Angelique Kerber stunned six-time US Open champion Serena Williams in the final of the Australian Open on Saturday, claiming her first Grand Slam women's singles championship with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory in Rod Laver Arena.
Kerber lost in the first round of the "Happy Slam" 12 months ago against Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu, and she almost suffered a similar fate in her opening match two weeks ago, when she fought off a match point against Misaki Doi of Japan before eventually prevailing in three sets.
With the first major of 2016 in the rearview mirror, here are seven things you might not have known about the newest Australian Open winner.
On the rise: With her victory in Melbourne, Kerber is up to a career-best ranking of No. 2 in the world. However, the breakthrough should come as little surprise to those who have followed her career arc so far. She has finished among the Top 10 in each of the previous four seasons, including fifth in 2012, ninth in 2013 and 10th in both 2014 and 2015. Kerber doesn’t have many points to defend before the clay-court season this spring, so there’s every chance she can consolidate her position in the rankings if she replicates her performance at Indian Wells and Miami.
Second-week success: Kerber’s run to the Australian Open championship snaps a three-year run of not making it past the quarterfinals at a major. After an unlikely semifinal appearance at the US Open in 2011, Kerber backed up her strong showing with a trip to the quarterfinals of the French Open and the final four of Wimbledon the following summer. Since then, though, the German had only been past the fourth round once in 13 Grand Slam appearances prior to her victory Down Under.
First-timers club: In winning the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, Kerber became the 44th different woman to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open era and the eighth different first-time winner in the past 23 majors.
From teen debutant to Grand Slam winner: Kerber made her professional debut in May 2003, four months after celebrating her 15th birthday. Playing in the first qualifying round of an outdoor clay-court event in Berlin, Germany, Kerber rallied from a set down to beat world No. 61 and future Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Kerber was unable to build on the momentum, losing to Paraguay’s Rossana De Los Rios, 6-1, 6-0, in the next round. The left-hander's first main-draw win came in the opening round of an ITF tournament in Porto, Portugal, four months after her debut, when she defeated Caroline Maes, who was ranked 326 places above her, in three sets.
A sign of things to come: Kerber’s first title came in 2004 at an ITF Futures tournament played on carpet in Opole, Poland. After advancing through two rounds of qualifying to make the main draw, the German didn’t look back, winning each of her five main-draw matches in straight sets to capture the trophy and a winner’s check of $2,940. Her first WTA title came eight years later in Paris when Kerber, ranked No. 27, defeated both top seed Maria Sharapova and No. 2 seed Bartoli to lift the trophy, her first of seven WTA championships.
Show her the money: Saturday’s Australian Open victory takes Kerber's career prize money from $9.3 million to $13.7 million.
National pride: Kerber is the first German to win a Grand Slam women’s singles title in 16 years and the first German to win the Australian Open in more than two decades. Steffi Graf claimed her last of four Melbourne Park crowns in 1994 and she won her 22nd and final major title at Roland Garros in 1999. In reaching the championship match alone, Kerber became the third player from her country – man or woman – to make the final of a major this century. Rainer Schuttler fell to Andre Agassi in Australia in 2003 and Sabine Lisicki lost to Bartoli at Wimbledon in 2013.