Wimbledon 2018: Angelique Kerber's counter-punching game has become key to great match-ups in women's tennis

We often talk about depth in women's tennis but who and what makes it happen? The players are at the forefront, of course, and offer plenty of variety across the board and not just at the top of the game. This year's Wimbledon offered sealed evidence to go with that fact.

On this space, a column began with the famous words of Aliaksandra Sasnovich — one of the usurpers these two weeks — in Brisbane earlier this year: "Anyone can beat anyone." Those aren't mere words, but at the same time they literally do not offer much in the way of nuance. Of course, anyone can beat anyone but what does it mean in the larger scheme of things?

Angelique Kerber's Wimbledon draw offers some insight — the players she beat, players like Belinda Bencic, Naomi Osaka and Daria Kasatkina, have the game and toughness to be multiple Grand Slam champions in the future and when they beat the top-five of today, the odds of a bright future outweigh the short-sighted assumption that it was a one-match wonder. Players like Sasnovich, Kiki Bertens and Julia Goerges have been putting together stellar runs through late last year and first half of this season to come up with results that they did these two weeks. And this is a list that doesn't even include Victoria Azarenka, Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep or Petra Kvitova.

Angelique Kerber celebrates winning the Wimbledon women's singles final with the trophy, Reuters

Angelique Kerber celebrates winning the Wimbledon women's singles final with the trophy, Reuters

Apart from players and their results, there can also be match-ups that offer plenty of variety and intensity to the women's tour. And for a few years now, at the centre of this WTA feast is the uncompromising masterchef Angelique Kerber, your Wimbledon 2018 Champion.

Kerber is popularly referred to as the quintessential counter-puncher. She can both move you from side to side and herself go one side of the court to another for hours on end. Her lefty serve out wide is a weapon and her return game is currently unparalleled.

Kerber means business when she's hanging for dear life far end of her deuce court and somehow both stretching and coiling into herself for a deep backhand cross court that makes sure that the point stays within her reach or out of the opponent's sight in the next couple of shots. And when you are not looking, she will come up with her favourite and most lethal forehand down the line to end you for good.

On Saturday in the Wimbledon final, Kerber brought all her weapons and did not hold back. Serena Williams, who was playing only her 14th match since January 2017 which was unbelievably (and yet making complete sense that makes you go, "but of course") a Wimbledon final, was not moving as well as she would have liked. The movement issues translated into host of unforced errors. Yet, Kerber had to stick to her game, keep returning deep, keep getting to balls, keep putting balls back into court and that's what she did.

Tennis is a game of match-ups they say, and Kerber's counter-punching ways lend itself to some of the most interesting, dramatic matches. Players who are capable of attack but are traditionally defensive-minded hold all the Grand Slams between them right now — Sloane Stephens is the reigning US Open champion, Caroline Wozniacki won Australian Open this year, Halep the French Open and Kerber clinched Wimbledon.

Kerber, though, brings out tennis of highest quality from all kinds of opponents. Kerber produced some of her best tennis and brought out the best from her opponent, Azarenka, for one of the greatest matches in recent times, in the third round of 2015 US Open. Azarenka, who is an attacker and can both serve and return well, has the ability to find the open court to rain winners. It's possible that that match and that year were turning points in Kerber's career as she found Grand Slam glory soon in 2016 at the Australian Open where she beat Azarenka for the first time, in the quarter-finals, and Serena in the final.

Earlier this year in the Australian Open, Kerber ran into the traps of crafty Su-Wei Hsieh in the fourth round. They once again played a swinging, entertaining match with Hsieh's spins, drop shots and lobs moving Kerber perpendicular to the baseline for a change, where again her game triumphed in the end.

In the recent surge of WTA counter-punchers, Kerber and Halep got together to create anything but attritional ennui. In the recent Australian Open semi-final that drew every ounce of energy from each other, they matched punch for punch, return for return and forehands down the line to backhands down the line closing the third set at 9-7. Kerber being left handed is one of the key elements but combined with her return, the best on tour, she possesses the blueprint to pull out entertaining, epic matches no matter the kind of opponent. The German bringing her best to every Grand Slam final she's been part of so far is testimony to that, outfoxing aggressive players in Serena and Karolina Pliskova.

She did not go down without a fight in the one Grand Slam final she lost to Serena in 2016 either. In the today's younger stars, we have a wide array of players with different games and abilities. An attacking Bencic and Jelena Ostapenko, a Stephens who can convert defence to attack with her state-of-the-art footwork, and a canny Daria Kasatkina or Sasnovich with their abilities with the racquet.

A player like Kerber, without glaring weaknesses in her game, can counter all kinds of players. Kerber now has three Grand Slams and looks good for double that statistic which means more dramatic memorable matches, scheduled by the dozen. The longer her career extends, greater the current and future WTA match-ups, and the greater the gift of women's tennis.

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Updated Date: Jul 15, 2018 18:06:21 IST

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