Thursday 22 March 2018

Kerber eager to toast her rise to world No 1

Angelique Kerber reacts after beating Caroline Wozniacki on day eleven of the 2016 U.S. Open Picture credit: Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports
Angelique Kerber reacts after beating Caroline Wozniacki on day eleven of the 2016 U.S. Open Picture credit: Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

Simon Briggs

For the second time in three days, Karolina Pliskova will go out on Arthur Ashe Stadium tonight to face the world's best player. Yet the identity of that player has changed.

Pliskova played queen-maker on Thursday night, when she took out Serena Williams 6-2, 7-6 in a surprisingly one-sided semi-final.

As a result, the No 1 baton will pass to Angelique Kerber on Monday, regardless of whether Pliskova wins her maiden grand slam trophy.

It is worth saluting Williams for the 186 weeks she spent at No 1, dating back to February 2013. She matched the record set by Steffi Graf: 186 straight weeks between 1987 and 1991.

"I have been having some serious left knee problems," said a frustrated Williams after her second successive semi-final exit from the US Open.

Asked what effect this had on her game, she replied: "Mental, because when you're hampered you're thinking of other things. Like I was making errors that I never make. I just blame that on thinking about my leg and not thinking about the shot."

Kerber, meanwhile, has just become the oldest woman ever to debut at No 1. And by some margin, because the German is 28 - Jennifer Capriati was 25 when she reached the top spot in 2001.

The statistics say something about the evolution of the game. Once upon a time, the pixies of tennis - the Tracy Austins and Andrea Jaegers- would emerge fully formed at 15, making their elders look like dinosaurs as they flowed loose-limbed around the court.

Today, the women's game is starting to fall in line with the pattern of men's tennis, in which physicality - and the readiness to suffer for your art - has become more essential than stroke purity. It takes time to develop into a 10st powerpack of sinew and muscle, as Kerber has done over the last couple of years.

Kerber, who beat Caroline Wozniacki in the semi-final, is a relatively gritty and unflashy player, though she has developed a killer instinct.

This is the second event in a row that has brought Kerber and Pliskova together in the final, after the US Open's appetiser in Cincinnati. There, Pliskova stormed to a 6-3, 6-1 victory that delivered the biggest title of her career.

Today's match will present a contrast of styles: Pliskova is a huge server and a graceful ball-striker who will go for the quick kill on every point, whereas Kerber will be looking to tangle her up in lung-bursting rallies.

Experience wise, Kerber should have the advantage after appearing in two grand slam finals already this season (she beat Williams in Melbourne and lost to her at Wimbledon).

But the US Open has thrown up some unexpected champions of late, including Sam Stosur and Flavia Pennetta, so a win for 10th seed Pliskova would hardly be the shock of the decade.

Meanwhile, last night World No 1 Novak Djokovic marched into the men's final, beating Gael Monfils 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-2.

The Serb is seeking his 13th grand slam title, and his third here in New York. But he has lost four of his previous six finals at Flushing Meadows.(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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