By Laura Amato
Angelique Kerber jumped over the barricade at Arthur Ashe Stadium and sprinted back to her chair on the side of the court, collapsing into the seat and burying her face in her towel. The brand-new world No. 1 was overcome with emotion on Saturday evening after she defeated Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 for her first US Open champinoship.
It’s the tenth career title for the 28-year-old and her second Grand Slam win of the year. And, after leaping over the side of the Stadium in Flushing Meadows, it all, finally, sunk in.
“That’s why, when I sit there, when I came back from my box, it was everything. I had just positive emotions,” Kerber said. “To being there like a champion this year, to hold this trophy, it’s—I don’t know. I mean, I can’t say it in words, actually.”
Kerber became the first German player to win the US Open since her childhood hero Steffi Graf posed with the championship trophy 20 years ago.
The match itself, however, was far from perfect. In fact, it was nothing short of a battle.
Kerber looked dominant in the first set as Pliskova—who beat both Venus and Serena Williams to earn the championship berth—struggled to find her footing. Pliskova racked up 17 unforced errors in the first set alone.
“I wasn’t nervous at all. Not even during the match,” the 24-year-old said. “It was very tough for me physically. We all know she’s tough to play and she’s putting so many balls back. I was expecting a very tough match.”
But Pliskova bounced back in the second, more than familiar with Kerber’s game after she defeated her 6-3, 6-1 in the the Cincinnati title match last week.
Suddnely, Kerber was the one on the defensive and the star refocused her approach after Pliskova forced a deciding third set.
“In the second set my body language was not the best. I was trying to change it in the third set, but it was not so easy because Karolina is a tough opponent,” Kerber said. “I just told myself, Okay, stay positive. Believe still in your game.”
Kerber fell behind early, but held at love for 2-3 and then broke Pliskova to make it 3-all. She went on to take a 4-3 lead, using a ferocious forehand to secure the game, a shot that drew audible gasps from the jam-packed crowd.
It was all Kerber from there on out.
“I think this shot was the key for the third set,” she said. “When I was going down the line I knew, Okay, now I have to risk a little bit, because this is the only chance I can get. I took it, so I think this was really the shot of the match from my serve.”
She executed a fantastic service game and clinched the victory on Pliskova’s 47th unforced error of the match.
It’s been quite a summer for Kerber, but as she fell to the ground after her victory, the phrases “champis US on” and “number one,” started to sink in and she couldn’t wipe the smile off her face.
“I was always dreaming to being one day to being No. 1 and to be in the Grand Slams,” Kerber said. “And now to see that the work pays off, this is actually the best feeling. So this is what I was always dreaming for.”