Angelique Kerber earned the No. 1 ranking before she stepped on the court, then she went out there and looked like a top-ranked player.
Kerber is into her third major final of the year after dispatching Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets at the U.S. Open. She won the first four games en route to a 6-4, 6-3 victory that set up a rematch with Karolina Pliskova, who denied the German lefty the No. 1 ranking a few weeks ago then handed it to her Thursday night.
“It’s a great day,” Kerber said.
At the start of 2016, she had never made a Grand Slam final. Kerber could end it as a two-time major champ.
In January, she not only advanced to the Australian Open title match but beat Serena Williams there. Kerber also reached the Wimbledon final, where she lost to Williams.
Kerber would have overtaken Williams for the No. 1 ranking had she defeated Pliskova at Cincinnati on Aug. 21. Instead, Pliskova won that day for a breakthrough title and has been riding the momentum ever since.
Pliskova upset a hobbled Williams in the first semifinal Thursday, which clinched No. 1 for Kerber who insisted she thought little about ascending to the top of the rankings as she prepared to take the court.
“To be No. 1 in the world that sounds amazing,” Kerber said once she won and could finally contemplate the achievement.
On match point, Kerber hit a backhand that appeared to be heading long, and Wozniacki was going to let it go until she realised it might have clipped the baseline. She swung too late and sent the ball sailing out to end the match instead of challenging the call.
“I got a few texts, but that just made me feel worse,” Wozniacki said later.
“But clearly should have” challenged it, she added. “But at the end of the day, I don’t think it would have made a difference.”
Not the way Kerber was relentlessly hammering her shots. Wozniacki even mixed in quite a few moon balls, but to no avail. Usually content to play defense, Wozniacki found herself trying to force the issue and made an uncharacteristic 26 unforced errors.
A two-time runner-up at Flushing Meadows, she arrived at this year’s tournament at No. 74 in the world after missing 2 1/2 months because of an ankle injury. She was seeking to become the lowest-ranked women’s finalist at the U.S. Open, other than an unranked Kim Clijsters in 2009.
“Probably people ruled me out, but it’s nice to prove people wrong once again,” Wozniacki said.
How much longer might she keep trying to prove people wrong? Just as she had after her quarterfinal victory, Wozniacki declined to address a question about reports that her father told media she could retire in the next year or two.
- AP/Rachel Cohen