Rewind exactly twelve months. An almost unknown German, Angelique Kerber, had just reached the semi-final in Dallas at the age of 23, boosting her ranking to number 107 in the world. A ranking just high enough to sneak into the main draw for the US Open. Although she had previously broken the top 50, she was hardly seen as anything other than just another average tennis player.
Part of the new crop of German tennis players that was bursting onto the scene, she was certainly not seen as the most promising of them. Andrea Petkovic was the biggest hope of the group, with the young trio of Julia Goerges, Sabine Lisicki and Mona Barthel pushing into the higher echelons of the game.
However, in the space of two weeks, Angelique Kerber shot to prominence at the top of that list as she had a dream run to the semi-finals of the US Open, beating the in-form Pole, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Flavia Pennetta during her run.
There was nothing previously to suggest this run was coming, nor that it would be anything but a fluke. A solid but unspectacular junior career saw her peak at number 37 in 2004, and it would take her three years to break into the world’s top 100 players. It would be three more years until she would reach her first final, losing to Mariana Duque Marino in Bogota, and a couple of decent Grand Slam results would see her break the top 50.
It was that run at the US Open that would give her the belief though. “I think after last year’s US Open, I just played the matches. I didn’t think. I come from nowhere and nobody expected it. After the US Open, I realised I can beat the top players.” And she has proved that over and over again since.
Going into this year’s US Open, she is no longer a nobody in the game. Rather, she is the world number 6 and many people’s dark horse for the title in Flushing Meadows. An impressive run in Cincinnati saw her reach the final, dispatching Serena Williams in straight sets on route, ending the American’s 19 match unbeaten run. Although she was beaten by Li Na, it has proven that she fully belongs in the list of potential champions.
Her game is very much based around her excellent groundstrokes. Her forehand, hit very flat, is a dangerous weapon, particularly down the line, while her backhand is solid if unspectacular. However, her major weakness is her serve. It lacks power and immediately puts her on the back foot in the rallies. Against most players, her groundstrokes are capable of getting her on the front foot again, but against the very top power players, they punish her serve remorselessly.
The change that really propelled her up the rankings was a marked improvement in her fitness. A new routine, undertaken alongside her good friend, Andrea Petkovic, gave her the physical advantage on the court. “She’s a very fit player, I think maybe she’s the fittest player on the tour,” Kerber said about Petkovic. “She was supporting me. It made me feel better because I knew that we were actually on the same level.”
Alongside her improved fitness and excellent groundstrokes, the mental side of her game gives her an edge. Particularly in the women’s game, the mental side can be the difference between making it to the top or floundering outside the top 50. She has good self-confidence and makes her opponent work hard for every point. While she can sometimes get down on herself (a particular example of this was the third set against her fellow German, Sabine Lisicki, at Wimbledon), her desire and will to win can overcome the negative emotions – a crucial attribute to possess.
It has been a meteoric rise for Angelique Kerber, having climbed over 100 places in the past twelve months, winning two titles, reaching two other finals, and two Grand Slam semi-finals. While it is unlikely that Angelique Kerber will win the US Open title, it would not be a complete surprise. On her return to the tournament that really kick-started her rise, can she complete the dream year?