MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Angelique Kerber said a renewed sense of self-belief had helped her stun six-times champion Serena Williams to win her maiden grand slam title at the 33rd attempt at the Australian Open on Saturday.
The left-hander was a rank outsider in the match but overturned the odds with an inspired performance to become the first German winner of one of the sport’s four majors since Steffi Graf at Roland Garros in 1999.
“My dream came true tonight,” the emotional 28-year-old said after her 6-4 3-6 6-4 victory.
“My whole life I’ve been working really hard and now I’m here. Now I can say I’m a grand slam champion and it sounds really crazy.”
Kerber simply refused to be overawed by her opponent’s power or reputation on Rod Laver Arena, returning like a demon through some lengthy rallies even when the point appeared to be lost.
“I knew I had to try to go out to beat her because she wouldn’t give it to me,” she told reporters.
“I knew that I must play the best tennis against her tonight. I was going out there to try to show really that I can play, that I can beat her.” A sign of her burgeoning confidence came in the sixth game of the third set when she produced two perfectly executed drop shots to save game points.
“That’s how I am, a little bit crazy, you know,” she said “I really know and I have confidence when I play my dropshots.”
She laid the foundations for her run to the title by winning four titles last year but had to illustrate her improved mental fortitude just to get to the final.
Forced to save a match point against Misaki Doi in the opening round, Kerber also came back from 2-5 down in the second set to beat twice-former champion Victoria Azarenka in straight sets in the quarter-finals.
“The mental part, it’s really big. You must be relaxed and you must really believe in yourself,” said Kerber, whose victory will move her up to a career-high second in the world.
“This is actually the biggest thing what I learn also in these two weeks, to go for it. Of course you will have some losses in your career, as well, and also tough moments still.
“But you must believe that you can do it. I learned that in these two weeks.”
Kerber was only the fourth player to beat Williams in a grand slam final and was touched by the American coming round the net to congratulate her at the end of the match.
“I think Serena’s really a champion,” Kerber said. “She told me after that she’s really happy for me and that I really deserved it. So you saw that she is really, really a great person.”
Glancing towards her recharging phone where there was an unopened message from 22-times grand slam champion Graf, Kerber said she thought her win would be a boost for German tennis.
“After Steffi, now somebody won a grand slam! It’s just amazing.”
(By Nick Mulvenney, Editing by Ed Osmond)