2012 Tennis Awards: Breakthrough Player of the Year - Female
2012 hasn’t been short on breakthrough moments among the women, as we saw in the nominations list last week. Agnieszka Radwanska reached her maiden Slam final at Wimbledon and came within touching distance of the No. 1 ranking, despite the general consensus about her game before this year being that it was clever but not punchy enough to rattle the top women. Sara Errani, another Slam final debutant, put in a string of consistent performances throughout the season to ensure her qualification for the year-end championships. Then there was Laura Robson, who sent Kim Clijsters into early retirement with a stunning upset at the US Open, and followed that up with a gutsy win over Li Na. There was also Mona Barthel, the hard-hitting German, who captured the imagination of tennis followers in the early part of 2012 with her no-holds barred game; she was the female version of Jerzy Janowicz, if you will.
But the strongest statement of all was made by another German woman, perhaps the unlikeliest of them all.
During the first half of 2011, two German women started to make some noise on the WTA circuit – Julia Georges and Sabine Lisicki- leading to talk of a revival of fortunes in German women’s tennis. But no one would have thought that just 18 months later, an unheralded 24-year-old going by the name of Angelique Kerber would surpass both Georges and Lisicki to become the top-ranked German in the world and the first from her country to be ranked in the top 5 since the legendary Steffi Graf was No. 3 way back in 1999.
Kerber’s ascent into the spotlight started with an unlikely semi-final run at the US Open in 2011, where she was ranked 92nd in the world. But the German scored wins over four players ranked above her, including then world no. 13 Agnieszka Radwanska and world no. 25 Flavia Pennetta, before losing to eventual champion Samantha Stosur in three sets in the semi-finals.
That one event provided Kerber all the confidence she needed to believe that she could compete with the best players in the world and proved to be a launch pad for her into the big league. Kerber went 7-4 after New York and ended 2011 ranked inside the top 30.
But it has been in 2012 that Kerber has propelled herself into one of the more consistent and reliable players on the tour. The German, who turns 25 in January, won two titles this year, reached the finals of two others and the semi-finals on six other occasions. The German’s game is built on good court movement, rock solid defense and the ability to turn defense into offense easily.
After going 0-11 against top 10 players till last year, Kerber went 8-15 against the top 10 players in 2012 and scored wins over the likes of Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova, Maria Sharapova, Li Na and Caroline Wozniacki. “I believe one of the key things has been my practice — the way I take them and the way I have been doing it this past year. I practised a lot more and really gave importance to fitness training. Also, winning Paris gave me the confidence that was missing. Now, I feel I trust my game. Knowing I can beat top players was necessary to take me to another level,” Kerber commented.
The German won 60 matches on the tour in 2012, more than the combined matches she had won until last year in six seasons on the tour. And she also managed to go deep in the Majors this year – making the quarter-finals of the French Open and the semi-finals at Wimbledon. “I’ve been working really hard to get there. I gained a lot of confidence by the fact that my work was paying off and I was able to defeat top players. I feel stronger mentally and physically than I was a year ago. But I know I still need to improve so that I can continue being a consistent top 10 player and grow into the top 5.”
Although Kerber did flame out to some extent at the end of the season, going only 5-5 after the US Open, including 0-3 at the season-ending WTA Tour Championships in Istanbul, but that was probably due to the sheer number of matches she had played this year.
Going from no. 92 to no. 5 in the span of just 15 months is certainly no mean achievement. Surely, it is enough to earn Angelique Kerber the Breakthrough Player of the Year honours.
Catch the rest of the awards here: 2012 Tennis Awards