For Angelique Kerber 1 is Just A Number

© 2017 Matt Hazlett/BNP Paribas Open

BY RICHARD OSBORN

This No. 1 thing is getting to be old hat for Angelique Kerber. With Serena Williams’ withdrawal at the BNP Paribas Open due to a knee injury, the German is assured a return to the top of the WTA Tour charts, her second such ascendance since capturing the 2016 US Open.

You'll forgive her if she doesn't cartwheel across the court when the new rankings are published and she once again assumes the throne.

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"First, I've been there already," Kerber told reporters on Wednesday in Indian Wells, where’s she prepping for the BNP Paribas Open. "Of course, it feels good to reach that spot again, but I didn’t come here focusing on becoming No. 1 in the rankings. I came here to win matches. This is what I love. I will stay with my focus because this is the priority: playing tennis, winning matches, winning big tournaments. In the end, it’s just a number before my name.”

It's still early, but thus far Kerber’s year hasn’t exactly gone as planned. The 29-year-old baseliner suffered earlier-than-expected exits in Brisbane and Sydney, and saw her title defense cut short at the Australian Open via a 6-2, 6-3 fourth-round loss to American Coco Vandeweghe. A title run here in the desert would do wonders for her confidence.

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"It wasn't the best start for me, but I’m still positive," she said. "I'm practicing good. I just have to make the transition from practice court to the match court."

Kerber is admittedly still growing accustomed to life at the top of the game, including all the target-on-your-back pressure and off-court extracurriculars that come with the territory.

"It’s different, but it's a nice feeling," she told BNPParibasOpen.com. "Of course, winning the US Open and reaching No. 1 changed a lot. I have much more to do here and in Germany. A lot more people recognize me than one or two years ago. It's different, but it's a new challenge for me. It started this year, being top-seeded at the Australian Open. But I can still improve and get used to it.

"I know that I sometimes need a few hours for myself, maybe going for a coffee or doing something different besides tennis," she added. "But I like it, actually. This was always the goal."

It looks like Kerber won’t have to fight her body in Indian Wells. She was hampered by knee and back issues in Dubai, where she fell to Elina Svitolina in the semis 6-3, 7-6(3).

"Now it’s better," she said. "After Dubai, I went back home and had treatments and I started practicing here again. That’s why I came a little bit earlier. But the knee is fine. I don’t know how it will be during matches. It’s always different, but for the moment it’s fine."

Following a first-round bye, Kerber will open against Germany's Andrea Petkovic on Saturday.