Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber battled back from first-round humiliation and a drastic tumble down the seedings to lift the title.
The first German to claim either singles championship since Steffi Graf in 1996, she said last night: “Without 2017 I couldn’t win this tournament. I learned a lot from last year with all the expectation and all the things I went through. I learned so many things about myself and now I try to enjoy every single moment.”
Kerber won two Grand Slams in 2016 but last year became the first No 1 seed to lose in the first round of a major, the French Open, an unwanted feat she repeated at the US Open.
She thought it unlikely she would ever repeat her breakout year. “Making that again is impossible,” she said. “But now I just try to improve my game, think not too much about the results, try being a better player and a better person.”
Kerber’s first tennis-themed memory was watching Graf win in SW19. “It was always my dream as a little girl to do the same,” she said. She admitted to being nervous before the match, being fully aware that only an exceptional performance would do against Serena Williams. “I was trying to tell myself, ‘Go out there and play your best,’ because I knew against Serena I had to do that. She’s a champion. That she came back after having a baby is great. But I knew I had to take my first chance because she would be fighting until the last one. I’m happy that I won the match. I think she didn’t lose it, I won it.”
Neither woman said the late start owing to the delay in completing the men’s semis had disrupted their preparation and Williams admitted Kerber had played “unbelievable”.
Reaching the final had surprised Williams. “I entered just wanting to win some matches. I kept winning,” she said. “A couple of months ago I didn’t know where I was, how I would do, if I’d be able to come back. These two weeks have showed me that, okay, I can compete. This is just the beginning.”
Obviously becoming a mother has re-ordered her life. “My priority is my baby, you know.” But she hoped her achievement in returning to the sport could serve as inspiration to other working mums. “I had such a long struggle and it was really difficult but I feel that if I can do it, they can.” One day she’ll tell daughter Olympia the story of how she got back to a Grand Slam final in front of two duchesses – “but probably I’ll change the ending!”