Call it a Comeback: Kerber Makes Charleston Return

Angelique Kerber remembers arriving in Charleston for the 2015 tournament very well: She was frustrated, struggling with her game, and at a point in her career where you take the tennis pasta and throw it against the wall – just to see what sticks.

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But for Kerber, now 28, a week of sliding and grinding on the green clay in Charleston is what stuck: She turned her downward spiral into an upward force of mobility, which peaked in January when the German won her first-ever Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, beating world No. 1 Serena Williams in a dramatic final.

“When I won the title in Charleston, that was the turnaround point,” Kerber told reporters in January. “Every single match I was playing in Charleston was really important for me, starting from the first match – where I was down – and then against (defending champion) Andrea Petkovic in the semis.”

Charleston tennis fans didn’t know much about Kerber, a lefty with a beautiful forehand and a never-say-die approach, until her win here last year. She played in Lowcountry only once before, in 2010, but her win here – including a close-as-can-be final over Madison Keys in three sets – endeared her to fans.

It also spiked her belief.

“Her confidence was fairly low by her standards,” said Pam Shriver, the former world No. 1 in doubles and an ESPN analyst. “There was a lot of questioning of her natural being on the court, which is expected in a long career where you might try a lot of different things to see what is going to work out and what isn’t. I felt like she was going through a lot.”

2015 had started lackluster for Kerber, who had won three of 10 matches between the Australian Open and Charleston. But after her inspiring run here, she won titles in Stuttgart, Birmingham and Stanford, and then qualified for the WTA Finals in Singapore.

It led to what Kerber discussed as renewed self-belief in Melbourne, where she beat former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals before her triumph over Williams. She’s the first German player to win a major since Steffi Graf.

“I think the Australian Open gave me a big confidence boost,” Kerber said. “There were a lot of ups and downs, and you can only get through tough times when you believe in yourself. I have been a Top 10 player for four years now and have won a Grand Slam, so there is no reason for self- doubts.”

Shriver views Charleston as a launching pad for many champions here in the past. “It’s a pretty good antidote for a player to win in Charleston” Shriver said. “Charleston has done that in the past with Sam Stosur; Sabine Lisicki won that year out of the blue; and the year Petkovic won her she got to the semifinals of the French Open. It’s been a good tournament for a wide range of players. You get your belief back.”

Now the question looms: How high can Kerber’s belief take her? Let’s watch and see.