Off To A Solid Start, No. 2 Kerber Ready To Make Another Grand Slam Run

With new coach Rainer Schüttler in her corner, the 30-year-old German is chasing her second Australian Open title.

Angelique Kerber Angelique Kerber (photo: Brigitte Urban)

WASHINGTON, January 13, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Angelique Kerber was asked while competing in the Hopman Cup mixed-team competition along with fellow German Alexander Zverev who is cuter, a quokka or her Hopman Cup teammate? She quipped, “I’ll take the quokka. Sorry Sascha!”

During last week’s Hopman Cup final, Kerber and Zverev finished a formidable runner-up to Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic for the second straight year, coming up just short following an amazing 18-shot rally on a winner-take-all championship point gave the Swiss pair the title. After the trophy ceremony, Kerber shared her congratulations with Federer and Bencic via Twitter: Congrats to Team Switzerland for defending the title! Not quite the result that we hoped for but what a fun week playing for Team Germany. Thanks to Alex Zverev for being such a great teammate.”

Second favourite in Melbourne

Now, as the second-seeded Kerber goes after her second Australian Open title and fourth Grand Slam overall, beginning Monday in Melbourne, the World No. 2 is peaking at the the right time, having played solid tennis to start the new season. First, she strung together four consecutive singles victories at the Hopman Cup, beating Wimbledon and French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza, Alize Cornet, No. 15 Ash Barty and Bencic. In her final tune-up for Melbourne, Kerber reached the quarterfinal round of the WTA Sydney International this week, where she was the defending champion.

After beating No. 26 Camila Giorgi of Italy for her fifth straight victory of the year, Kerber lost to No. 5 seed Petra Kvitova, 6-4, 6-1, on Thursday evening following multiple rain delays. Despite the setback, the German seems ready to make a run at the year’s first major. She opens against No. 92 Polina Hercog of Slovenia, and could face No. 29 Donna Vekic of Croatia, No. 14 Julia Goerges of Germany, and No. 5 Sloane Stephens of the U.S. en route to the semifinals. A possible semifinal opponent is defending Australian Open champion and No. 3 seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.

“Winning (the Australian Open) in 2016 was really important, learning a lot about me, the tennis, learning about pressure,” said Kerber during an on-court interview after beating Giorgi. “I think without the last two or three years, I wouldn’t be the player I am right now.”

Kerber and “The Shaker” join forces

As Kerber begins the new year, her catastrophic 2017 season, when little went right, is far in the distance and she’s hoping to build upon her 2018 momentum. She’s working with a new coach, Rainer Schüttler, following her split from Wim Fissette right before last year’s WTA Finals.

Kerber was recently quoted as saying of Schüttler, a former Grand Slam finalist, “We understand each other, the confidence is there, we speak the same language.

“He is my first coach, who once competed as a professional. He knows how it feels to be on the court and feel the pressure. I think I have a good coach next to me with Rainer, who recognized my defects on my game and now I know I can improve a lot.” 

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Barbara Rittner, head of women’s tennis at the German Tennis Association, said she believes Schüttler will push Kerber in practice and help her in overcoming her weaknesses.

“Her serve will never be one of her great strengths,” said Rittner. “But she serves harder and more consistently in training than in matches. So, maybe she can become more aggressive. In general, it’s about her offensive game, she is unbelievably good with the volley – in this more aggressive, more daring game. I’m sure they’ll work on it.”

Cover girl Kerber

Off the court, the defending Wimbledon champion has been something of a Wonder Woman, appearing on the February cover of Vogue Deutschland. Kerber’s expressive black-and-white and color photo shoot by award-winning Italian photographer Giampaolo Sgura, which happened in Milan, reveals both an athletic and fashionable side to the German tennis star.

In the Vogue interview, the 30-year-old Kerber revealed she’s happy she won the 2018 Wimbledon title at this point in her life and not when she was younger. “I am very happy that I have won Wimbledon now and not already at 20. After all the ups and downs I can appreciate the victory much more,” she said.

“The next goals are still the Grand Slams, the tournaments I want to play my best tennis for.”

While Kerber is best known for her success on a tennis court, she also enjoys her time away from the sport. “The topic is currently very present in my circle of friends,” she expressed in her Vogue interview. “I have the impression that everyone around me is marrying, building houses and having children, but I will not let that bother me; this is not a competition like in sports.”

With a 5-1 win-loss record to start 2019, tennis observers are speculating whether a return to the World No. 1 ranking that’s current held by Simona Halep of Romania – and first achieved by Kerber in the 2016 season – is within reach. Perhaps, although Kerber will insist that she’s focusing on one match at a time.

“You know, I’m really not looking to the ranking. I mean, if you are playing good and if you have good results, I think the ranking will come,” said Kerber last week during the Hopman Cup.

“Of course, I mean, it would be nice to be back (as) the No.1 player but it’s still a long way.”