Angelique Kerber won the US Open on Saturday, marking her rise to world number one with a gritty victory over Karolina Pliskova to add a second Grand Slam crown to her magical 2016 season.
“Being there as champion, this year, to hold this trophy, I can’t say it in words,” said Kerber, who added the US Open crown to the Australian Open title she claimed in January.
Seeded second Kerber rallied from a break down in the third set to beat the hard-hitting 10th-seeded Czech 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 — breaking Pliskova at love to cap the triumph.
“Amazing to win a second Grand Slam in one year,” Kerber said. “It’s the best year of my career.
“It all started for me here in New York five years ago when I reached the semi-finals and now I am here with the trophy,” she added.
It certainly seemed improbable when Kerber finished 2015 ranked 10th in the world.
The 28-year-old left-hander, who beat Serena Williams in the final at Melbourne and lost to the US great in the Wimbledon final, will officially rise to world number one on Monday.
But she was assured of that spot when Pliskova toppled Williams in the semi-finals.
“To be number one and win Grand Slam titles was always my dream ever since I was a little girl,” Kerber said. “It means so much.”
Pliskova, who had never made it past the third round of a Grand Slam in 17 prior attempts, also beat Venus Williams en route to the title match, becoming just the fourth player to beat both Williams sisters in the same Grand Slam.
Pliskova was the first player to take a set off Kerber at Flushing Meadows.
Her powerful groundstrokes had Kerber on the run at times, but her 47 unforced errors were, finally, too much to overcome despite her 40 winners.
When Pliskova’s final forehand sailed out, Kerber was launched on a joyous celebration, climbing into box where coach Torben Beltz was sitting then returning to the court where the tears flowed.
Kerber took advantage of Pliskova’s miscues to open the match with a break.
The quick advantage gave Kerber plenty of breathing room.
She was able to maintain it with authoritative play from the baseline, fending off three break points before cracking Pliskova’s serve again when the Czech double-faulted to give her a set point.
Kerber seized her chance with a forehand down the line to pocket the first frame in 44 minutes, having committed just three unforced errors.
Having saved the first break point she faced in the second set, but unable to make inroads on Pliskova’s serve, Kerber was beginning to look demoralised by the power shots coming her way.
Pliskova, gaining in confidence, grabbed her first break of the match for a 4-3 lead, lofting a lob over the dejected German.
Serving for the set three games later the Czech fired her fourth ace of the match out wide for set point.
Her rocket to the baseline on the next point left Kerber helpless and the match was level at two sets apiece.
“In the second set, I found some power,” Pliskova said.
Faced with the challenge, Kerber admitted she was “a little negative” in the second set.
“In the second set my body language was not the best and I was trying to change it in the third,” Kerber said.
“It was not so easy because Karolina is a tough opponent and she was up a break early.
“I was thinking a little bit of the final in Australia when I was also in the third set and I believed in my game.
“I was just believing in myself in the third set and going for it... I was trying to take the chance.”
In the moment
Pliskova couldn’t maintain the advantage. Two errors gave a break back to Kerber in the sixth game.
Even after her capitulation in the final game, Pliskova said she had no regrets. “We all know that the last game wasn’t great, but it’s so hard against her,” Pliskova said.
“I went twice to the net and was going really for the shot. It could go the other way... So I would not change it. It didn’t happen, but this is the way I have to play.”
Amidst the disappointment she was looking forward to building on her breakthrough Slam performance.
“I found out I can play against the best players in the world on the big courts,” Pliskova said. “Angie proved she is the number one, it was an honour to play her.”
All in all, it was an exciting final that had the crowd on their feet.
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