Angelique Kerber’s weeks at No. 1 could be numbered

The biggest title defense of Kerber’s career is approaching and she’s not exactly on championship-winning form.

Angelique Kerber suffered another loss recently as the World No. 1 fell in the 2017 WTA Auckland draw to Elina Svitolina. The loss makes Kerber 0-5 for tournament titles since she took over the World No. 1 ranking following her US Open title. In a little over a week, the 2017 Australian Open will start and Kerber will need to be in championship form to defend her title. Should she fail, then she might face a ranking slide.

Kerber has 2000 ranking points to defend at the Aussie. The other players in the top five aren’t exactly nipping at the World No. 1’s heels and, even if she fails to defend her title, there are certainly scenarios where she hangs on to top spot. In that case, her run to the Wimbledon final and her run to the US Open title will help buoy her. But if Kerber loses early then a whole host of players might enter the mix for top spot, including Serena Williams.

The American herself did not have a great start to the season as she fell in Auckland in the 2nd round. One bad sign for her is that she appeared to be winded at some points in the match. Furthermore, she also used her tennis racket as a crutch for a couple moments, something you don’t see from the top stars on tour. I don’t think Serena is ready for a deep run in a major right now and I’m looking past her as a possible replacement to Kerber at top spot.

Karolina Pliskova is actually a candidate for the top ranking. She might be a little below the radar right now because of how far back she is as the World No. 6. But at time of writing she was looking ahead to a Saturday final in Brisbane. She’s the only top player to actually do well this first week of the season and a title will bring her within 4000 ranking points of Kerber. Pliskova only made the 3rd round at the Aussie last season so if she can make the final or win the title at Melbourne Park she will gain a tidal wave of ranking points.

A scenario where she gains top spot directly after Melbourne Park is in fact hard to picture.  However, with a great result at the Australian Open and with Kerber falling in the quarters or earlier, the race for top spot would once again be on.

There are definitely other players in the mix, but Pliskova is the one that’s in form to start the season. We all saw what she did during the summer hard-court season in 2016 with her Cincinnati title and US Open runnerup finish. If she keeps the pedal to the metal then I can definitely see her overtaking top spot on tour during the Indian Wells/Miami stretch of the season in March.

Kerber’s total weeks at No. 1 is currently at 17 and surpassing Jennifer Capriati and Jelena Jankovic is imminent. However, if she wants to get by some other players on the list then the German has her work cut out for her this month and in the months ahead.

Shane Lambert