Seventh seed Angelique Kerber played the match of her life in front of a packed Rod Laver Arena crowd on Saturday evening, shocking Serena Williams 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to capture her maiden Grand Slam singles title at the 2016 Australian Open. With this win, Kerber will rise to a career-high of number two in the world next Monday.
Kerber Races Out of the Blocks, Takes Opening Set 6-4
Coming into this match, there was a lot of talk about whether or not this match would be a competitive one, given Williams’ form and great history against Kerber in the past. However, it was the German who exploded out of the blocks first, playing some fantastic tennis while Williams struggled with her consistency. Breaking at the first time of asking in the third game, the German took her chances and unloaded on a couple of forehands before the world number one hit a forehand into the tramlines, consequently handing the first break to Kerber. From there, the seventh seed consolidated the break to go up 3-1, showing no sign of any nerves whatsoever.
However, Williams, who was contesting in her 26th Grand Slam final, began to turn up the heat in the fifth and sixth games respectively, overpowering and moving her German counterpart from side-to-side. As a result, the world number one would go on to hold and break back a game later, restoring parity at three-games-all. To her credit, Kerber continued to go toe-to-toe with Williams from the back of the court, hitting very flat but deep ground strokes that forced uncharacteristic errors out of the top seed, consequently giving the German the upper hand once more as she broke for 4-3. Moments later, Kerber would go on to consolidate the early break with relative ease, and was now just a game away from winning just her third set against Williams in seven meetings.
To her credit, the American hung tough, overcoming a couple of uncharacteristic miscues en route to holding and forcing her German counterpart to serve out the opening set. Showing no sign of any nerves, Kerber continued to create some beautiful angles, running down every ball and soon enough, it paid off as she served out the opening set at love, winning it 6-4.
Williams Strikes Back, Takes Second Set 6-3
The second set was a totally different affair with both women beginning to raise their levels and with that, the quality of the match seemed to take a jump upwards. Surprisingly, the first three games of the set all went with serve, before Williams began to turn up the heat on the receiving end, pouncing on some weaker second serves from Kerber which led to the German hitting two untimely double faults in the fourth game, consequently handing Williams the early break to lead 3-1.
From the fifth game onwards, the second set went with serve with both women continuing to go toe-to-toe but the server always gaining the upper hand when it mattered most. Not long thereafter, Williams successfully served out the second set with some terrific serving, taking it 6-3. That decisive break in the fourth game proved decisive in the final outcome of the match, and many were wondering which way this match would go from here. Would it go the way of the world number one who is pursuit of her 22nd Grand Slam title Down Under? Or will it go the way of the 28-year-old German?
Kerber Takes Dramatic Final Set 6-4, Captures First Grand Slam Title
Continuing the trend of holding serve, Kerber opened proceedings in the final set with a routine hold of serve before she broke Williams at love to draw first blood in the decider with some incredible defence, much to the surprise of everyone inside Rod Laver Arena.
However, the seventh seed didn’t have it all her own way as just minutes after clinching the elusive break, she was broken herself as she began to crack under the pressure that the top seed was putting on her from the receiving end. From there, the 21-time Grand Slam champion restored parity in the final set at two-games-apiece with some monstrous serving, thus putting the pressure back on her German counterpart. In the game that followed suit, Kerber raced out to a 30-0 lead before Williams hit back with some stunning forehand winners down the line and cross court but to her credit, the German refused to back down, serving her way out of a potentially dangerous position to lead 3-2.
The sixth game of the final set proved to be the most competitive of the match, with both players playing some fabulous tennis, not willing to relinquish control to the other. In that game, Kerber held four opportunities to break but couldn’t convert any of them as Williams hit some incredible serves under pressure, while the German tightened up on her fourth opportunity, netting a relatively simple backhand. However, an uncharacteristic double fault from the world number one — her second of the game – gave the seventh seed a fifth look at a break point and this time, Kerber made no mistake and broke as Williams missed a forehand, much to the delight of a deafening Rod Laver Arena crowd.
Unlike when she broke in the second game of the final set, Kerber didn’t get broken right back, as she would go on to consolidate the break with a hold at love and was now just one game away from the biggest moment of her career. Trailing 2-5, Williams was serving to stay in the match and did what she could to force Kerber to serve for the championship, digging herself out of trouble with her faithful serve down the T.
Serving for the match at 5-3, the seventh seed inevitably tensed up and the world number one took full advantage. Making Kerber hit as many balls as possible, Williams waited for the right shot to attack, and did so time and time again en route to recovering the early break, which closed the gap from 2-5 to 4-5.
As the set wore on, points began to get longer and longer, with Kerber running down everything that Williams threw at her. A tense tenth game followed suit with both players fighting for every point from the back of the court, giving nothing away to the other with their incredible power and precision. However, one point in the tenth game turned the match around in favour of Kerber: on Williams’ first game point, the German punished a slow second serve with a big forehand return down the line, sending a statement of intent that she wanted to win this match right then and there.
From there, the world number one made another untimely forehand error that would give the seventh seed her first championship point. On her first championship point, Williams came into the net after following up a big serve down the T with a deep backhand approach shot, but Kerber held her ground, hitting her passing shot right at Williams and all the American could do was watch her forehand volley sail long, consequently sealing a shock 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win for the German.
As she fell onto her back in disbelief, Angelique Kerber had done the impossible; she became just the fourth player to defeat Serena Williams in a Grand Slam final, after Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Samantha Stosur. In addition, she had just become a Grand Slam champion, which looked all too unlikely when she faced a match point in her opening round match against Misaki Doi.
After a very gracious Williams came over to her side to give her a hug and words of encouragement, the emotions began to pour out of Kerber, who was still in a state of utter disbelief.
“Congratulations Angie, you were the best player this tournament,” Williams said in her speech. “I really hope you enjoy this moment. You truly deserve it.”
“Serena, you are an inspiration for so many people,” Kerber said in her own speech. “[You’re] an unbelievably great person. Congrats for everything you have done already!”
The Match By the Numbers
The contrast in game styles was clearly evident in the final match statistics, with Williams – the aggressor – hitting 47 winners to 46 unforced errors, while Kerber – the counterpuncher – hitting a solid 25 winners to just 13 unforced errors. Surprisingly, the German ended the match with the upper hand in the majority of the serving categories, a shot that has never been her forte. However, she served exceptionally well against Williams, hitting five aces to three double faults, and winning 73% of her first serve points, more than 4% more than the world number one who has dominated that category in all of her matches during the last fortnight. It is also worth noting that while Kerber only made three trips to the net, she was successful on two occasions, where as Williams won just 15 of her 32 points at the net, which was partially because of Kerber’s incredible passing shots.