Listening to Angelique Kerber throughout her magical 2016, one phrase always stands out: “I was just going for it,” she’d keep saying.
That, in a nutshell, is how she managed to become World No.1 and win two grand slams out of three finals reached, all within a span of nine months. All while hungrily and aggressively “going for it”.
Of course a lot goes into getting to that state.
First you need to allow yourself to want more, aim for bigger goals – the biggest goals in fact.
Prior to 2016, Kerber had been in the top-10 for almost five years.
She had qualified for the WTA Finals three times, made a couple of grand slam semi-finals and won several titles.
She had a career many 28-year-olds would have been content with. But she decided she wanted more.
Second you have to work hard for it.
Behind the scenes, Kerber has been putting in the hard yards, with an extra push from her coach Torben Beltz, whom she reunited with last year.
Having previously worked together in the past, Beltz knew Kerber well and what she is capable of, and he has been pushing her further and further.
Once you’ve raised your level of expectation of yourself, and have put in the work, you start gaining more confidence in your own abilities and start believing you both can and deserve to achieve greater things. That is precisely what has happened with Kerber and it has been fascinating to watch how her story has unfolded this season. It is a journey we can all learn from and it’s the perfect demonstration of what the combination of ambition, hard work, and self-belief can help one accomplish.
The German is the first player, not named Serena Williams, to make three grand slam finals in a single season since 2006 (Justine Henin made four that year).
Kerber could have folded after winning her first major at the Australian Open in January.
She could have succumbed to a typical post-breakthrough slump, or felt content with being a grand slam champion but she did the exact opposite of that.
She contested a remarkable Wimbledon final before losing to Williams, went to Rio and claimed a silver medal, then capped her slam season by winning the US Open and becoming the top-ranked woman.
The victory in New York was perhaps the most impressive feat of the bunch.
Against Karolina Pliskova, Kerber was the favourite not the underdog like she was against Williams. She had just found out she had sealed the top ranking spot, went into the match knowing she lost to Pliskova just three weeks earlier in Cincinnati, was fatigued following a brutal summer of back-to-back action, and she handled it all remarkably well.
Many players have said how winning their second major was tougher than grabbing their first and Kerber was brilliant enough to follow-up her maiden success, with another one eight months later.
In a conversation with USA Today, Beltz said that the next area of focus for the team would be working on Kerber’s serve, which is arguably the weakest side of her game. It’s amazing that they are already thinking of ways for her to improve, and it is that continuous need for progress that can help Kerber maintain her place at the top.
At 28, she is the oldest first-time World No.1, and in a way, her experiencing this at a mature age is a blessing. She is capitalising on every opportunity that’s coming her way, because she knows such chances don’t come by easily.
There was one standout moment in her final with Pliskova that will be remembered for a long time. After fighting from 1-3 down in the decider against the powerful Czech, Kerber went down 0-30 on her own serve at 3-3.
She made it 30-all then unleashed a daring forehand down-the-line winner that painted the line and helped her hold serve.
“I think this shot was the key for the third set,” said Kerber later.
“When I won the point I knew ‘okay, I have the feeling’.
“I was not thinking too much that this is a final. I was just trying to take the challenge, third set, it’s 3-all, and just go for it.”
Oh the beauty of going for it!