2017 Season Review: Angelique Kerber's struggles and loss of form

It has been a freak year for 2016 ITF World Champion Angelique Kerber as she fell out of the top-20 in the year-end rankings of 2017 after failing to back up her success.

2017 Season Review: Angelique Kerber's struggles and loss of form
Angelique Kerber looking disappointed at the Australian Open. It has been a very disappointing 2017 for the German | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images AsiaPac

2017 has never been quite the case for Angelique Kerber, for which success can never be used to describe the German’s lackluster year. A breakthrough 2016 saw her win two Grand Slam titles, claim the Olympic Silver Medal, runner-up finishes at the WTA Finals and Wimbledon, earning more than 10 million dollars and most importantly, reach the pillar of the rankings for the first time in her career. However, literally, everything went wrong for Kerber this year. 2017 saw the German endure through a rough patch, having not won any titles and also fell out of the top 10 for the first time in two years.  

Win-loss record

Kerber owns a 29-24 win-loss record throughout 2017, which is extremely disappointing for a player of the German’s caliber. She had her worst winning percentage since 2005, and she earned a significantly lesser amount of wins as compared to 66 victories last year. It was also the first season since 2011 when Kerber failed to get more than 40 wins.

Angelique Kerber in action during her first match of the year at the Brisbane International | Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images AsiaPac
Angelique Kerber in action during her first match of the year at the Brisbane International | Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images AsiaPac

Despite being ranked as the world number one for half of the year, Kerber has only played two matches against the top-10 players and is 1-1 in those matches. This was a huge contrast as compared to 12 top-10 wins in 2016. All of her losses came against players of a lower ranking, with her loss to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Zhuhai being the exception. However, this could also be credited to the fact that she was ranked in the top two from the start of the year till the Wimbledon Championships.

Best Performances

Good performances were actually rare from Kerber this year, but her Australian Open run was encouraging. Going into Melbourne as the top seed and defending champion, she faced some tough challenge but still managed to push herself into the second week once again before shockingly losing to Coco Vandeweghe in straight sets. Nonetheless, the loss was inevitable considering the German was facing the pressure of defending a bulk of points for the first time in her career.

Angelique Kerber hits a forehand at the Australian Open, where she was the defending champion but fell in the fourth round | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images AsiaPac
Angelique Kerber hits a forehand at the Australian Open, where she was the defending champion but fell in the fourth round | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images AsiaPac

Serena Williams’ triumph at the first Major of the year also meant that Kerber lost her number one ranking, but she had a golden opportunity to return to the top at the Dubai Duty-Free Tennis Championships. She put in some excellent performances there, first starting with a straightforward win over compatriot Mona Barthel before exacting revenge on Monica Puig for her Rio Olympics loss. Another great victory over Ana Konjuh followed before an injury hampered her against Elina Svitolina, causing her to fall to the eventual champion in two tight sets.

Kerber’s only final of the year came at the Monterrey Open. There, she beat veteran Francesca Schiavone in a tricky first-round encounter before claiming confidence-boosting victories over Mandy Minella and Heather Watson. The German seemed to have found some of her best tennis when she put in a world-class performance to oust Carla Suarez Navarro in straight sets. However, her pursuit for a first title of the year came to a sudden halt with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova proving too strong in the final.

Angelique Kerber seen in action at the BNP Paribas Open, where she fell to eventual champion Elena Vesnina | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images North America
Angelique Kerber seen in action at the BNP Paribas Open, where she fell to eventual champion Elena Vesnina | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images North America

The grass-court season was a fair one for Kerber, who came in with a huge amount of pressure weighed on her considering that she had to defend finalist points at Wimbledon. The German reached the quarterfinals in Eastbourne, claiming an impressive win over Kristyna Pliskova in a three-set thriller in the process. Kerber also found some life in her game, playing with confidence as she battled to the second week of the Wimbledon Championships, clinching difficult wins over Kirsten Flipkens and Shelby Rogers in the process.

Arguably, Kerber’s best tournament of the year was the Toray Pan Pacific Open. Losing to Naomi Osaka just weeks ago at the US Open, the German exacted revenge over the Japanese in front of her opponent’s home crowd, taking the win in straight sets. It seemed to be “revenge” week for Kerber as she started to show glimpses of her 2016 form, defeating Russian youngster Daria Kasatkina in the second round. The two-time Grand Slam champion had previously lost to Kasatkina twice this year.

