Last year’s result
Kerber’s miserable 2017 campaign reached its nadir in New York. The year before she had been playing excellent tennis and deservedly claimed her second Grand Slam title of the year by defeating Karolina Pliskova in the final. But she struggled to replicate any of her 2016 successes in 2017 and the US Open was no exception. Handed the tough first-round draw of Naomi Osaka, she crashed out 3-6 1-6 and would end the year outside the top 20.
Kerber has done much to put that dreadful year behind her in 2018. She began brightly with a run to the semifinals in Melbourne, losing narrowly to Simona Halep 3-6 6-4 7-9. Kerber continued to impress throughout the remainder of the hard court season and onto the clay, reaching the quarterfinals in Rome and Paris. She then made the semifinals in Eastbourne before going all the way at Wimbledon, defeating Serena Williams in the final, a rematch of their 2016 clash.
Since that victory, however, Kerber’s form has been rather indifferent. And that may be being generous. She returned to action for the first time since the conclusion of the Championships at the Canadian Open in Montreal, but lost first round to Alize Cornet of France. She then impressed in rallying past Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from a set down in Cincinnati, but despite a strong start, lost 6-2 6-7 4-6 to Madison Keys in the third round in Ohio.
Most important shot
Kerber, like a number of her colleagues at the top of the game, is neither a particularly offensive or defensive player. Rather, she has the skillset to do both. But there is no question that her best shot is her forehand. When she is on top in a point, she spreads the court superbly with it, with her accurate hitting allowing her to extend opponents without relying on massive power. By keeping her opponents on the move, she both wears them down and prevents them regaining a foothold.
But the Kerber forehand is even better when she is under pressure. The German’s running forehand is surely the best in the game and one need look no further than the scorcher she hit down the line against Claire Liu at Wimbledon for evidence of that. Nor is her forehand her only weapon. Kerber deploys her lefty-serve out wide to good effect and her backhand is a solid shot for her, particularly when she is on the defensive.
No player has won back-to-back Slams in the women’s game since Serena Williams in 2015. That goes some way to illustrating how competitive the WTA Tour is. But it also perhaps speaks to the struggle to deliver again the sort of performances required to win a Slam just months after first doing so. Indeed, the let down that follows winning a Major title is hardly a new phenomenon and it is been in force this year on the WTA Tour.
Wozniacki still hasn’t played her best tennis since winning in Melbourne and Halep’s mind looked elsewhere at Wimbledon where she lost in the third round. That does not bode well for Kerber, although unlike Wozniacki and Halep, her victory at Wimbledon was not her first at Slam-level. Nonetheless, she looked out of sorts in Montreal and Cincinnati and her performances there did not suggest a title-run was on the cards in New York. An early exit might be though.