Angelique Kerber believes she is back to her best in time for Wimbledon after lifting her first grasscourt title in a compelling final against Karolina Pliskova in Birmingham.
The German’s 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 7-6 (7-4) win on Sunday sets her up well for the grand slam starting in a week and also prevents the Czech taking her place in the world’s top 10.
Pliskova has served 320 aces, more than any other woman this year, including 11 more in Birmingham.
However, Kerber’s movement, tenacity, flat counter-hitting and competitive nous managed to frustrate her dangerously improving 23-year-old opponent.
She came from a set and a break of serve down in the second set, and then from 5-6 behind in the decider, plus the disappointment of losing a 5-3 lead, in an intriguingly unpredictable match.
“It was an amazing match and, for a final, it was perfect,” Kerber said. “It sounds good to have my name on the trophy next to Billy-Jean King and Martina Navratilova, and I am proud of what I have achieved this week.
“I just tried to fight point by point and being able to win this will give me great confidence in my preparation (for Wimbledon).”
There were moments when it seemed Pliskova might dominate the match with her steep serving and fierce straight driving down both lines.
After a slow start, she recovered from 3-5 down to save four set points, to sneak the tiebreaker 7-5, and to break Kerber immediately in the second set.
Kerber’s fighting qualities then became most apparent, breaking twice in a row before levelling at one set apiece and then breaking to go 4-2 and 5-3 ahead in the decider.
But, Pliskova also showed her fighting qualities, saving two break points in both the fifth and the seventh games, and another break point in the eleventh.
She also caused Kerber to throw an unused ball away angrily by breaking back with a mishit retrieve under great pressure, the ball ballooning over the unlucky German’s head for a lobbed winner.
In the end, it all hinged one point in the final tiebreaker – the one which took Kerber to a mini-break ahead at 5-4 up after some tenacious containment which eventually caused Pliskova to drive a backhand long. Kerber nervelessly won the next pair of points on her own serve.
“I did everything I could,” said Pliskova. “So I am not really disappointed to play a match like this in a final.
“I had the feeling Angelique was everywhere, and every lefty is tough on grass. She moves so well and plays flat shots which is important on this surface. I will go away happy.”