With Wimbledon underway, Angelique Kerber is set to launch the defense of her title. After a tough year so far though, the German isn't considered one of the favorites in 2019.
Angelique Kerber's racket bag still isn't complete. Alongside her nickname "Angie," her bag also carries hand-stitched symbols of a Kangaroo, Big Ben and the Statue of Liberty. There's still space for more – an Eiffel Tower perhaps?
After her Grand Slam wins in Melbourne, London and New York, a French Open title is the one thing missing. However, handicapped by an ankle injury, completing the collection proved a step too far this year.
Mission: Title defense
And so it was with three symbols on her racket bag that the 31-year-old began warming up for the two most important weeks of her tennis calendar at the WTA event in the English seaside resort of Eastbourne.
It is here where seagulls fly overhead, that some have begun to write about Kerber's "title defense" ahead of the start of Wimbledon on July 1. Others have waxed lyrical about memories of how impressive Kerber was in beating Serena Williams in straight sets 6-3, 6-3a year ago to claim the illustrious title on Centre Court.
However, Kerber's performances in Eastbourne have not been those of a dominant champion, currently sat fifth in the world rankings and convinced of her game or herself. Instead they have been somewhat restrained, featuring uncharacteristic mistakes, as Germany's best female tennis player has gone in search of form on the short-cut grass.
That's not to take anything away from Kerber, who has beaten Australia's Sam Stosur, Sweden's Rebecca Paterson and Simona Halep, ranked seventh in the world, without dropping a set.
'Only' fifth seed
Fans of the German need not be worried though. Anyone who has had the pleasure of talking to the head of women's tennis at the German Tennis Association (DTB), Barbara Rittner, about Kerber and her game, always hears about Angie's need to "bite" into tournaments. History tells us that sometimes she has to survive a few scares in the early rounds to find her championship-winning rhythm.
For Kerber, vanity is limited. Otherwise she may have had cause to be upset after being seeded fifth by Wimbledon's tournament referee coming into the competition. Defending champion or not, four women have a better record in the calendar year and, from the list of names, it's easy to see how tough a time Kerber will have when it comes to retaining her title.
Ashleigh Barty (Australia), Naomi Osaka (Japan), Karolina Pliskova (Czech Republic) and Kiki Bertens (the Netherlands) all potentially stand in her way. This is partly down to the fact that in the women's game – unlike the men's – results in grass tournaments aren't calculated separately.
Kerber remaining positive
Furthermore, the effects witnessed on the women's game since the end of Serena Williams' dominance are likely to be just as prevalent at SW19. Every player is capable of eating every opponent.
DTB women's boss Rittner, for instance, has been keeping a close eye on Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka for quite a while. Meanwhile, several other experts are backing American Sofia Kenin for big things, albeit not on grass where her game suffers.
"It's going to be a good week," Kerber claimed in a post-match interview in Eastbourne. The WTA tournament has always been seen as the ideal warm-up for Wimbledon. Anyone who thought Kerber would provide more insight has never seen the German be interviewed. Instead, she maintains a friendly poker face.
"It's always really special," was Kerber's response to a question about playing on grass, nothing more, nothing less. Angie knows that after a tough year she's not the favorite to win Wimbledon on current form. She's more like the front-running dark horse, but that may suit her to a tee.