2016 Australian Open: Can Angelique Kerber beat the 'great' Serena Williams?
Women’s tennis, over the years, has always been more competitive and unpredictable when compared to Men’s tennis. A quick glance at the list of Grand Slam winners over the last decade is proof enough. While there have been 15 different Grand Slam winners among the Women from 2005 to 2015, the Men’s side has had just 8 of them during the same period.
This year’s Australian Open saw some upstarts who caused major upsets in the opening rounds. Zhang Shuai, the 27 year old Chinese qualifier who had never gone past the First Round in 14 attempts at Grand Slams, seemed unstoppable after ousting Simona Halep in an emotional first round win. Her free flowing tennis, punctuated by focus and grit, was spirited and inspiring. Since Li Na’s retirement it had been a while since a Chinese player made it to latter rounds of a Grand Slam.
Naomi Osaka, the 18-year-old who is half Japanese and half Haitian, drew gasps of bewilderment with her heavy groundstrokes, court coverage and stone faced demeanor. Touted as a dangerous player by the Great Serena Williams herself, Osaka did show some glimpses of a future Grand Slam Champion.
Daria Gavrilova, the adopted daughter of Australia, did raise some eyebrows with her brand of tennis. Seeming more of a pugilist than a tennis player, this pocket rocket packed quite a punch as she knocked out the two-time Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova.
Margarita Gasparyan and Anna-Lena Friedsam were two other players who made their mark in the Slam Down Under. While the former wooed the crowds with her majestic single handed backhand, the latter rallied from a set down to beat the 2015 US Open Finalist Roberta Vinci.
After one of the most improbable twists of history at the US Open last year that saw an all Italian Women’s Final, the buzz around Serena Williams is relatively subdued. The 21-time Grand Slam champion, who looks as ominous as ever, has quietly made her way to yet another Grand Slam final.
Can Angie Kerber defend Steffi Graf’s elite status?
Angelique Kerber is like the Berlin Wall. The tenacious, hardworking German wields a defense so strong that it is almost impossible to put a ball past her. Among the current brigade of German girls, she has by far been the most consistent. Although in the Australian Open 2016 she was joined by fellow Germans like Anika Beck and Ana-Lena Friedsam in the latter rounds, Kerber has been the best bet for German Tennis.
Steffi Graf was the last German woman to win a Grand Slam. It was her record 22nd Grand Slam victory at the French Open in 1999. After her first win over Victoria Azarenka in 7 encounters, Kerber credited her idol Steffi Graf. Kerber attributed her victory and deep run in the Aussie Open to Graf’s words of wisdom that seemed to have instilled immense self-belief in the young German.
The Million Dollar Question – Can Serena Williams be stopped?
Following her shock exit in the US Open 2015 Semi Final, Serena Williams clinched her first tour win in four months in the First Round of the Australian Open 2016. After being tested by the feisty Italian Camilla Giorgi in the First Round, Williams has been crushing every opponent on her way to the Semi Finals. She extended her winning streak when she crushed a hapless Maria Sharapova for the 18th consecutive time in their Quarter Final clash.
Serena Williams, who carries the same knee injury as Rafael Nadal, seems unperturbed and less overwhelmed than she seemed at the US Open where she was the cynosure of all tennis eyes. Her steely resolve and fire in the belly make up for the lack of cartilage in her left knee. Williams still covers every inch of the court with the same zeal, hits every shot with her trademark venom and is on track to scripting history, rather ‘her’story.
Williams is undoubtedly a clear favorite to win the Slam Down Under and tie Steffi Graf. However, owing to the sheer unpredictability of Women’s tennis there is a ray of hope for the Kerber as well.
Kerber has been the only Semi Finalist who has beaten Serena Williams once before. It was in the quarter finals of Cincinnati in 2012. If Steffi Graf were to entrust the responsibility of defending her elite status of the Greatest Female Tennis Player of All Time, who better than Angelique Kerber?