It is the start of the French Open, so shouldn’t we be talking about Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Simona Halep here? We would, but that would be treading down a familiar path which has been worn out everywhere we look. But the French Open is worth of that hackneyed old cliché of “expect the unexpected”. So that’s why we are going to swiftly move on past the big guns in the field and dig a little deeper and look at the quiet steady clay progress that Angelique Kerber has made this season.
It is form which makes her one of ones to watch at Roland Garros over the next fortnight. Kerber first caught attention back in 2012 when she had her career breakthrough season, finishing fifth in the world rankings, during which she won her first two WTA titles. She really hasn’t backed that breakthrough season up though, despite finishing in the top ten players in the world for the last three seasons running. Kerber landed just the one title over the course of 2013 and 2014.
But fast forward to the middle of the year in 2015 and Kerber has been on the board twice already. Her first title this year came in Charleston where she had a couple of stern tests against Andrew Petkovic in the semis and then Madison Keys in the final. While not the toughest of opponents, they were pretty good markers for Kerber in the pressure situations at the back end of a tournament, especially when it came to digging deep in battles and tapping into her resolve. After crushing Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on the dirt for Russia in their Fed Cup match against Russia, it was on to Stuttgart.
You won't find many players over the course of a season who wins back to back tournaments. But with wins over Maria Sharapova, Ekaterina Makarova and Caroline Wozniacki en route to the Stuttgart title, it proved that there has been a bit of a different edge about Kerber in 2015. You can visibly see a bit of increased intensity her game, an extra spring in her step, a half second quicker in anticipation maybe. Something has shifted again, something reminiscent of her in her 2012 season.
It is arguable that she would have landed her third clay court win of the season at Nurnberg as part of her Roland Garros build up, if she hadn't have withdrawn from her semifinal against Roberta Vinci. With the French Open in sight, one can excuse her for conservation of fitness. One big criticism of her so far really is that she hasn't proven herself as a Slam player at all. There have been a couple of semifinals for her (US Open 2011 and 2012 Wimbledon) but by and large she has fallen short. Look back this year’s first round Australian Open exit.
But with the form that she is carrying on clay so far in 2015, you would expect her to match her best ever result at Roland Garros of a quarterfinal berth (2012). But the draw will be testing for her, very testing. After pummeling Timea Babos 6-0 6-1 in the first round, there's a horrible draw ahead her, having to potentially face Garbine Muguruza in the third round, Carla Suarez Navarro in the fourth round, Sharapova in the quarters and then Simona Halep in the semi’s. That would be absolute worst case scenario for the 11th seed.
So we aren’t talking about Kerber busting out a win at the 2015 French Open, we're not. At least I’m not. I became a huge fan of Kerber's back in 2012, because she was offering something fresh, that little extra fluidity in body language that comes with left handed players. From a personal note she’s disappointed a bit since, not having been able to live up to (my obviously high) expectations. But all things considered this season, given her potential draw at Roland Garros, it would be hard to be disappointed with a quarterfinal exit this go around. But if there's a player in the draw which could spring a clay surprise a la Anastasia Myskina in 2004, Francesca Schiavone 2010 and Li Na 2011, I'm not going to look past Angelique.