For several years Serena Williams has rightly been the overwhelming favourite for every Grand Slam that she has entered. Williams has dominated the women’s game and is arguably the greatest female to ever pick up a racket. However, 2016 has seen another player emerge to challenge the American.
That player is Germany’s Angelique Kerber, who has firmly established herself as the world #2 and a legitimate rival for Williams. She’s proven herself as a top class player who can play consistently on the big stage. That, amongst other reasons, is why the German will walk away from the 2016 US Open as champion.
Kerber shocked the tennis world when she defeated Williams in January to win the Australian Open – her first Grand Slam final . It was the first time Williams had ever lost a deciding set in a Grand Slam final.
Admittedly Kerber didn’t have a great clay court season, which culminated in a first round loss to Kiki Bertens at Roland Garros. That said, the German dusted herself off to reach her first ever Wimbledon final, but this time she would lose to an untouchable Serena Williams .
Despite losing in straight sets, Kerber played some excellent tennis in what was a highly entertaining final at SW19. Kerber’s performance would have likely been enough to defeat anyone else in the draw – but it wasn’t to be.
It hasn’t been plain sailing for the German during the hard court season. First of all she lost the Olympic final in Rio to Monica Puig in a match many expected her to win . Similarly, with the world #1 spot on the line, Kerber couldn’t find a way past Karolina Pliskova in the Cincinnati Masters final .
Critics would say that the German choked on both occasions. Although they are certainly missed opportunities, Kerber’s losses were definitely not down to her underperforming.
Monica Puig played the tournament of her life in Rio, knocking out both Garbiñe Muguruza and Petra Kvitová before disposing of Kerber in the final.
Moreover, fatigue and the brilliance of Karolina Pliskova were the reasons behind Kerber’s Cincinnati loss. Pliskova isn’t the most consistent player on the WTA Tour, but when she’s on form she’s very hard to stop. There would’ve been very few players who could have dealt with her serve and flat groundstrokes in Cincinnati. Fun fact, the Czech player has hit over 100 aces more than anyone else on the WTA tour this season .
So why after these recent losses should you believe that Kerber will win in New York? In the past these losses might have played on the mind of the world #2 going into a Grand Slam. However, this is a different Angelique Kerber. This is an Angelique Kerber who isn’t short of confidence and who’s firmly aware that she’s one of the best players in the world.
You can even argue that these defeats, twinned with a potential #1 ranking, will only serve to motivate Kerber. Speaking to WTA Insider in Cincinatti, Kerber showed signs of her changed mentality:
“I have a lot more confidence and belief in myself, my game and everything. I think my personality has also changed a lot in the last years .”
That’s the attitude of a player who wants to prove any doubters that she’s not a one-Slam wonder. Kerber is stronger mentally and is a better problem solver on the court. In matches she may have lost before, the German now finds solutions and ways to win.
She’s an all-rounder who is difficult to beat as she has the ability to adapt and adjust her play depending on her opponent. Add to that her incredible fitness and the fact her game is best-suited to a fast hard court, and you see why she has a great chance of winning in New York.
Williams’ injury woes
There’s another factor that makes Kerber the favourite at Flushing Meadows; the questions surrounding the fitness of Serena Williams. Shoulder problems contributed to Williams’ early departure from the Olympics and her withdrawing from Cincinnati . Consequently, the world #1 has missed a significant chunk of tennis coming into the US Open.
Serena Williams is now 34-years-old and has been showing increasing signs of fatigue this year. Reaching three Grand Slam finals and winning one wouldn’t be considered a failure for many, but it is for Williams. She may have looked in imperious form at SW19, but apart from that she’s been far from her best this year.
If the Williams of the Wimbledon final turns up in New York then Kerber might have her work cut out. However, if Williams isn’t 100 percent then Kerber is in pole position to win her second Slam title.
Of course like any other tournament, there’s always a potential for upsets. This year’s US Open is no exception as Eugenie Bouchard, Caroline Wozniacki and Lucie Šafářová are not amongst the seeds.
Kerber starts her tournament with what should be a relatively simple match against Polona Hercoy. Williams on the other hand faces a much bigger challenge in Ekaterina Makarova. The match will be a repeat of their 2014 US Open semi-final.