By her own admission, Angelique Kerber has had her share of ups and downs. Most recently, the world No. 1 was eliminated by a qualifier in Rome. So far, 2017 has not been her year. Could this be about to change in Paris?Before traveling to Paris for the French Open, Angelique Kerber spent some time in Munich to look after her new sponsor. She also took the time to answer journalists’ questions, like: How is she doing? How is her thigh? Is she in a crisis of form on the court?
Not at all! Even though she hasn’t won a single tournament in 2017, she looks like a winner. Her hair is perfect -just like her entire outfit, including the favorite necklace that she often wears on the court. The chairman of the insurance company who stands next to her could not have picked a better person to spread their campaign’s message, encouraging couch potatoes to be more active. She then went on to calmly and patiently answer all of the questions about her dip in form.
That wouldn’t happen to Serena
She has lost so often recently that it seems bizarre that Angelique Kerber remains the world’s top-ranked women’s player. She is still profiting from her successes of 2016 – and the fact that Serena Williams is out of action due to her pregnancy.
During her last tournament appearance on May 17th in Rome, Kerber struggled with her thigh and was eliminated by 21-year-old qualifier Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, 6-4, 6-0. You just couldn’t imagine something like this happening to Serena.
The ‘wake up call’
“I’ve had many ups and downs before and I think it’s always darkest before dawn,” Kerber told the reporters gathered in Munich. “Of course, this loss was not the best but maybe it was a wake up call.”
Critical observers of Kerber’s career might say it’s about time. The world No. 1 has not been playing up to her potential for some time. And there is no mistaking the fact that she has been spending a lot of time looking after her sponsors and marketing her “AK” brand.
“Her results have not been up to her own standards,” Germany Fed Cup team coach Barbara Rittner said. “I hope that at the French Open, Angie will focus on the strengths that got her to the No. 1 spot,” she added, while also mentioning Kerber’s thigh problems.
So can Kerber actually turn things around at the French Open?
“Clay is not my surface, everyone knows that. But sometimes it’s better to be underestimated,” Kerber said.
Almost exactly a year ago Kerber was sent crashing out of the first round by Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands in three sets. Kerber’s form was nowhere to be found in the French capital and there was nothing she could do about it.
German headlines like “Tennis queen,” “Our Angie,” or “The big new hope of German tennis” seem to have weighed heavily on the 29-year-old. Even if she never grows tired of smiling into the cameras and reaffirming that making it to No. 1 has always been her goal.
“The pressure is there and I can’t make it disappear but I will focus on what I am doing and on my tennis,” she said. “You do have to learn to deal with the number. There’s a lot more attention focused on you and you need to go about your daily routine differently. But the excitement is still there, even if things haven’t gone my way.”
Boris Becker, who demonstrated even before his time as Novak Djokovic’s coach just how well he can read a match and put himself in a player’s shoes, recently told news agency SID that: “You can lose but not repeatedly and clearly in the second round. When you’re No.1, you shouldn’t focus on the pressure but you should feel honored. Maybe Angie is taking the wrong approach. She should try to enjoy her time at the top.“
No points to defend
Kerber was exceptional when she was the hunter – trying to knock Serena off her perch. Nobody was in better shape or as hungry. However, she has never gained the authority of a world No. 1, who through her strength and her very presence could show who’s boss on the court, even on an off day. She isn’t solid. Some coaches would say she gets into a rut.
“The important thing is that she gets a good start to the tournament,” Rittner said. Her early exit from last year’s tournament could be an advantage after all. “She doesn’t have any points to defend in Paris, maybe this will allow her to play more freely,” hopes the former professional player added.
Maybe the German excitement surrounding Alexander Zverev could also help Angelique Kerber to find her previous form and regain her high-pressure game from the baseline,which recently has become too defensive.
Hopefully she will not suffer a similar fate similar to her compatriot Sabine Lisicki who was feted by the German press after she reached the final of Wimbledon in 2013. After that, the wheels came off completely and now she is set to make her comeback on her preferred surface in the grass-court tournament in Mallorca. Lisicki enters her first tournament of 2017 at 133rd in the world rankings.