Sunday, September 11, 2016

In virtual Stanford replay, Kerber tops Pliskova for title

Angelique Kerber, shown last year, will rise one notch
to No. 1 in the world, replacing Serena Williams, on
Monday. Photo by Mal Taam
   When Angelique Kerber defeated Karolina Pliskova for the title in the Bank of Classic at Stanford only 13 months ago, neither had played in a Grand Slam final.
   Pliskova was ranked No. 11, three places higher than her opponent, entering the match. But Kerber had reached two Grand Slam semifinals, while Pliskova had never advanced past the third round in 13 majors.
   Now look at them.
   In a virtual replay of the Stanford final, Kerber topped Pliskova 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 on a brutally hot, muggy Saturday to win the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Kerber, who overcame a 3-1 deficit in the final set, will rise one spot in the rankings and replace Serena Williams at No. 1 on Monday.
   Kerber, who pocketed $3.5 million, told reporters that winning the U.S. Open "means a lot to me. When I was a kid, I was always dreaming to one day be the No. 1 player in the world, to win Grand Slams. I mean, all the dreams came true this year."
   It was Kerber's third Grand Slam final, all this year, and second major title. She stunned Williams to win the Australian Open in January and lost to her in the Wimbledon final in July. Kerber also won the silver medal in singles in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro last month.
   The 10th-seeded Pliskova, 24, of the Czech Republic upset a hobbled Williams in the U.S. Open semis to reach her first Grand Slam final. That guaranteed Kerber would end Williams' streak of 186 weeks at No. 1, which began in February 2013 and tied Steffi Graf's record.
   Kerber, a 28-year-old left-hander, became the first German woman to win the U.S. Open and ascend to No. 1 since her her idol and mentor, Graf. The 47-year-old legend wished Kerber good luck via a text message before Saturday's match.
   Kerber defeated Pliskova 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in the Stanford final. There were 18 service breaks in that match, compared with six on Saturday. Pliskova, however, overwhelmed Kerber 6-3, 6-1 in the Cincinnati final three weeks ago.
   The 5-foot-8 (1.73-meter) Kerber is best known for her outstanding defense. With the help of coaches, she has become more aggressive and more positive.
   The turning point in Kerber's career came in the first round of this year's Australian Open. She escaped a match point in a second-set tiebreaker when a shot by unseeded Misaki Doi of Japan hit the tape and fell back on Doi's side of the net.
   Pliskova, 6-foot-1 (1.86 meters), relies on her powerful serve. She will jump from No. 11 in the world to No. 6.
   Entering the U.S. Open, Pliskova still had not moved past the third round of a Grand Slam tournament in 17 appearances. No longer is she an underachiever.

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