Angelique Kerber fell to a disappointing first-round exit at the French Open | Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images Europe
Angelique Kerber fell to a disappointing first-round exit at the French Open | Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images Europe

In a repeat of the 2016 US Open final, Kerber once again triumphed against world number four Karolina Pliskova for her first top-20 win of the year. That match was also one of the best matches of the year, with both players putting up a high-quality performance. This sent Kerber into just her third semifinal appearance of the year, but an arm injury hindered the German from playing her best tennis and despite making a comeback from 0-6, 2-5 down against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, she lost a 3-0 lead in the final set and exited in the last four. Nonetheless, it was an impressive tournament for Kerber, who struggled throughout the 2017 and this result definitely gave a confidence boost to her.

Low Points

The start of the year was definitely a poor one for Kerber, who exited in the quarterfinals of the Brisbane International to Elina Svitolina and falling in the opening round of the Sydney International to Daria Kasatkina. The German entered 2017 with a new mindset, after all her achievements in the previous year. She had a massive amount of points to defend throughout the year, and she already had to defend finalist points in Brisbane. Kerber was unable to find the rhythm in her game, with her forehand being extremely inconsistent and her opponents had nothing to lose while playing against her, thus explaining most of her losses this year. Another opening-round exit followed in Doha, where she lost to Russian youngster Kasatkina yet again.

Angelique Kerber eventually lost the number one ranking at the Wimbledon Championships | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Angelique Kerber eventually lost the number one ranking at the Wimbledon Championships | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

The clay court season once again showed Kerber’s vulnerability on the tricky surface, having fallen in the opening rounds on three different occasions. Her first match on clay this year came at the Fed Cup World Group play-offs when she represented Germany to fend off the tough challenge of Ukraine. Playing at the Porsche Arena, the home crowd was stunned when Kerber fell to Elina Svitolina but the home country was still able to eventually get past their inspired opponents. At the same venue, Kerber fell in front of her ardent supporters in the opening round of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix to Kristina Mladenovic in straight sets.

Kerber went on a three-match losing streak from the Mutua Madrid Open to Roland Garros. Injuries continued to affect the German as she was forced to retire against Eugenie Bouchard down 3-6, 0-5 while surprisingly gaining back her number one spot in the process. A shocking one-sided loss to qualifier Anett Kontaveit at the Internazionali BNL D’Italia followed, claiming just four games against the ruthless Estonian, losing the last ten games of the match. The German also had her luck to blame, having drawn former top-10 player Ekaterina Makarova in the opening round of the French Open. The result was surprising on paper, but it came off as an expected outcome as the then-world number one fell to the Russian with a stunning 2-6, 2-6 scoreline.

Angelique Kerber representing Germany at the Fed Cup | Photo: Simon Hofmann/Bongarts
Angelique Kerber representing Germany at the Fed Cup | Photo: Simon Hofmann/Bongarts

Kerber had an extremely disappointing US Open Series, having endured through a three-match losing streak along the way. It all started with a surprising loss to eventual semifinalist Sloane Stephens at the Rogers Cup, falling in a 58-minute encounter and was outplayed throughout the encounter. However, this loss did not look bad after Stephens went on to reach the last four at the Western and Southern Open and also claim her first Major at the US Open.

Kerber then lost to Makarova once again in a drama-filled encounter in Cincinnati, wasting one match point in the process. Arguably, her worst performance of the year came at the last Major of the year, the US Open. She was drawn to face talented youngster Naomi Osaka in a blockbuster opening-round clash as the defending champion and had to reach the final for any chance to remain in the top-10. However, she played a shockingly bad match and fell 3-6, 1-6 to the Japanese.

In a late-night blockbuster, Angelique Kerber was upset by Naomi Osaka in straight sets | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America
In a late-night blockbuster, Angelique Kerber was upset by Naomi Osaka in straight sets | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America

Despite a slight resurgence in Tokyo, Kerber was still unable to produce consistent performances as she ended the year losing six of her last seven matches. The German fell to eventual winner Caroline Garcia in the first round of the Wuhan Open before being ousted by Alize Cornet at the China Open. Taking a wildcard into the BGL Luxembourg Open, Kerber was upset by Monica Puig in a repeat of the Olympics final, being kicked out of the tournament in straight sets. Kerber then went winless at the second-tier year-end Championships in Zhuhai, falling to Pavlyuchenkova and Ashleigh Barty in the group stage.

Season Grade: D

Who would have thought that Kerber would struggle throughout 2017, especially after producing what could be the most dominant performance by any player not named Serena in the recent years? Having just one top-10 win, Kerber has definitely not lived up to expectations and this season will go down as one of the worst in her memory. With a renewed mindset entering the new year with less pressure and nerves coupled with a new coach, Kerber could soon return to the top-10 and be back in the running for the major titles once again.

Angelique Kerber celebrates her first and only top-10 win of the year against Karolina Pliskova | Photo: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images AsiaPac
Angelique Kerber celebrates her first and only top-10 win of the year against Karolina Pliskova | Photo: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images AsiaPac