Angelique Kerber is Number One
Kerber started 2016 with a bang. She was runner-up in Brisbane and then avenged her loss to Victoria Azarenka en route to the Australian Open final. Kerber upset a 6-time Australian Open champion in Serena Williams. This seemed to be the culmination of her strong 2015 season. What happened from there was a bit of a mystery. Would Kerber win 4 or 5 other smaller events in 2016 as she had done a year prior? Would she be a one-slam wonder and fade away? Would she contend for other big prizes through the year?
Even with a solid showing in Miami and a title at Stuttgart, Kerber seemed to be suffering from a post-Grand Slam hangover that she may or may not shake. Her 1st round loss at Roland Garros was not shocking given her play after Melbourne. Kerber’s run to the Wimbledon final was surprising. She played Serena Williams tough and cemented herself as #2 in the world through the US Open at least. Kerber then posted a solid semifinal showing in Montreal, was the silver medalist in Rio, and was runner-up at Cincinnati. Kerber showed she could consistently get deep into draws at important events, but she had not shown she could cross the finish line 1st again.
Had Kerber been runner-up at the 2016 US Open, she would be number one in the computer and would have posted a number of really impressive results without posting a second big win (no offense to Stuttgart). Kerber was 10 points from victory in the 2nd set and eventually had her serve broken. Pliskova gained control of the match briefly by serving out the 2nd set and jumping to an early break lead in the 3rd set. Kerber had to rally or be the bridesmaid once again. Kerber broke back for 3-3 but promptly fell behind 0-30 on her own serve. Her ability to hold from 0-30 down shifted the entire match. Pliskova’s error count started ticking upward and Kerber took the title.
Grand Slam Records in 2016
Angelique Kerber 20-2 – 90.9%
Serena Williams 24-3 – 88.9%
Garbine Muguruza 11-3 – 78.6%
Kerber Got to Number 1 with Hustle and Consistency
For players no in the top tier of tennis who put up great efforts on occasion, a question arises regarding why consistent efforts of this nature don’t emerge. With the exception of Kerber’s post Australian Open hangover, Kerber has found a way to produce something close to her best tennis most of the time. That is a nice thing for fans.
I think Kerber has been able to do that for two reasons. First, she is an excellent athlete. Tennis players suffer a number of nagging injuries and perhaps players with slightly less athleticism feel the drag of those injuries more often than stronger athletes. Kerber has reached 7 tournament finals in 2016 if Rio is included. She won 5 titles in 2015. Kerber does not have the serve or service mechanics of Serena Williams, but both of them won 20 or more Grand Slam matches in 2016 and both are gifted athletes. Secondly, Kerber seems to have built confidence in her game plan. The wins she accumulated in 2015 and even her Brisbane runner-up finish, seem to have propelled Kerber to wins of larger importance in 2016.
Pliskova has one of the top two serves on the WTA Tour
PS – Keep an Eye on Karolina Pliskova
Karolina Pliskova was broken 4 times in her 1st Grand Slam final. The first break came in the 1st service game in which she had a bad miss at 15-30 and then broke a string at 30-40. Serving to stay in the 1st set led to another break. Pliskova held throughout the 2nd set when her back was against the wall. Pliskova was broken again when leading 3-2 in the 3rd set and broken when serving at 4-5. Holding 11 out of 15 games versus a returner as solid as Kerber is a strong outing. It is easy to envision a more experienced Pliskova shaving a break or two off of that total. What hurt Pliskova was an inability to convert break points. Pliskova had multiple chances to put the first set back on serve. Kerber is a great player, but her serve is her biggest weakness. Kerber held serve 12 of 14 games. It is also easy to imagine Pliskova breaking serve more frequently with a little more experience. Her victories at Cincinnati and the US Open show that Pliskova can do it. She has weapons and tactical discipline. Perhaps like Muguruza’s 2015 Wimbledon runner-up finish, Pliskova will be in the winner’s circle at a major sooner rather than later.