DES­TINED FOR THE TOP

Wawrinka be­lieves Fed­erer can re­gain World No 1 spot

New Straits Times - - Sport -

MI­AMI MI­AMI: Ger­many’s An­gelique Ker­ber heads into this week’s Mi­ami Open in the un­usual po­si­tion of hav­ing re­gained the world num­ber one rank­ing de­spite a dis­ap­point­ing start to the sea­son.

But the 29-year-old says her newly gained sta­tus will not add any ex­tra pres­sure as she seeks to se­cure her first tour­na­ment win of 2017.

“I am num­ber one again but this is not what is re­ally im­por­tant for me. What is im­por­tant is that I go out and play good matches, that is why I am here,” An­gelique said on Tues­day.

“I think I have got used al­ready to pres­sure. This is not a prob­lem one in his­tory at the age of 35.

Fed­erer beat Wawrinka in the fi­nal of In­dian Wells on Sun­day for his sec­ond win of the year fol­low­ing his tri­umph in the Aus­tralian Open — his 18th grand slam ti­tle and his first in four and a half years.

Those wins have pro­pelled the Swiss mas­ter to sixth in the world as he makes ex­cel­lent progress af­ter a six-month lay­off caused by a knee in­jury.

Com­pa­triot Wawrinka be­lieves that not only is Fed­erer back in at all. Of course it is a new chal­lenge, a com­pletely new year for me, so I think its not so easy but in the end, it is just the be­gin­ning of the year, I am feel­ing good and prac­tis­ing good and I still think I can have a good year,” she said.

An­gelique lost top spot to Ser­ena Wil­liams af­ter the Amer­i­can won the Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary, but the 23-time Grand Slam win­ner’s knee in­jury forced her out of In­dian Wells ear­lier this month and the Mi­ami tour­na­ment.

But the Poland-based An­gelique’s form has hardly been that of the world’s best.

In Cal­for­nia she went out in the round of 16 to Rus­sia’s even­tual win­ner Elena Ves­nina and her only form but he is play­ing in a no­tice­ably dif­fer­ent man­ner that gives him a chance to re­turn to the pin­na­cle of the rank­ings.

“He’s play­ing re­ally well, what is dif­fer­ent maybe is he is play­ing closer from the base­line, pre­fer­ring, us­ing less his slice, he is us­ing more top spin, putting more pres­sure all the time, re­turn­ing bet­ter that’s the dif­fer­ence I seem,” Wawrinka said on Tues­day at the Mi­ami Open.

“For sure he has a shot for num­ber one, he has just won the first Mas­ters fi­nal. For sure he has a big shot,” he told re­porters.

An­dre Agassi holds the record for be­ing the old­est player to hold the men’s No 1 rank­ing, at the age of 33.

“It is go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing to see. Rafa (Nadal) is play­ing well also and we will see when No­vak (Djokovic) and Andy (Mur­ray) are back from in­jury, it is go­ing to be re­ally in­ter­est­ing for ten­nis fans,” deep run in a tour­na­ment this year was in Dubai in Fe­bru­ary, where she lost to Ukrainian Elina Svi­tolina in the semi-fi­nal.

An­gelique has also failed to beat a top-20 ranked player this year, rais­ing ques­tions about her form af­ter a stel­lar 2016 in which she won the Aus­tralian Open and the US Open and was run­ner-up at Wim­ble­don.

For­mer World No 1 and 18-time grand slam win­ner Chris Evert be­lieves An­gelique is not tak­ing enough risks with her play.

“I think it’s all in her head, and it is a big ad­just­ment to have that num­ber one bulls­eye on your back and to con­tinue to play with the fear­less­ness that it took for Wawrinka said.

Wawrinka said it wasn’t a shock to see Fed­erer, who now has 90 ca­reer ti­tles, back to such form but that he was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed by his move­ment.

“From him noth­ing is a sur­prise, but for sure to see him mov­ing that well at that age it is some­thing amaz­ing. It is good for me to see that you can be at the top (at that age). It is amaz­ing to see how he is play­ing af­ter a six­month in­jury.”

Fed­erer said he was well ahead of his tar­get of reach­ing the top eight be­fore Wim­ble­don and said he was en­joy­ing the very dif­fer­ent feel­ing of suc­cess late in his ca­reer.

“At 25 I was win­ning 95 per cent of my matches and even­tu­ally you are just on this train where you just keep rolling and you just ex­pect your­self to win a lot, you play many more tour­na­ments and you are just rac­ing from one to the next, it was an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence her to get there,” said Chris, now an ESPN tele­vi­sion an­a­lyst.

“She went out of the box in big matches that she won last year; she took more chances. She played more fear­less ten­nis. She went for more shots.

“She re­ally, to me, this year has gone back into the type of ten­nis she played two years ago when she was top five in the world, but not num­ber one,” she added.

An­gelique though be­lieves she is just go­ing through a dip in form which is sim­ply part of a near al­lyear-round sport.

“I don’t think you can play (all) one year on the top level, you al­ways have ups and downs,” she said. to be able to keep that high level for so long and be beat­ing so many other guys and win so many fi­nals in a row, I had some un­be­liev­able records,” he said.

“It is def­i­nitely very dif­fer­ent, this year is very dif­fer­ent to any other year that I have had, last year was also very dif­fer­ent with the in­jury. But with the age, the come­back, I think this is very, very spe­cial for me and I def­i­nitely see things dif­fer­ently to how I ever have (in the past), it is nor­mal when you re­alise that you are not go­ing to have an­other 15 years to play on tour,” he said.

Fed­erer could face a strong chal­lenge from old ri­val Rafa Nadal who is seek­ing his first ever win in Mi­ami af­ter los­ing in four fi­nals at the Key Bis­cayne venue.

The Swiss, a win­ner in 2005 and 2006, is the only for­mer win­ner in the field and is look­ing for a third sweep of In­dian Wells and Mi­ami ti­tles. AFP

“I had it last year as well so I am not mak­ing a big deal out of it. I am still play­ing good and feel­ing good. You go out and play your best and the oth­ers have noth­ing to lose against you, that’s a new sit­u­a­tion for me,” she said.

Should An­gelique progress to the third round at Mi­ami she will come up against 19-year-old Rus­sian Daria Kasatik­ina who has al­ready beaten her twice this year — in Syd­ney and Qatar.

But An­gelique said that po­ten­tial match-up was far from her mind.

“First I have my first round and that is the tough­est thing and is what I am think­ing about, I take it round by round,” she said. AFP

World No 1 An­gelique Ker­ber

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