Kerber wants to 'find herself' after Roland Garros first round exit

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In trouble: Angelique Kerber.

World No1 Angelique Kerber is on a mission to “find herself again” after she crashed out of the French Open first round for a fifth time in her career, falling 6-2, 6-2 to Russian world No40 Ekaterina Makarova on Sunday.

The German’s downward spiral continues as she suffered a fifth opening round defeat of the season, and she has now lost her last three matches on tour.

Makarova is now the first woman in the Open Era to beat a top seed in the Roland Garros first round.

It is no secret that clay is Kerber’s least favourite surface, and her 3-5 win-loss record on the red dirt this season (including Fed Cup) is testament to that. In a way, her premature exit from Roland Garros might be a bit of a relief for Kerber, who can now switch her focus to the grass, where she made the Wimbledon final last year.

“Of course I’m disappointed that the clay court season was not so good. At the end maybe it’s good that it’s over for me,” said a dejected Kerber yesterday.

“On clay I’m really not feeling so good, especially on my movement, because, I don’t know, I cannot slide so good. Normally I can move very well, but on clay it’s always a little bit different and difficult for me,” she added.

Kerber hit 25 unforced errors in her 82-minute defeat to Makarova, who looked like her former top-10 self and was untroubled throughout the clash.

“I think she played a good match. It was a tough first round,” said Kerber of the Russian.

“I had a few chances in the first set and also in the second set, and I didn’t make it. I think that was the key for the match. I mean, I believed in the second set, as well, that I can turn around the match and I was still believing until the last point.”

Unfortunately, belief is no longer enough to paper over Kerber’s cracks.

The 29-year-old admits it hasn’t been easy to enjoy herself on court these days, and that the problem is both technical and mental.

“I think it’s both. I think it’s always a combination of everything. Also, like, fitness-wise is when you are not moving so good. Then it’s, of course, technical. You’re always too slow to the balls, and mentally, as well. If you are losing a lot of first rounds now, especially on clay, which is not my best surface, the confidence is not there like when I’m playing on hard or if you win a little bit more matches,” she explains.

The expectations that come with being world No1 have clearly weighed down on her but the two-time Grand Slam champion says that the pressure she puts on herself is also a factor.

“Last year it was a completely different year. I mean, the pressure is always there. This year the expectations are much bigger, especially in the big tournaments and the Grand Slams. And the expectations are also from me really big, of course, because I know what I can do, what I did last year,” said Kerber, who won two of the three major finals she reached in 2016.

“But right now I think that I have to find to myself again and just trying to forgot the clay court season as soon as possible and then reset and starting from the grass courts again.”

She sounds determined to find a solution for her slump  – if you can call it a slump, after all she is still No1.

“Of course, if you are losing it’s always tough to enjoying the game. I know in the last years I had always up and downs and right now, of course, I’m in actually the down feeling,” she concedes.

“I’m still enjoying playing tennis. Of course, this is what I love and I will try to find the solution to come back maybe stronger.

“And try to learn from this moment. Of course, it’s also a little bit painful the way now. But, yeah, now I cannot changing anymore and trying to looking forward.”

Kerber can lose her No1 ranking by the end of Roland Garros if Simona Halep wins the title in Paris or Karolina Pliskova reaches the final.

Makarova now has the fourth-most top-10 wins amongst active players at Grand Slams with her victory over Kerber being her 10th (Serena Williams – 56, Venus Williams 36, Maria Sharapova 19).

The Russian was thrilled with her victory.

“Of course it’s a special day and a special moment and total different emotions,” said Makarova, who next plays Lesia Tsurenko.

“I actually never played my singles on Philippe Chatrier here for nine years of playing here the main draw. I was playing all the time on Lenglen when I was going farther on the draw, so today was special day for me. I really enjoyed my singles out there.”

This was her first win over a reigning world No1 and she entered the contest with a 0-4 record against such opposition.

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