E.There was a moment in the Wimbledon semi-finals that in the end should be symptomatic of the whole match. It was a small, inconspicuous moment, not one of the spectacular long rallies that would be seen in the summaries at the end of the day. Angelique Kerber had just lost the first set against the Australian Ashleigh Barty. Now she started the second round on her own serve and made the first point straight away. “Come on now,” she called to herself. A signal of departure, a signal that should be different from now on. Immediately afterwards, she served a double fault. So much for that.
Now it wasn’t that Kerber would have played particularly badly in their 3: 6, 6: 7 (3: 7) defeat against Barty. It wasn’t as if she had no chance. But in the end, many good moments were all too often followed by bad ones. That was also due to her opponent, who ultimately left Kerber few chances with her straightforward, goal-oriented style of play. The world number one will play against the Czech Karolina Pliskova or Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus on Saturday for her second Grand Slam success. For Kerber, however, the dream of the second Wimbledon victory after 2018 has burst.
The match on the legendary Center Court of Wimbledon was at least in phases at a very attractive level. Barty got off to a better start. In the second game she managed the first break, which should be enough for her to win the first round. In the second set, Kerber seemed to be on the way to equalizing. She was already leading 5-2 before suddenly making more mistakes again. The tie-break then slipped out of her mind before it really started. She fended off three match points, then a backhand hit the net and the game ended.
Kerber’s amazing belief
The fact that Kerber would have made it to the semi-finals of her favorite Grand Slam for the fourth time would have been given good odds by England’s famous bookmakers a few weeks ago. “I never doubted that I could make it back,” she said before her match against Barty. For a professional athlete, this statement may seem banal, after all, unshakable self-confidence is practically a professional requirement in this industry. But in view of her recent athletic record, Kerber’s belief in her own abilities is nothing short of astonishing. Because nothing really indicated her second bloom on lawn.
Rather, the former number one in the world rankings had lost more games than won at the beginning of 2021. After the early break at the tournament in Berlin, there were nine wins against ten defeats in mid-June. In the past three Grand Slams, she was also eliminated in the first round. Even the third return to her long-time mentor Torben Beltz, after having worn out three coaches within two years, didn’t seem to help.
But then came her new home tournament in Bad Homburg. A small, contemplative event in which she was also involved in the organization as an ambassador. Kerber had revitalized this new task. She stormed to her first tournament victory since the Wimbledon triumph three years ago. And even more important: Her game was finally shaped again by those elements that hardly any other player has mastered as well as she does.
Because Kerber, she has impressively proven in the past few days, is still one of the best counter-players in professional tennis. Like no other, she knows how to pick up the speed from the blows of her opponents and use it to her own advantage. This ability is most visible in her special strike from a deep crouch. Kerber kneels down where most of the players fall far behind the baseline under pressure. With a kind of wiper, as if she were chasing away an annoying fly, she plays the ball as flat as possible over the net and thus turns defensive into offensive with a single action.
In the first rounds of Wimbledon – in the sovereign victories over the Serbian Nina Stojanovic, the American Cori Gauff or the Czech Karolina Muchova as well as in the harder-won successes against Alexandra Sasnowitsch from Belarus and the Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo – Kerber’s special weapon was a regular feature Use come. In the semifinals, on the other hand, it took until the ninth game of the day before you saw the blow for the first time.
However, it wasn’t Kerber, but Barty who used it and scored with it. A few rallies later, she secured passage one. Kerber himself showed the tucked punch for the first time in the fourth game of the second set. The ball went into the net. This moment was also symptomatic in the end.