The experience gulf in Saturday’s Australian Open women’s final could not be any wider. On one side of the net, Serena Williams will be vying for Open-Era record-equaling 22nd Grand Slam title, while on the other Angelique Kerber will be getting her first taste of a Grand Slam final.
Outside of the most rarified of airs, however, Kerber is far from a novice. The 28-year-old won four titles on the WTA Tour last year to help her up to sixth in the world rankings. A victory in Melbourne on Saturday would put her second, behind only Williams.
Yet her record in the biggest events has long been a disappointment. Since her breakthrough in reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 2011, the German reached the last four of a Grand Slam on only one other occasion before this past week. She has also failed to ever get past the first stage of the prestigious WTA finals, or reach a single final at one of the Premier Mandatory events -- the four top tournaments on the WTA Tour.
After for so long being a consistent performer but not one that really troubled the true elite, she appears to have taken a giant leap forward at this Australian Open. If there was a key moment, it arrived in the quarterfinal against the heavily favored two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka. Not only did Kerber break away from her often passive approach to become the aggressor, but she survived a second-set slump to reel off five straight games to seal the match. Backing that big win up, Kerber then dealt with the pressure of being a favorite against unseeded British player Johanna Konta in the semifinals.
“I had a lot of ups; I had a lot of downs,” she said. “I think the final comes at the right moment. I think I'm ready for it because I have a lot of experience on the last few years. I beat top players. I am a top player right now. So, you know, the work pays off. I was working very hard in the last few years. Here I am. I'm in the final for my first time. I will for sure be trying to enjoy it.”
Enjoying it may be tough against the world No. 1, who has been as dominant as she ever has been during the past two weeks. There were understandable doubts hanging over Williams after not completing a match since her shocking semifinal defeat to Roberta Vinci at last year’s U.S. Open. But it appears that layoff was just what the 34-year-old needed after the physical and emotional toll taken by her pursuit of a calendar-year Grand Slam.
The American has yet to drop a set yet in Melbourne, and brushed aside two top-five players, Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals and semifinals. While so often in her incredible Grand Slam run last year Williams ensured drama by mentally dipping in and out of matches, this time she has been all-business from the off.
And now she is within touching distance of history once again. As well as a chance to win her seventh Australian Open crown, equaling Margaret Court for the most ever, she will also move two behind Court for the most Grand Slams of all time, and level with Steffi Graf for the most in the Open Era.
Williams hasn’t lost in the final of a Grand Slam since the 2011 U.S. Open, when the woman who beat Kerber in the last four Samantha Stosur, went onto take the title. She has also only lost once in six meetings with Kerber, back in 2012. Still, the defending champion insists she won’t be underestimating her final opponent.
“Well, she took out a really tough opponent in Victoria,” she said after beating Radwanska 6-0 6-4. “You can't underestimate Kerber. She's beaten me before, too, and pretty good. I know that she brings a lot to the game. Her being lefty definitely helps out as well. I haven't played any lefties yet. But we'll see. I think if I do play her, it will be a really good match. It definitely won't be easy.
“She's been very consistent this year already. She's proven that she wants to take her game to the next level. I know she was talking about she wants to do better in the slams this year. To start out with a potential final already tells you that if she puts her mind to something, she's going to do it.”
Match Time: 3:30 a.m. EST
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: Watch ESPN