By Blair Henley | Monday, May 26, 2014
Angelique Kerber's consistency since her US Open breakthrough in 2011 is deserving of respect. Find out more about this hard-hitting lefty in our interview from Paris.
(Photo Credit: Peter Staples)
PARIS – Angelique Kerber has no tolerance for tardiness; she hates to wait. It’s her German mentality peeking through, she says. That sense of urgency and precision is perhaps even more evident when she takes the court. Standing a muscular 5-foot-8, she drives the ball with exceptional power, each hard, flat shot with a purpose.
Like many players, Kerber uses Twitter and Facebook to connect with her fans, but she has also seen the dark side of social media. Following her second round loss at Wimbledon in 2013, she received death threats from a gambler who had lost money on her match, an occupational hazard that athletes are facing with increased frequency.
But watch just one of Kerber’s matches and you’ll see the 26-year-old diverges from the stereotypical stoicism of the German born, displaying a wide variety of emotions – excitement, elation, anger, irritation – depending on the point.
“I think it’s true that the mentality in Germany is really serious and they are always on time, but I try to not be like that,” she said of her personality. "Of course, I am like a German when it [comes to being] on time, but I try to be not too serious.”
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Her nails painted purple and fuchsia to match her Adidas outfit for the French Open, the world No. 9 sat down for our interview following a routine first round win over Katarzyna Piter. It has been almost three years since her unlikely run to the US Open semifinals in 2011 put her on the WTA radar. Ranked No. 92 at the time, it was easy to assume she had a favorable draw and a little luck on her side. Her performance since has proven that impressive summer streak was anything but a fluke.
“I walked on court and I had so much fun,” she said. “That was what made it click. After the tournament, everyone was saying, ‘Yeah, it’s one tournament playing good. Let’s see what happens now.’ But after that, I was practicing hard and had a very great team around me. Everyone works together.”
This is the third consecutive year Kerber will be shooting for a top 10 finish, embracing the pressure that comes along with expectations – the higher the stakes, the better.
“Right now, I like the pressure,” she said. “I try to do it in a positive way and not think about losing points or whatever.”
Unlike many junior players who get shipped off to a training facility as soon as they show any hint of potential, Kerber didn’t decide to pursue a professional career until she had finished her primary schooling at 15 years old. She’s been able to train near her family for much of her professional life, and admits they aren’t fazed by her rise to fame and fortune.
“They actually do not care about this,” she said. “They know me like I am, like I was before. I also told them that when I change or try to be like famous, to stop me. I think for my family, I am the same person that I was three years ago. That is important for me, too.”
Of course, Kerber does occasionally take advantage of her healthy bank account.
“I like to shop in Tiffany’s,” she said bashfully.
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The most significant improvement in Kerber’s game since her US Open breakthrough may be her fitness. She and coach Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh have worked to improve her speed over the offseason, a less than thrilling prospect for a player who doesn’t enjoy off-court training.
“I hate to run,” she said with a laugh. “Tennis works because I’m chasing a ball.”
Kerber once posted her motivation for working out on Twitter, her treadmill in tune with the fact that she has a soft spot for ice cream, cookies and cream or vanilla, to be specific.
“It’s a good experience to have also because I learned a lot about it,” she said with surprising maturity. “Not everybody can like you…what can I do? I’m am like I am. I just take the positive emotion from my fans.”
This November, Kerber will have an entire country standing behind her as she and her German teammates take on the Czech Republic in the Fed Cup final. After beating a tough Australian team in the semifinals, they are seeking Germany’s first Fed Cup win since 1992.
“To reach the final, it’s great for German tennis,” she explained. “We are always laughing. We have known each other for so long, so we know how the other ones are. We have a lot of fun off the court.”
With her recent back injury healed, Kerber is feeling confident heading into her second round match at Roland Garros. Let’s just hope the clouds clear, so she doesn’t find herself waiting on the weather.
Follow Blair Henley on Twitter @blairhenley