Serena Williams gets plenty of attention and accolades, so I don’t mind opening this piece with the loser, Angelique Kerber. The way Kerber tanked from 1-4 on in the second set of their round-robin match of the WTA Championships today was nothing less than disgraceful.
The Championships is supposed to be a major event. The women in Istanbul are being paid a lot of money. The fans, presumably, have paid a lot of money to watch the “elite eight” got at it, hammer and tong. Yet the lingering image of this match for me will be that of Kerber and her coach laughing aloud during the last changeover, and then Kerber throwing the next two games to go down, 6-3, 6-1, in an hour and four minutes.
Granted, Kerber didn’t get off to the best of starts in this one. Who does, though, when Williams is across the net? The top seed held with some effort in the first game, then parlayed a fine drop shot winner and a backhand cross-court service winner from 30-all in the next game to take a 2-0 lead.
Kerber threatened in the very next game, pinning Williams down, 15-40. Williams wriggled out of the jam, though, with a serve-and-backhand-volley combination for 30-40 and a forehand that ended the next rally for deuce. She went on to hold with no further drama, after which Kerber got on the board for 1-3.
So far, so good. In fact, the next six games would all go on serve, a detail I mention just to make sure nobody thinks this was one of those days Serena was simply rolling through a hapless opponent. But Williams’ ability to drive Kerber back off the baseline bore great fruit throughout those games, and it enabled her to dictate the tone and pace of the rallies on a day when her game was in fine all-around shape.
Williams served out the first set in 34 minutes, and quickly brought trouble to Kerber in the next game. The German dismissed two break points with her tricky lefty serve, producing an ace and a service winner to get back to deuce. When Williams followed with a backhand rally error it seemed Kerber might escape the jam, but Serena wouldn’t give it up easily. She forced two more deuces and then watched Kerber deliver back-to-back double faults to fall behind, 0-1.
The next game, a Williams hold, lasted all of 78 seconds. But Kerber responded with a solid hold of her own. Williams foundered a bit in the next game, falling behind 0-30 on a double fault, but she belted her way out of the fix and held for 3-1.
By then, one of the main themes of the match was obvious: Williams’ willingness to go to the net, and her expertise once she got there. She was 13 for 13 on her net approaches (compared to Kerber’s two of five mark) as she prepared to receive the fifth game.
That one proved a disaster for Kerber, and it also suggested what was to come. She made two terribly sloppy errors to start, then slammed a backhand into the net and added another backhand error to end the rally at 0-40.
On the ensuing changeover, Kerber and her coach found a lot to laugh about and, frankly, were it not for what was to come that would have been fine, perhaps even a good thing. A little gallows humor never hurts, and sometimes it helps to take a step back and lighten up.
But the way Kerber threw away the match after that changeover was inexcusable. She drilled balls all over the place to give Williams an easy hold, then appeared to be such a hurry to leave the court that she lost the final game without winning a point. That wasn’t because Williams hit four winners, either. Trust me on that.