Kerber's rivals are happy there's a new face at the top

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Kerber in Wuhan (Photo credit: Visual China Group)

Wuhan, China — Freshly minted world No1 and US Open champion Angelique Kerber returns to the tour this week in Wuhan, where she has been on the receiving end of an outpour of support and praise from her fellow tennis players since she arrived.

“It’s positive energy, that’s a good feeling,” is how Kerber described the reaction she’s been getting from her peers after she claimed a second grand slam of the season in New York two weeks ago, and dethroned Serena Williams, who had been at the top of the rankings for the past three and a half years.

“This is really nice to have the respect of the players,” she added.

At 28, Kerber has managed to tick not one but four boxes all in the span of nine months – win a first major, win an Olympic medal, win a second major and become number one.

She’s made three grand slam finals in 2016, winning the Australian Open, and US Open, and placing runner-up to Williams at Wimbledon.

The German says she is most proud of her mental strength this season, which has allowed her to overcome some powerful opponents and some seemingly insurmountable pressure.

Her consistency and drive have not been lost on her rivals who not only believe Kerber’s success is well-deserved, but that having a new face at the top is a welcome change to the women’s game.

“I think this year, 2016, has been a crazy year for a lot of things that happened. But I’m happy that we have a new face in the world No1, not because I have a preference, but just because I think it’s good sometimes. It’s about time also to refresh a little bit,” said world No3 Garbine Muguruza, who herself had a breakthrough title run at the French Open this season.

“But, yeah, for sure, things are changing. I think last year the winners of grand slams was like Serena, all of them. I think to have variety is good. Better if I’m one of those faces.

“I think Kerber did an amazing year. Very surprised about her. She should be very happy.”

Unlike Muguruza, world No9 Madison Keys, is not surprised by Kerber’s ascension to No1.

The American has lost twice to Kerber this season, at the semi-finals in the Olympics in Rio and in the Miami quarter-finals earlier in the year. Both defeats came in straight sets. Keys is 1-5 overall against Kerber and the pair have had some epic duels in the past.

“So much fun,” joked Keys when asked about her history with Kerber.

“It doesn’t surprise me (that she’s No1). I mean, being on the other side of the net, it’s not surprising in the slightest. Great for her. It’s really cool to see.

“Obviously Serena is Serena. But it’s really cool to see Angie there. I think 100 per cent she’s probably been the most consistent player the entire year.”

Halep practicing in Wuhan. (Credit: Visual China Group)

Halep practicing in Wuhan. (Credit: Visual China Group)

Fifth-ranked Simona Halep, who made the Roland Garros final in 2014 and is still in search of a maiden grand slam title, says that watching Kerber rise like that has given her more belief in her own abilities.

“It’s different (that Kerber is now No1. I feel that everything, it’s open now. I feel that everyone has a chance to win a big tournament, to reach the No 1 seed. It’s not easy, of course. You have to work a lot, to give everything you have, to give the best all the time, like Kerber did this year,” said the Romanian.

“She deserves to be there. She worked hard. She played great during the grand slams. That’s the most important thing. Everyone has a chance to reach the top if we believe. And we started to believe more, I think.

Halep added: “I can say that it’s much easier to work, it’s much easier to believe in yourself when you see that Serena is not there anymore, like, winning every tournament, being No1 in the world for years.”

Spanish world No8 Carla Suarez Navarro echoed Halep’s thoughts.

“For me the No1 of Kerber is not a surprise because she was during so many years there. I know her. I know how she works,” she said. “I think she really deserves it.

“It’s good. A new change for tennis, for tennis fans, for us, because we know that we can have door open to be there also. It’s good. I mean, I’m really happy for Angie.”

World No10 Svetlana Kuznetsova, a player who has won two grand slams, five years apart, was asked if it felt different not having Williams at the top.

“It’s hard to say because Serena only depends on Serena and maybe some good or bad luck or whatever. But Angelique is playing amazing, consistency-wise,” said the Russian veteran.

“She played an unbelievable year. Nobody could have predicted this would happen at this stage in her career, so it’s kind of like the second part of her career and nobody did that before and I think it’s great for tennis and it’s a great example for other players.”

Kerber plays her first match in Wuhan on Tuesday against the winner of Monday’s clash between American Coco Vandeweghe and Kristina Mladenovic of France.

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