2016 Australian Open

Tennis: Angelique Kerber must shake off nerves

Bartoli remembers own maiden Grand Slam final, says German has to stay focused to beat Serena

Former tennis professional Marion Bartoli remembers the overwhelming fatigue a day before she played the 2007 Wimbledon final, having been put through the grind in six previous matches to earn a spot in the final.

But perhaps what felt more debilitating then were the jitters that came with getting a shot at winning one of tennis' biggest prizes for the first time.

As Angelique Kerber enters Rod Laver Arena today, taking on world No. 1 Serena Williams for the Australian Open title, Bartoli knows how well the German world No. 6 battles the nerves of a maiden Grand Slam final will be a deciding factor in the result.

"For Kerber, it's about the first 15 minutes, to shake off the stress as much as possible and get her legs to move," the retired Frenchwoman told regional media yesterday in a phone interview from Melbourne.

 

"She needs to enter the first points with the mentality of trying to forget that it's a Grand Slam final and play like it's a normal match. That's the best way to relieve the pressure."

It would also be vital for Kerber to keep herself focused throughout the day before the evening final.

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It's about the first 15 minutes, to shake off the stress as much as possible and get her legs to move.

MARION BARTOLI, former Wimbledon champion, on her advice to first-time Grand Slam finalist Angelique Kerber.

Bartoli said: "It's special to play during night time because you would've had the whole day to think about the final. You're waiting and waiting. If it's your first time, it's hard to handle the whole day... (from) excitement to stress.

"If you've done it so many times before and done it successfully every time (like Williams), obviously it gives you a lot of confidence."

Bartoli, a pundit for Fox Sports Asia, speaks from experience. The 31-year-old's only Grand Slam title (Wimbledon 2013), she said, came as a result of playing shackle-free and with the benefit of experience.

She added: "I knew the pressure I would face and I was ready for the challenge. Kerber has a day (between the semi-final and final) to regroup and that will help her to play the best that she can play."

The odds are stacked against the German. She has met Williams six times - all on hard courts - and come out tops just once, at the Cincinnati Open in 2012. History has also proven that few succeed on their first try.

Since 2006, there have been 18 title deciders between a final debutante and a multiple Grand Slam finalist, with the former triumphant only in three instances: Amelie Mauresmo (2006 Australian Open), Petra Kvitova (2011 Wimbledon) and Victoria Azarenka (2012 Australian Open).

Williams, on the other hand, has won 21 of her 25 Grand Slam finals.

But Bartoli believes the German's underdog status can prove beneficial in her endeavour to stand between Williams and a 22nd Grand Slam title. She said: "Kerber has absolutely nothing to lose and that will help her play freely. She can enjoy every second."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2016, with the headline 'Kerber must shake off nerves'. Print Edition | Subscribe