When Angelique Kerber lost in the first round of this year’s French Open, it culminated an uncharacteristically sketchy stretch for the three-time Grand Slam champion. It was her third defeat in the first round of a major in eight months, and she couldn’t get off that red clay fast enough.
“I was not playing good the last few months," Kerber said Tuesday at Wimbledon. "Also the last few months for everyone was not so easy. For me, I was never stopping believing in myself, in my team. For me, I love to play tennis and I love this sport, to go out there and playing again in front of the fans.”
Grass-court tennis has always been Kerber’s refuge, and so it has proved again. She won a match in Berlin, then took up residence at Bad Homburg, Germany, an inaugural tournament she helped bring into being. She won all five matches there, her first title since 2018, and then, in the comfort of the All England Club, she has won five more.
After defeating Karolina Muchova 6-2, 6-3 in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, Kerber will face World No.1 Ashleigh Barty in a Thursday semifinal. It will be played on Centre Court, considered by many to be the world’s greatest tennis venue.
Certainly, Kerber feels that way. She’s a remarkable 12-2 on Centre Court. Her last major win came here, in 2018, when she beat Serena Williams in the final.
“It’s a good feeling already to have the trophy at home and to [have] won it here,” Kerber said. “I think it’s more about this tournament for me because when I was a kid I really looked forward to playing this tournament good and playing my best tennis here.
“Now I’m back.”
Kerber’s signature match came in the fourth round against Coco Gauff. It felt like a torch-passing moment when the 17-year-old Gauff won the first set. And then Kerber turned it around, and quickly. She won 2-6, 6-0, 6-1, with a wonderful display of vision and precision.
“Now she’s got to feel like, why not win another one?” ESPN tennis analyst Patrick McEnroe said. “She’s 33, maybe in the last couple of years, thinking, `Hmm, how much longer am I going to be playing?’ She’s had some tough losses, her ranking had dropped, but now she’s right back in the mix.”
Among active players, Kerber is, not surprisingly, third behind the Serena and Venus Williams in a handful of notable categories:
- Career wins on grass among active players: Serena (107), Venus (97), Kerber (80)
- Match-wins at Wimbledon: Serena (98), Venus (90), Kerber (36)
- Wimbledon semifinal appearances: Serena (12), Venus (10), Kerber (4).
Is that vast experience going to be a factor Thursday?
“Of course it is,” Barty said. “It adds to the challenge. Angie obviously has an incredible record here. She’s made multiple finals. She’s one of the best grass-courters going around. I think the challenge of playing her in a semifinal of Wimbledon is an incredible opportunity, one that I’m really excited for.
“It's not scary or overwhelming; it’s just exciting. It’s exciting to have the challenge of playing someone who is comfortable on these courts, who knows how to win this tournament.”
The head-to-head is 2-all, but they’ve never met on grass.
“I like to try and use my variety as best I can,” Barty said. “I like to use my weapons when I can. I know one of Angie’s greatest assets is the fact that she can run and hunt and put the ball in an awkward situation to nullify my aggression and kind of my weapons at times. It’s a really fine balance.
“It’s a match that I know that I need to play my very best tennis to compete with her, particularly on this surface. I’m looking forward to being in my first semifinal here at Wimbledon.”
Said Kerber: “Against Ash, I know that I have to play my best tennis. She has a lot of confidence right now.
“I know that I have to play my own game. I have to just think how to play, be aggressive, and trying to taking the match more in my hands and going for it. Even if I miss few shots, I have to stay there and trying to pushing her.”
McEnroe said it’s not the pure power, but the placement of Kerber’s shots.
“She sees the openings maybe as well anybody does in the women’s game,” he said.
Kerber, whose winning percentage on grass is .741 (80-28) and .614 (369-232) on all others, will need to find an opening Thursday.
“Winning last week a tournament at home, now playing well here again, that means a lot to me,” Kerber said. “For me it’s more the experience that I had few years ago. I played twice the finals here. I’ll [try] to, of course, taking the experience with me for the semis.”
Mary Joe Fernandez, a former World No.4, is picking Kerber, who is riding a 10-match winning streak, to win.
“I think on paper,” Fernandez said, “she’s the favorite. Because she’s won it before, she’s been to a final before. She knows what it takes to win Wimbledon. Kerber will go into that match knowing exactly what to do. She’ll have great strategy.
“I like to go with people who have experience winning these major championships. So, I really like Kerber’s chances to go all the way now.”
How did Kerber weather those out-of-character results? With character.
“I think, first of all, you have to stay calm and still staying positive and believing in yourself,” she said. “I think in this time I was more looking back also to my career. I had always up and downs. I always try to coming back stronger that I can. I tried it also this year.
“Here I am actually.”