LONDON, Great Britain - Angelique Kerber's coach Wim Fissette has told wtatennis.com how the Wimbledon champion was "hurt" by the slew of "negative comments" about her when her form and ranking spiralled last season.
In an exclusive interview, Fissette said the criticism of Kerber's performances in 2017, when she fell out of the Top 20, had fueled the German's desire to show everyone in the sport that she could once again be a force at the top of the game. There can now be no doubt of Kerber's enduring class after she defeated Serena Williams in straight sets to win the Venus Rosewater Dish for the first time, blocking the American's attempt to equal Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 majors.
"This means more to Angie than her first two Grand Slam titles, as 2017 was a very tough year for her. The pressure was really high and she saw a lot of negative comments about her and that hurt her. She felt hurt about that," Fissette said after Kerber added to the two majors she won in 2016, at the Australian and US Opens. "That was really difficult for her and she really had the desire to be at her best again, and to show everyone what a good player she is."
Fissette spoke of his delight at how poised and composed Kerber had been on Centre Court. "Wimbledon is the biggest tournament in the world for her, and it's the tournament she absolutely wanted to win. And she was playing against the best player ever. So for her to stay calm like this, it was a big surprise," said Fissette.
"But I had a really good feeling before the match. I felt that in the past few days that she had been really focused and she had come through some tough matches, including in her semifinal against [Jelena] Ostapenko, who like Serena is also a hard-hitter. I also felt as though Angie was really challenged in the matches she had had before the final, while maybe Serena hadn't been so much. And Serena was maybe missing those challenges.
"We are all staying in the same house and when I saw Angie on the morning of the match she surprised me because she was so relaxed. And when we spoke, she spoke to me with a lot of belief that she could do it today. All day, like when we were hitting, she looked very convinced that she could do it. In the morning, she looked good and really ready."
In Fissette's analysis, it helped that Kerber had already beaten Williams in a Grand Slam final, and he said his player had drawn on those experiences from Melbourne Park. "Of course, she learned from that match in Australia. Playing in your first Grand Slam final and winning it, that's an amazing effort. Not many players can do that so it showed that she really can be at her best in the biggest matches. That's a huge quality. The more you are in those situations, the more it helps you to stay calm."
Now Kerber is just a French Open title from accomplishing the mythical Career Grand Slam, and Fissette suggested that in 2019 she will have a new belief in her clay-court game. "I think Angie did really well on clay this year. We worked really hard on the clay to give her a clear game-plan and to make her believe that she can do well. I think she made a huge step this year. She beat some really good clay court players. And she found the game that allows her to be successful," he said.
"Next year, she is going to continue that plan, and in 2019, for the first time in her life, she will start the clay-court season with some belief. She's going to be thinking, 'you know what, I can also do it on the clay' and that's going to be great. Angie likes to have good memories on courts. When she comes on Centre Court at Wimbledon, she has good memories. She plays with a feeling. It's the same when she plays at the Australian Open. She doesn't have those good feelings at the French Open yet."
Fissette believes Williams, who was playing only her fourth tournament since returning from maternity leave, will still reach 24 majors. "I think Serena can. Even today, the level she was playing at in some moments was incredible. She was still serving big and returning big and her shots were there. I think her movement is also improving. But today I saw that Serena was missing having not played in really big matches," said Fissette.
"She didn't get challenged in Paris or in Wimbledon before the final, by the best players in the world. She hadn't really been in those tough situations. I feel that's something she's missing right now. But her game is still there and she's going to win her 24th Grand Slam."