By Greg Stutchbury
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Angelique Kerber feels vindicated that she now belongs at the upper echelons of the women’s game after four years of consistency helped her into her first grand slam final at the Australian Open on Thursday.
The 28-year-old beat Britain’s Johanna Konta 7-5 6-2 to become the first German woman since Anke Huber in 1996 to reach the Melbourne Park final, setting up a title clash against world number one Serena Williams on Saturday.
The left-hander made her first grand slam semi-final at the U.S. Open in 2011 and then broke into the top-10 following a last-four spot at Wimbledon the next year, ending 2012 ranked a career high fifth.
Since then, she has not finished the year outside of the top-10 and last year won four tournaments, all on different surfaces — the first time any woman has achieved tournament victories on red clay, green clay, grass and a hard court on the WTA Tour since 2007.
“When I reached the semis in New York everybody was (saying) ‘okay, that was one tournament from her. Let’s see how far she will get in the next few years’,” Kerber said.
“I think I showed everybody that I’m a top player. I’m four years in the top 10. I can play good tennis.”
Kerber has been the model of consistency in the past four years, winning more than 45 matches each year and reaching at least three finals from 2012 onwards.
However, she has failed to impress in the grand slams since her 2012 Wimbledon loss to Agnieszka Radwanska, making just one quarter-final — at the All England Club in 2014.
That lack of progress on the biggest stage meant that she refocused her goals at the end of last year. She wanted to make more noise in the grand slams.
“I’m four years in the top 10. I was not playing so good last year in the big tournaments. Now that was my focus, to play better in the bigger ones,” said Kerber, who now stands one win away from becoming the first German to capture a major since Steffi Graf won the last of her 22 slams at Roland Garros in 1999.
“The work pays off. I was working very hard in the last few years. Here I am. I’m in the final for my first time (and) … right now I don’t have the pressure anymore because I show everybody, I show myself, that I can play.
“I’m one of the best players in the world.”
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)