By Sahan Bidappa/Doha
For Angelique Kerber, 2016 seems a long time ago. It was when the German had a spectacular season, winning two Grand Slam titles and a silver medal at the Rio Olympics, and taking over the World No.1 ranking from Serena Williams.
But what followed next year was nothing short of a disaster for Kerber, as she suffered a drastic slump in form in 2017. She was knocked out in the first round while defending the US Open title, which completed her year-long slide from the top of the game. Kerber didn’t even win a WTA title in 2017, and failed to go past the fourth round at any of the majors. She also slid out of top-20 for the first time since 2012.
But this new year, Kerber has regained her lost self. The left-hander’s aggressive streak that brought her success in 2016 is back and is the most in-form player in 2018.
Kerber was a point away — twice — from advancing to the Australian Open final last month, before losing a dramatic semi-final to runner-up Simona Halep.
That remains her only loss of the 2018 season so far. She began the year by scoring four wins at Hopman Cup and then rolling to her first title since the 2016 US Open, losing just two sets en route to the Sydney title.
Now back in the Top 10, having climbed 11 places in a month, Kerber has firmly set her sights on mounting a comeback to the top of the women’s game and challenge for majors. At the end of last year, Kerber split with her long-time coach Torben Beltz and joined hands with Wim Fissette, who seems to be making an impact with his new pupil.
While Kerber knows that she has to back up a good January with some strong consistent performances, she is happy to have found her groove. “For me it was really important when I’m looking back on the last few weeks that I’m able to play my game again, that I can fight,” Kerber said at the Qatar Total Open, which began yesterday at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex.
“And yeah, having my tennis back, my motivation and everything like I had like two years ago. So this was the biggest progress and the biggest thing for me was to know and to feel that, ‘yeah, I’m on the court and I am again playing my tennis,’” she added.
The heart-breaking semi-final loss to Halep in Melbourne might have hurt at that time, but she is keen to look at the positives. “It’s never easy after a loss. It needs a few days (to digest), but at the end I know that I gave everything, and I know how close it was. It’s just one, two points which decide matches.
“For me, it was more important to see that I’m back and that I’m playing good tennis, that I won matches again. And that was actually the goal for Australia for the first month of the year. I think that I reached it, the goal which I had for the Australian trip, and that was more important for me than the results and the points and all of this,” the 30-year said.
In Doha, Kerber has been drawn into the same quarter as the Australian Open champion and World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. The 30-year-old will open against either Sam Stosur or Irina Camelia Begu in the second round tomorrow and could face Britain’s World No. 11 Johanna Konta in the Round of 16.
Having taken a break after the Australian summer, Kerber is refreshed now to continue her renaissance. She began practising again last week and arrived two days early in Doha to get acclimated to the outdoor conditions.
“I was feeling my body,” Kerber said. “I was a little bit tired for sure, especially after the long flight. But mentally as well, I mean I had a lot of matches. I was really playing good tennis again, and I think it was more a combination of both, good recovery to start again and to focus on the next tournaments. I think that I needed a little bit time to recover from all the matches that I played in Australia, but now I’m feeling good again.”
A finalist in Doha in 2014, Kerber will be keen to go all the way this time. She did, however, say she will not be getting too ahead of herself and her motto will be to fight for every point.
“I’m just looking the same, the same way like I looked in Australia because it’s at the beginning of the year,” she said. “We have now the second trip. It’s just fresh everything, and I know that everything starts from zero. It’s a new tournament, new conditions. And that’s why I’m trying to keep my goal like I started the year, and I think this goal will also be the goal for the rest of the season.”
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