Germany's best female tennis player is struggling to realize her career Grand Slam dream. Another first round exit is problematic, but may also provide the answer Kerber needs to return to her best tennis.
Another year, another Angelique Kerber first-round defeat in the French Open. The world number five lost 4-6, 2-6 to Russia's 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova as the success of Kerber's 2019 season hangs in the balance.
Having withdrawn in the second round of the Madrid tournament earlier this month because of an ankle injury, Kerber was probably justfied in saying her expectations were low and that this tournament had probably come a little too early. Nevertheless, Kerber was frustrated.
"This shouldn't be an excuse," Kerber said of her injury, one which clearly hadn't healed. "I am really disappointed. I had hoped to play a bit better. In the end, I was happy to just go on court and play."
Her happiness certainly wasn't evident in her performance. Kerber struggled from the start against the 81st ranked Potapova. The Russian applied pressure early on and had Kerber dancing around the court with her shots from the baseline. Kerber was reduced to gestures of frustration and shakes of the head.
Grand Slam dream drifting
Kerber's dream of a career Grand Slam will have to wait another year, but this defeat to Potapova, her sixth first-round defeat at Roland Garros, leaves many wondering whether it will ever happen. Last year, Kerber impressed before falling to eventual winner Simona Halep in the quaterfinals but her relationship with clay has never really blossomed. It looks Steffi Graf, who won the French Open in 1999, might stay the last woman from Germany to win in Roland Garros for a while.
But that needn't bother Kerber. Clearly, grass is Kerber's favorite surface, and at 31 it might not be a bad idea for the three-time Grand Slam champion to start prioritising the tournaments she can excel at in exchange for more recovery.
Wimbledon, the tournament she won last year, is next on the calender. Kerber will hope that with time to recover and a return to a surface she both enjoys and which suits her game more, she can return to form.
With Kerber though, it is hard to know. A pattern is emerging that after a strong year, a weak one follows. Having made three Grand Slam finals in 2016, and winning two two of them, Kerber's 2017 ended in a host of early exists and disappointments. In 2018, Kerber returned to form, winning Wimbledon, making the semifinals of the Australian Open and returning to number two in the rankings. So far, 2019 is following suit. A fourth round exit in Australiahas now been followed by this first-round departure in Paris.
Everything is in place for Kerber to buck the trend later this year. The question is, can she?