In the Wimbledon final, Angelique Kerber became only the second player to beat Serena Williams in two slam finals. The first to do so was sister Venus. But Kerber is the only player to have a winning record over Serena with a minimum two slam final meetings, (Venus 2-7, Sharapova 1-3, Azarenka 0-2, Muguruza 1-1, Kerber 2-1).
More importantly, Kerber became just the third woman in the last decade to claim three slam titles. The other two are Serena and Kim Clijsters. There is a decent list of recent players who have claimed two slams in their career: Kvitova, Azarenka, Li, Kuznetsova, Muguruza; and another six who have claimed one slam. But there are only four active players with at least three slams: Serena (23), Venus (7), Sharapova (5), and now Kerber (3). That’s an elite group, and Kerber is part of it.
Kerber dialed in
In the Wimbledon final, Kerber fired a strong opening salvo and claimed the first two games. But Serena fired right back and took three in a row to go up 3-2. It looked like Serena was going to gain control and do what she usually does – win. This is a woman who was 23-6 in slam finals going in – an unheard of dominance in the modern game. Serena has been steely and tenacious on the big day.
But with the top ten seeds all vanquished by the round of 16, Kerber had been playing with rare intensity and opportunism. After her awesome 2016 in which she claimed two slam titles and the #1 ranking, she floundered through a slump in 2017. But she showed renewed determination for 2018, narrowly missing the Australian Open final (match points in the semis) and claiming the title in Sydney.
So perhaps it was not surprising that Kerber rolled off 10 of the next 13 games to put Serena away by a tidy 6-3 6-3 scoreline. Kerber was dialed in. She made only 5 unforced errors in the match and smacked 11 winners. She scrambled, she struck aggressive forcing shots, she parried, she did deep knee bends, she hit deft shots to the corners. Most of all, she believed she could win.
For her part, Serena did not seem crushed. She said she was glad she was a contender again and felt she was taking steps in the right direction. To be fair, it was not vintage Serena. Her serve and consistency were lacking throughout the fortnight, even as her fighting spirit propelled her to the final in spite of those defects.
What this victory means
With this victory, Kerber has become a much larger presence in the women’s game. Her sophomore woes appear over and she will be in the elite group of the very best players contending for the biggest titles: along with Serena, Halep, Muguruza and perhaps Sharapova and Azarenka if they can find their A-games again. A few other players are strong contenders as well, like Wozniacki, Stephens, Kvitova, and maybe Ostapenko.
Kerber has now claimed three legs of the career slam, a huge achievement. She will be a contender for yearend #1 this year, already second in this year’s race just behind Halep. She’s a favorite for the US Open, where she took the title in 2016. And like so few, she doesn’t turtle to Serena.
Has Kerber become an elite player? Definitely.
- Charles brings THE SLICE from Vancouver, Canada.
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