WTA Tour

Kerber the unlikely hero of star-shorn China Open

Angelique Kerber (Getty)
Angelique Kerber (Getty)

Beijing - With Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray pulling out injured and the always-popular Maria Sharapova also absent, the China Open in Beijing has been crying out for a new fan favourite.

Step forward Angelique Kerber.

The 30-year-old German, a three-time Grand Slam winner, is being roared on in the Chinese capital by a small but loud and loyal band of local supporters.

And she needed all their backing on Tuesday after falling behind early against Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro, before roaring back to win their second-round match 7-6 (7/4), 6-1.

Zhang Chunyang was among a group of about 30 Chinese - the majority men and some with the German flag painted on their cheeks - willing Kerber on.

"Auf geht's, Angie!" they bellowed, German for "come on". 

Zhang, a 35-year-old event planner from Beijing, said he became a fan after watching Kerber lose to China's Li Na on television in 2012.

"She's so charming and I like her tennis style very much," said Zhang, a signed poster of Kerber draped over his legs.

"She keeps fighting always and never loses confidence, I like her spirit, she never gets down."

Kerber, the third seed in Beijing, is among the favourites for the women's crown after number one Simona Halep retired hurt in her opener.

Serena Williams and Sharapova are not involved, while the men's draw has none of the "Big Four" of Nadal, Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

Ask by AFP if she had a message for her supporters, Kerber said: "It's great to have the fans, especially here, how they are supporting me during my matches and also during my practice sessions.

"I'm really thankful that they are supporting me over the year. 

"It's great to have fans like that."

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