The Value of the Regular Tour
Angelique Kerber posted a lot of solid results in the 12 months prior to the 2016 Australian Open. Kerber won 4 WTA Tour titles in 2015. She was runner-up at one 2015 event and runner-up at the 2016 Brisbane International. To have 6 strong tournament results in the previous year had to aid both Kerber’s confidence and give her a sense of what works best in matches due to playing so many matches. Kerber turned her natural athleticism, and she is a powerful athlete, and her lefty game into a major title in part by reaching the Australian Open quarterfinal round with a head of steam.
Kerber had never beaten two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka prior to their final 8 showdown in Melbourne. Adding a first time win over a former #1 and yet another deep run at a major event left Kerber in an incredible spot for taking advantage of facing an unproven Johanna Konta. Kerber then won a match she was supposed to win to reach her 7th tournament final in the previous 52 weeks. No one would compare the championship match in Melbourne to that in Charleston, SC, but Kerber still knew how to approach a final prior to facing Serena Williams.
Kerber entered the match not overawed by the occasion. Serena did not play her best tennis, but Kerber had a lot to do with this. Kerber’s foot speed and ability to scramble helped induce some errors from Serena. Kerber’s powerful forehand and sharp angled lefty backhands both caused Serena some pause when she would follow a powerful groundstroke to the net. Kerber had the ability to play both defensive tennis but to use her strength and speed to transition from defense to offense. Serena is not likely to lose to a backboard in a big match. However, Serena can lose to players who can extend points and finish points. Roberta Vinci was able to extend points with her slice backhand, but she could finish some points at the net. Angelique Kerber adapted that template to her game. She hit winners and forced errors in addition to extending points. Playing first class defensive tennis and being a threat to hit winners and tough passing shots is a recipe for success. Having the confidence and experience to execute that recipe is an even stronger position for a player. Angelique Kerber’s Australian Open title required 7 match wins, but it began at Charleston in 2015.