Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Angelique Kerber had already clinched the world No. 1 ranking. On Saturday, she proved she was nowhere near satisfied.
The German put the perfect capper on her career-best 2016, earning a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win over 10th-seeded Karolina Pliskova to take home the U.S. Open. It’s Kerber’s second career Grand Slam win and her second of 2016, joining her triumph at the Australian Open.
“All the dreams came true this year,” Kerber said, per Kelyn Soong of the Washington Post. “I’m just trying to enjoy every moment on court and also off court. It’s just incredible.”
Courtney Nguyen of the WTA’s website had her thoughts:
Angelique Kerber: Hall of Famer.
— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) September 10, 2016
Entering her age-28 season having never gotten past a major semifinal, Keber reached the final at three of four events in 2016. She unseated Serena Williams in Melbourne, lost to the American at Wimbledon and then watched the former world No. 1 lose to Pliskova before they could have their rubber match.
“When I won my first Grand Slam in Australia and we came back, I had much more confidence,” Kerber said, per Christopher Clarey of the New York Times. “I had much more belief in my game, and then I was just trying to get used to this pressure, all the stuff that happened after Australia. I don’t know if I was prepared for this, but I think I played an amazing year.”
Williams’ semifinal ouster, combined with Kerber’s win, clinched a new No. 1 on the women’s circuit for the first time in 186 weeks. It also means her tie with Steffi Graf for the all-time Grand Slam record remains. SuperSport Blitz noted the historic moment:
Kerber ends Serena Williams’ streak of 186 straight weeks at number 1 and also becomes the oldest player (28) to make her debut at number 1.
— SuperSport Blitz (@SuperSportBlitz) September 10, 2016
Kerber, who ascended to the No. 2 ranking for the first time in February, now sits clearly atop the sport and all player-of-the-year rankings. She carved through each of her first five matches in straight sets before finding her first challenge in Pliskova. And for a good part of the third set, it appeared Kerber would be overcome with her frustration.
With the young Czech nailing a series of beautiful returns, Kerber went down a break early and was visibly frustrated with the match on the line. She had multiple failed challenges, barked at the line judges and seemed on the verge of collapse after losing the second. It was almost eerily reminiscent of some of Williams’ past failures in major finals.
Tennis writer Douglas Robson was worried at a certain point:
Kerber’s getting frustrated, a bit negative. Wrong time. #USOpen
— Douglas Robson (@dougrobson) September 10, 2016
But in a fashion fitting of someone ascending to the sport’s pinnacle, she battled right back. Kerber took back her next serve and broke Pliskova to even things at 3-3, then held serve again to strike what proved to be a crushing blow. Pliskova got it back to 4-4, but a now-confident Kerber surged to win the final two games of the match and clinch things out.
David Law of BBC commented on the match:
Pretty decent couple of hours for tennis that.
Pliskova showed what she’s got. Kerber underlined her No.1 ranking with a cracking comeback
— DavidLaw (@DavidLawTennis) September 10, 2016
For the match, the steady Kerber had just 17 unforced errors. She played a mostly defensive style while her powerful opponent went all out for the win. Pliskova nearly doubled Kerber in the winners department (40 to 20) but also nearly tripled her in unforced errors (47 to 17). It was enough of a difference to give Kerber a seven-point advantage for the match and allow her to win four of five break-point chances.
Nevertheless, this still caps arguably the best stretch of Pliskova’s career.
A heavy underdog in her semifinal match against Williams, Pliskova knocked out the former world No. 1 in a shocking straight-sets upset. She entered her first major final likewise expected to fail but battled valiantly before falling short.
Tennis writer Rene Denfield offered his thoughts:
What a tournament for Karolina Pliskova though.
She should be incredibly proud of that tournament and these past few weeks!
— René Denfeld (@Renestance) September 10, 2016
While many American fans walked away from New York a bit disappointed because they didn’t see a Williams on the marquee, Kerber and Pliskova put on the type of battle you’d hope to see in a final. Plus, now that she’s lost the No. 1 ranking, Williams will enter 2017 motivated and coming after Kerber.
After their battles in 2016, it’s safe to say it’ll be fun to watch.