Target now on Kerber's back, after taming Williams
Weight of expectations on Kerber after beating Williams and rising to world No. 2
Angelique Kerber leapt into murky surroundings yesterday, just hours after she became the first German since 1999 to win a Grand Slam title by defeating world No. 1 Serena Williams at the Australian Open.
The 28-year-old's plunge into the Yarra River yesterday, as a result of a bet with Eurosport journalist Matthias Stach, was an apt metaphor for what her life now holds.
Today, Kerber is expected to rise to a career-high No. 2 on the WTA Tour rankings.
She can also expect a warm reception from her home country after she became the first German since her childhood idol Steffi Graf to clinch a Grand Slam title, prompting congratulations from sportspeople and the country's Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Kerber's victory also painted a large target on her back by proving that Williams was not invincible, though she was quick to acknowledge the American's powers were not on the wane.
"Against Serena, it's not so easy to win. You must play your best to beat her," Kerber said.
"But, of course, a lot of new and good players are coming. They will challenge Serena, will challenge me and all the good players.
"Let's see what happens in the next few months."
Kerber's victory would undoubtedly not force a seismic shift in the women's game. Many of the world's top women are power hitters and the German is among them.
However, by producing superb defence along the baseline chasing down Williams' blistering groundstrokes and forcing the American to play one extra shot, she proved the 21-time Grand Slam winner was fallible.
That resulted in unforced errors, something Williams had not done through her run to a seventh Australian Open final.
Williams produced 23 unforced errors in the first set of the final, which gave Kerber all of the momentum she needed, knowing that battling back from a set down would be tough against one of the game's best closers.
"I was happy that I won the first set," she said.
"I was actually more confident going into the third set (and) I told myself actually, 'Okay, you can do it'."
That mental toughness has been a long time in the making, stemming from a poor run in 2011 when she suffered 11 successive first-round losses.
A surprise run to her first Grand Slam final at the US Open in 2011 while ranked 92nd in the world had helped turn it around.
Since 2012, when she clinched her first WTA title, she has been ranked inside the top 10.
Winning also breeds confidence, she added.
"Here, it's changed everything," she said.
"You must be relaxed and you must really believe in yourself. This is actually the biggest thing that I learnt in these two weeks, to go for it.
"Of course, you will have some losses in your career and also tough moments still. But you must believe that you can do it."
Meanwhile, Williams said her upset loss in the Australian Open final on Saturday was a wake-up call for the rest of the year if she wants to add to her 21 Grand Slam titles.
With her shock defeat by Kerber, the 34-year-old American failed in her bid to match Graf's Open-era record of 22 Grand Slam titles, which will now have to wait at least until the French Open in June.
The world No. 1 said she would learn from her mistakes - of which there were many in an uncharacteristically error-strewn performance.
"For sure, It's good to know that if I want to win some tournaments, I have to play better," she said.
"I was missing a lot off the ground, coming to the net. She kept hitting some great shots every time I came in.
"I kept picking the wrong shots coming into it. But, honestly, it's something to learn from, just to try to get better."
- Wire Services.