Angelique Kerber was far from home when she first stepped onto the sport’s most hallowed surface. With few grass courts available for practice or play where she grew up, it wasn’t until the German teenager traveled to Great Britain that she played proper lawn tennis at a junior tournament in Roehampton.
“To be honest, I felt very comfortable right from the beginning,” Kerber recalled in an interview conducted over e-mail, “because I always enjoyed playing on carpet courts, which are quite similar.
“It suits my game really well, as the ball bounce is low and fast, which forces you to react quickly, anticipate and be creative.”
Comfort naturally translated into success for Kerber, who has made the second week of Wimbledon five times, culminating in a triumphant victory over 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in 2018.
“I have had the privilege to collect so many beautiful memories on grass courts. The quarterfinal match against Sabine Lisicki in 2012 is one that stands out for me. Two Germans in the quarterfinal, a crazy rollercoaster battle and an amazing atmosphere…those types of matches have given me so much.
“Thinking about the moment that I won Wimbledon still gives me goosebumps. But looking back, it was not only the victories that were important. Playing and losing against Serena in 2016 was one of the losses from which I learned so much. The experience made me grow the most and helped me clinch the title in 2018.”
Apart from strong results at the All England Club, the former World No.1 has tended to make the most of the three-week window between the second and third major tournaments of each season. Kerber won the Nature Valley Classic in 2015 and has reached at least one grass court final in all but two of the last eight years.
As usual, she planned a full slate of Wimbledon warm-up events in 2020. What made the new decade’s schedule extra special was the debut of two such tournaments at home in Germany: Berlin and Bad Homburg.
“I was extremely happy when I heard that this idea had finally become a reality. Grass court tennis has a long-standing tradition in our sport and there’s a special magic to it. On top of that, it’s great for the new generation of young players as they will have more opportunities to experience it first-hand. Who knows? Maybe another girl from Germany is going to win Wimbledon in a few years because she was inspired after visiting the tournaments.”
Kerber has tended to thrive with a home court advantage, winning back-to-back Porsche Tennis Grand Prix titles in Stuttgart and leading Germany into the 2014 Fed Cup final.
“I always look forward to competing at home. Some of the best memories of my career are playing in the Porsche Arena; the positive emotions from the fans help me play my best tennis. The extra support and energy they give me when I’m out there is incredible.”
The Bad Homburg Open, which was ultimately suspended along with the Grass Court Championships Berlin and even Wimbledon itself due to COVID-19 concerns – is set to hold an even deeper meaning for the three-time Grand Slam champion.
“I’ve been actively involved in developing the event,” she said of her own AK Management’s collaboration with Perfect Match, who organize the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. “I have been on the tour for many years and it’s my goal to help create a new event that everyone would love. I can’t wait to see the ideas and the whole concept come to life.
“It will be a warm and welcoming event with a boutique character, one that allows fans to attend matches on two of the match courts free of charge. I think this is a great way to promote grass court tennis for everyone.”
Kerber’s goals clearly stretch beyond the surface on which she has had her greatest success, and the 32-year-old looks towards a future of giving back to a sport that has given her the proverbial seeds with which to grow a new generation of German tennis players.
“Tennis is such a beautiful sport that can teach you many valuable lessons. But first, you have to make it visible and accessible to get people to start picking up the racquet. For this reason, I have become more involved in other projects to get people engaged with tennis. I am not the only one with this vision and especially in the last months, it was great to see how motivated people are to work on new approaches to grow tennis in Germany.”