LONDON, July 13 — Angelique Kerber is the poster girl for late bloomers everywhere.
The German left-hander, who will attempt to gatecrash Serena Williams’s storybook comeback in Saturday’s Wimbledon final, was once in danger of joining a long list of players whose rewards never reflected their potential.
But with the clock ticking, and having already celebrated her 28th birthday, Kerber stunned Williams in the 2016 Australian Open final to claim her maiden Grand Slam title.
That success came despite having been match point down in the first round to Japan’s Misaki Doi.
Six months later, she was runner-up to Williams at Wimbledon before adding a second career major at the US Open with victory over Karolina Pliskova.
The win in New York also saw her ascend to the world number one ranking, making Kerber the oldest woman to take top spot for the first time.
Kerber, who lists her hobbies as swimming, dancing, football, Formula One, figure skating, shopping — and sleeping — was born in Bremen to a German father and Polish mother.
However, she lives in Puszczykowo, a sleepy suburb of Poznan in Poland, where her grandparents run a tennis academy.
Coming from a tennis-playing family, Kerber first picked up a racquet at the age of three.
But success did not come quickly.
She was already 23 — and 92 in the world — when she made the US Open semi-finals in 2011.
Until then, her experience of the Slams had not got beyond the first week.
She then made the semis at Wimbledon in 2012, before having to wait until her 2016 Australian Open breakthrough to again get past the quarter-finals of a major.
During her career she’s been encouraged by childhood idol Steffi Graf, and after a worrying dip in form in early 2015, turned to the German great for help.
She credited training with Graf in Las Vegas, where Graf lives with husband Andre Agassi, with helping her turn things around.
But she’s at pains to point out she’s never wanted to model herself on the German superstar.
“She’s a great champion,” Kerber said. “For me, it’s really important to go on my own way.”
Kerber, who had won 11 career titles compared to Williams’s 72, has not been afraid to make tough decisions.
Coach Torben Beltz guided her through one of her best seasons in 2012 and was re-hired in 2015 after she split with Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh.
However, after a torrid 2017 which saw her regain and lose the world number one ranking, surrender her Australian Open title in the fourth round and US Open crown in the first round, Kerber and Beltz parted ways once again.
In came highly-regarded Wim Fissette, who had worked with former number ones Victoria Azarenka, Kim Clijsters and Simona Halep.
Their partnership yielded dividends immediately with victory in the Sydney tournament, her first title since the 2016 US Open.
A run to the Australian Open semi-finals followed as did a return to the top 10.
The 30-year-old’s quarter-final spot at Roland Garros last month was her best performance in Paris in six years.
“In 2017 there were a few ups and downs,” said Kerber who finished last year out of the top 10 for the first time since 2012.
“To come back this year, I think I learned so many things about me, about who I am and what is really important in the life.” — AFP