It's hard to overstate the difficult task at hand for Angelique Kerber when she arrived in Stuttgart last week for the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. The World No.3 had won eight career titles but she had never successfully defended any of them. As the first German woman to win a major since Steffi Graf, she would be inundated by media requests and sponsor obligations throughout the week. And to cap it off, she was embarking on her fifth consecutive event dating back to the BNP Paribas Open.
All this for a player who admits she's still getting used to the spotlight and the expectations that go with being a reigning major champion.
But if she was nervous, if she was stressed out, you didn't see it in Stuttgart. That's a huge step forward for Kerber. En route to her second title of the year she weathered the storm in two tough three-set wins over Annika Beck and Petra Kvitova before buckling down to take care of her countrywoman Laura Siegemund, 6-4 6-0 in Sunday's final.
The honeymoon period after winning your first major title can last for months. For some players we've seen it last for years. But since losing in the first round of Indian Wells to Denisa Allertova, Kerber has righted the ship. She is 13-2 since then, with the two losses coming to Victoria Azarenka at the Miami Open and a retirement against Sloane Stephens at the Volvo Car Open, both of whom were the eventual champions. In the first two tournaments she played after the Australian Open, she lost in the opening round in straight sets to women ranked outside the Top 60. Her next three events? Semifinals or better, capped off by the win in Stuttgart.
WTA Insider caught up with Kerber after her Stuttgart win.
Insider: When we spoke before Charleston we talked a lot about moving past the Australian Open. Does a result like this, winning Stuttgart and playing how you did all week, does that give you confidence that you moved on?
Kerber: For sure. Like we talked, it was not easy to find the middle, how to mix all the media stress while playing good tennis. Now I'm getting used to it. Of course defending my title here is just an amazing feeling. It's really special because it's in Germany and here in Stuttgart. I'm getting used to it. Now I know how to deal with all the pressure and it makes me much more confident than I was a few weeks ago.
Insider: After winning the Australian Open, when you played in the Middle East you were dealing with all the attention in Germany, playing Fed Cup at home. Do you think those results in the Middle East and Indian Wells, was that a result of not being prepared because you couldn't practice as much or was it because your mind just wasn't right?
Kerber: I think it was both a little bit. Of course because I didn't have too much time to prepare for the next tournament and really practicing again really hard like I did after Indian Wells. With all the media things and all the stuff I have to do off site, which now I'm getting used to it.
Insider: Have you just gotten used to the media side of things? Or do you actually enjoy it now?
Kerber: It's both. I'm trying to enjoy it. It's nice to do something different. To get to know new people, to see something different, not always my day is practice. I can change a little bit my day plan. So I try to enjoy it. So it's both of it. I enjoy it but I'm also getting used to it.
Insider: Since the Australian Open, we've been playing tournaments but they haven't been leading up to a Slam. Now we have the French Open coming up. Have you completely embraced clay?
Kerber: Yes that's for sure. A few years ago clay was not my favorite surface. But right now I had a great clay court season last year and now, I played well in Charleston and here to win on clay, it gives me confidence that my game is also good for the clay court. That's why I'm looking forward to Madrid, Rome and of course Paris, where I can play good tennis and play well there.
Insider: Does your mindset change now that you're in Grand Slam preparation mode?
Kerber: I need a few days, even during the tournament for a few days, where I'm doing something different. Not thinking about tennis just trying to relax a little bit, go for a coffee, going shopping. Something like this. Then the motivation is there again to go on court, fight, and play good tennis. I think now I know how to mix it.
Insider: When's the last time you had a normal day?
Kerber: I think the day will come tomorrow (laughs). I can't remember, but I know this day will come tomorrow.
Insider: Do you have a celebration ritual?
Kerber: Yeah. Going for a great dinner after and then just enjoy this moment on this day. That's what we will do today. Just going somewhere and enjoying the evening.
Insider: It must be nice to be home in Germany for that.
Kerber: It helps a lot. Here there are more people around me and it's much nicer when you have a bigger team.
Insider: So how many Porsches does a single person actually need?
Kerber: Ha. That's a good question. I don't know. Minimum one but I think I have a little bit more.
Insider: You're going to have to invest in a bigger garage.
Kerber: Yes (laughs). Yes, I have to.
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.