If it was possible to be disappointed en route to becoming World No. 1, Angie Kerber might have come close to it with another runner-up in a top event.
After coming up short in the finals of Wimbledon, the Rio Olympics and Cincinnati (plus semifinals in Canada), on the line for Kerber was being the best player of the summer but not the champion of any one particular event.
When a set lead turned into a 3-1 deficit in the final set, that possibility was staring her in the face as the tide had turned against a settled-in Karolina Pliskova. Kerber dominated to start, getting breaks at each bookend of the first set, but once Pliskova got going, she dictated play and forced Kerber to play outside herself when defending wasn’t enough.
Confronted with two options – revert to the pre-2016 version of herself or fight back as the player who emerged this year – Kerber found her game just in time to come back and claim the second Grand Slam of her magical season. Though Pliskova’s charitable play helped to get it back on serve, it was this 3-all, 30-all forehand from Kerber that will go down as the critical shot of the match after she held from 0-30 down:
Claiming the final eight points in a well-played, high quality final was the perfect ending for Kerber to stake her claim as the top player in women’s tennis, making a bundle of history in the process:
-First woman since Martina Hingis in 1997 to win both hardcourt Slams and Amelie Mauresmo in 2006 to follow up her first Slam with a second in the same year.
-First time since Justine Henin in 2007 that a woman besides Serena Williams won multiple Slams (which also comes with the feat of being the first non-Serena woman since Henin to hold the sole lead of most Slams won in a season).
-Fourth lefty woman to win the U.S. Open, and first since Monica Seles in 1992 (and on Monday, she’ll become just the third lefty to top the WTA rankings).
-She now has as many Slams as Victoria Azarenka, Tracy Austin and others, and stands one behind Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport (who was the last woman before Kerber to make the finals of the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same year).
After going from solid top 10 player to Hall of Famer in the span of merely nine months, Kerber shouldn’t be labeled with the asterisk or “yeah, but” that others shouldered in the shadow of Serena.
Kerber now leads Williams in points, 8,730-7,050, as well as in the year-to-date rankings, 7,800-7,050. She’s notched victories over both Williams sisters, Azarenka, Simona Halep, Madison Keys, Pliskova and more. Kerber has played 10 hardcourt events this year, losing before the semifinals just twice (with one added withdrawal). Her eight top 10 wins, 54 total wins and seven finals lead the WTA.
She has routinely played and beaten the best, and now she is handling the toughest feat of all: fending off the next challengers, like Pliskova.
Angie Kerber will wake up on Monday as the new No. 1 player in the world, but on Saturday, she locked up her legacy as the undisputed No. 1 player of 2016.