Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2016 US Open on the women’s side.
Would she win it all?
That was the only question left, I guess, whether Angelique Kerber would crash the party through the front or the back door.
Before she even played her US Open semifinal match, Kerber was guaranteed to become the new WTA No. 1 player in the world, ending Serena Williams’s string of 186 consecutive weeks at the top when the American lost her semifinal against Karolina Pliskova.
You can’t win for losing, they tell you, but that’s always false and we would have had a prime example of that had Kerber then lost her own semifinal against Caroline Wozniacki.
Only, as she so often has done in 2016, the German did not lose, beating the former No. 1 and two-time US Open finalist by the score of 6-4 and 6-3.
From there, Kerber moved on to the final, her third major final of the 2016 season after having made only one Grand Slam semifinal in 32 events through the end of last year. She won that match too, beating Pliskova by the score of 6-3, 4-6 and 6-4, and is now the reigning US Open champion and overall best player in the world.
This week, she’s ranked No. 1 for the first time of her career and, at 28 years old, is the oldest player to get there. She’s the first lefty player at the top of the rankings since Monica Seles, and only the third in history (with Martina Navratilova). Kerber is also the first new No. 1 player in four years, having as we mentioned before cut Williams’s reign short. She also denies Williams a shot at history, leaving her stuck at 22 career Grand Slams and in a tie with Steffi Graf for most in history.
All of it wasn’t lost on Kerber after her semifinal win. “It’s just incredible,” she said. “Yeah, it’s a great day. […] To be in the final, to be No. 1 in the world, it sounds amazing.”
Because of how she got to No. 1, Kerber may not stay there long: the problem with making three Grand Slam finals in a year, and winning two, is that you then need to turn around the following season and win just as many matches. You’ve done it once, so do it again. That’s tennis.
(And that’s what makes Williams so exceptional, that she managed to remain so dominant and consistent over the years.)
One other thing we can confidently say is that Kerber will not be the third player in history to reign over the WTA for 186 consecutive weeks. Kerber is already 28, after all. And what does it take to stay on top for so long? Consider that over that span at No. 1, Williams won more titles than she lost matches (i.e. 24 versus 19).
We’re unlikely to see another such run, at least not for a little while, and parity will likely become the new normal on the WTA. Maybe that’s what will make women’s tennis fascinating over the years. “I think I’m ready to have this pressure [of being No. 1] on my shoulders,” Kerber said after her US Open win. “I think I get used to all of this, especially after my first Grand Slam in Australia. I had so much pressure after the title. Being No. 1, of course, now everybody will try to beat me and have nothing to lose.”
Yes, all the pressure’s on you from now on, Kerber.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG