerful repeat omen – Kerber topped her Romanian opponent in the quarterfinals for a second straight year. That match required Kerber to gut out two difficult tiebreakers to advance. This one was an overpowering barrage of precise groundstrokes and relentless returns.

Kerber was nearly sent packing after her opening match Tuesday night, but she escaped Lara Arruabarrena by winning a third-set tiebreaker. Ever since, Kerber has found her rhythm and defeated her past two opponents by identical scores.

“So the first (clay court) matches, of course, are like the toughest ones,” she said. “Now, I’m feeling better and better. And it’s great, yeah, to play good tennis again on clay.”

Especially when she’s looking to prove at the upcoming French Open that her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne was no fluke.

Sure, it’s early in the clay-court season, but no one’s looked more comfortable on the chalky, dusty, slow surface so far than Kerber while continuing a run of German power at the Volvo Car Open. Women from Germany have won three of the past seven titles here and the past two, with Andrea Petkovic’s 2014 title preceding Kerber’s run to the top a year ago.

“I think the Germans love this tournament,” Kerber said with a grin.

Kerber won the final three games to take the opening set. Begu was up 2-1 and 0-30 in the second set when Kerber rallied back and won the game with a 93 mph ace, which her opponent thought was out although the call was backed by the chair umpire.

Begu’s game unspooled after that. Kerber won eight of the next nine points to move in front for good.

“I was just trying to play more aggressive in the second set and it worked,” she said.

Kerber will play either No. 7 seed Sloane Stephens of the United States or No. 14 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia on Saturday for a spot in the championship match.

No. 5 Sara Errani of Italy is the only other seeded player remaining in the draw. She’ll take on Yulia Putintseva, the 21-year-old from Kazakhstan who ousted Venus Williams on Thursday.