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Interview with Angelique Kerber: "My fights with Serena Williams transformed my game"

Kerber reveals to Sportskeeda that her rivalry with Serena Williams helped her become a better tennis player and eventually reach the top.

SINGAPORE - OCTOBER 30:  Runner up Angelique Kerber of Germany receives her trophy from Pierre Veyres of BNP Paribas after the singles final against Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia during day 8 of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore at Singapore Sports Hub on October 30, 2016 in Singapore.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Kerber, who finished runner up at the WTA Finals, unseated Serena Williams as World No. 1 this year

Angelique Kerber is the year-end World No. 1 for the first time in her career, ending Serena Williams' 186-week stay (2013, 2014, 2015) at the top of the rankings.

After a season that saw her lift two Grand Slams (Australian Open and US Open) and reach the final at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the WTA Tour Finals, the German notched up the significant achievement of rising to No. 1 on September 12, 2016. In doing so, the 28-year-old also became the oldest first-time World No. 1 in the history of women's tennis.

She is also the first No. 1 from Germany since her idol Steffi Graf last possesed the title (1996) – that's a gap of 20 years.

In an interview with Sportskeeda, Angelique Kerber spoke about the keys to her success and the importance of her battles with Serena Williams in her career, while agreeing with the stats that 2016 was the best year of her career.

Excerpts:

You won two big tennis tournaments in 2016 (US and Australian Open) and were in the final of three others (Olympic Games, Wimbledon, WTA Tour Finals). Without a doubt, this was the best year of her career by far. What changed? How did you transform yourself from a top 10 player to the best player in the world?

This year has been incredible and certainly the best of my career. I always believed in my ability to compete with the best players, but it took me a little longer to transform into the player I am today. Without a doubt, the mental aspect always plays a key role when it comes to reaching the later stages of a tournament. Looking back, the win at the Australian Open gave me a lot of confidence and definitely had a big effect on everything I achieved afterwards.  

Do you feel that currently you are at the peak of your game? Or do you see the potential to improve further and achieve many more big feats in the future?

There are still so many things that I can improve and that is also what I have to do in order to stay at the top. It is always important to stay motivated and have new goals instead of looking back. I think there is a lot more things to achieve for me if I keep on working hard.

The French Open is the only big tournament where you haven't yet reached the final, and together with Wimbledon the only Major competitions you haven't won. Will you focus your training on winning them so as to enrich your collection of trophies, or will you do your best equally at the other tournaments?

I always try to do my best. When I start a tournament, I do not think that much about how I have performed there the years before. I take every match step by step.

Which player do you consider to be the toughest opponent you've ever faced? We all know Serena Williams is a tremendous player, but is there any other opponent who has given you a lot of trouble mentally?

The players in today's game are indeed very tough – the game has become more and more competitive over the last years. Obviously Serena, as one of the best players in history, is particularly tough to beat. The matches in Melbourne and Wimbledon were very hard fought battles.

Which tennis players were your role models, and how did they influence you in your game and style of play?

Steffi Graf has always been my greatest idol. It inspired me already at a young age to see how she acted on and off the court . She is a great ambassador of our sport. Also there were so many aspects of her game that I could learn from by watching, in regards to her movement and her strategic build-up of points.

What is your opinion of men's tennis? How do you react when some people call you the Rafael Nadal of women's tennis? Do you agree with that comparison, considering you both are left-handed and are excellent counterpunchers?

Tennis has so much to offer as a sport in general and I enjoy watching it as a spectator, both women’s and men’s tennis. There has been such a great competition on the men’s side the last couple of years and it will be very interesting to see about the up and coming next generation. There are differences in terms of game style, such as the importance of the serve, but I feel like the physical aspect has become more and more important in men’s and women’s tennis in the last years.

You have played and won plenty of epic matches, but is there any one in particular that holds a special place in your heart?

Especially this year there were a lot of intense matches that I learnt a lot from. To point out a specific match is always difficult but as I said before the Australian Open final against Serena gave me a lot of confidence and changed the mental approach to my game.

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