DIt is more than unlikely that Angelique Kerber will also compete in doubles this weekend. Germany’s best tennis player had recently been on the court with a very prominent partner.
As part of the farewell game for former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, Kerber played a training match in Denmark with actor Mads Mikkelsen. The gifted film villain, known from James Bond, Hannibal and Harry Potter, didn’t do so badly, she reported afterwards – and wrote under a joint photo on Instagram with a wink: “I have a talented doubles partner here found.”
If Angelique Kerber now meets host Kazakhstan with the German national team in Nur-Sultan, she will be on her own again. And not just in the literal sense, because in the play-off game of the national competition, which has recently been called the Billie Jean King Cup, she is “seed in the individuals”, as team manager Rainer Schüttler explained on Tuesday. After Andrea Petkovic had to withdraw at short notice due to an adductor injury, the 34-year-old is also the sole frontwoman of her team. A role that she already knows, but this time it seems particularly challenging.
Because Germany goes against Kazakhstan, you hear and be amazed, as a clear outsider in the race. This should not have happened too often in the sporting history of both countries. But while the gap between the aging flagship generation around Kerber and Petkovic and the talented but inexperienced youngsters has been opening up for the German women for years, the Kazakhs currently have a very promising selection.
First of all with 22-year-old Elena Rybakina, number 19 in the world rankings and last year at the French Open in singles and doubles in the quarterfinals. In addition, with Julia Putintseva, number 52 with potential for much more, feared for her forehand and for her tantrums on the pitch.
And most recently with the doubles specialist Anna Danilina, who reached the final at the Australian Open in January. “If you only look at the world rankings on paper, the Kazakhs are definitely slightly ahead,” says Schüttler. “But I think that all matches will be very competitive. You definitely have to work hard to win a win.”
Shaker raves about Siegemund
The German team boss firmly believes in the chances of his team, which includes Angelique Kerber, Laura Siegemund, Anna-Lena Friedsam and Jule Niemeier. The 18-year-old Nastasja Schunk was initially only planned as a training partner. You should slowly be introduced to the tasks at the highest level.
At least Siegemund reported back punctually before the play-off match with a win in the doubles competition at the prestigious tournament in Miami. After a forced break of months, including knee surgery, she is working her way back towards the top of the world. “When you’re away for a while as a tennis pro, you often realize even more that you can actually live your dream here,” said Schüttler, enthusing about the 34-year-old’s enthusiasm for training.
Kerber “very hungry”
Nevertheless, Kerber has to shoulder the brunt of the expectations once again. As so often. And how long until she ends her career. In Petkovic’s absence, she is the only German to be in the top 100 in the world rankings. The only one that currently belongs to the world class.
The former number one in the world and winner of three Grand Slam tournaments now shows all of her skills only selectively. But captain Schüttler, who once accompanied Kerber as a trainer on the tour for a few months, considers her ambition to be unbroken. “She’s very hungry,” he says. “You can see that she continues to work hard physically, that she is fit and enjoys tennis.”
A lot will depend on whether Kerber in Nur-Sultan can make friends with the sand court that was specially laid for the game. After all, it is by no means a coincidence that the only thing missing from the Grand Slams is the title at the French Open. Her relationship with the red ash is complicated. “Oh yes, the thing with the sand,” she once sighed meaningfully, “that’s one of those things.”
The thing is not that Kerber couldn’t play well on this surface. She rarely does. In the past six years she lost five times in round one in Paris. Not once. Then it went straight to the quarterfinals.
In Kazakhstan, Kerber will need to have a good feel for the slippery surface from the start. If the German team wants to have a chance of qualifying for the finals in Prague in early November, Kerber has to score points in their individual games. In doubles, she will only be able to help her team to a limited extent. A training session with a Hollywood star doesn’t change that.
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