German Angie Kerber played some of her best tennis in her first Grand Slam final, but for Serena Williams it was just more of a worrisome, ongoing story as another error-strewn performance saw another Slam title slip from her grasp on Saturday in Melbourne.
Williams for a second straight Slam after a 2015 US Open semifinal exit saw her game fall apart in a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 loss to the Slam final neophyte Kerber at the 2016 Australian Open.
The end of the match was not pretty for either player. In the final set Kerber failed to serve out the match at 5-3, then in the next game threw in a handful of errors after leading 30-0 on Serena’s serve. But Kerber would get additional help from the Williams error machine when the American failed to convert a game point that would have evened it at 5-5, then two points later made a volley error on match point.
“I was going out there and not thinking too much that it’s a Grand Slam final,” Kerber said of her mental approach. “I was going out there, trying, ‘OK I can beat her; I beat her once.’ And just believe in myself. If you’re just hoping, you can’t win against her. That was my game plan: serving good, moving good and just going for it. It works.”
It works in part now due to the world No. 1s consistent nervy collapses in big Grand Slam matches. Going for too much on serve, Williams barely served over 50 percent first serves, including six double faults to only seven aces. Winning only 42 percent of her second serve points, she committed an overall whopping 46 unforced errors, averaging more than two a game in the opening-set loss.
Not a great volleyer nor possessing a great transition game, Williams perhaps due to her errors off the ground decided to frequently attack the net, many times with hit-and-hope approach shots.
“I was missing a lot off the ground, coming to the net,” Williams said. “She kept hitting some great shots actually every time I came in. I think I kept picking the wrong shots coming into it.”
Kerber gave other players some food for thought when playing against Serena, in the third set mixing in some successful drop shots.
“She had some great dropshots, twice,” Williams said. “You know, they were great. They were just unexpected because she hadn’t hit any until the third set. So that’s it. I definitely could have got them. I’m really fast. But I just wasn’t able to read that one in time.”
Nerves, said Williams, did not play a part during the match.
“I was nervous before the match,” she said. “Once it got started, it was so intense from the beginning ’till the end that I didn’t really have time to be nervous. No, I didn’t think about the [Grand Slam] record at all. I think more or less I thought just about winning this match. It wasn’t necessarily the record for me.”
ESPN analyst Mary Joe Fernandez had a different view.
“We’ve seen it before when Serena gets nervous,” she said. “She loses her footwork and then tries to muscle her way through it. Then, she ends up lunging and out of position. You can see it when she starts hitting her groundstrokes long.”
Kerber, who will move up to No. 2 in the world, is the second German woman in the Open Era to win a major after Steffi Graf, who won 22 majors to Serena’s 21.
“First of all, I would like to say congratulations to Serena,” the German said on court. “You’re really an inspiration for so many people and young tennis players. You’ve created history. You’re a champion. You’re also an unbelievably great person. So congratulations to everything you’ve already done….My whole life I was working really hard, and now I’m here, and I can say I’m a Grand Slam champion, and it sounds really crazy.”
Kerber says she has yet to contemplate being a Grand Slam champion, being No. 2 in the world, and having almost an entire year ahead of her to challenge Williams for the No. 1 ranking.
“Right now I’m not thinking about this,” she said. “I try to really enjoy every moment, what’s happened right now, taking all the experience with me. I mean, I think my phone is exploding right now. I don’t know how many messages I get. It’s like amazing…Right now I’m not thinking about the next tournaments, the next challenges. I’m just trying to stay here and enjoy everything.”
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