Ker­ber finds it tough at the top

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

LON­DON — There are few things in ten­nis more em­bar­rass­ing than be­ing beaten in the first round of a Grand Slam tour­na­ment while ranked No 1 in the world.

For An­gelique Ker­ber, it’s a fresh mem­ory af­ter be­ing bounced at the French Open just five weeks ago.

Only two women at Wimbledon in the pro­fes­sional era — St­effi Graf in 1994 and Martina Hingis in 1999 and 2001 — have du­pli­cated that du­bi­ous feat.

But such has been the woe­ful form of Ker­ber, many pun­dits feared she might be head­ing for a Paris-Lon­don first-round exit dou­ble on Tues­day — a day when she had been handed the honor of open­ing Cen­tre Court pro­ceed­ings in the ab­sence of ti­tle holder Ser­ena Wil­liams.

But Ker­ber proved the naysay­ers wrong with her 6-4, 6-4 win over Amer­i­can qual­i­fier Irina Fal­coni.

How­ever, the man­ner of her win against an op­po­nent who had never won a match at Wimbledon in four pre­vi­ous vis­its and is ranked 247 th, did lit­tle to quell the be­lief that Ker­ber is un­likely to re­peat her spec­tac­u­lar 2016 run when she fin­ished run­ner-up to Wil­liams, who is tak­ing a hia­tus from play­ing dur­ing her preg­nancy.

“Play­ing first rounds in Grand Slams are al­ways tough, es­pe­cially with (the mem­ory of ) my first-round match that I lost in Paris,” Ker­ber said af­ter reg­is­ter­ing her first win at a Grand Slam tour­na­ment since bow­ing out in the fourth round of the Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary.

“I was ac­tu­ally just think­ing about point-by-point, try­ing to find­ing my rhythm dur­ing the whole match,” added the Ger­man, who pro­duced 13 un­forced er­rors and only eight win­ners in a be­low-par open­ing set against Fal­coni.

A sea­son af­ter be­ing the toast of the ten­nis world by winning two Grand Slam ti­tles and fin­ish­ing run­ner up to Wil­liams at the All Eng­land Club, the 29-year-old ad­mit­ted that life at the top has not been an easy ride.

“There is much more ex­pec­ta­tion, much more pres­sure, from me, from out­side, from ev­ery­thing,” said Ker­ber, whose No 1 rank­ing is on the line at Wimbledon.

“It’s eas­ier to go there than to stay there.”

Such have been Ker­ber’s tri­als and tribu­la­tions this year — reach­ing only one fi­nal com­pared with a WTA tourlead­ing eight in 2016 — that one false move here and the chas­ing duo of Karolina Pliskova or Si­mona Halep could un­seat her from the top spot.

ALAS­TAIR GRANT / AP

An­gelique Ker­ber stretches for a re­turn en route to her 6-4, 6-4 win over Irina Fal­coni on Tues­day.

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