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Heir-apparent Kerber confident she can handle pressure


By Simon Cambers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Angelique Kerber says she is ready to deal with the increasing pressure as she targets U.S. Open glory and the world number one ranking.

Victory for the Australian Open champion and Wimbledon runner-up would see Kerber knock Serena Williams off the top spot she has held since early 2013.

Kerber missed the chance to usurp Williams last week when she lost in the final of the Cincinnati Open but says she is trying to focus simply on doing her job.

“I will not put too much pressure on this,” the 28-year-old told reporters at Flushing Meadows on the eve of the event.

“If the day will come I will reach number one, it would be amazing … but I will not think too much (about it).

“I will try to enjoy every moment right now because it's one of the best seasons of my career so far.”

The 28-year-old German, who won her first grand-slam title in Melbourne at the start of the year, lacked belief in the early part of her career.

Her run to the semi-finals in New York in 2011 was the catalyst for her rise up the rankings, but it was a trip to see former world number one Steffi Graf in Las Vegas in early 2015 that really did the trick.

Graf, who shares the Open-era grand-slam record of 22 wins with Williams, told Kerber she was on the right track and to go easier on herself.

Her win over Williams in the Australian Open final was an enormous boost to her confidence and after an early French Open exit, she bounced back superbly to reach the final at Wimbledon.

Now, with a major title under her belt, Kerber feels betterequipped to handle the expectations.

“The pressure, for sure, is maybe a little bit higher, but if I'm not putting the pressure on myself, everything is fine,” the world number two said.

Kerber, who picked up a silver medal at the Olympics, losing to Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig in the final, begins her U.S. challenge against Polona Hercog, of Slovenia.

But although she is tipped for the title she knows that Williams, despite a shoulder concern, is still the one to beat.

“(It’s) Serena and the rest of the field,” she said, laughing. “No, we will see. There are a lot of good players right now and we’ll see how Serena plays.

“I'm feeling good because I have had great matches in the last (few) weeks and especially a lot of positive emotions. I have a lot of confidence to be here again.”

(Reporting by Simon Cambers; Editing by Neville Dalton)

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