For Kerber, There’s More Than Tennis On Her Mind Right Now

Angelique Kerber (photo: WTA Tour video)

INDIAN WELLS/WASHINGTON, March 15, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

German No. 1 Angelique Kerber, seeded 15th at the BNP Paribas Open, has quietly gone about the business of reaching the fourth round at Indian Wells after a winless start to the 2022 season. But there’s more to this story than tennis.

Following a pair of victories over 19-year-old Chinese big-hitter Zheng Qinwen and No. 23 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia that advanced her to play the highest-remaining seed in the women’s draw, No. 3 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, on Tuesday, the three-time major champion was asked Sunday night during her post-match news conference by German media about how the Russian-Ukrainian war is affecting her. Kerber 34, maintains a residence in Poland and her parents and grandparents also live in Poland (which shares a border with Ukraine). She admitted that tennis has taken a lower priority in her life because of current world events.

Sunday night’s match against Kasatkina was the 16th-ranked Kerber’s first against a Russian opponent since last month’s invasion by Russia into Ukraine. Like many players, she is sporting a blue and yellow ribbon while playing – the colors of the Ukrainian flag – as a show of solidarity for Ukraine. Kerber was asked what it felt like to face Kasatkina, whom she had played nine previous times.

“I tried to really put that out of my mind,” Kerber said in press, translated from German. “I’ve known Daria for a while now and I put that out of my mind. After the pandemic – or rather, during the ongoing pandemic – tennis for me is still No. 2 [priority]. Right now, there’s much more important issues in the world.

“People are fleeing, the whole situation that’s topic No. 1 and is frightening to everyone. As I’ve said, I don’t live far from the situation. My grandparents are there and so, of course, you’re checking the news every five minutes or every hour, you’re in touch with folks. I think right now, that’s the topic that is occupying my mind and everyone else here.

“For me,” Kerber added. “Tennis continues to be second, third or fourth in my life. I try in this situation to just concentrate on the match. I have OK success with that, but I try to flip that switch very late. An hour before the match, it’s not like I’m fully focused and in a match headspace. It’s a little different than it was.”

With a women’s draw that has included players from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine as well as 31 other countries – including Germany – Kerber was asked what the mood has been like among players competing at Indian Wells. The 34-year-old Kerber, a native of Bremen, Germany, who was born to a Polish father and German mother and who calls the Polish town of Puszczykowo (a suburb of Poznan) home, said: “For me, it’s a big subject and as players we talk. What’s happening now, nobody expected that this would be an issue the way we were living. You can tell peoples’ thoughts are elsewhere. I try to come to the tournament site and leave again. I try not to hang around too much, no matter what. I try to do my thing and sometimes practice off site, which I’ve always done and is good for me here. I know my way around the area after all these years. I try to keep my rhythm.”

When Kerber takes to the court at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden Tuesday to take on Swiatek for the first time, she will be facing a difficult and talented opponent in the 20-year-old Polish star, who is ranked No. 4 in the world. Kerber is 2-5 against Top-10 opponents in the past year and her match against Swiatek will be just her fifth in 2022.

“For me, tennis is not the top priority now,” Kerber admitted. “There are so many other topics that are of more importance right now and then you want to be in touch with family. It’s difficult enough with the time difference. (Germany and Poland are currently eight hours ahead of Indian Wells.)

“I’m really not putting my tennis first right now, there is so much more than that,” she added. “The decision, I think, is a normal one. If I’m playing a night match, I can’t start focusing on that in the morning and then forget the rest of the world. It doesn’t work that way.”