SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - New year, new Angelique Kerber. On a new episode of the WTA Insider Podcast, the former No.1 and two-time major champion credits a prolonged off-season and revamped pre-season for her confidence-boosting start to 2018.
In her astounding 2016 season, Kerber won three titles, including the Australian Open and US Open, won a silver Olympic medal, and made a total of eight event finals to become the first German No.1 since Stefanie Graf. A year later, she failed to win back-to-back matches at 13 events in 2017 and made just one final in Monterrey.
After the disappointing campaign saw her begin the season at No.1 only to finish the year down at No.22 with no titles, the 29-year-old German left her racquets in the bag for five weeks after finishing her season at the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, where she went winless.
"I had four or five weeks off, where I said I will start again when I'm really ready and my mind and body feels ready again to go for it," Kerber said on the WTA Insider Podcast from the Sydney International. "I had quite a few weeks of really relaxing and spending that time with my friends and family."
"This was quite nice that I had time to really relax and reset my mind and everything, and then start a new pre-season with a quite new team around me. We worked hard, we worked a lot on my fitness and my tennis. It was a really intense offseason for me, but I'm feeling good so far."
Listen to the full interview on the WTA Insider Podcast below:
Kerber announced her split from long-time coach Torben Beltz during the offseason and onboarded Wim Fissette, who had spent the last season coaching Johanna Konta. Fissette wasn't the only change Kerber made to her team or her pre-season regimen.
"My coach I changed, I changed my fitness coach, here I'm with my old physio, but there are a few new physios that I will change a little bit," Kerber said. "I also had a hitting partner which I was practicing with during the off-season, which was also nice.
"So quite new people around me. It was actually good because you're hearing new voices. You're now hearing something completely new, which is also important if you want to start a new year completely forgetting the last year and focusing on what I'm doing, finding my patience and fun on court again.
"I think this was really important for me to see that my heart is again on court."
"It's 2018. I was really looking forward to it the last few weeks, just saying goodbye to 2017 and starting a new year, a new 2018. Just looking ahead and not looking back anymore."
So far it really has looked like a new Angie Kerber on the court. She began her season at the ITF's Hopman Cup team exhibition in Perth, where she went undefeated in singles, beating Belinda Bencic, Elise Mertens, Daria Gavrilova, and Eugenie Bouchard. On Monday, she saved two match points to defeat Lucie Safarova 6-7(3), -6(8), 6-2 in the first round of the Sydney International.
"When I came to Perth I didn't know what to expect from myself, Kerber said. "After a long break, a new team, and also after off-season you never know where you are. After the four matches it showed me for sure that I'm on the right way again. I played good tennis, I was fighting, I was running, my body feels good. I have of course more confidence now than one week ago.
"Of course here, the match just now was really intense. It was a little bit different with all the weather conditions, the wind, the sun, the heat rule was in, and I just arrived yesterday, so the time difference as well. With everything that was happening off-site, I'm actually quite happy with how I was performing today. It was maybe not the best that I was playing last week but I was able to win a close match when Lucie was playing very good."
Needless to say, her partnership with Fissette has started off perfectly. The experienced Belgian, who has coached Kim Clijsters, Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka, and Konta, is Kerber's first non-German or non-Polish coach, and after years spent scouting Kerber's game for his previous charges, few are as familiar with Kerber's strengths and weaknesses.
"So far it's really intense and he's giving me good advice," Kerber said. "The practices are really intense. We know both what we want. I think he knows me already really good, so this helps me and helps him.
"He speaks German, so this is good for me. It's quite easier if I can speak German with my coach. It's just the second week of the year so I'm really looking forward to work and travel and be with him over the next months."
Kerber's goal is to keep things simple in 2018, decluttering the mind that cluttered her game last season.
"I just feel that I'm playing every single point again, and I have the patience back and really fighting again," Kerber told reporters in her post-match interview. "I'm not thinking too much like I was thinking in the last 12 months. I'm just trying to enjoy the tennis and just not making the things complicated like last year."
"The big goals are always the big goals: To play good at the Grand Slams," Kerber said. "But first of all, it's looking match to match and looking step by step. Just try to find my game and improve my game and being fit and just make it easy."