At this week’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, expecting the unexpected was part of the whole experience — and hometown surprise package Laura Siegemund played a huge part in that. In today’s final, the qualifier faced Australian Open champion — and defending champion in Stuttgart — Angelique Kerber. While Siegemund got off to a strong start, in the end it was the Porsche brand ambassador who took home her second Porsche.
It was a fairytale week for Laura Siegemund. After coming through qualifying without dropping a set, the 28-year-old German continued her streak of brushing opponents aside, defeating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Simona Halep, Roberta Vinci and Agnieszka Radwanska to make the first WTA final of her career — facing Germany’s No. 1 player Angelique Kerber.
After a successful Fed Cup weekend in Cluj, Kerber returned to Stuttgart as defending champion to take on a media and commitment-packed week in her home country. The world No. 3 made it through a tough opening match against compatriot Annika Beck and had another difficult battle on her hands when she faced a red hot Petra Kvitova in the semifinals — however, the Porsche brand ambassador got the job done, and ran away with the final four games to make it to the final on Sunday.
In today’s match, however, it was the underdog who came out firing, as she found a lot of down the line shots early on and looked on course to continue her dream week as she opened up a 3-0 lead. It took Kerber a little while to find her footing in the match but almost the minute she was able to settle down, the lefty started to gain a firm grip of the match. The pair began exchanging a couple of breaks and Siegemund looked to pull away once more as she claimed her opponent’s service game for 4-2.
Unfortunately for Siegemund, at that very moment, the wave she had been riding all week finally began to crest. The clock struck 12 on the qualifier and her Cinderella story reached its pumpkin moment. From 2-4 down in the first set, Kerber reeled off the final 10 games of the match against her opponent. Perhaps there was some foreshadowing of the end result just one game earlier, as Siegemund told her coach during the 2-3 changeover that she felt a step slow — for the remainder of the match, it began to show.
While the surprise package of Stuttgart enthralled the public with her variety and her explosive shots off the ground throughout the week, the drop shots Siegemund hit — much like her net charging — started to become too predicable for an opponent as experienced as Kerber, who was finding her groove. The 2016 Australian Open champion took control of the rallies and goaded Siegemund into more easy errors while giving very little away herself.
The crucial moment came in the first game of the second set, right after Kerber wrapped up the opener, 6-4. The qualifier played a marathon service game but after 11 minutes, another ill-advised drop shot spelled doom for Siegemund as Kerber quickly brushed it away for a backhand winner and the immediate break.
The World No. 71 — who’s scheduled to climb up to No. 42 on Monday — headed off-court for a medical time out at 0-3 in the second set and it become increasingly obvious that Siegemund’s heroics of winning seven matches in eight days started catching up with her — both mentally and physically. Ultimately, she just didn’t have enough left in the tank to give a rock-solid Kerber more than a scare at the beginning of the match.
For the World No. 3, Stuttgart marks the first time that she defended a title in her career, as she showed that her new-found confidence from the Australian Open earlier this year isn’t just a one-off — she took the media whirlwind and massive expectations at home in her stride. While for Siegemund, this week was the culmination of a rise that had begun in the second half of 2015 and continued throughout much of this year.
In the players’ own words
On handling the moment and overcoming a slightly ragged start:
“First of all, Laura had an unbelievable run here in Stuttgart and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, also mentally. The most important things was to remain calm and just to trust in my strengths and that’s what I did. At the beginning, I had to get used to her game. It wasn’t that easy to find my rhythm but after the first two or three games I was able to get a feeling and played my game until the end.”
On dealing with the audience that might’ve been siding with the underdog:
“I didn’t really try to shut it out but accept it for what it is. I’ve got to say that audience was incredible once again and I enjoyed playing the finals once again. My goal was to win and to defend my title and I was able to do that and it’s just such a special moment because the year had such a good start and to win the title here was something really special. I mean, the audience…sure, it couldn’t have been better than having two Germans in the finals and it was still goosebumps all over to play here.”
On defending a title — for the first time in her career:
“It’s different, I think. First time around it was “the first time” and now to defend it wasn’t exactly easier — in fact a little more difficult and to win Stuttgart twice in a row and particularly here at home, in front of a home crowd, that counts for me personally. It was a tough week — but an incredibly beautiful week for me.”
On her mental turnaround in the past six months — learning how to deal with pressure situations:
“For me, I wanted to accept this challenge and with the pressure situations I failed a few times in the past like in Singapore last year. I don’t want this to happen again and I learned from that situation — today, I wanted to go out and win. I didn’t want to go out and hope that I don’t lose but I really wanted to go out there and defend my title and win for the second time — and that’s what I did and that was my attitude.”
On weighing up the joy of the week and the disappointment of losing today
“Well, you never know how you’ll react. For me it’s a new situation as well. Right now I’m extremely disappointed even though I saw it coming. I mean, I got a feeling for my body and yesterday I already said, ‘Guys, we gotta make use of every minute…’
I made use of every minute as well as I could and I ended up in exactly the situation that I feared might happen — me starting really well and then the ‘Dear God’ suddenly pulls the plug.”
On having to take her physical break in the second set:
“I don’t want to go into specifics. It’s just after a week like this your body just has little ailments everywhere [laughs] but it wouldn’t have changed the result of the match — even if I hadn’t had anything. It was tiredness that cost me the win today — plain and simple — and not a pulled or stiff muscle, that’s really secondary.”
On whether the mental or physical fatigue was predominant today:
“A little bit of both but I think mentally I could have pulled myself together for one more afternoon — it was physically. It’s also they say when you feel tired physically, mentally you are already very tired much before you know [it]. So there is some bad decision-making where you go like, ‘Jesus Christ, why this shot now?’ It’s just this combination that it’s just difficult — but I would say mentally you can always work on it, physically there is nothing to grab. If there is no energy, you need to run to play tennis (laughs).”