By Lewis Davies
In May 2011, Angelique Kerber was ranked 71 in the world and getting beat in the qualifiers of Rome to Varvara Lepchenko. Twelve months on, her story couldn’t be anymore different. A semi-final appearance at this year’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia is the eighth time she’s either reached that stage or bettered it during her last 17 tournaments; a remarkable run stretching back to Dallas in August last year. Maiden tour titles at Paris and Copenhagen’s respective indoor events, combined with one of those last four berths coming at the US Open, means she’s scheduled for a place in the top 10 of the world rankings come Monday. At 24 years of age, she’s definitely a late bloomer. This is how she made it to the elite.
January 18th 1988: Born in Bremen to mother Beata and father Slawek. Began to play tennis just three years later.
February 11th 2001: Started playing on the junior circuit, making inroads at events in Germany and Poland but never won a junior title. Her best junior Grand Slam performance came at the 2004 Australian Open where she made the quarter-finals before losing to Jarmila Gajdosova.
May 3rd 2003: Turned professional at the age of 15 and defeated Marion Bartoli during the qualification rounds of the German Open. A successful ITF career unfolded as titles in Poland, Britain, Canada, Turkey, the Czech Republic and Spain made up a sweep of 11 on a range of surfaces.
January 15th 2007: First breakthrough year. Highlights included a first call-up to the senior German Fed Cup team and a debut appearance in the top 100 in May.
February 15th 2010: After stagnating somewhat over three years, she reached her first WTA final at Bogota, losing to homegrown player Mariana Duque-Marino. Third round runs at the Australian Open and Wimbledon were her best ever performances at a major and thus a top 50 place came in July.
September 10th 2011: Despite falling in the first round of the three previous Grand Slams and slipping out the top 100, Kerber reached the last four at the US Open, beating Agnieszka Radwanska and Flavia Pennetta along the way. She came undone against eventual winner Sam Stosur but rose 58 places in the rankings to a career high no.34. She then went on to break the top 30 with further semi-final runs and finished at a career best position of no.32 at the end of the year.
May 18th 2012: The form shown at the end of 2011 continued into the new season. With two titles and a rank of number five in the singles race, she became Germany’s number one before beating Petra Kvitova in Rome to make the top 10 for the first time.
So what next?
The buzz around Germany’s rising status in the women’s game has been growing for some time but it will mean nothing unless they win a major. Fellow German Andrea Petkovic developed late too and looked to be the one capable of opening a new era beyond Steffi Graf until two lengthy injuries struck in quick succession. Luckily, the Germans have strength in depth. Julia Goerges, Sabine Lisicki and new girl Mona Barthel are still in their early 20’s and possess great potential. They will all push each other to be the best they can be.
The next stage is to crack the top five. Kerber claims that she likes playing on all surfaces and seems the prime candidate to do so if she can stay fit. Much of her turnaround can be pinned to increased fitness levels which have enabled quicker movement on the baseline and the ability to turn defence into attack. With a new lease of self-confidence and more consistency at the bigger tournaments there’s no reason why she can’t push the batch forward. She’s probably not the one to stop the German major lull but she could still play a huge part in their inevitable future success.