CINCINNATI, OH, USA – Five years ago, Germany’s top-ranked woman was asked to handicap her countrywoman at the Western & Southern Open. Having recently made her Top 10 debut, Andrea Petkovic told members of the media to keep an eye out for one player in particular.
“She’s going to come back,” Petkovic said of Angelique Kerber. “I called her and I asked her to come to my academy where I train, and she came there for four weeks and practiced really, really hard.”
Kerber had been ranked as high as No.45 to start the 2011 season, but briefly dropped out of the Top 100 that summer. At the time of Petkovic’s press conference, she had lost 15 of her last 18 WTA main draw matches.
“I promise you she’s going to be at least Top 30 like in six months, because she worked really, really hard and she’s a great player and she’s definitely going to come back.”
To say that Petkovic proved prescient would be the understatement of the decade. Within a week, Kerber reached the semifinals of a WTA International event in Dallas, Texas as a qualifier. Two weeks after that, the then-World No.90 was in the final four of the US Open, upsetting Agnieszka Radwanska and Flavia Pennetta along the way.
“She was helping me in practice,” she said of Petkovic’s advice after her win over Pennetta. “She told me, ‘You can do it. You play very well. You need to play consistent your tennis and not think about something or not think that you can win or you can lose. Just go on the court, play your tennis.’ Yeah, she helps me a lot.”
Kerber ultimately fell to eventual champion Samantha Stosur, but nonetheless beat Petkovic’s prediction by well over three months, cracking the Top 30 for the first time on October 2, 2011.
A lot has changed since then. The reigning Australian Open champion, Wimbledon runner-up, and Olympic Silver medalist is now in pole position to end Serena Williams’ 183 straight weeks atop the WTA rankings. Should she take home the trophy at the very tournament where Petkovic first made her bold prediction, Kerber would become the oldest woman to debut at World No.1 since a 25-year-old Jennifer Capriati in 2001.
She spoke about the pressure of having to back up her Melbourne run, and how it was familiar to her feelings following her 2011 breakthrough, after her opening round win over Kristina Mladenovic:
With dangerous veteran Barbora Strycova looming in the third round, Kerber still has a tough road to reach the top spot, but it’s proving tougher and tougher to bet against the German, especially with the Cincinnati breeze at her back.