NEW YORK – Three thoughts on the 2016 U.S. Open final, where No. 2-seed Angelique Kerber defeated No. 10-seed Karolina Pliskova to win her second Grand Slam title.
• Angelique Kerber looks thoroughly comfortable playing in big matches. A good thing, this, since it’s become a common occurrence. In her third major final of 2016—fourth if you count the Olympics—Kerber brought her experience, her legs and accuracy to bear. It was a thoroughly competitive and well-played match, Kerber edged out the 24-year-old Czech Karolina Pliskova in the U.S. Open final 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. Kerber did a lot right, starting with her characteristic scrambling and cutting lefty strokes. But the key metric today was the second serve points won. The second serve is, ostensibly, the weakness of Kerber’s game. On Saturday she won more second serve points than Pliskova, among the best servers in the business.
• Three weeks ago in Cincinnati, Pliskova blasted Kerber, 6-3, 6-1 with unanswerable power, but also with a nervous and tired opponent across the net. The loss thwarted—or at least delayed—Kerber’s ascent to the top. On Saturday, though, Pliskova saw an entirely different player, one who handled her power and didn’t stop running, despite brutal conditions. After a nervous opening game, she steadied, won the second set and put up a valiant effort in the third. While Pliskova will be disappointed by her defeat in the final, she’ll need to pay an extra bag fee for all the positives she’ll take away. A takedown of both Williams sisters. No visible nerves in her first major final. Some nice adjustments after dropping the first set. The $1,750,000 runner-up check. A career-high ranking of No. 6. A new aura. For years we’ve asked when Pliskova would make her breakthrough. That was answered—emphatically—this tournament.
• The casual sports fan may see Monday’s WTA rankings, see Serena Williams evicted from the penthouse and chalk this up to the vagaries of the computer rankings or Williams’s sparse schedule. But tennis fans know better. This top ranking is thoroughly justified. Kerber is your 2016 MVP. (And discuss: did Kerber—now not a One Slam Wonder—just qualify for the International Tennis Hall of Fame with her win today?) Young players, understandably, dream of becoming Roger Federer or Serena Williams of Rafael Nadal. But a more practical player to emulate might be Kerber who simply wrings all she can from her game and thrives not by power or winning cheap points (seven aces total in her seven matches here) but accuracy and fitness and poise. Good for her.