It hasn’t been the best of years for former ladies champions at Wimbledon. Five-time champion Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Garbine Muguruza were knocked out in the opening round at the 2019 Championships. Defending champion Angelique Kerber joined the scrapheap on Thursday, as she went down 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 to lucky loser Lauren Davis in an uncharacteristically erroneous show.
“Of course I'm disappointed,” said Kerber of her earliest Wimbledon exit in six years. “Of course, it's not the way I would like to finish here or to play here. But you have sometimes days like that. You have to accept it. You have to learn from it, trying to forget this as soon as possible.”
Twelve months ago, Kerber had put in possibly her most assured performance when she rolled past Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final. Rather than hanging back and defending everything Williams threw at her, the German had been able to strike the perfect balance between offence and defence to score a surprisingly smooth 6-3, 6-3 victory and win her third Grand Slam.
However, just as her dream 2016 – when she won the Australian Open and US Open and made it to the final at Wimbledon—was followed by a horror 2017, Kerber hasn’t been able to build on that 2018 Wimbledon triumph. It somewhat like on court, when retreats back to the baseline after wresting control of the rally, rather than moving in for the kill.
Kerber, 31, hasn’t gone past the fourth round in any of the last four Slams: lost 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 to Dominika Cibulkova in the third round of 2018 US Open, lost 6-0, 6-2 to Danielle Collins in the fourth round of the Australian Open and lost 6-4, 6-2 to Anastasia Potapova in the first round at the French Open. Apart from Cibulkova, who can be a handful for any of the top players on her day, Kerber was overrun by hungrier, younger players who showed a lot more intent on the court. For Collins and 18-year-old Potapova, wins over Kerber were their breakout moments at the majors.
Though the German hasn’t won a single title yet this year, she was looking good coming into Wimbledon. She had defeated players like Sharapova, Samantha Stosur and Halep in the tune-up events and made it all the way to the final of Eastbourne. Ahead of Wimbledon, she had the most number of wins on grass than any of her fellow WTA players in the past four seasons.
But very little of that was translated on court against Davis.
Unlike Collins or Potapova, Davis, standing only at 5’2 doesn’t have a big game that can knock the daylights out of her opponent. But she is resilient, and she is canny and she used a lot of slice and drop shots to draw Kerber forward and out of her comfort zone.
The second-round match started with world No 95 Davis, who lost the final qualifying round for Wimbledon but only made it into the main draw as a lucky loser, breaking Kerber’s serve. That started a series of four straight service breaks to open the match. The German, who Davis said was like a “human backboard” during the opening set, stemmed the tide by holding her serve and taking a 3-2 lead. Davis’ movement seemed to be compromised when she rolled her ankle over in the sixth game and went on to concede the set 6-2.
But the American, knowing she wouldn’t win the baseline battle against ‘Angie’, started mixing things, not giving the Geman any rhythm. Kerber, whose game revolves around footspeed and accuracy, made 31 unforced errors during the match and hit only 13 winners. In contrast, the more adventurous Davis had 45 winners to her 50 unforced errors (but 19 of them came in the opening set). The American also won 14 of her 20 net points, while Kerber, who was usually made to rush the net against her wishes, won eight of 17.
The match saw 13 breaks of serve – eight for Davis and five for Kerber—but while Davis got steadier through the match, the more experienced German just could not make her first shot count. She gave the American 18 break point opportunities, and held on to her serve only once in the deciding set. The match came to a close, after an hour and 55 minutes, after Kerber followed up her serve by hitting a routine backhand into the net. It was a bafflingly hesitant performance from the German, who will exit the top-10 when the rankings come out on the Monday after Wimbledon.
“I was trying to finding my game the whole match actually,” Kerber later admitted. “I was not really feeling good from the beginning. I don't know why. I mean, the energy was not there. I was not able to finish the match in the way I would like to.”
Since the turn of the century, Venus and Serena Williams are the only two players who have successfully defended their Wimbledon title. When it comes to consistency, the following pack is still to catch up.
Updated Date: Jul 05, 2019 13:34:34 IST