Angelique (Angie) Kerber is a favorite to win the US Open. Seeded sixth, she is playing the best tennis of her life. It appears that she is primed to be the next dominant player in a field of older women whose ability to stay on top is questionable. In a tennis world with so many lesser players relying almost solely on defense, Kerber's only possible weakness is at net.
Many of you may have missed Angelique Kerber. Despite winning a WTA season best 55 matches, Kerber is still little known outside the tennis world. Her loss to Li Na in Cincinnati was a big blow, but one that clearly will help her in the US Open.
This US Open she should be the favorite. Though so many had Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams as the favorites, there is little doubt but that Kerber is also in the mix. Kerber will win barring some unforeseen problem before the finals.
One reason for her ascendancy could be seen in her match against Venus Williams—the match of the tournament, so far. With this weekend's play holding so much promise, in the end we will surely have our pick. But for excellence of play and in taking the play to a great offensive player, Kerber could establish her place as number one in the WTA tennis rankings for the rest of the year and be very hard to remove from that spot next year.
Who is she? And what makes her so good? How do you determine that a new trajectory is happening for a woman who has been largely unsuccessful over eight years until reaching the semifinals of last year's US Open?
Kerber was born to parents who speak both German and Polish in 1988. She turned pro in 2003, a fifteen year old starting at around the same time as many other pros, including the Williams sisters.
An article by Ales Filipcic in ITF's coaching archives describes the characteristics of a successful competitive tennis player. According to the article: "The success of a player in a tennis match is established indirectly and directly." The article discusses the indirect characteristics as including motor abilities and psychological abilities. The direct characteristics are both the statistics of the player and their ranking.
The answer to what is different lies not so much in her successful 2012 campaign, but in a change of tactics and fitness. She is quicker, more accurate and more focused than at any time in her career. And it shows.
Her coach Torben Beltz confirms that these are factors, but also believes that her semifinal placement at the 2011 US Open and her success afterwards was, if anything, more important. As he said in a recent tennisnet.com interview: "But she really needed this self-affirmation that she has received here in the past year—with the semi-finals at the U.S. Open. With a bang on a big stage. That was a real awakening. Suddenly she knew that I'm above it. I can beat the good guys."
Her statistics are also notable and helped her become more confident, including an 8-7 record against the Top 10 this year.
The missing ingredient in Filipcic's analysis is coaching, to which obviously Torben Beltz has contributed greatly. Indeed, in addition to coaching, Beltz appears to be far closer than most on tour raising the level of personal involvement as another possible key for Kerber as she travels around the world with someone nearly as close as family.
As the game has become far more strategic than ever before, including at least the occasional use of computerized statistics showing weaknesses in any opponent's game, there is simply too much to the game to follow adequately alone and win. Sadly, Joe-Wilfried Tsonga's failure to hire a coach is sufficient proof of the need to have one. Although he claims he gets sufficient advice from others, there is still the need for one in Grand Slams, as witnessed in his ouster this week by Martin Klizan ranked 52nd in the world before the Tsonga match.
The value of coaches can be seen most clearly in Roger Federer's decision to hire Paul Annacone, Pete Sampras' former coach, in 2010. A move Federer made while seeking to regain his No. 1 ranking in the world; his success with Annacone has been obvious.
Now, we have Kerber, whose coach is practically unknown and who has shunned much publicity including at the recent tournament in Cincinnati...will Torben Beltz become a household name after this US Open. For that matter, what is he making from his ongoing school in Wahlstedt, Germany, and how many others like Kerber are coming from that school?
Finally, Kerber is potentially tracking for her first grand slam final. The guess here is that she should be favored to win.
But only time will tell.
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