NEW YORK, Sept 11, (Agencies): Early in what would become a tight test of a US Open final, Angelique Kerber sprinted forward to somehow reach a drop shot and scoop a down-the-line winner that landed in a corner of the court.
The Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd roared, and Kerber celebrated by raising her right hand and wagging her index finger in the air, as if to remind opponent Karolina Pliskova and everyone else Im No. 1!
Yes, she is. And a two-time Grand Slam champion, too.
Kerber won her first US Open title and the second major trophy of an out-of-nowhere breakthrough season, taking five of the last six games to beat a fading Pliskova 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 on Saturday.
It means a lot to me. When I was a kid, I was always dreaming to one day be the No. 1 player in the world, to win Grand Slams, said the 28-year-old Kerber, who will move up one spot from No. 2 and replace Serena Williams atop the WTA rankings on Monday. I mean, all the dreams came true this year.
Never a Grand Slam finalist before 2016, Kerber beat Williams for the Australian Open title in January, then was the runner-up to her at Wimbledon in July. Adding the championship at Flushing Meadows was further proof that all of the changes Kerber has made are paying off.
The better fitness, via extra time in the gym and longer, more intense practice sessions; an improved serve and a new willingness to attack during points, rather than mainly counter-punching, via instruction from coach Torben Beltz; a more positive attitude on court, via help from a mental coach.
Kerber is the first woman from Germany to win the US Open and the first to get to No. 1 since her idol and mentor, Steffi Graf, who got in touch via text message before the final.
It was Pliskova who guaranteed Kerbers ascension in the rankings by beating Williams in the semifinals, ending her streak of 186 consecutive weeks at the top, which began in February 2013 and equaled Grafs mark.
Kerber, who collected $3.5 million in prize money Saturday, lost to Pliskova the last time they met, just three weeks ago in the final of a hard-court tournament in Cincinnati.
But at the outset of this final, it was Kerber who was in charge. Her defense is exemplary, scrambling along the baseline to put her racket on seemingly every ball, crouching so low that her knees would come close to scraping the ground.
As she does against most opponents, Kerber would make Pliskova swing two, three, four extra times to try to end a point. And Pliskova was troubled by that in the early going, making 17 unforced errors in the first set alone, 14 more than Kerber. By the conclusion of the 2-hour, 7-minute final, Pliskova totaled 47 unforced errors, 30 more than Kerber.
Meanwhile, Britains Jamie Murray captured the US Open doubles title with Bruno Soares on Saturday and admitted that the Brazilian was easier to play with than Grand Slam winning brother Andy.
Fourth seeds Murray and Soares eased to a 6-2, 6-3 win over unseeded Spaniards Pablo Carreno Busta and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the final.
Murray and Soares also won the first Grand Slam they played together at the Australian Open in January.
Andy Murray won the singles title in New York in 2012 but was knocked out this year by Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals.
The Murray brothers will team up again next week when Britain face Argentina in the Davis Cup semi-finals in Glasgow.
Its not like a difficult switch to go and play with Andy. Hes a great player, said Jamie.
But I think we are with each other every day. We are working on our games and communicating all the time.
I find it easy to do that with Bruno. Sometimes with Andy its not always so easy because great players do things the way they do.
If I kind of come in and start saying, you know, I think you need to serve there or, hit your return there, they are not used to hearing that. That can be a bit problematic sometimes.