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Hot stuff: Angelique Kerber


 

Originally published on: 13/11/13 00:00

Kerber enjoyed her first taste of live F1 as a guest of Red Bull at the Nurburgring this summer as she witnessed compatriot Sebastian Vettel winning his home Grand Prix.

When Vettel was growing up in Heppenheim, Germany’s Michael Schumacher was dominating the sport, winning a record seven world titles between 1994 and 2004; inspiring a young Vettel to follow his idol into motor racing. Meanwhile, a few hundred miles north in Bremen, Kerber was inspired to pick up a tennis racket by a player as equally dominant in her sport as Schumacher was in his.

Steffi Graf won a record 22 Grand Slams between 1987 and 1999, a dominance which has led many to label her as the best female tennis player in history.

And while Vettel’s path to stardom was almost as fast as his Red Bull car as he became the youngest world champion in F1 history in 2010, Kerber’s rise up the WTA rankings was equally rapid. Ranked No.92 in the world at the 2011 US Open, the German moved up 58 places in the WTA rankings after reaching her first Grand Slam semi-final at Flushing Meadows, setting herself up for a stellar 2012 season.

Winning her first two WTA titles, Kerber rose rapidly through the rankings, making her top ten debut in May before a semi-final appearance at Wimbledon put her on course to break into the world’s top five in October.

The first German to finish the year in the top five since her childhood idol, Graf, Kerber won more matches in 2012 than in the previous six years combined. So what was the secret behind her new-found consistency?

“It was very fast that I reached top 10 after a long time,” Kerber admits. “But I always believed in myself the whole time so it was not a big surprise. I had a great pre-season at the end of 2011 – I worked a lot on my fitness and I was a lot fitter than the years before. Also I started to believe in myself more – I think these two things were very important.”

Kerber is part of a generation of talented German women following the trail that Graf blazed in the late 80s and early 90s. Among them, Sabine Lisicki agonisingly missed her chance to become Germany’s first Grand Slam champion since Graf, losing her nerve in the Wimbledon final as she lost in straight sets to Marion Bartoli. Back in 2011 Andrea Petkovic was the first German to finish in the top ten since Graf in 1998, while Mona Barthel, Julia Goerges, Annika Beck and Dinah Pfizenmaier make up the seven-strong German contingent in the world’s top 100.

“Steffi was one of my biggest idols, I have watched her matches on YouTube because I was still a little bit young when she was playing,” says Kerber. “Steffi is a legend and she is also an idol for me [and] it was a very great feeling to play Istanbul and to finish in the top five at the end of [last] year.

“I met her at Wimbledon last year for the first time. I was really nervous because it was a dream for me to meet her.”

After a breakthrough season last year, 2013 is about consolidation. Consistent, if not outstanding, results this year have seen her reach the fourth round of both the Australian Open and Roland Garros, while she reached the final in Monterrey and semi-finals in Stuttgart and Indian Wells.

While last year Kerber could quietly make her ascent up the rankings, she now has a target on her back as a member of the world’s elite. “First you need to reach the top ten, but to stay there is also not easy. For me last year was a very different year to this year. Last year I had nothing to lose.”

Angelique Kerber factfile:

Born: Bremen, Germany
Lives: Puszczykowo, Poland
Age: 25
Turned pro: 2003
Ranking best: No.5
WTA titles: Three

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