When Angelique Kerber defeated top seed Serena Williams in order to win her first major title at the Australian Open this morning, it was remarkable to reflect on how close the German had come to bowing out of the tournament at the hands of Misaki Doi in round one.
Doi, ranked 64 in the world, had a match point against the seventh seed when they clashed in the non-descript surroundings of Show Court Two 11 days ago and Kerber confessed after the match that she had “one foot on the plane” during their second set tie-break.
— TENNIS.com (@Tennis) January 30, 2016
In this context, the fact that Kerber has gone on to win six matches in a row and beat one of the greatest tennis players of all time in her first-ever appearance in a major championship final is impressive and bodes very well for her chances of achieving additional success in the future.
As surprising as Kerber’s defeat of Williams this morning was, — she trailed the 21-time major winner 1-5 in the head-to-head stakes and had never previously reached a quarter-final at the Australian Open — it did not come out of a vacuum. Rather, it was the logical conclusion of a steady pattern of major-level improvement that has been observable since she reached the semi-final of the U.S. Open in 2011.
Kerber, born in Bremen to Polish parents in 1988, was long marked out as a potential major champion as a young player.
The left-hander registered her first victory over a player ranked inside of the world’s top 100 as a 15-year-old by defeating Marion Bartoli in the qualifying draw of the WTA German Open in 2003. She had already won four times at ITF level by the time she turned 18.
This picture of Angelique Kerber after beating Serena Williams at the Australian Open will brighten your day. pic.twitter.com/AgAUR6FlY2
— NBCSN (@NBCSN) January 30, 2016
Kerber reached her maiden WTA Tour-level final in Bogota in 2010 (she lost in two sets to Mariana Duque Mariño) and continued a steady pace of improvement with runs to the last-32 of the Australian Open and Wimbledon in the same season. While consecutive first round exits through the first three majors of 2011 briefly threatened to stall this progress, Kerber’s achievement in dispatching players of the caliber of Agnieszka Radwańska, Monica Niculescu and Flavia Pennetta en routeto the last-four of the U.S. Open established the platform from which she rose to make real inroads on the WTA Tour in 2012.
Kerber beat Marion Bartoli and Caroline Wozniacki to win her first two WTA Tour titles by the end of April, and she went on to reach the quarterfinals of Roland Garros, the semi-finals of Wimbledon and three further Tour finals before the season was out. This run saw Kerber rise from world number 40 at the start of 2012 to world number five by the end of the year. She consolidated her position as a consistent top-15 player by reaching 14 Tour finals over the subsequent three seasons, winning nine.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 30, 2016
Kerber has thus been consistently improving ever since making her Grand Slam breakthrough at the U.S. Open four years ago and, at 28, she seems well-placed to continue to progress over the next two to three seasons. The fact that the Bremen native has proven her ability to win at major championship level and beat Williams on the biggest stage will be of huge psychological significance and, as the newly crowned world number two, her Grand Slam draws are only going to get easier.
Kerber’s first major win this morning was no flash in the pan, and the potential significance of the German’s breakthrough at the Australian Open will not be lost on Williams heading into Roland Garros.
[Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images]