Her heart racing but breathing slow and controlled, Angelique Kerber crouches slightly and leans forward so her chest is almost parallel to the ground. She grips her racket tightly and transfers her weight from leg to leg, waiting. “Komm’ jetzt,” she shouts, and adrenaline courses through her. “KOMM’ JETZT!”
It’s a phrase that needs no translation on the centre courts of the tennis world. The German equivalent of “come on”, it’s become something of a trademark for the former Wimbledon champion and can also be read as “yes, I can!”. And she certainly can. In 2016 Kerber made her mark firmly on the tennis world when she won two grand slam titles and despite a setback the following year she won the holy grail – Wimbledon – in 2018.
Whether the Porsche Brand Ambassador whispers or yells her catchphrase, it is never totally euphoric, never too hyped-up or excessively frenetic. Listen carefully and an element of reservation is discernible. Imagine a handbrake that is almost released but not quite fully, or a bobsleigh that is thrown from side to side but remains on course due to the walls. “Komm’ jetzt!”. Kerber is always in control, because what could be worse, mid-match, than to lose concentration due to an emotional release that is too intense.
As well as her verbal hallmark, Kerber is a fist clencher. An indication of strength and determination, it is one of the “Angie” gestures that her fans love, and her opponents fear. “’Komm‘ jetzt!’ is something I say when a really good shot comes off. Often in a decisive situation,” explains the 32-year-old star. “And at the same time, it naturally serves as motivation for the next rally.”
The two words are perpetually on the tip of the 2015 and 2016 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix winner’s tongue. When a special point is scored, it’s a cry of celebration that comes so naturally it is almost unintentional, except that it is also a statement – and one that is directed at the opponent. “I can do this. Make no mistake.”
“There have obviously been setbacks and many difficult phases in my career.” Angelique Kerber
Kerber cannot, by any means, be considered an emotionally volatile player on court. “In the past few years, I’ve actually become a little more open in this respect,” she stresses. Instead, she has always been considered someone that deals with things quietly. Covertly. Especially if things are not going too well in a match, and even if her visor can’t hide the look on her face.
Her strength when faced with a sporting crisis, and her ability to turn a situation around – be it an individual match, a difficult phase during the season, or her whole career – have prompted admiration from across the tennis world.
“There have obviously been setbacks and many difficult phases in my career,” says the former world number one, “but ultimately I’ve always had this firm belief that I can make it to the top and achieve my goals.”
From a young age, Kerber admits to having been competitive. “Right away as a kid, I always wanted to play for a little treat against my parents on the tennis court. For an ice cream, a bar of chocolate or a cinema ticket.” Today, she is driven by perfection: “When I see I can improve and develop,” she says. “It’s important to leave one’s comfort zone every now and again and try out new things. “It spurs me on, I’m then extremely focussed.”
Kerber also learns from her mistakes, choosing to see every defeat or setback as the starting point for valuable lessons both in sport and life: “Without them I wouldn’t have become the person I am now.”
While not one of the superstitious players on the pro circuit, the German number one has rituals she likes to follow. Before each match she retreats to the locker room to, among other things, braid her ponytail and put on her visor. “In doing so,” she says, “I find a bit of peace and quiet and am in a world of my own.”
Encouragement comes from a knowledgeable crowd that she can see and hear rooting for her – like the one that fills the Porsche Arena at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. “In recent years, I’ve regularly been able to experience just how fantastically the spectators here get so totally into the match and cheer us all on. It releases extra energy, and not only within me,” says Kerber, who is already preparing for the 2021 contest. The fact that the winner drives away in a Porsche – a prize she has already won twice – is an extra motivator. Does she think she can win another? She smiles her famous smile. “Komm’ jetzt!” – or “yes, I can!”.