Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kerber shocks Serena for first Grand Slam title

Angelique Kerber poses with a stuffed bear, the symbol
of California and San Francisco-based Bank of the West,
after winning the title at Stanford last August.
Photo by Mal Taam
   Less than six months after winning the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, Angelique Kerber earned her first Grand Slam title in stunning fashion.
   Kerber, who lost in the first round of last year's Australian Open and survived a match point in the opening round this year, shocked Serena Williams 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 today in Melbourne.
   "When I was match point down (in the first round), I actually had one leg in the plane back to Germany," Kerber, fighting back tears of joy, told the crowd afterward. "I got a second chance, and I took that chance to be here in the finals to play against Serena. I'm really honored to be in this final and to win it. My dream came true tonight.
   "My whole life I was working really hard, and now I'm here, and I can say I'm a Grand Slam champion, and it sounds really crazy. These have been the best two weeks of my life."
   Kerber, seeded seventh, played her trademark outstanding defense against Williams and showed unusual composure in her first major final.
   The top-seeded Williams, meanwhile, was jittery in her attempt to tie Steffi Graf -- Kerber's fellow German, idol and mentor -- for second place with 22 Grand Slam singles titles. Margaret Court of Australia has 24.
   Williams, who committed 46 unforced errors to Kerber's 13, succumbed to nerves and a gritty, inspired opponent for the second straight Grand Slam tournament.
   Trying to complete the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Graf in 1988, Williams lost to unseeded Italian Roberta Vinci, playing in her first major semifinal at age 32, in the U.S. Open in one of the biggest upsets in sports history.
Serena Williams displays the Bank of the West trophy
after beating Kerber for the 2014 title. Tri Nguyen/
   Kerber, a 28-year-old left-hander, broke Williams' serve to lead 4-2 in the third set on her fifth break point of the game. Kerber then held serve at love for 5-2, but the title would not come easily.
   Williams, 34, fought back to serve at 4-5. From deuce, she netted a cross-court forehand and floated a forehand volley long to end the 2-hour, 8-minute battle.
   Kerber, who became the first German woman to win a Grand Slam singles title since Graf in the 1999 French Open, tossed her racket and fell flat on her back along the baseline with her arms outstretched above her head. Once she rose, Williams graciously walked to Kerber's side of the net, gave her opponent a warm smile and embraced the euphoric champion.
   "Angie, congratulations," Williams, the defending and six-time Australian Open champion, said during the awards ceremony. "You really deserved it. Let me be the first to congratulate you. I hope you enjoy this moment."
   Williams, who smiled and laughed with Kerber during the ceremony, was the happiest loser of a Grand Slam final in memory. It helps when you've won 21 of them, but she also might have been relieved that she won't have to relive the pressure of pursuing a calendar-year Grand Slam in 2016.
   Williams had been 5-1 against Kerber with a four-match winning streak. In their last meeting before today, Williams triumphed 7-6 (1), 6-3 in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic for her third Stanford title. Kerber led 5-1 in the first set and had two set points at 5-2.
   In last year's Bank of the West final, Kerber defeated 6-foot-1 (1.86-meter) Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. Williams, citing a right elbow injury, withdrew before the Aug. 3-9 tournament.
   Kerber will rise from No. 6 to a career-high No. 2 behind Williams when the new rankings are released on Monday.
Jamie Murray, shown at the U.S. Open last Septem-
ber, and Bruno Soares won their first Grand Slam
men's doubles title today. Photo by Paul Bauman 
   The Australian Open men's doubles final followed Kerber's dramatic victory. Seventh-seeded Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil, playing their first Grand Slam tournament together, outlasted unseeded Daniel Nestor of Canada and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic 2-6, 6-4, 7-5.
   It was the maiden Grand Slam men's doubles title for both Murray, who was playing in his third straight major final, and Soares. The left-handed Murray will turn 30 on Feb. 13, and Soares will be 34 on Feb. 27.
   Murray won the doubles title in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose in 2007 with American Eric Butorac, and younger brother Andy Murray took the singles title.
   Nestor, 43, and Stepanek, 37, were the oldest men's doubles finalists in a Slam in the Open era. Nestor has won eight majors in the event and Stepanek two. Both have captured the Australian Open once, Nestor in 2002 with Mark Knowles of the Bahamas and Stepanek in 2012 with Leander Paes of India.
   Stepanek swept the singles and doubles titles in the 2009 SAP Open. He played doubles with Tommy Haas of Germany.
   Andy Murray is scheduled to play Novak Djokovic for the Australian Open men's singles title on Sunday at 12:30 a.m. PST (ESPN).
   Murray, who had said it would be too stressful for him to watch Jamie's final, made a surprise appearance in the players' box during the awards ceremony and filmed the trophy presentations on his cellphone.

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