PARIS, France - Who better to advise Angelique Kerber on how to complete a career Grand Slam than a friend, an idol, a fellow German and a woman she regards as "simply superhuman"? Stefanie Graf is all those things to Kerber.
In an interview with wtatennis.com ahead of the French Open, which will be Kerber's first chance to complete her set of major titles, the 31-year-old said she would welcome any opportunity to speak to Graf "about the feelings and pressures you're under" as you take a giant swing at history.
Should Kerber lift La Coupe Suzanne Lenglen at Roland Garros, to add to the Australian Open and US Open titles she landed in 2016, and the Wimbledon dish she scored last season, she would become only the seventh woman in the Open Era to achieve the career Grand Slam. One of the six women to have already triumphed in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York is Graf, who completed her set at the 1988 US Open, with a victory that also brought her a calendar-year Grand Slam.
"I haven't spoken to Steffi yet about doing the career Grand Slam. But if I had the opportunity, I would like to speak to Steffi about this, because why not? She knows the feelings and she knows the pressures you're under, and how to achieve something like that," said Kerber.
"In the end, every tournament is a different experience, and you have the two weeks to get through and it's a big challenge in Paris, so I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. If I had the chance to complete the career Grand Slam, that would be amazing, but I'm not thinking about this right now, as it's still a long way off. You have to win the first round, and then keep going through the draw, before you think about it too much."
Stay positive and trust the process ✨💪🏼 #TeamAngie pic.twitter.com/omfUYW2hyi
— Angelique Kerber (@AngeliqueKerber) May 15, 2019
Kerber's performance in Paris has been a topic of conversation for the best part of a year - this was first discussed in July last season, just minutes after she had beaten Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final.
"I first started thinking about it within a few minutes of coming off Centre Court, but that was because the media was asking me. I'm still not thinking about this too much, to be honest, though I'm answering the questions. I'm not going to put big pressure on myself in Paris to complete the career Grand Slam," said Kerber.
In the living room of her home, Kerber has positioned her replica Grand Slam trophies so that the trio have the prime "first spot" among the other pieces of silverware. Might Kerber need to make some room for a replica of La Coupe Suzanne Lenglen?
Kerber's preparations for Paris haven't exactly been ideal - she had a viral illness, and injured her ankle, which meant she withdrew from a second-round match in Madrid, and didn't play at all in Rome. But a tweet last week, of Kerber smiling in the gym, which was captioned "Stay positive and trust the process" gave a sense of her mood ahead of the second major of the season.
You suspect that her coach, Rainer Schuettler, has been doing what he can to encourage her before Paris. Significantly, Schuettler is Kerber's first coach to know what it feels like to play for a Grand Slam title. He is the last German man to have appeared in a major final - that run came at the 2003 Australian Open, where he was the runner-up to Andre Agassi, Graf's husband. "Rainer understands me a lot more because he played and so he understands what it's like to be alone on court, and how to feel the pressure, and how to make decisions on court," said Kerber.
"There are sometimes only two or three points which decide the matches. Also, how we prepare for opponents and how we speak after matches, it's a little bit different, and that helps me right now to improve my game. They are small details rather than big changes, because at this level you can change two or three per cent, and that's it. That's what I'm trying with Rainer, to add that two or three per cent."
Talking in German to her coach might just be the refinement she needs. While Kerber speaks excellent English, she said that communicating in her native German with Schuettler ensures they fully understand each other. "Of course, it helps that we're speaking in German because that's my language. Sometimes I don't find it so easy to explain something in English. German is always easier."