NEW YORK, NY, USA - Some players make their tennis breakthrough in a blaze of glory. For others, the path to the top is a slow and steady one.
Angelique Kerber has taken the second route and this Monday arrived at her destination: World No.1. As far as possible successors to Serena Williams at the summit of the women's game, Kerber was not top of many people's lists, even after her breakthrough victory at this year's Australian Open.
By her own admission, the German has been something of a late bloomer - she did not win her first silverware or break into the Top 10 until her mid-20s. However, just four months from her 29th birthday, she is scaling new heights.
"I've had a lot of ups and downs in my career, but I'm having the best year of my career and it's still not over," Kerber said earlier this summer. "It's amazing what's happened in the last few months - it's just incredible!"
In January she stunned the tennis world by beating Williams to the Australian Open title, and after taking a while to come to terms with her achievement is now reveling in the limelight; at Wimbledon, she reached her second Grand Slam final, losing narrowly to Williams, following this up with a semifinal in Montréal, a silver medal at the Rio Olympics and now a second major, at the US Open.
Making light of this hectic summer schedule, Kerber was her usual indefatigable self in the final against Williams' conqueror, Karolina Pliskova, scurrying to track down a succession of seemingly lost causes. This application served her well in the final set, hanging onto the Czech's flying coattails before producing a characteristic late surge, winning 24 of the last 34 points, to claim the trophy.
Victory saw Kerber become only the second woman to win her first two major championships after turning 28. She is also the oldest player to make their debut at No.1, and there will be few quibbling that she is not there on merit.
"I knew that I have the game to beat the best players if I was just patient and worked really hard," she said after the final in New York. "And now to see that the work pays off, this is actually the best feeling. Because I was a lot of hours on the practice courts, sweating and everything, and you are just playing for this moment to being on the center court in the final and with the amazing crowd. So this is what I was always dreaming for."
It is fitting that her coronation came at Flushing Meadows, the venue where it first became obvious that she had something to separate her from the pack. Five years ago, Kerber, then ranked No.92, overcame Agnieszka Radwanska and Flavia Pennetta en route to an unlikely semifinal.
The following year, Kerber proved she would be no one-Slam wonder, consolidating herself at tennis' top table with 60 wins, two titles and a Top 10 debut. For the next couple of seasons it looked like she had hit her ceiling, bobbing in and around the Top 10, registering the odd noteworthy result yet never launching sustained challenge for any of the game's major prizes.
A familiar story seemed to be playing out at the start of 2016. After losing out to Victoria Azarenka for the Brisbane title, sixth-seeded Kerber found herself match point down to the unheralded Misaki Doi in the first round of the Australian Open.
What happened over the next hour - and then fortnight - will go down in German sporting folklore, Kerber negotiating a way out of this cul-de-sac, eventually going on to lift the most unexpected of titles.
However, even after the 2,000-point boost to her ranking tally, an assault at the No.1 ranking looked improbable. Indeed, at this point she still trailed Williams by over 3,500 points, making little inroads on this total as she struggled to come to terms with her newfound status over the coming months, a string of early exits culminating in a first-round exit to Kiki Bertens at Roland Garros.
This all changed over the summer months, a maiden Wimbledon final - in which she delivered a credible showing against a destiny-driven Williams - the start of a sequence of results that steadily chipped away at a once insurmountable lead.
By Cincinnati, top spot was in the crosshairs. While she missed out there, losing to Pliskova in the final, she made no mistake in New York, handling the pressure admirably.
"I think I'm ready to have this pressure on my shoulder, because I think I get used to all of this, especially after my first Grand Slam in Australia," Kerber said.
Famed for work-ethic off the court, the WTA's new queen bee is unlikely to rest on her laurels. "I had so much pressure after the title. And to being No.1, of course now everybody will try to beat me and have nothing to lose. I will try to take this challenge, because it will be a little bit new situation for me. But at the end, I was always practicing and working hard to be No.1. Now I can also take the next step and try to stay as long as I can there."
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