Angelique Kerber attempting to become the next big “thing” in women’s tennis

Angelique Kerber has done her best to become the new face of women’s tennis, adding the US Open title  to the Australian Open triumph she celebrated at the start of a crucial year for the sport. Defeat in the Wimbledon final to Serena Williams and a silver medal at the Rio Olympics preceded this 6-3,4-6 ,6-4 over Karolina Pliskova and it all adds up to the German topping the world rankings for the first time.
Williams is 34-years-old and no longer No1 while Maria Sharapova, the other superstar of the women’s game, is waiting to discover if she must serve a two year ban for failing a drugs test.
Given the dramatic impact Williams has made on court winning 22 Slam singles titles and Sharapova has achieved off it, consistently topping the list of highest earning female athlete, you can understand the sport’s desire to find the next “ big thing” to wow the sponsors and fans.The result of Sharapova’s appeal against a two year ban in March after testing positive for banned substance meldonium at this year’s Australian Open will be delivered by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in October.
Equal prize money at the Slams gives the impression of the men’s and women’s games striding confidently forward hand in hand. However, the truth is very different and if you remove Williams and Sharapova from that side of the tennis cake it looks considerably less palatable compared to the men’s section where Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka grab the headlines. True, their shelf life is also limited, but there appears to be a much richer seam of up and coming male talent to be mined.
From a shop window point of view Kerber is the best story around thanks to her two Slam titles in 2016 and the strong association with Steffi Graf, a player who still commands universal respect.
Graf is tied with Williams and the all-time list of Slam wins with 22 singles titles and has taken a Kerber under her wing, acting as a mentor and occasional hitting partner. Kerber has repaid this unwavering support by stopping Williams from eclipsing Mrs Andre Agassi. In becoming number one, Kerber protects Graf’s record of consecutive weeks at the top of the rankings as Williams, thanks her semi-final defeat by Pliskova, is level with Graf on 186 weeks.
“To be number one in the world sounds amazing,” said second seed Kerber, who became the first German singles player to reach a US Open final since Graf in 1996. “For me it’s amazing to be, after Steffi, the number one player from Germany. Steffi is a great champion, a great person and I think she’s proud of me to be the next number one after her. She was always an idol for me. I always watched a lot of her matches, also on YouTube sometimes. I have met a her few times. She’s a great person. When you hit with her, she’s still playing really well. When you talk with her, it’s always a great honour.”
How Kerber would have loved a forehand like Graf’s to help negate the raw power Pliskova produced last night. It had been enough to take care of both Williams sisters in the tournament and nearly did for Kerber in a punishing final played in debilitating humidity. Pliskova moves up to a career high No6 in the rankings and is a real threat on hard courts. Her twin sister Kristyna is in the final of the Dalian Women’s Open in China today which means the family may still have a title to celebrate.
Pliskova came into the final having fired off 446aces compared to Kerber’s 84 this year and there were times when you wondered how the German was going to keep returning the raw power flying her way from the Czech girl. It took more than two hours for Kerber to finally subdue her opponent and no doubt there was a congratulatory message from Graf waiting for her. Having made 2016 her year, the pressure is now on Kerber to take a grip on the sport, starting with the defence of that Australian Open title.
It would confirm that Kerber really is the new star of women’s tennis.
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