MELBOURNE, Australia – Angelique Kerber was still riding the high of winning her first major title when I caught up with her on Sunday morning, less than 12 hours after her Australian Open triumph. On Saturday, Kerber became the first German to win a major since Steffi Graf in 1999, beating World No.1 Serena Williams 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to with the Australian Open.
En route to her Champion’s Photo Shoot in front of the Government House in Melbourne, Kerber spoke to WTA Insider about her whirlwind 24 hours and how her up-and-down career led her perfectly to this very moment.
WTA Insider: Angelique Kerber. 2016 Australian Open champion. Does it still sound weird to say it out loud?
Kerber: You know, it still sounds a little bit weird, but I think after a few hours, it’s still coming into my mind that I really won the title and won my first Grand Slam. Like I said, it’s a dream come true, and it sounds really nice.
WTA Insider: How was the water in the Yarra? Do you regret the decision to jump in and why did you decide to do it?
Kerber: Two weeks ago when we were walking along the river and talking a little bit about the Australian Open, about the last few weeks. We spoke about how Jim Courier did it once a lot of years ago. Then we decided, ok, let’s make a bet that if I reach the final and I win it after two weeks, we will go in the river.
At the end, it was nice, something different. I won the Australian Open and I love bets, so it’s something really special. You know, the river was really cold and a little bit dirty!
WTA Insider: That was the worry, that it might be a little dodgy.
Kerber: It was a little bit dirty but I was just trying to go for it and trying to keep my face above the river, so it was actually not so bad.
WTA Insider: Be honest: how many hours have you slept since last night?
Kerber: I told you I haven’t been sleeping. I came back at 4am to the hotel and then we decided to go for a drink at the bar. At 7 o’clock in the morning, I had my first interview again. There was no chance to sleep. But I know in a few hours I will on the plane, and I will for sure be sleeping the whole 24 hours.
WTA Insider: Yesterday, your phone was exploding. Players were congratulating you a lot on Twitter. The theme of the tweets was that this was a well deserved title for you. What do you think makes your win resonate in the locker room?
Kerber: It means a lot that there are people and champions or legends writing that I deserved it. I beat Serena in the final and it was an honor for me to play against her. To play against the best in the world and to win against her, because it was a great match and at the end I was going for it. It’s something really special that I won it at the end.
Everybody knows me, that I’m a really hard worker and this is why everybody told me or wrote I deserve it. It’s what I’m really proud of.
WTA Insider: You talked a lot this week about changing your mindset to be about trying to win matches as opposed to waiting for things to happen, for your opponent to miss and give it to you. That’s some nice symbolism for the last four years of career. You’ve said you were someone who has always struggled with self-belief. Why did you lack belief?
Kerber: I think I’m a person that needs a little bit of time. Of course, I believed in myself, but I had a lot of up and downs in my career where I was thinking, is this the right way? Could I reach my goals? But I had a great team around me always telling me that, ‘You’re a great player and you’re practicing and working so hard. One day you will deserve it.’ I was trusting my team more than myself.
I think in these two weeks, it changed a little bit when I won against Azarenka, and I felt, ‘Ok, I can believe in myself.’ This is actually the only way to win a Grand Slam. That was the change that I made in the last few days, to go for it and believe in myself and be aggressive and not hope that someone will give it to me. That was also the key to winning the Australian Open.
WTA Insider: Last year you played a lot of three set matches, classics in fact. But more often than not you were coming out on the losing side of them, especially at the big stages. Do you think some of those tough three-set losses set you up for this win?
Kerber: I think all of the tough losses, or the matches where I lost in three sets, were a way to reach the Grand Slam at the end. I had a lot of experience and I played so many great matches against top players. Some I won, some I lost. At the end, I was always playing good tennis.
It was always tough and three hour matches and everyone’s still playing good against me because they know they must play good to beat me. It was also something that I realized, that they have respect when playing against me. It was a process to really take the next step to win a grand slam. After four yeas in the Top 10, I made the next step and I won it at the end.
WTA Insider: When the on-court announcer said you would rise to World No.2 on Monday, you looked as surprised about that as you were about winning the title. Is that even weirder?
Kerber: It sounds crazy to be the No.2 player in the world. That’s my highest ranking and I’ve reached it at the end. It’s just something so special; I mean, the moment when they said I’d be No.2 on Monday, it’s a great feeling to reach my highest ranking in my career.
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.