By Martyn Herman
EASTBOURNE, England (Reuters) – World number one Angelique Kerber needs no reminding how perilous life on Tour can be when you are the player everyone wants to knock off their perch.
Less than a month ago she became the first top seed to lose in the French Open first round in the professional era when she was dumped out in Paris by 40th-ranked Ekaterina Makarova.
That was the low point of a season that, despite spending much of it at the top of the WTA rankings, has been by her own admission a struggle.
The 29-year-old said handling all the extra baggage that comes with being at the top of the tennis tree has been difficult. But she believes that with a whiff of the ocean and the grasscourts in her nostrils, she will enter Wimbledon refreshed and with the slate wiped clean.
“Not the best half year,” Kerber, who will play Kristyna Pliskova in the second round of the Aegon International at Eastbourne after a first-round bye, told a news conference at a sun-drenched Devonshire Park on England’s Sussex coast.
“But I think I learned a lot during the last six months. It’s something nice to be number one, of course, but there are much more expectations.
“The off season was too short and I didn’t have time to sit down and think about what I achieved,” she explained. “I need time to find a new motivation and set different goals.
Kerber, who owns 10 career titles, has a mediocre 19-13 win-loss record this season and has reached only one final.
Quite a contrast to last year when she won the Australian Open and U.S. Open, reached the Wimbledon final and knocked Serena Williams off the summit.
She will do well to hang on to the number one ranking post Wimbledon, but she says she has stopped worrying about rankings and points — instead just focusing on playing her top tennis.
“Right now I am really not thinking too much about the rankings, the points or whatever. Right now I’m really trying to focus again more on my tennis, trying to improve my tennis.
“I took the wildcard for Eastbourne and it’s great to be feeling the grass again, and I’m happy the clay court season is already finished.”
At least she is feeling fit having recovered from a thigh injury and spending some time in the Mallorca sunshine, practicing on the grasscourts of Santa Ponsa before switching to the Victorian seaside town of Eastbourne.
“I’m feeling good,” she said. “Just having the positive mood to going on court and fighting.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Hugh Lawson)