After a successful weekend in Romania, it was back to business for Angelique Kerber in Stuttgart. Less than 24 hours after celebrating a 4-1 victory in Cluj, the 28-year-old was in Stuttgart answering media requests and played an exhibition doubles match. Being Porsche’s main brand ambassador and recent Australian Open champion meant double duty — and a lot more attention than in 2015. René Denfeld reviews Kerber’s busy homecoming.
With two main draw matches and four qualifying matches as well as the Berenberg Classics, the opening Monday at the Porsche Arena was brimming with activity — and yet, the main focus of the day was on a certain Angelique Kerber. It was around this time last year when the German’s resurgence began after a dip in form in early 2015. After winning Charleston, Stuttgart, Birmingham and Stanford in 2015, Kerber elevated herself from “Premier expert” to Grand Slam champion at the Australian Open in January this year.
As a result, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Stuttgart media center was full to the brim earlier today, as Kerber returned to WTA competition at home after going through a press whirlwind in Leipzig at Fed Cup — just one week after her victory in Melbourne. As such, Kerber is going into this week’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix with most of the spotlight firmly placed on her — but it’s not as daunting as experience as it used to be for the German No. 1.
“I’m not scared [of all the attention] whatsoever,” she said. “I’ve gained a lot of experience in the last couple of weeks when it comes to pressure, being a defending champion and so on. I’m looking forward to this tournament. It’s a home tournament — it’s my favorite tournament. Last year, I won here and I’ll try to enjoy every minute, give my best on court — but also soak it all in off-court — just like last year.”
Even before Kerber started her media marathon, everyone was already buzzing about German No. 1. Michael Stich, 1993 Wimbledon champion and in town for Monday’s exhibition matches, was also asked plenty of questions with regards to the effect of Kerber’s win at the Australian Open.
“I believe Kerber’s success has been a massive influence on the visibility of the sport and it’s going to be felt here at the tournament as well. She’s accepted the leadership role as a Grand Slam champion as well as in the Fed Cup team, and particularly the Porsche Junior Team, has a player in Kerber who they orientate themselves by. She’s not just someone who spent a long time in the Top 10 but also won big time who can be a role model and I think she’ll have a fantastic influence on them.
“A tennis boom like during the Becker/Graf era is not going happen anymore. Steffi is Steffi and Boris is Boris and there won’t be replica of either player — and there doesn’t have to be another tennis boom. But we need a new break of dawn for tennis in Germany and Kerber has played a significant part in that.”
Stich also mentioned that he almost wished Kerber had taken a little more time off after her after her success Down Under and not done quite as many off-court commitments — but Kerber was keen to point out that she’s been able to regain the balance between her tennis, her obligations and her private life.
“I’ve definitely learned that I’ve got to find time for myself and my training despite everything going on around me in terms of commitments — that I’ve got to continue training and and work as hard on myself and my tennis as I did before I went to Australia, because exactly that’s what’s made me strong — taking the time for myself, just going out for a few hours and not thinking about tennis, just meeting with friends and reading a book.
“I’ve learned that I need that time, also to regain the joy and motivation on court. I know how important this is for me.”
After two early losses in Doha and Indian Wells, Kerber rebounded in Miami and Charleston with semifinal appearances and also reassured that her dip was just a blip, rather than an actual losing streak or her form dropping off of a cliff.
“I played a little worse for two tournaments, but it’s not like I’be been unable to hit a ball for half a year — I just happened to play a little worse. It was certainly a new situation for me and I had to grow into it. It was all new to me. I’ve done so many things and I had to grow into this new role, and I think I’ve been able to do that over the course of the past few weeks and thus my results have picked up again. I’ve just started calming down internally and rediscovered my strength on – and off court – and that’s the most important thing.”
Kerber herself is all too aware of the “consequences” of her success but despite some initial adjustment time, she’s starting to find her feet in her new role as flagship of German tennis.
“I noticed it all starting when I returned from Australia. And it got more, way more. Even during the tournaments, I’ve got more off-court commitments, more things to do between training sessions and after the matches. Of course, it’s a different level of attention when I’m at tournaments or walk through the street, but I always dreamed about this level of success — it’s definitely nice and I wouldn’t want to trade with anyone.”
After Kerber’s frantic day right after the Fed Cup weekend continued with further TV interviews and a show match alongside Michael Chang, as they faced fellow Porsche brand ambassador Marc Webber and Stich.
Tomorrow, however, Kerber will have the opportunity to kick back and relax a little — perhaps for the first time on German soil since winning the Australian Open. The No. 2 seed has a bye in Stuttgart and won’t start her campaign before Wednesday, when she’ll face the winner of compatriot Annika Beck and lucky loser Camila Giorgi.