A year ago German tennis player Angelique Kerber was just like many of those other Wimbledon hopefuls who suffered devastating losses in the first round, remaining just outside the top 100 and never quite getting passed the third-round in major tournaments and Grand Slams. Just 11 months later, however, nothing signals the rise of this new tennis talent more than her encounter with fellow German and tennis legend Steffi Graff.
“It was unbelievable,” said Keber on the meeting that interrupted her lunch break in the players’ restaurant “I don’t know how to call it — goose bumps?”Graff herself requested a meeting with Kerber, having been impressed with the 24-year-old’s progress at the tournament this year. In a remarkable turn of events she’s reached the semi-finals of the prestigious grass court Slam, and if she succeeds past Agnieszka Radwanska in their match tomorrow she will become the first German woman to reach a Grand Slam singles final since Graff in her memorable match against Lindsey Davenport back in 1999.
Describing her new found fame, in which fans and visitors to Wimbledon have been asking her for photos and autographs as something that is “better than last year”, to say that Kerber has improved this year would be an understatement. Although possessing a strong physical aptitude for the game, something was lacking in her performance on court that saw her drop out of the top 100 in January 2010. That crucial element that was missing was the endurance to win three-set matches, but refusing to give up on the sport that is her “life” Kerber took time out in July last year to concentrate on boosting her fitness levels and stamina – “I was sitting there thinking, ‘Do this, because that’s actually maybe your last chance.’ “
Adopting a similar style to her idol Graff, Kerber’s great understanding of anticipation, timing and the mathematics of a good tennis shot have transformed her record this year to a career high of 16-1 in three set matches (before entering Wimbledon last year she lost 8 out of the 11 matches she played in). Even the US Olympic tennis team captain Mary Joe Fernandez agrees that her improvement is nothing short of phenomenal – “She has no holes in her game. She doesn’t beat herself, and she’s a great competitor. I’ve seen a couple of matches where the young Americans have her on the ropes, and she just finds a way to get back and get back.”