The little fighter named Angelique deserves crown

Angelique Kerber, from Germany, celebrates after defeating Madison Keys in singles final action at the Family Circle Cup tennis tournament in Charleston, S.C., Sunday, April 12, 2015. Kerber won the Family Circle Cup 6-2, 4-6, 7-5. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

In this corner, the fighting WTA/FCC champion: Angelique Kerber.

She was pounded from start to finish by the powerful, bruising blows of Madison Keys.

But the little counter-puncher stung like a bee and exhibited extraordinary footwork.

If this had been a boxing match, Kerber probably would not still have been standing to see her opponent’s last blow sail well past the baseline.

Keys did everything — but win the match. She almost delivered a knockout, but allowed Kerber to keep fighting.

In one of the most exciting finals in the 43-year history of the Family Circle Cup, this one had a little of everything before Kerber finally prevailed, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

After committing backhand errors on 10 of the first 13 points of the match, Keys came back hitting — and hitting. She was relentless. She hit all-out until the end, with the exception of two points when she was just one game from the finish line. That was after substitute coach Lisa Raymond (for Lindsay Davenport) came out on the court after Keys had just fought off two break points to take a 5-4 lead in the third set.

I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that Raymond advised her 20-year-old pupil to take some air out of the ball in the next game against Kerber’s serve. Keys did that for two points and lost both, then started banging shots again. She lost 14 of the last 18 points in the match.

Of course, Kerber deserved this title. The 27-year-old German was solid almost from start to finish, with the exception of a blip at 4-4 in the second set. She served flawlessly, most of the time to Keys’ weaker backhand side. And she made amazing return after amazing return down the stretch.

The normal routine for Keys to win a point was to put a ball away two or three times before finally winning the point. Kerber was that resilient, shaking off apparent leg problems. She would not go down, even when Keys practically knocked her down on the backhand side.

Kerber won’t change. She’ll always be a backboard that won’t go away. Even her serve, as simple as it looks to return, is complicated because she’s a lefty. Kerber’s serve has this low trajectory on it bounce, almost sliding into a returner’s body.

Keys can have the world of tennis at her feet. She has everything it takes, but a taste of patience. When she acquires that, her young legion of fans will have something to really cheer about.

Another Serena? Keys has the potential. She hits and serves nearly as big, and possibly has better mobility than current world’s No. 1 Serena Williams.

Keys should win this title many times. But right now the little fighter with the pretty name Angelique has earned the title. She will wear the crown well.

Madison Keys has been in everyone’s picture for quite some time now. But the real unknown that appears to have what it takes to make a big name for herself on the WTA Tour is Danka Kovinic. She is the 20-year-old from Montenegro who practically knocked then-defending champion Andrea Petkovic off the court in the quarterfinals. Kovinic needs patience. She will have everything else once she fine-tunes her big game just a bit.

At least Shelby Rogers won a match this time before the home crowd, even though she failed to finish off what could have been a big boost for her career in the second round. The one win will lift Rogers’ current No. 80 world ranking a couple spots when the next rankings come out on Monday. Rogers will open play as the sixth seed in a $250,000 red clay event in Bogota, Colombia, on Monday against 114th-ranked Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain.

Reach James Beck at jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his latest columns on Grand Slam Tennis at www.ubitennis.com/english/tag/james-beck.