First, a tip of the hat to Naomi Osaka for beating Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-1. The 2016 champion did not last long in the 2017 event. Sometimes in sports success is the hardest thing with which to deal. In 2016, Kerber won the Australian and US Opens and was runner-up at Wimbledon, the Rio Olympic singles, and the season-ending championship. Few players win 2 majors, win a silver medal, and finish second at Wimbledon in their careers. To do that in a single season was amazing. Finishing 2016 ranked #1 was icing on the cake.
The weight of being world #1 never seemed to mesh well with Kerber in 2017. Injuries also impact how a player plays, and conditioning and confidence can lag even when one recovers from an injury. All of these factor into Kerber’s curious 2017. She should take some solace from Garbine Muguruza’s return to form. Muguruza won Roland Garros 2016 and then spent over 52 weeks looking like she might not belong in the top 50. Muguruza then won Wimbledon and Cincinnati 2017. Things can go up from here for Kerber.
Fans love the hustle points and counterpunching & I hope to see them again soon
Kerber is a physical player who uses spped, a strong lefty forehand, and counterpunching to win matches. Kerber built toward 2016 with an incredibly sound 2015 campaign that included multiple deep runs at non-major events. Playing a lot and gaining confidence in 2015 set her up well for 2016. I don’t think Kerber should take any breaks from the WTA Tour unless injury issues are pressing. Rather, I think she should sort of start at ground zero and play some smaller events. Grinding players and counter punchers need matches to hone their shots and gain confidence in their strategies. Kerber vowed to come back stronger after today’s loss. In my view, the best way forward is for her to play often and see how the racquet feels when she is not defending a big crown and/or a top ranking position. Repetition and a willingness to grind out on the court even when recent results are not where Kerber wants them can likely help her regain some self-confidence and form. Tennis has benefitted from some of her amazing matches (see Azarenka d. Kerber at the 2015 USO for an entertaining loss and her 2016 Australian Open triumph). One hopes for her sake and the sake of tennis that she makes a Muguruzaesque return from the wilderness.